Here’s how my mind works:
It’s a miracle that one of these posts ever gets completed. A good writer edits and and narrows down the material, I just keep travelling in every widening circles, ever further from the point.
View of Ouderhouk by D. Voisin
It all began last week. I bought this little 18th century print, of an elegantly parterred garden at Ouderhouk in Holland. I have always been enchanted by these highly stylized pictures, with their awkward perspectives of nature tamed and pruned to an ideal of order. Thinking of the collection of such prints in the reception room
at Beatrix Farrand’s Reef Point, I thought I might do a little research and write a post about 17th & 18th century garden prints.
But, that very evening a photo of a this thrilling 18th century table, with a scene on top in glass beads, fashioned after one of these prints, sold in the Syrie Maugham shop in the 1930’s, crossed my path.
Tilt-top table, with glass bead inlaid top, 18th c.
THEN, up cropped this wonderful picture of a young Beatrix Farrand wearing a dress that would still be plausible today, again taking inspiration from an 18th century garden print…
Beatrix Jones, later Farrand, in a dress inspired by antique garden prints in 1895
You’d think that I could stop here, a quick and neat little post complete, having made my connections…..
But no, not exactly. Once I had placed the pictures in the post, seeing Beatrix Farrand and Syrie Maugham in such close proximity started me off on a tangent before I could push the ‘publish post’ button….
Oops. This space reserved for a picture, temporarily misplaced, of Mona Williams New York Drawing Room by Syrie Maugham
Both women did work for the famously stylish Mona Travis Strader Schlesinger Williams von Bismarck Schönhausen de Martini von Bismarck, hereafter referred to as MTSSWvBSdMvB (I expect a special award for pulling that one off); Farrand a Chinese Garden at MTSSWvBSdMvB’s Oak Point estate at Long Island, where, to cut down on costs during the Depression, the then Mrs. Harrison Williams (Mona Travis Strader Schlesinger Williams to you), tore down the main house and converted her indoor tennis court and pool to a smaller, more easily managed weekend house, the tennis court becoming an indoor garden, and the pool a gigantic living room.
Above & Below: The Tennis House at Oak Point, the Harrison Williams estate at Bayville, Long Island (House & Garden, May 1948)
I’m not sure if Syrie Maugham did the decor at Oak Point, but she did do the interiors of both MTSSWvBScMvB’s Palm Beach and New York houses when she was still just MTSSW. That reminded me that the Williams’s had bought the lovely New York house, designed by Delano & Aldrich, for Mrs. Willard Straight, nee Dorothy Whitney.
The Willard Straight/Harrson Williams House at E. 94th and Fifth Avenue, New York
To my knowledge, Mrs. Straight never hired Syrie Maugham, but she did commission Beatrix Farrand to design the gardens at her Long Island estate, Applegreen.
Beatrix Farrand. Alternative Scheme of Garden for Mrs. W. D. Straight (UC Berkeley, Documents Collection)
Later, when Mrs. Straight married Leonard K. Elmhirst, and moved to Dartington Hall in England, Farrand was imported to do design work there.
Which reminded me that Olive, Lady Baillie, who owned Leeds Castle, was Dorothy Whitney Straight Elmhirst’s niece. Lady Baillie hired neither Farrand for landscape nor Maugham to work on the famous interiors at Leeds, but rather the French firm of Jansen. Whew. I can stop here.
Lady Baillie’s Bedroom at Leeds Castle
Or can I? MTSSWvBSdMvB’s Palm Beach house was purchased by Jayne & Charles Wrightsman, who had Jansen do work for their various homes, but no, I’m going to resist…keep resisting…maybe a picture of Denning & Fourcade’s redecoration of Maugham’s design for the Palm Beach drawing room? No, be strong, resist….(however, for those whose curiousity is whetted, it can be seen in a post at the Peak of Chic by clicking here)
Maybe a photograph of the Blue Room at the White House, as redecorated by Jansen and paid for by the Wrightsmans during the Kennedy era? No, no, too tangential….although Beatrix Farrand did work on the White House Rose Garden in the earlier 20th century, later redesigned by Bunny Mellon, who…….
Okay, avoided that one. But it does occur to me that Mrs. Dorothy Whitney Straight Elmhirst was the sister-in-law of sculptress Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum, who had Delano & Aldrich, architects of the town house later owned by MTSSWvBScMvB, the one decorated by Syrie Maugham (whom we seem to have lost several turns ago), design the most enviable artist’s studio imaginable on the Whitney estate at Old Westbury, Long Island. I have no idea who did the interior decor or the gardens there, so maybe here we can stop, although there is a strong temptation to tangent off to the wonderful murals in the studio by Robert Chanler and Charles Baskerville. Charles Baskerville was the cousin of a friend’s mother, after all…And the Chanlers! There are several days’ worth of tangents there.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Studio, Old Westbury, Long Island (from American Homes of Today, by Augusta Owen Patterson, 1926)
Just as I think I can reign this in, and am about to cut the post back to its original size, damned if I don’t remember that Gertrude Whitney was the aunt who gained custody of Gloria Vanderbilt in a famous custody battle decades ago. Which reminded me that Gloria Vanderbilt is Anderson Cooper’s mother.
And now, my purchase of a print of Dutch parterres having led me to six degrees of separation between Syrie Maugham, Beatrix Farrand, and Anderson Cooper, I’m going to quit while you’re still reading.
Portrait of the Dilettante preparing this post