Stephen Calloway argues in his exuberantly titled Baroque Baroque that baroque is the vital artistic mood in an otherwise reductive 20th century. Editorial reviews in 1994 included:
‘The most provocative and stimulating style book of the year.’ (The New York Times)
‘a carefully written and wonderfully illustrated book … it helps to define the notion of Englishness itself.’ (The Times)
‘The sort of book that could itself become a landmark in taste.’ (Country Life)
Here in 2014 I think we could conclude this vital artistic mood still swirls through popular culture, albeit by the name ‘Hollywood Regency’ stateside.
Calloway’s 1994 article for The World of Interiors along with a 1993 Baroque feature showcasing the style give a great insight into 20th Century Neo-Baroque, the key players and the vital statement pieces. Interested? Bring back Baroque – I say.
Calloway’s definition (mildly paraphrased by me)…
Baroque… extravagant and whimsical, grotesque, and at times even vulgar. It’s wild movement and massive grandeur always tinged with a touch of whimsy. An overwhelming scale, love of imbalance and quality of striving. In love with convoluted, curvilinear forms Baroque designers seem to have retained some strange memory of the aquatic origins of the style, revelling in shell motifs and the powerful line of the wave.
Baroque is eccentric, whimsical, grand – all at once – a bit like Calloway above.
Indeed Baroque’s complexities have always proved compelling. Only 50 years after it was sidelined by the good-taste rule-book of Neo Classicism, Lord Byron and the Romantics were seduced by its drama: its palpable sense of danger. From 1820’s Regency to the 1920’s Bright Young Things and beyond Baroque flows through the decades: Wave after wave.
Monkton House redecorated with surrealist excess in the 1930’s by Edward James, the walls are hung with silk in a medieval Sienese wave-patern and infamously the carpet was inspired by his dog’s paw prints.
Or what about Portmeirion designer Clough Williams-Ellis who framed his garden seat, turning corrugated iron into a high -style statement.
One of my favourite 20th Century metal workers is the inspired Gilbert Poillerat, whose distinctive style is often imitated today, check out those Cocteau style hands at the top as well.
I am always rather tickled by the idea that Charles de Bestegui having commissioned Corbusier, moved in and swiftly called in the decorator. Emilio Terry gave him a full-on Neo-Baroque make over, banishing the ‘machine for living’ in favour of life-enhancing excess. The results are a startling juxtaposition:
Can you see the ‘colourful’ murano glass pole he planted firmly through the middle of the spiral stair’s elegance.
In the 1930’s Neo-Baroque became so fashionable it was frequently caricatured, below Osbert Lancaster lampoons ‘Curzon St Baroque’.
Nicknamed ‘Buggers Baroque’ by society types, Stephen Tennant and Cecil Beaton were clearly involved.
Cecil Beaton was right in the thick of it, above is his photograph of fancy dress, grand Baroque style in 1932.
Hort P. Horst photgraphed Schiaparelli in 1937 reflected in a surreal manner and off-kilter frame.
While Rex Whistler settled down to design a Neptune inspired carpet for Edward James:
Angus McBean posed pecs-out, clam-shell-in for his Neptune themed Christmas card 1940,
definitely part of the Curzon st Baroque set methinks.
My favourite ‘fancy dress’ moment is Leon Bakst’s fairy tale ball costume for the Marquesa Cassaiti:
Back on land, so to speak, it’s Christian Astuguevieille to illustrate contemporary Baroque.
As we know I Love a bit of Astuguevieille’s string furniture.
Baroque (today) remains our one great and whole hearted affirmation of delight in the richness and grandeur of things. And in a world in which the dull and doctrinaire modernists would have us believe that Less-is-more, Baroque explodes that old myth, and triumphantly offers us more.
The key to this modern Baroque is how you twist the lens, my favourite setting pulls the French designers who rocketed modernism into the spotlight. Their fantastical chic designs in the 30’s and 40’s combined with superb craftsmanship: Emilio Terry, Serge Roche, Gilbert Poillerat et al glamorously championing the imaginative, the ornamental, the precious. Check out WOI below:
Print Room: THAT Serge Roche table, and those Serge Roche palm tree up lighters . hhhmmm.
Finally …18th Century console, 1940’s dining chair, Sunburst mirror and more Oriel Harwood goodies from ‘Sphinctress’ to ‘Winged Cornucopia’.
While 90’s Baroque has played out, the key players of that decade – David Gill galleries, Nicholas Haslam, Astuguevieille and Oriel Harwood are all still going strong and those mid century French designers command record prices at auction: proof that Baroque is as inspiring as it is enduring. Encore. Encore. Encore.
Images from WOI November 1993 and 1994
Stephen Calloway via The Telegraph.