Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016


More Dragon Tales

[Images via The Textile Museum]

It's The Year of the Dragon and these serpentine creatures are making appearances all around. In conjunction with Dragons, Nagas, and Creatures of the Deep, The Textile Museum's latest exhibition opening Friday, February 3, the museum's shop has a selection of pillows by Tibet Carpet.

On view in the show will be 16 objects drawn from the museum's own collection, representing cultures ranging from imperial China to the ancient Mediterranean world; a highlight is a woven 18th-century coat made during the Qing dynasty.

So it makes sense that the gift shop also opted to stock die-cut cards resembling semi-formal Qing court robes (based on originals belonging to the MFA, Boston). Crafting potential abounds here. Apart from their intended use -- notecards -- these four by six inch robes could become gift tags or maybe place-cards.

Related past post: Year of the Dragon.

Jakuchū's Colorful Realm

 [Image via Barnes & Noble]

It's been a hundred years since Washington, D.C. received Japan's truly spectacular gift: 3,000 cherry trees. (Hard to imagine D.C. without them, isn't it?) To celebrate this milestone, a highly-prized 30-scroll set of vibrant flora and fauna paintings by 18th-century artist Itō Jakuchū will be on view at the National Gallery of Art from March 30 through April 29, during the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The exhibition, Colorful Realm, marks the first time this set has been seen in its entirety outside of Japan.

Guest curator Yukio Lippit, professor of Japanese art, Harvard University, describes the lush, stylized set as one of the great stand-outs in the history of Japanese art. If you're unable to visit the NGA, a new 240-page, well-illustrated catalogue with specific entries (in English) on each of the 30 scrolls -- along with the latest conservation findings -- will be available, too.

 [Itō Jakuchū, Old Pine Tree and Peacock (J. Rōshō kujaku zu), c. 1759–1761 (Hōreki 9–11), ink and color on silk, with gold, from Colorful Realm of Living Beings (J. Dōshoku sai-e), set of 30 vertical hanging scrolls, c. 1757–1766, Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), The Imperial Household Agency.] 

Of course, when I saw this peacock, I couldn't help thinking of the V & A's Christopher Breward and his discussion of dandies.


Aesthetic Legacy: Day One

[Strawberry Thief dress by Ann Masburn; images via Sid Masburn/Ann Mashburn.]

When I think of Ann Masburn's clean style -- her house, the look of her shop -- what first comes to mind isn't usually the densely patterned 19th-century Aestheticism of Frederic Leighton, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.

[Photos above are my own and photos of Mashburn at home, below, are by Erica George Dines courtesy Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles.]

But one of her signature designs, the Strawberry Thief dress, definitely links to Morris.

[William Morris' 1883 pearwood and metal, with felt inlay, Strawberry Thief printing block given by Stead McAlpin & Co. to the V & A.]

[William Morris' 1883 indigo-discharged and block-printed furnishing cotton, Strawberry Thief, inspired by thrushes nabbing strawberries from his country kitchen garden at Kelmscott Manor, in Oxfordshire. Sample is from the V & A.]

Ultimately associated with Liberty, Morris' Strawberry Thief, explains the V & A, was one of his most expensive cotton prints. Nonetheless, it was extremely popular with clients for interior use. Morris was drawn to the indigo discharge printing method favored in the East and tried the technique with this own fabric. The museum also notes that the pattern is remarkable because red (alizarin dye) and yellow (weld) were added to the basic blue and white ground. (For Liberty, the pattern was redrawn on a smaller scale in 1979.)

 [Screengrabs from a V & A video about the Aesthetic Movement.]

Late last year I mentioned a V & A organized show, The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860–1900, a couple of times. Now, with its U.S. debut at San Francisco's Legion of Honor just around the corner (February 18),  I thought it would be interesting to spotlight contemporary examples of The Cult's lasting influence. It's intriguing, to me at least, to see what lingers from a certain era, what's revisited decade after decade, and what is reinterpreted.

[More V & A screengrabs.]

So, the Mashburn dress is case study one. And to recap, in this video Head of Research, Christopher Breward, talks about English dandies and their reappearance during the 1960s.

