In the hall, scraps of the original English ‘pillar and arch’ pattern wallpaper were found, and the Tysons had it reproduced, probably the earliest instance of in America of an historic wallpaper being reproduced in situ.
In the drawing room, he painted scenes of famous buildings of the area Charmingly, the murals incorporated leaves and trees from the existing wallpaper. In the dining room, a classical landscape, reminiscent of scenic wallpapers, made for one of the loveliest rooms of its time. Porter ran the horizon of the mural to echo that outside, and captured exactly the colors of the outside landscape on a summer day. The distinctions between outside and inside thus blurred, a visual poetry was achieved. Of the many beautiful rooms in every style that I’ve been in, this is one of the loveliest of all.
And as always, click on any picture in this blog to enlarge for more detail.
The calendar says late fall, but a look out my windows says winter. With darkness arriving by 4:00 PM, one is very glad for Netflix—where I can dig deep into the archives of forgotten films and sometimes come up with gold, streamed to my laptop even as I check email. Amongst the movies I’ve viewed lately, a theme has emerged (and one knows how the Dilettante loves a theme–bring on the coincidence!)
It started with ‘Encore’, a collection based on short stories by Somerset Maugham, the writer whose reputation in the design world is eclipsed by having been the ex-husband of decorator Syrie. Each story is introduced by Maugham himself, and one of the treats is that these narrations are filmed in the garden of his home, Villa Mauresque at Cap Ferrat, almost overshadowing Glynis Johns’ performance as a high diver who loses her nerve while performing at Monte Carlo. The decadent Maugham bought La Mauresque in 1928, and like so many houses of the socially ambitious before him, it became his calling card into Society, with invitations coveted even by those who disdained him. Crime writer E. Phillips Oppenheim wrote, ‘Everyone on the Riviera accepts an invitation from Maugham at any time they are lucky enough to receive it’
Two movies later, I found myself back on the Riviera with “Love is a Ball”, starring Glenn Ford, Hope Lange, and Charles Boyer. A plodding romantic comedy, the movie was filmed on location, and although Boyer does his best as a sophisticated matchmaker for money, the real star of this movie is its location—Ogden Codman’s villa La Leopolda at Villefranche-Sur-Mer.
Everyone interested in design history knows the story of Codman, I’ll try to do the briefest of recaps—a highly refined soul, he grew up in an aristocratic Boston family. When his father suffered financial reverses, the family removed themselves to Europe, where Codman’s aesthetics took shape. He became a designer/architect, and collaborated with Edith Wharton, on the groundbreaking The Decoration of Houses, the book that blew the knick knacks of Victorian America right off the what-not shelves, and ushered in an era of delicate French style that was to define rich taste for the next half century. From Wharton came Codman’s big break, the decoration of the private quarters of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s ‘The Breakers’ at Newport. From there, he went on to collaborate with Elsie de Wolfe, and became one of Society’s favorite architect/decorators, creating delicately detailed houses for the haute monde from New York to Newport.
In middle age, to everyone’s surprise, ‘confirmed bachelor’ Codman married the wealthy widow Leila Griwold Webb, six years his senior. After her death a few years later, he found himself rich, and getting richer by the day on the inflated stock market of the 1920’s. He decided he could retire, and casting aside the vulgarity of America, so unpleasant to his delicate sensibilities, he removed himself to France, where he bought the spectacular property of King Leopold of the Belgians, and began construction on his dream house, ‘La Leopolda’, the distillation of all his design theories, and intended to be the finest house on the Riviera.
After hubris comes a fall, and the Depression hobbled Codman’s finances. Forced to rent out ‘La Leopolda’, Codman retired to his small chateau at Évry-Grégy-sur-Yerre. After their marriage, the skinny broad from Baltimore, and her ex-king husband, whose names do not get uttered in this blog (there is a limit to my shallowness, dammit, and those two are it), attempted to rent La Leopolda. Famous freeloaders both, they tried to get a better deal and concessions from Codman, who finally declined to rent to them, grandly saying “I regret that the House of Codman is unable to do business with the House of Windsor”.
