Friday, 29 April 2011

The curious Mr. McBean

Angus McBean
Self portrait as Neptune, 1939

"My mother and I completely redecorated our first £600 house. there was a variety of paints and styles, but there was one room which I had papered completely with a gold metal paper stuck on canvas, rather disgusting. and there was an awful lot of black paint everywhere. I had read somewhere that if you poured the top off gloss paint you got matt paint. So I did, and so it was, but alas it never really dried. When it was all done, my mother took against the house and so we advertised it for sale as ‘an artistically decorated house’. this term, applied to a house in South Wales, had never been heard before, it was something completely new. Newport was dazzled. people used to come and look round and say ‘Yes, it is artistic’– and so it was. We sold it at an £800 profit, with the money we bought a much better house, and my mother was bitten by the bug of buying and doing up houses in which I would do most of the painting and decorating.” - from Angus McBean: Facemaker by Adrian Woodhouse

Angus McBean photographed for Harpers & Queen, 1986
Flemings Hall, Suffolk

For more images of and insight into Flemings Hall see Smouldering brick and Mick Jagger by The Blue Remembered Hills.

Now playing: The Smiths - Asleep

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Une table à écrire

Louis XV Writing Table

by Bernard Van Risen Burgh (b. after 1696-1766) 
The top is a late 17th century Japanese lacquer work panel of the Edo period.

Now playing: The Kingsmen - Louie Louie

Wednesday, 27 April 2011


back at Fonthill,


Fonthill Abbey: the Grand Drawing Room

Stedman Whitwell Architect del.; engraved by John Cleghorn.
Plate 5

magnificent in dimensions and decorations ... The ceiling beams are carried at their ends by carved and gilt corbels, and the hangings are of garter-blue silk damask, embellished with gold mouldings. The burnished gilt chairs are covered with the same. In the centre of the room, upon a carpet of extraordinary costliness, stands a table of Egyptian marble, the largest slab of the kind in Europe. (pp. 30-31).

Interior of King Edward's Gallery
Looking across the Octagon into St. Michael's Gallery

Drawn by C. F. Porden; etched by John Cleghorn
engraved by Robt. Havell & Son, Chapel Str. Fitzroy Squ.
Plate 6

a magnificent apartment, embellished with a masterly and unsparing hand, superbly furnished, the ceiling covered with carving, and the walls nearly concealed by the ample and duplicated curtains of deep blue and scarlet.
This gallery has been designed for the purpose of commemorating the names of those individuals of Mr. Beckford's ancestry, who have been honoured with the illustrious knighthood of the garter. The number and rank of these persons, their historical and chivalrous fame, would add lustre to any genealogy.
Edward the Third, the founder of the order, and after whom this Gallery is named, occupies the place of honour, over the alabaster chimney piece, in the centre of the apartment: the portraits of six royal and most distinguished knights are placed three on each side; their arms and badges being emblazoned in stained glass on the opposite windows. In the frieze of the cornice, which surrounds the room, seventy-two gartered shields contribute to give this part of the decoration an appropriate and unusual richness.
The lofty windows to the west admit a strong influx of light, which, when the scarlet curtains are drawn, sheds a general and magical tint over every part ... (pp. 33-34).

 Fonthill Abbey: Specimens of the Ceilings: 
1. St Michael's Gallery 
2. Yellow Withdrawing Room
3. Grand Saloon
4. The Sanctuary
5. The Gothic Cabinet
6. King Edward's Gallery
7,8,9,10,11,12. Bosses.

Drawn by J. Rutter; engraved by J. Cleghorn.
Plate 10


John Rutter: Delineations of Fonthill and its Abbey
Published June 2nd 1823, London

Now playing:  Yo-Yo Ma - Elgar Cello Concerto, 1st mvmt

An exile's garden

Part of William Beckford's exile was spent at the Quinta de Monserrate in the hills of Sintra, Portugal. Here, too, he left his mark. The waterfall and Vathek's arch (above) are present day reminders of his brief tenancy (1793-1799).

