Thursday, July 26, 2018

Heavenly Bodies

While on the topic of the Met I wanted to share with you some of my pictures from the controversial exhibit, Heavenly Bodies; Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.
While my interest in fashion is only passing the clothes throughout the exhibit are remarkable. Most remarkable of all however are the actual papal vestments found in a (respectfully) separate gallery from the secular garments (no photos allowed).
 Most extraordinary of all however is how excited people are for this exhibit; The crowds were immense. In all of my visits to the Met I have never seen crowds of people actually spending time in these medieval galleries.  People are excited for church stuff, in the 21st century,  that should be good right?
Well a lot of people are complaining that an exhibit on fashion inspired by Catholicism is disrespectful.  Whatever happened to 'Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery' or 'There is no such thing as bad publicity'?
 I found the exhibit thrilling, particularly the addition of chant'ish type music and great lighting.
I also thought it was incredibly respectful.  The actual papal vestments as I mentioned are in a separate gallery all to themselves, not mixed with other artwork.  These are works inspired by Catholicism, not copies or mocking in any way.
 This is an art museum:  we're looking at the artistry of the clothes both secular and religious.
Seeing these clothes up close and in person was truly astonishing, much better than in the pages of Vogue. The art is in the details.
 These glamorous gowns by Thiery Mugler were from his 'Winter of Angels' collection in 1984-85.
 Lame!  How I loved these.
 Also interesting were the 1991-92 evening tops by Versace inspired by Mosaics.
The exhibit Heavenly Bodies is on view at the Met and the Cloisters (which I sadly missed) through October 8, 2018, be sure to catch this!

Friday, July 13, 2018

an Ogden Codman Jr watercolor

While at the Met to see the Versailles exhibit, this framed watercolor caught my eye. The presentation drawing by architect Ogden Codman Jr. was for the bedroom of Louise Vanderbuilt's bedroom at Hyde Park in 1898.  I wish we made such evocative drawings for our clients still today; sketch up models cannot compete with the artistry of watercolor. 

Codman, of course, was the friend and co-author to Edith Wharton's 'The Decoration of Houses'. I think a monograph on this decorator's Architect is long overdue!
as always - click on the image to see in greater detail

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Visitors to Versailles

Ever since Louis XIV moved the seat of French government to Versailles it has been a very public place full of visitors very unlike the original hunting lodge he inherited.
You have your chance to see the chateau a little closer to home as Versailles has come to us.  Until July 29, 2018 the exhibit 'Visitors to Versailles' is at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC.
I visited the exhibit back in May and while it doesn't compare with the real thing it is a great introduction to the history of the storied chateaux.
The palace, after the ransacking of the revolution, is still shockingly accurate to pre-revolutionary time (despite the touch of future generations). I spent a lovely day in Versailles last month and all of the historic images from the exhibit are instantly recognizable.
The crowds may be rather more casually dressed these days but they still come to ogle the spectacle that is Versailles.
Back in the 17th and 18th centuries your rank and dress could grant you varying degrees of access to the chateau.  The gardens were open to the public but if you were well dressed you could gain entry inside and even see the king. There were ways of sorting the wheat from the chaff however.
Interior court costume rules were very strict: you were told what to wear to get into the most private spaces which only the very rich could afford.  The exhibit had a few original examples of court dress which are works of art unto themselves.
 The embroidery is as fine on the men's clothing as on the women's.
In addition to Paris the town of Versailles (which is charming, btw, and worth a visit) was full of seamstresses and haberdasheries that could supply you with the necessary clothing to gain access; for a price.
The exhibit had this tavern sign from 1760 showing a young man in his finery.  After the long 12 mile journey from Paris, naturally visitors would want to refresh themselves and change into their court dress at places such as a tavern or hotel. Versailles is easily reached today on the RER metro but was rather more difficult to visit in the 18th century for the common man.
A large part of the exhibit deals with more official visits however: those from ambassadors of foreign countries.
Many came bearing costly gifts in addition to their large entourages and townspeople would line up to see the spectacle. The king was trying to impress the visitors with his chateau so the ambassadors had to really try hard to impress the king in return.
This bejeweled Ottoman powder flask is one of many impressive gifts on display.
Under Louis XIV ambassadors had their own staircase designed by Louis le Vau in the late 17th century, which this amazing model depicts (built in 1958) .
Sadly the staircase was removed in 1752 leaving ambassadors to enter the palace by other more ordinary means.
Inside the palace the best of France was on display.  These large urns and an Aubusson carpet above are some examples shown in an interesting interpretation of the hall of mirrors.
Visitors were entertained in other areas of Versailles as well.  Marie Antoinette made full  use of the gardens of her Petit Trianon to host select groups of friends. There were lovely night-time paintings on loan for the exhibit commissioned by the queen to commemorate certain visits. Seen above are the Rock and Belvedere lit for a party, painted by Claude Louis Chatelet for the queen in honor of the visit of her brother Emperor Joseph II on August 3, 1781.
The rock and the belvedere are instantly recognizable today thanks to loving restorations -seen above last month during my visit.
The other nighttime painting in the exhibit is of the Temple of Love. The painting by Hubert Robert commemorates a fireworks display for the visit of Paul and Maria Feodorovna of Russia in 1782. These paintings were definitely my favorite items in the exhibit.
 Above you can see the temple of love, just visible beyond the Petit Trianon, and easily viewed from Marie Antoinette's bedroom.
 Also on display, although they came from just over the river from a museum in the Bronx, are some personal items of furniture commissioned by Queen Marie Antoinette. 
 Above are an amazing armchair made for the queen by Jacques Gondouin and a commode by Jean Henri Riesener.
The exhibit is pretty great if you've never been to the chateau in person, but nothing can ever prepare you for the shear (exhausting) scale of the palace and gardens.
 I had visited the palace and the Trianons a few times in the past so on this past visit devoted my day  to the gardens and was graced with perfect weather.  Notice the scale of the few other people visiting the orangery above....those doors must be over 20'-0" tall!!  No drawings or photographs can prepare you for that.
The immense scale of the gardens meant that most areas aren't perhaps as lovingly tended as others, but impressive none the less if only for their size.   They aren't kidding when they tell you to wear comfortable shoes; you will be exhausted!
June is a great time to visit: Roses and orange trees are in bloom and hopefully you'll have as lovely weather as we did.
Here is the Colonnade from 1685 designed by Mansart.  32 marble columns and pilasters surround the immense space which was frequently used by the king for his daily walks and outdoor musical entertainments.
If a visit to Versailles is not in your immediate future I urge you to visit 'Visitors to Versailles' at the Met in New York and take in a little French magnificence closer to home!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Westchester: Old school elegance