Interior design is covered in the video, too.

[Dante Gabriel Rossetti's portrait of Lizzie Siddal from 1854 as seen in the video.]

If you're a redhead, you might enjoy learning more about Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his model -- sometimes erroneously dubbed the first supermodel -- Elizabeth Siddal. Fashion historian Judith Watt adds her voice in the video as well.

Read about the photographs in Mashburn's store here


Lost in Lace

[Clockwise from the top left: Francis Ford Coppola's Palazzo Margherita photographed by James Merrell for WSJ Magazine; screengrab from the High Museum of Art's Crocheted Chair video; Annie Bascoul installation for Lost in Lace.]

[Photo my own.]

It's follow up day. Many of you have probably heard that Marcel Wanders's epoxy Crochet Chair did receive enough votes at last week's Collector's Evening to become part of the High's permanent collection. I can't wait to really study all of its details up close and in person.

And Wanders isn't the only one fascinated with threads. Centuries-old lace, crochet and macrame continue to inspire a range of contemporary artists. Currently on view (but not for much longer) at Gas Hall at Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery (in the UK) is Lost in Lace. Much like the spirit of Wanders's chair, the objective of the exhibition is to challenge conventional notions of lace, or more specifically, what lace can be. For the show, 20 international artists, including Annie Bascoul, have installed mainly large-scale works. There's a lace app, which you can see I've been playing around with, and a concurrent textile exhibition: Lost in Lace: Concealed and Revealed. This show encompasses portraits, clothes, accessories, tools and archival material from the 16th to the 20th centuries, and even sheds light on some of the darker stories behind lace.

[Again, Palazzo Margherita photographed by James Merrell for WSJ Magazine.]

No darkness in Rita Konig's terrific story about Francis Ford Coppola's Jacques Grange-designed Palazzo Margherita. One bedroom is making me eat my words about lace -- or anything lace-like -- at windows. The interpretation above is just magical and of course reminds me of a certain scene in an old Italian movie. See much more over at WSJ.

[Screengrab from Magnolia Pictures' I Am Love starring Tilda Swinton.]

Loosely related past post: Swinton and Delaunay.



 [John Robshaw bird cards]

Loads of spring 2012 goodies are beginning to appear over at John Robshaw; among my favorites are his colorful screen-printed bird cards.

Naturally I'm drawn to the patterns lining the envelopes, but I also like the idea of hanging onto one of the cards, instead of mailing it, and tucking it into a mirror's corner or a frame -- my own stand-in for a Catesby. 

[Screengrab from Vimeo]

You may recall some of the buzz surrounding the 2008 documentary about 18th-century naturalist and artist, Mark Catesby. This year marks the 300th anniversary of his journey from England to America. If you're interested in related talks, special events and exhibitions, visit the Catesby Commemorative Trust. Also, the University of Virginia offers an electronic version of Catesby's The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands here. And BTW, in 2009, the University of South Carolina received a rare leather-bound first edition of this work. More bird love here.


Feminine, Not Girly

 [Photos one and two my own. Leftover paperwhites stand-in until I can get my hands on some white oleander like Deborah Needleman's.]

Feminine, not girly. I put the phrase out there a few years ago. Maybe I was hoping it would catch on like pearl clutching or maybe I meant to keep up a regular blog feature centered around the words.

[All photos on my scrapbook page, above, are by Ngoc Minh Ngo from Garden Design's November-December 2011 piece about Deborah Needleman's dream-worthy surrounds.]

Regardless, in my head, I still use the phrase all the time. For me, this book cover (Erica Tanov's bedroom in detail with flowers by Nicolette Owen of Brooklyn’s Little Flower School shot by the amazing Ngoc Minh Ngo) embodies it. The look is unabashedly feminine but not at all twee. And it's an end result I aspire to. More and more I find myself editing -- changing the back of a bookcase from yellow to the darkest ebony, questioning whether or not I've got enough aged, battered stuff to balance out the pretty, and donating or re-imagining things I've outgrown. 