Now playing: Cocteau Twins - Pearly Dew Drops Drops

Tuesday, 26 April 2011


18th century ivory oval box with cover

The slightly raised domed cover with urn finial and with gold wire inlaid monogram cartouches E H C, the box of slightly rounded form raised on six short feet, finely and delicately carved all over in openwork with geometric patterned panels, with original silk brocade partly covered cardboard box, with writing in ink to the interior of the cover partly reading " ...The Work that Beresford brought from Jamaica for .. his Daughter, This Box for Eliza Maria, My godchild and name sake"
11½in. (29.3cm.) wide

Now playing:  Cesaria Evora - Negue

Woman's work

A Regency brass inlaid rosewood ladies work table

Of casket form, the hinged cover with bead edge enclosing a fitted interior  on a lyre support and splayed legs.

Now playing:  Violent Femmes - Color Me Once

Monday, 25 April 2011

Sacred monsters

Photographed by Norman Parkinson
For Vogue, May 1959 - Maternity: Fresh Approach To Coming Events

Lady Clare Rendlesham (d.1987)

The smart and notoriously formidable once fashion editor at Vogue and Queen.

Legend has it, Rendlesham parlayed the sale of some heirloom  antique French gold boxes into  the Yves St. Laurent franchise in Britain.  She was a woman of influence who was as well known to London's fashionable set as she was disliked.  As fashion journalist Brenda Polan recalled, ...she was a monster. Most people were too scared even to talk to her. 

Jocelyn Stevens, publisher of Queen, describes what happened after he had fired the formidable Rendlesham from her post in 1966 -

'I heard this extraordinary noise. She had thrown her typewriter out of the window,' he says, miming typewriter keys exploding in all directions. 'So I went downstairs and helped her. We threw everything out of her office window. There were people looking up at us, the police came. When there was nothing left in the office, we both sat on the carpet.'
Why help?
'I was a gentleman,' he protests.

Clearly, a gentleman who would not be out done.

Now playing:  Janelle Monáe - Tightrope

Friday, 22 April 2011

The sacred and the profane

Keith Haring

 Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, Saint Louis University

The altarpiece, cast in bronze and covered with gold leaf, is rendered in the artist’s post-graffiti style. Sam Havadtoy, writing in May 1990, shared his recollection of Haring's work on the panels:

In 1989, Keith asked me to help him decorate his new Manhattan apartment. In his living room was an old brick fireplace which he hated, so I had it plastered over. The plaster was wet and I suggested that he draw into it. He thought it was a cool idea. It was as if the plaster were a three-dimensional textured canvas. He loved drawing in the plaster, and got very excited about the new medium. When he finished, it was very beautiful. I asked him if he wanted to make an edition of the fireplace and he loved the idea. Later, I asked him if he wanted to do other works in editions -- perhaps, panels and tables. He laughed. But he said he liked the idea -- he would do it.
Trays were made for the panels and tables. I also had a last-minute inspiration and had special trays made in the shape of a Russian icon, an altar piece, a large version of a miniature icon I saw in a shop in Geneva. All the trays were then laid out in a quiet, womblike room in the Dakota. Trays were filled with fresh clay. Keith arrived. He snapped a tape into the ghetto blaster, turned up the music, sipped a Coke and set to work.
Instead of a brush, for the first time, he used a loop knife. He handled the knife freely and spontaneously like he wielded his brushes. As he worked, he became more and more excited. He said that he couldn't believe it had taken him so long to discover this kind of sculpture. He made no preliminary drawings except for a quick sketch of the dancer on the third panel, which he made on a two-by-four piece of wood. Yet he was completely sanguine as he cut into the clay. The images came directly from his head. He placed the knife in the clay and carved a continuous running line, a quarter-of-an-inch deep groove, which wound like a swollen stream during the spring thaw. He never stopped to rethink the line; he never edited himself and never made corrections. The lines he carved in the clay were seamless, flawless.
Keith finished the panels and then, for the first time, saw the three altar piece sections. He stared at them and was silent. Then he set to work. He cut into the clay and began to carve freeflowing lines. The images that emerged were unlike the others. They were religious: an inspiration of the life of Christ; a baby held by a pair of hands; hands ascending toward heaven; Christ on the cross. On one side panel he depicted the resurrection. On the other, a fallen angel. When Keith finished, as he stepped back and gazed at this work, he said, "Man, this is really heavy."
When he stopped, he was exhausted, and it was the first time I realized how frail he had become. He was completely out of breath. He said, "When I'm working, I'm fine, but as soon as I stop, it hits me . . . "

The altar was Keith's final piece of work.