Washington is a city full of grand old apartment buildings but my favorite may well just be the Westchester, located in NW DC just off Massachusetts Avenue near Wesley Heights and Spring Valley.
While many of the best apartment buildings are located along Connecticut Avenue or in Kalorama here in Washington,  the Westchester is an outlier.  This has perhaps led to its reputation as a sort of retirement village for the neighborhoods which surround it (some of the wealthiest in the city).
Thankfully the buildings ( there are numerous buildings spread throughout beautiful gardens) have been lovingly maintained and barely touched since they were built in 1931; having been decorated by the likes of Dorothy Draper in the late 30s and a host of other talents.  The buildings turned private Coop in 1951.
 I love these screens in Building "A"'s lobby which capture some of the elegant plaster details.
 Notice the numerous subtle paint colors used in the moldings -a professional touch.
The 1930s were such an interesting time period architecturally.
Classicism was still the norm but architects and designers were bringing in touches of art deco and even art moderne; a truly eclectic time period.
The main building has the largest and grandest lobby as it holds a number of the building's amenities such as a public restaurant, a library, beauty parlor, and even a small grocery store!
 One can really see the Dorothy Draper touches here; that sofa and chinoiserie screen!
 Truly vast spaces, made light and bright with judicious lighting and the liberal use of mirror.
 Similar detailing here with the addition of some formal Georgian crystal.
Love these coved ceilings leading to the elevator vestibule and the large backlit flag & eagles.
But shall I show you into one of the apartments that was recently for sale (earlier this spring as you can tell from my exterior photos)?
This penthouse unit (in the A building) was completely renovated and offers the best of both the old school building and modern living.
The very modern kitchen has all of the things many home buyers look for today: marble countertops, stainless steel, open shelving, and 'open-concept' but also solid thick walls and windows in every room (good luck finding those last 2 in a modern apartment building).
 Did I mention the private balcony with stunning views off the living room?
The original bathroom was cleaned up (new toilet, medicine cabinet) but retains all of the charm of the original. Those pedestal sinks and tile floors are standard issue in every apartment I've seen in the Westchester (and I have seen many of them and even worked on a few ).
The benefits to being high in the building are of course the lovely views of the garden and the surrounding Westchester buildings not to mention increased light.
 One can see as far as the river, the airport (National to the left), and the Rosslyn skyline.
I think Gza-Gza said it best "I just adore a penthouse view"...........