Apart from the book, today's ultimate example of feminine, not girly is Deborah Needleman's garden. Her country place has popped up in conversation here before but not as seen through Ngoc Minh Ngo's eyes for Garden Design, November-December 2011. With so many garden shows opening across the U.S. in February and March, it's a nice time to revisit Cynthia King's Needleman interview, too. Check it out here.

[Photo by Thuss + Farrell from Matthew Robbins' Inspired Weddings, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2012.]

You might also like Objects of Desire.


Britain's Got Talent

[Clockwise from the top left: V&A Pattern: Liberty & Co.  by archivist Anna Buruma; Antelope Chair by Ernest Race; Pleasure Gardens print by Hans Tisdall; and Patrick Rylands re-issued 1970s bath toys. All images from the V & A.]

The fab Dowager Countess was taken aback by a swivel chair and an electrified chandelier but her great-grandchildren and their kids will see more transformative changes in Post-WWII Britain.

This other era of radical development is explored by the V & A in the soon-to-open British Design: 1948-2012. For the show, curators have pulled together more than 300 design objects representing British innovation at its strongest-- modernity often tempered by respect for the past, notes the museum. Exhibition visitors will see ceramics, furniture, glass, textiles, fashion, fine art, graphic design, photography, and, if I'm not mistaken, a never-before displayed Jaguar.

One of the stand-outs among the gift shop offerings is expected to be the re-issue of Ernest Race's graceful bent steel Antelope Chair with a moulded plywood seat in 'Festival of Britain' yellow. (This piece was originally commissioned to be used on the terraces outside the newly built Royal Festival Hall at the 1951 event; yellow was an official Festival color, so Race went with the sunny shade.) He came to work with steel because, at the end of WWII, he was given a brief to create durable, affordable furniture with non-rationed materials (no wood). The Antelope, with its delicately slatted back often compared to a Windsor chair and those Big Bang Theory molecular-looking ball feet, typifies Race's melding of Modern and Trad. 

In 1970, Patrick Rylands's fish and bird bath toys won the Duke of Edinburgh's Design Award. His background in ceramics shines through in their sculptural, pick-me-up form. (A bit Eva Zeisel, no?) These have been re-issued too. The Liberty fabric book, pictured above, we discussed earlier, and Hans Tisdall's graphic design is highlighted here.

Related past post: Camera Happy: The V & A's photography exhibition, Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton.

Collecting Books

 [Photography by James Fennell from The Irish Country House courtesy Vendome Press 2010.]

I've always found James Fennell's photo of disheveled books at Huntington Castle beautiful but I'm guessing Isabelle de Conihout, Curator of Rare Books at the Bibliothèque Mazarine in Paris and a specialist in bookbinding history and book collecting, would tell us this arrangement is kind of rough on the volume's softly colored spines.

She'll be in New York tomorrow night, January 24, at The Bard Graduate Center for a talk: Cardinal Mazarin: A Great Collector of Art and Books in Seventeenth-Century France. In addition to his serious passion for art, Mazarin had a thirst for books. His personal library was ultimately opened to the public, overseen by librarian/scholar Gabriel Naudé (1600-1653), and grew to become the Bibliothèque Mazarine. Details on the 6 p.m. lecture here.



 [Screengrab from Julie Taymor's Frida, 2002. The O'Gorman house pictured in the background.]

Did you notice the little nod to Frida Kahlo in my Wandering post? She's been crossing my path a lot lately. In Some of My Lives: A Scrapbook Memoir, Rosamond Bernier writes of her adventurous visit to the daring Juan O'Gorman-designed early-1930s San Angel house shared by Kahlo and Diego Rivera (connected by a bridge, the red cube was Rivera's and the blue belonged to Kahlo). More recently, stylist Sibella Court channeled Kahlo's colorful aesthetic for a lush chapter in Nomad, and the traveling exhibition Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray opens at the Tuscon Museum of Art on January 28. (BTW, there's a beautiful online overview of Muray's iconic, painterly images over at the George Eastman House.)

[Nickolas Muray, Frida with Nick in her Studio, Coyoacán, 1941. Via Tuscon Museum of Art.]