Haring died two weeks after completing the altarpiece. The uncharacteristically solemn altarpiece reflects the artist's coming to terms with his own mortality and his grief over the death of friends. The work is an expression of love and an affirmation of the sacred. 

Now playing: Mahalia Jackson - Calvary

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Je n'aime pas à résister à la tentation.

I am not over-fond of resisting temptation.

from Vathek by William Beckford

William Beckford
by Sir Joshua Reynolds
oil on canvas, 1782
National Portrait Gallery

William Thomas Beckford  (1760-1844)

 Beckford was the only legitimate son of Alderman William Beckford, twice lord mayor of London and Member of Parliament. His mother, Maria (nee Hamilton), was descended from the royal House of Stuart. Being the only child of a late marriage, he was given every encouragement. At the age of five he received piano lessons from the nine-year-old Mozart. He also received instruction from Sir William Chambers and Alexander Cozens in architecture and drawing. Upon his father's death in 1770, he inherited a vast fortune built on the  Jamaican sugar trade. Making him, as his distant cousin Lord Byron later put it, England's richest son.

 While touring England in 1779, he developed what he called a strange wayward passion for William Courtenay, the eleven-year-old son and heir of Viscount Courtenay. Beckford also became involved with Louisa Beckford, the unhappily married wife of one of his cousins. In 1780, the restless Beckford embarked on a European tour that his family hoped would ease his inner turmoil and dispel any rumors surrounding his friendship with Courtenay.

In 1781, inspired by a Christmas party held in Courtenay's honour at Fonthill, Beckford wrote Vathek - the story  of an impious voluptuary who builds a tower. A tower so high that he not only can survey all the kingdoms of the  the world, but he can also challenge god in his heaven. Beckford claimed to have written the initial French-language draft of Vathek in one sitting over the course of three days and two nights. He had based his characters on historical figures and provided a wealth of detail. He intended to add to this story four episodic tales.  While composing them, he arranged for the Reverend Samuel Henley, an oriental enthusiast and former professor, to translate the entire work into English and to add footnotes explaining the allusions.

Unfortunately, completion of the episodes was to be interrupted. In the autumn of 1784 scandal broke . Beckford was charged with sexual misconduct with young Courtenay. Reports of the scandal spread quickly, and, though his guilt was never proved, he, with his wife (he married Lady Margaret Gordon in 1783) and baby daughter, was forced into exile. In May 1786, in Switzerland, his wife died of puerperal fever after giving birth to their second daughter. Beckford also learned that Vathek was to be published anonymously, with the preface claiming that  the work was directly translated from the Arabic. Subsequently, Beckford published a French edition in order to claim authorship (the uncompleted episodic tales were to remain unpublished until 1912).

In Childe Harold's Pilgrimage Byron wrote, 

Unhappy Vathek, thou wert smitten with unhallowed thirst
Of nameless crime, and thy sad day must close
To scorn, and Solitude unsought - the worst of woes.

Beckford spent his time in exile traveling throughout Europe, eventually returning to England in 1796. Ostracised, he spent the remainder of his life collecting books, paintings, and rare works of art and building his extravagant Gothic pile, Fonthill Abbey. Beckford supervised the planning and building of what was to become the most extraordinary house in England. In 1807 the house's great central tower collapsed and was rebuilt. Beckford grew notorious as both the creator of the increasingly popular Vathek and as the reclusive owner of Fonthill, where he lived until financial difficulties forced him to sell in 1822. The tower again later collapsed, destroying part of the building.

The design of the interiors and the furnishings at Lansdown Tower,  the house Beckford later built in Bath,  gave tangible evidence to his creative genius. And quite possibly, if not laid ,  solidified the foundations of the English eclectic style.

One of a pair of silver-gilt waiters made by William Burwash for William Beckford

Coffer-shaped display cabinet
William Beckford and Henry Edmund Goodridge
probably made by English and Son, Bath

Oak cabinet on stand made for the Scarlet Drawing Room 
Lansdown Tower, Bath
1831 - 1841

Oak cabinet

Most likely designed by Beckford and his architect Henry Edmund Goodridge
A superb example of the furniture Beckford commissioned during his final years.

