Bring On Baroque

Baroque is designed to impress.  It’s been on my mind, it’s that Dolce and Gabbana AW campaign. I love how fashion grabs historical references, twists the kaleidoscope and punches them into public consciousness… their Baroque is modern, fun and desirable. … Continue reading

Civilisation: A Collective Impulse

I sometimes think it’s a tad sad my passion is so focused on inanimate objects ‘beautifully arranged’, the ‘history of’ the decorative arts,  the mythical power of ‘home’  (in the face of  global meltdown etc. etc) and THEN I read this:

The desire to be surrounded by beautiful art and antiques is one of man’s most civilised impulses

 Beautifully put right?  Feeling better – part of a ‘civilised impulse movement’- excellent.

She follows it up with:

Throughout history, people of taste, knowledge and refinement have created collections to elevate their spirits and those of their fellow men.

Which I could follow up with:

Making a collection on any scale raises your spirits and gives daily pleasure.

Anyway, the ‘she‘ in this instance is the legendary Paige Rense, editor of Architectural Digest for 35 years. In 1982 this appeared:

It’s not the collections ‘per se’, its the stories within them, the  characteristics they reveal -that grab my imagination.

Mrs Merriweather Post inherited a ‘business’ empire in the early 20th century, She lived fabulously and collected many things, of which the most extra-ordinary is a collection of Imperial Russian treasures: without equal outside of Russia.

She already had an exquisite collection of 18th C french furniture, and therefore a trained eye when her husband was posted to Moscow, as US Embassador in 1937. The Soviet regime desperate for money allowed the diplomatic community access to vast warehouses of confiscated Romanov  and Church treasure.   Here she unearthed 17th C chalices and icons, life size portraits of Catherine the Great, Tsarkoe Selo chandaliers, the dinner service that Catherine used to entertain the ‘Knights of her Imperial Orders’, Fabergé eggs, EVEN the imperial nuptial crown.  They are all now at Hillwood in Washington. Imagine how fascinating this glimpse of imperial Russia was to young America terrified of Soviet Russia.

Sounds amazing doesn’t she? I might have to buy the book.

So here’s Catherine the Great (plus relatives) as you go up the stairs:

Tsarkoe Selo chandalier over the breakfast table.

Fabergé egg or two (apparently it all started with a snuff box)

The Pavillion  Room   has ‘The Boyar Wedding’ as its focal point amidst ‘full on’ decor of coral, navy, swags, tails and filigree trim.

The painting:

This brilliantly flamboyant collection is in Washington state.

Then there is the collection of ‘one great thing‘, it feels more obsessive.  AD says: The most comprehensive private collection of Rodin sculptures – generally considered the greatest sculptor of the 19th C.   I say: Their Manhattan apartment has been crafted around it to dazzling effect.

Love the seriously camp cushions in the middle of it all.

watch out for the olives, quite something aren’t they, en masse?

Just had to check out the decor one more time…

Meanwhile Malcolm Forbes collected Victoriana, It makes him cuter somehow, then I looked him up on Wiki and turns out he was gay, all fell into place really. he also ‘became a motorcyclist late in life. He founded and rode with a motorcycle club called the Capitalist Tools‘. Gotta love it, here is his London home complete with Queen Victoria.

his bedroom. The Prodigal’s Return 1869.

The Garden Room complete with a Queen. The early Georgian house, attributed to Wren,  contains Victorian masterpieces amidst the finest English furniture.

Between the Russian Tsars, Malcolm Forbes and Rodin –  collecting sounds and looks extremely exclusive, but Todd Selby and Geraldine James show this is not the case.

I love how Selby’s hip friends have the strangest things, all their spaces feel an antidote to dull-as -greige- good taste, they look like real home where people live, make a mess, throw great parties.

Gerealdine James, homeswear buyer at Selfridges knows a thing or two about display, after all collections are made to be enjoyed.

Creative, possibly even ‘curated’ walls.  Collecting is both creative and structured hence its connection to civilised living,  ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’  the recent (surprise) bestseller reminds us of how collections are part of cultured society, how fragile yet enduring these constructs and collections are in the face of violent upheaval. Worth preserving, fighting for and celebrating: Beauty and order speak to us all. On a basic level when Guiliani took over New York, one of his first initiatives was to mend broken glass, to repair damaged windows again and again: to send a message to communities, we care for our environment, your buildings and  each community. We are civilised.

Back with the’ serious’ Collectors: my favourite, Peggy Guggenheim, (now I have bought the book on her) and each time I go to Venice I visit Palazzo Venier dei Leoni and revel in her legacy – and the wonder of it all in Byzantine Venice.

Did you know she started the collection really to console the artists she was exhibiting? to give them a ‘red sticker’ moment. Her Gallery opened with a show of Jean Cocteau, and the list continues as a roll call of 20th C art despite different galleries and continents. Her Parisian buying spree  for an art museum kept alot of artists from starving, including Giacometti – she purchased his first bronze. This only concluded  when the Germans were literally 2 days from Paris, desperately  shipping her collection to be hidden on a farm near Vichy, finally leaving herself in 1941. In 1947 she moved to Venice …the rest is visual history.

The sitting room with Calder mobile, Rene Bro painting, Picasso vase, Banbara antelopes and Jean Arp glass sculptures.

Looks cosy, inviting and ready for a chat.

The dining area juxtaposes 17th century Spanish furniture with 20th century art.  Humble and pure somehow.

Jacques Villon, Robery Delauney and Pablo Picasso in the dining room.

Finally my favourite, her bedroom, this shot feels so intimate, the space deeply personal. The mantelpiece has vase and bottle fantasies created by her first husband Lawrence Vail. In the corner is a Venetian corner cabinet. The walls display her copious earring collection.

Really this vignette gives you all need to be a collecter: it should be personal and linked  to your life’s journey – arranged how you damn well like! I feel impulsive.


vintage Venetian glass

vintage oil paintings of flowers

Sylvac Hyacinth vases

Constance Spry vases

scarves and sunnies

anything bamboo, fretwork, chinoiserie

books and books and boks

WOI, Vogue Living, Elle Decor etc.

Portmerrion Totem

owls, pineapples, swans

mid century ‘on’  french /italian ‘glamour’ pieces

vintage mirrored furniture


vintage county maps

fashion illustrations


book sculptures

modern art (with a degree of knowledge)

Eric Ravillious, James Bawden,


mid-century scandi pieces

classic English furniture: starting with William and Mary oyster veneer chest

I could go on…….

All images from ‘The Collectors’ by AD 1982

(except Merriweather, Todd Selby and Geraldine James book covers)

Provencal Palette: Berry-Nice

colour palette for provence

Of all the images I have from Provence the one that fizzes in my my mind is: Is it how damn edible they are? Is it the diagonal? the array? the green. Well – whatever it is – it is … Continue reading

Provencal Palette

I was struck afresh this summer by how beautiful Provence’s Luberon is at every time of day: the quality of light brings different elements forward, brilliant blue skies to amber dusks, white heat to warm golden tones. Cradled in the … Continue reading