Codman spent WWII at Gregy, in bed with his books and chocolates, even as the chateau was occupied by the Nazis. Codman died in 1951, the year La Leopolda was sold to Izaak Killam. It was later owned by Gianni Agnelli, and currently by Lily Safra, who almost, but not quite, sold it to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokharov or Russian billionaire Roman Abramovitch, depending on which account you read, for half a billion dollars. Repeat: Half A Billion. The buyer backed out, and Mrs. Safra, who really didn’t need the money, got to keep the 50,000,000 deposit. One hopes she donated it to charity.
The Rivera theme thus established, I moved on to the wonderful movie version of Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge—the version with Tyrone Power, Clifton Webb and Gene Tierney of course, not the embarrassing Bill Murray remake. And how do I intend to tie all this together? Be patient. We’re almost finished.
The Riviera of ‘The Razor’s Edge is mostly a sound stage version, albeit a gorgeous one. The sets include a paneled Paris salon, which was built from boiserie rescued by MGM from the Fifth Avenue mansion of Codman’s first patron, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, when it was demolished in 1927. And in one of the movie’s best scenes, Codman’s famous remark to the Windsors is echoed by the dying snob Elliot Templeton when an invitation is procured to a party from which he had been snubbed “Mr. Elliott Templeton regrets that he must decline Her Highness’s kind invitation due to a previous engagement with his maker…”
I think that ties up all our lose ends for today, although I probably should now rent ‘The Red Shoes’, with its famous scene of Moira Shearer running down the endless garden staircase at La Leopolda.. Or ‘To Catch a Thief’, where Cary Grant introduces Grace Kelly to quiche in his villa high above the Riviera…
Class dismissed. We’ll go out with this clip of Mabel Mercer singing Cy Coleman’s The Riviera. I could tie this all into Down East Maine by mentioning the great actress Maxine Eliot, who was born just south of here in Rockland, Maine, and who knew both Maugham and Codman on the Riveria, and whose villa at Cannes was was later owned by Aly Kahn and Rita Hayworth, who no doubt knew Tyrone Power, but I have to go shovel the car out of the snow….
Dear Faithful Readers:
I came to WordPress, where you are reading this, with my blog because I was having some problems with features on Blogger, the original home of The Down East Dilettante, for a few days. Tech support is non-existent at Blogger, and WordPress has several features I like very much. However, just as I was getting set up here, the Blogger problems resolved and I continued to write on blogger and import here, maintaining two sites, having accidentally split my readership. Now the importer here is not working properly, and I cannot get posts from blogger to import , and their tech support has been no help, so those of you following me here have missed the three latest posts (assuming you care, of course).
So, my experiment in having two blog homes is officially over, and I am remaining on Blogger only from now on, and hope that those of you following me here will forgive the inconvenience, and re-sign up at http://thedowneastdilettante.blogspot.com/ , where I promise to stay and not wander again, as I start the second year of The Down East Dilettante.
PS, Some eye candy from upcoming posts in a shameless attempt to lure you back to my other home
Sometimes free association leads the Dilettante astray.
But, it is, bringing this old Mary Petty New Yorker cover of an elderly lady dining in front of her youthful portrait to full life:
Are you still with me? I’m just warming up.
And now you know as much as I do about ‘The Critic’, if you didn’t already. It took me an hour to suss out this information, and another hour and a half to write it down, a half hour to choose the pictures, and it took you less than ten minutes to read it. Lucky you. I’ll never get those three hours back
Mr. Pennoyer first entered my consciousness years ago, when his country house for Louis Auchincloss was published. It was an interesting house, designed for a book lover, traditional, based on Swedish precedent, and with more than a nod to post-modernism in its interiors. Since then Pennoyer’s houses have grown increasingly pure in their traditionalism, and exponentially larger and more expensively detailed, following exactly the pattern of wealth redistribution that has overtaken the country. When looking at one of Pennoyer’s designs, one is transported back to those halcyon years before the great depression, when understated but lush country houses were being built on Long Island, and quiet, elegant townhouses rose on the upper East side. Mr. Pennoyer’s architectural world recalls limousines (not limos), silver cocktail shakers, and Lanvin gowns, and nobody does it better.
If I have a quibble with the Pennoyer firm, it is that they are almost too respectful in their homage, and missing is the wit and genre bending of some of his heroes—the sublimely elegant reductionist designs of Delano and Aldrich, who made traditional so modern, or the picturesque and materials-oriented Atterbury, or the over the top, rule-breaking Warren & Wetmore.