Cabinet made in Paris around 1825

Richly encrusted with hardstones and mounted in gilt bronze
The panels were made at the noted Gobelins workshops in Paris, late 17th Century.

Originally part of a suite of furniture at Fonthill Abbey
Sold at the Fonthill sale 1823

Siena marble console table    

Commissioned by William Beckford for the vestibule at Landsdown Tower, Bath. 
Most probably designed by the architect of the Tower, Henry Edmund Goodridge, in collaboration with Beckford.

Now playing:  Rimsky-Korsakov - Scheherazade 

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


Late 19th Century Russian mahogany sofa

Europa horsehair

Now playing: Air - Left Bank

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!

Vivian and I by Colin Bacon

‘Give me a fucking pre-med you fuckers, I’m a personal friend of Sir Lancelot Spratt.’ These words of frustration were the last to issue from Vivian’s wonderful classically-trained voice. Forcing himself upright on the hospital trolley, he saluted his friends before being wheeled into the operating theatre for the removal of his voice-box; a procedure he later dismissed flippantly as ‘getting a Jack Hawkins’. His final months would reveal a man of extreme courage, and a refusal to curb his excesses for anyone. Unable to swallow, he was forced to pump alcohol via a syringe directly into his stomach and spent his last few weeks propped up on Moroccan cushions listening to his beloved Elvis, refusing any nourishment other than dry sherry. - Colin Bacon

This remarkable memoir of the legendary Vivian Mackerrell, on whom the character Withnail in Bruce Robinson’s iconic film was largely based, is also an attempt to capture the essence of growing up as part of the ‘Baby Boom’ generation. It encompasses the half century from the end of the Second World War until the height of the ecstasy era.

Now playing: Procol Harum - A Whiter Shade Of Pale

Monday, 18 April 2011

Sacred monsters

Dress by Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin, 1969
Printed silk, designed by Bernard Nevill for Liberty of London

Bernard Nevill (b.1934)

Professor Nevill studied and taught at St Martin's College of Art and the Royal College of Art in London. In 1960 he became a design consultant for Liberty where he revitalised their traditional prints. Enabling them to keep pace with, and ultimately influence,  the fashions of swinging London. His Islamic range of 1963 helped introduce Eastern design motifs and his Jazz range of 1964 led to an Art-Deco revival.

Nevill also achieved great success designing furnishing fabrics (Romanex de Boussac, Pierre Frey),  and costume designs for the stage (the musical Marigold 1958, the Glyndebourne production of Cosi fan Tutte 1960) and screen (Genevieve 1953, Next to No Time 1955, The Admirable Crichton 1957).

Music is a very important part of my life, I listen with my eyes rather than my ears when I'm colouring, there is such a close association between music and colour which is quite a well known thing.

Bernard Nevill English Country House foxglove chintz

In the 1980s Nevill was commissioned by Sekers to create the English Country House collection. A highly successful collection of classical designs utilising his trademark handling of bold colour. Several of which were used in the 1982 redesign for the British Embassy's Long Gallery in Washington.


Glebe House ...Chelsea.

It is the London home of Monty, Withnail's lascivious gay uncle who wears a radish in his lapel, grows parsnips indoors and considers "the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium". We have very kindly been invited in by the house's owner, Bernard Nevill. One of Britain's most important textile designers and former professor at the Royal College of Art, he is justly proud of his pad, "That carpet you were walking on is one of the largest Zieglers ever made."

The extraordinary redbrick Victorian mansion by Philip Webb does not seem to have been rearranged. Drawings by Hockney lean against dust-laden bookshelves. There is scarcely room to walk between the animal rugs, the huge chests and the incredible objets d'art. The sofa is the same, the heavy drapes are the same, even much of the clutter on the fireplace is the same. In short, the house is just as Monty left it.

Withnail With A High Conscience
The Evening Standard Newspaper - 2000
By Vincent Graff

At present, Nevill is restoring what remains of the north wing of  Fonthill Abbey, his country house since 1976. A task worthy of Sisyphus. Though, one imagines, not entirely without reward as  Nevill believes himself to be the reincarnation of William Beckford, the house's original owner.