Also opening January 28, the TMA's concurrent show, Frida's Style: Traditional Women's Costumes from Mexico. In Atlanta, another Frida-related exhibition is in the works: Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting is scheduled to open at the High roughly a year from now, February 16, 2013. Over 75 of the couple's strongest works will be included.

Kahlo did her share of self-portraits -- and is definitely known for smaller paintings as well as her distinctive eyes -- but I've never seen her trademark feature captured in miniature. Hand-painted eye miniatures, aka lover’s eyes, were in vogue in Europe more than a century before she was born. While London would likely be home to the world's largest collection of these pieces, today it's Birmingham, Alabama. Over the past two decades, Dr. and Mrs. David A. Skier of Birmingham (Nan and husband David, an eye doctor) have acquired 96 mysterious tiny works which will go on view at the BMA  February 7. I've been so focused on the ceramics that I neglected to mention The Look of Love. Emma Mustich explores the show over at Salon.


Fanning Out

 [Click to enlarge. Narcissus and Orchid, 1920 (on folding paper fan mounted as an album leaf) by Chen Hengke (Chinese, 1876–1923) ink and color on alum paper. Gift of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, in memory of La Ferne Hatfield Ellsworth, 1986. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.]

I was trying to research the flowers in Downton Abbey.

[Screengrab from Downton Abbey, season one, episode five.]

But then, revisiting some things in Lady Sybil's room, I became distracted.

[More screengrabs from Downton Abbey, season one, episode five.]

I know, I know. A lot has already been said about the show's sets and Highclere Castle where much of Downton Abbey is filmed. Early on, Patricia Shackelford, aka Mrs. Blandings, did a terrific interview with DA's production designer, Donal Woods. Still, I haven't tired of the luminous mix on Sybil's mantel. I love how the arrangement is thrown off a bit by the books stacked at the edge (very Sybil)  and I like the added layer of the fan. In fact, needing a Friday Piece with ties to orchids and the 1920s, I decided it would be another fan.

Shown at top is 20th century Chinese painter Chen Hengke's work on folded paper, Narcissus and Orchid. Surf over to The Met to get a detailed look at his wonderful brushwork. Part of post-Qing China, the artist studied abroad in Europe and Japan, and then adapted traditional Chinese styles for a new era (more on this over at Princeton's Asian Art Collection). Other examples of Chen Hengke's orchids can be found at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

[Image via the Atlanta Botanical Garden.]

And the live variety will be on view in what promises to be a show-stopping display of hanging gardens created for Orchid Daze's tenth anniversary at the Atlanta Botanical Garden's Fuqua Orchid Center, February 4 through April 15.

Year of the Dragon

[Detail view, Jar, 15th–16th century Vietnam, Le dynasty (1428–1788) Glazed stoneware. Birmingham Museum of Art Collection. Purchased with funds provided by the Estate of Mr William M. Spencer III.]

Not much longer to wait: the oft-mentioned Dragons and Lotus Blossoms, the landmark Vietnamese ceramics show, opens Sunday, January 22 at the Birmingham Museum of Art. Shown above is one of the buzzed about pieces, the BMA's intricately decorated Le Dynasty glazed stoneware jar singled out by Apollo as the Ninth Most Important Acquisition Worldwide in 2011. (You can spy a few other objects from the show in past posts here and here.)

To celebrate the exhibition opening, there will be a free Sunday afternoon talk with Vietnamese ceramics authority, John Stevenson, followed by a reception. Details here.


Now and Then

[Recent edition. Photo my own.]

One of the strengths of An Object of Beauty is the way, without ever becoming pedantic, author Steve Martin skillfully weaves a little art history 101 throughout his entertaining fiction. He incorporates a significant array of artists too, from the giants to the lesser known, even putting American illustrator Maxfield Parrish into a key plot twist.

[First edition. Image via E. Wharton & Co.]

As mentioned in a couple of past posts, Parrish -- most fashionable and famous in the 1920s -- did the illustrations for Edith Wharton's Italian Villas and Their Gardens; in the end she thought his interpretation was too disconnected from her text. The original early-20th-century binding was done by Decorative Designers -- a Parrish-inspired design with gold, green, blue, brown, and white on ungrained dark green cloth. When The Mount Press and Rizzoli published a facsimile just a few years ago, the binding under the new dust jacket featured the same stamping but only in gold on green -- no other colors.