Interior view of Fonthill by its architect James Wyatt

Now playing:  Blur - Charmless Man

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Blast from the past

Madge Garland (1898-1990)

photograph by Cecil Beaton

The Australian-born Garland was fashion director at British Vogue under its second editor-in-chief Dorothy Todd. Todd was not only her editor but also her mentor and her lover. Their time at Vogue was brief, 1922-1926. In this short period Garland and Todd forged friendships with some of the more significant members of the Bloomsbury set such as Virginia Woolf and Rebecca West. A reflection of Todd's desire to transform Vogue into a magazine more about literary content than about stays and . . . petticoats.

Todd was sacked by Conde Nast in 1926 for what was perceived to be an all too bohemian bent. Todd's career never recovered. Garland, on the other hand, went on to become a leading fashion journalist and textile expert. In 1947 she was appointed to London's Royal College of Art as the first Professor of Fashion Design. 

In the latter part of her career Garland wrote numerous books on art, the history of fashion and gardening. 

Changing Face of Beauty: 4000 years of beautiful women

Now playing: Kate Bush - This Woman's Work

The lantern is dead.

Long live the chandelier!

Now playing: Iggy Pop - Mass Production

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

From Japan's Golden Age

HIH the Princess Nori (Nori-no-miya Sayako naishinnō), the only daughter of HIM Emperor Akihito and HIM Empress Michiko, in the formal court ensemble  jūnihitoe (a twelve-layered kimono style dating from the Heian period, 792-1192) at the Tokyo Imperial Palace, November 2005.  One of her final acts as a member of the Imperial Family before becoming Mrs. Kuroda Sayako.

Now playing: Yoshida Brothers - Takeda No Komo

Monday, 11 April 2011

They just don't make stars anymore

Emmy and Sarah Siddons Award wining, Oscar nominated actress Eve Arden

In her Oscar nominated role as Ida Corwin in Mildred Pierce (1945)

Our Miss Brooks

For JJ and RDB

Now playing: Miss Peggy Lee - Is That All There Is?

Rule of thumb I

Be contrary. Adopt that which is unfashionable and make it your own.

 William IV figured rosewood sofa table 

The rectangular top  above a shaped frieze drawer on carved pillar supports with paw feet.

Late 18th century Portuguese rosewood side table

Serpentine top above a frieze drawer and a scrolling-foliate carved apron, 
on cabriole legs with ball and claw feet

Power dwells apart in its tranquillity,
Remote, serene, and inaccessible...

Mont Blanc (L 96-97), Percy Bysshe Shelley

Now playing: Barbara and Georges Moustaki - La Dame Brune

Friday, 8 April 2011


Personally, Veda's convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.

One, quite possibly the only, really great thing 
about the HBO remake  of Mildred Pierce is the production design.


With this money I can get away from you. From you and your chickens and your pies and your kitchens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its men that wear overalls.

Now playing: Joan Crawford Club Mix

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Tuffet, no Muffet

Gebrüder Thonet stool

Austria, c. 1905
lacquered beech, cane
16 w x 13 1/2 d x 7 h inches

Now playing:  Laura Nyro - Mama Roux

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

And, breathless, power breathe forth.

Angus McBean portrait of Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra in a 1951 production of Antony and Cleopatra

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety.

Now playing: Antony and The Johnsons - My Lady Story

Monday, 4 April 2011

The house in my head

It has a winter garden. 

Now playing: This Mortal Coil - The Lacemaker

Friday, 1 April 2011

Something groovy this way comes

Former crime boss Modesty Blaise (Monica Vitti) is recruited by British Intelligence to help prevent a diamond theft. Putting her in conflict with Gabriel (Dirk Bogarde), head of the diamond theft ring who maintains a compound on a Mediterranean island. Where his right-hand man, the Amazonian Mrs. Fothergill (Rossella Falk), alleviates her boredom by killing.

Blaise enlists the aid  of her sidekick stroke love interest, expert knife-thrower and master of disguise, Willie Garvin (Terence Stamp).  

Now playing: Marvelettes - Don't Mess With Bill