In 2008, The Athenæum of Philadelphia had an exhibition of book designs by Margaret Armstrong and the prolific Decorative Designers firm encompassing late-19th-century styles through to midcentury-modern. Art Bound can still be explored online.

[Image from Art Bound.]

Margaret Armstrong designed the binding of Wharton's In Morocco published by Scribners in 1920. (There's more info about the DD firm over at The University of Alabama.) And BTW, currently on view at The Athenæum is The Decorated Book: Continuing A Tradition, a look at contemporary book arts.


Library Thing: More Wharton

 [Edith Wharton's library at The Mount. Photo by John Bessler from Edith Wharton: A House Full of Rooms: Architecture, Interiors, Gardens by Theresa Craig.]

[First edition 1924 book cover from Wharton's Old New York series
with artwork by Edward C. Caswell.]

I don't think I've ever organized my books according to conventional logic -- like by obvious category. For me, it's always been accessibility first (most referenced books within easy reach), then size (ginormous tomes squeezed in wherever I can find room, etc.) and then aesthetics (playing with alternating horizontal and vertical groupings to accommodate other fave things -- boxes, ceramics, pictures and so on). But this week I'm taking inventory. To prep for a furniture rearrange, a lot of my books have to come down off the shelves (and benches, and stools, and chairs), so I'm taking the opportunity to reorganize them a bit.  The new plan won't be coherent enough to please a librarian but at least Matisse and Picasso will be hanging out together.

[Wharton library again. Image via The Mount.]

In the past we've gone over contemporary bookshelf aesthetics -- everything from the heavily styled to the more chaotic ready-for-The-World-of-Interiors-shoot look. This time, I thought it would be interesting to revisit Edith Wharton's libraries.  

[Lilly Library, Indiana University archive photos of Wharton's St. Claire terrace and library from Edith Wharton: A House Full of Rooms by Theresa Craig.]

Because, in the 21st century, we've all seen some oddly designer-fied shelves (books with spines so obscured that actually reading them seems prohibited), a lot of people are starting to recoil when decoration and books are mentioned in the same breath. But Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer and design revolutionary Wharton apparently enjoyed reading and looking at her sea of books.

 [Screengrab from Bob Vila's 2002 tour of The Mount.]
In The Decoration of Houses she advocates rooms lined with built-in bookcases as the most efficient and aesthetically pleasing approach; this way books are very accessible and do double duty as part of the decor. Of course, she was working with gorgeously bound volumes -- often sets of them, in fact. Accidental color-blocking, if you will. To really emphasize the visual appeal, she advised keeping other decorative elements in a library restrained. There's a nice clear of view of The Mount's library in 2002 -- when Henrietta Spencer-Churchill was asked to do a special installation -- in this video. Since it was filmed, Wharton's own books have returned to the house.

 [More Lilly Library, Indiana University archive photos of St. Claire from Edith Wharton: A House Full of Rooms. Pictured below, Wharton with her housekeeper Catharine Gross circa 1920s.]

During WWI, Wharton lived in France and became immersed in relief work on behalf of injured soldiers and orphans. For these volunteer efforts she received the title of Chevalier (knight) of the French Legion of Honor, and in the 1920s remained in Europe, renting and ultimately buying a former convent, Saint Claire, along the Riviera. In Edith Wharton: A House Full of Rooms Theresa Craig explains that Wharton created a new library for herself there, part of a major remodeling project, pictured above in black and white. Less formal than The Mount's library, it had a brown brick floor with small scattered rugs, light-colored wood bookcases (some were set into the walls and some protruded out), and long tables for reading.

I decided to add Wharton's 20s-era Saint Claire hallway to the mix because of the Chinese-inspired wallcovering. Having seen her share of super-heavily-patterned 19th-century interiors, she tended to eschew wallpaper, so this was a less expected choice. Craig notes that the walls (whether fabric-covered or papered) compliment Wharton's Chinese painted-glass lantern.