30 March 2011

Requiescat in Pace -- George Tooker

Self Portrait, 1947

The Subway, 1950

Government Bureau, 1956

Waiting Room, 1959

Garden Wall, 1990

29 March 2011

One Last Visit -- Brideshead

One last look a character from the Brideshead bunch. As stated earlier, Robert Byron was an Eton pal of Hugh Lygon. Byron traveled with Hugh and his father Lord Beauchamp. Of his traveling companion Byron would write:

"Lord Beauchamp is one of those indefatigable sightseers, who maps out every moment of every day beforehand... Lord Beauchamp has a mania for Italian dishes & we frequent the grubbiest little restaurants in search of what I strongly suspect is horse."

The experience, however, changed the life of Robert Byron. He took his love for art, architecture and travel and turned his writing into a virtually new genre. Byron hit his stride with his work, The Road to Oxiana, the account a nearly year long journey through Afghanistan and Iran. In his introduction to the Picador Edition, famed travel writer Bruce Chatwin wrote:

"Anyone who reads around the travel books of the thirties must, in the end, conclude that Robert Byron's The Road to Oxiana is the masterpiece... I write as a partisan, not as a critic. Long ago, I raised it to the status of 'sacred text', and thus beyond criticism. My own copy - now spineless and floodstained after four journeys to Central Asia - has been with me since the age of fifteen."

Paul Fussel said of The Road to Oxiana, it is to travel books as what Ulysses was to the novel or The Waste Land was to poetry. While his books have lived on to inspire many a soul filled with wanderlust, Byron's life was short. In 1941 he was working as a war correspondent with the Sunday Times. Byron was on the merchant ship, the SS Jonathan Holt, when it was torpedoed by a U-boat. His body was never found. He was just shy of his 36th birthday.

As a tribute to his large and winning personality, friends continued to "see" Robert Byron strolling down the streets of London.

Here are a few of Robert Byron's memorable photos of the Oljeitu Tomb in Sultaniya, Iran.

23 March 2011

Madresfield Revisited

Upon reading Brideshead Revisited, Nancy Mitford wrote to Evelyn Waugh:

“I suppose Charles ends by being more in love than ever before…so true to life being in love with a whole family.”

The Lygons, 1925:
Coote, Maimie, Sibell, Lettice, Lady Beauchamp, Lord Beauchamp, Elmley, Hugh, Dickie

The whole family Waugh fell in love with was the Lygons and the house was Madresfield Court, home to the Lygons for nearly a thousand years. Madresfield had passed through twenty-eight direct generations of Lygons when Evelyn Waugh first crossed the threshold. The "Brideshead" revisited in the mini-series was in fact, Castle Howard.

The Lygon clan was edited down when they made the pages of Brideshead. The model for the beautiful and doomed Sebastian Flyte was Hugh Lygon. The most often used word to describe Hugh was “exquisite” with his athletic build, blond hair and amethyst eyes.

Hugh Lygon

Waugh was actually befriended first by the youngest of the Lygon sisters, Dorothy, known as Coote. It was Coote who first invited Evelyn Waugh to Madresfield. The cool and aloof Julia Flyte was based on Mary Lygon, known as Maimie.

Mary Lygon by William Acton
(Again we ask the question: Why is there no William Acton monograph?)

Lord Marchmain was based on William Lygon, the seventh Earl Beauchamp, disgraced by scandal. Lord Beauchamp did not flee to Italy to be with his glamorous lover; that was Waugh’s depiction. In reality, he had a predilection for stable boys and was driven out of England. Predilections aside, he was a wonderful father and his exile left the children devastated. (For a lovely look at William Lygon and his children see little augury's post: a father's love.)

The children were not alone in their admiration for their father. Robert Byron, the noted travel writer who was at Eton and Oxford with Hugh, credited William Lygon with launching the passions that led to his career. Of their trips to Italy he wrote:

"Not only did it implant in me a desire to see other countries: it laid the foundation of my delight in painting and architecture, and introduced me to that classical criterion."

The Staircase Hall

It would be easy to see how life at Madresfield might be impressive. The Staircase Hall is three stories high, featuring 3 glass cupolas. Carved into the frieze surrounding the ceiling are fragments from Percy Shelley's Adonais. Of course my favorite room in Madresfield is the library.

For the library, Lord Beauchamp called upon the noted architect and Arts and Craft designer C. R. Ashbee. He wrote of his visit to Madresfiled.:

" There was the same rustling of liveries, plush and crimson, the choosing of rooms to sit in for conversation, the sparkle of champagne and the still plethora of port, there were precious books fetched out for fancy and the epicurean requirements of literature."

The library coincided with movement to the Cotswold by the The Guild of Handicraft. Leaving the city, this group of carvers, jewelers, cabinetmakers, binders and printers followed Ashbee to return to rural craftsmanship and a socialist ideal. Fiona MacCarthy has chronicled Ashbee and his movement in The Simple Life.

The library includes two carved 11 foot panels depicting the Trees of Life and Knowledge. Lord Beauchamp among his many talents, was also skilled at embroidery, particularly bargello. Two dozen chairs bear his flame-stitched handiwork. (If you are an embroiderer, you will be unusually impressed by 48 bargello seats and backs!)

For the historical perspective of Madresfiled, take a look at Jane Mulvaugh's book.

And I didn't even get to the chapel! Read on...

Requiescat in Pace -- Elizabeth Taylor

I have been writing a lot lately about the power of memory. When I was about 10, I remember my Father coming into my room to check on me, or rather, to check on my television habits. He saw what I was watching and admonished me to stay on that channel. I understood this to mean that there was something being broadcast that I should not be watching. Of course, I wanted nothing more than to find out what that “forbidden” image was.

My Father kept a vigilant watch on me for the next few hours, but I managed to find out what I had missed. it was some old black & white movie and I didn't know how it could cause such parental concern. So a couple of years later when I finally managed a clandestine viewing of Butterfield 8, I found it to be the most erotic movie I had ever seen. (Well, of course, I really had not seen ANY erotic movies, but this was a great start.) It is still one of my favorite movies. The very fact that one could say call me, I'm at “Butterfield 8”, is romantic.

Today, where naked starlets barely cause a raised eyebrow, Butterfield 8 would be an absolute bore. But not for me…

20 March 2011


It's 7:21 P. M.
Do you know where Spring is?

It's HERE!

Brideshead Revisited, Revisited

Do not be dissuaded by my Brideshead post. Do find a particularly rainy weekend to immerse yourself in the full eleven hours of Brideshead Revisited. After carefully spending the first few hours flush with headiness of those Oxford years, you can continue watching while you read Paula Byrne’s Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead.

Byrne focuses on Waugh during the years he conceived of (and lived) his novel and much of the aftermath, including Waugh’s first marriage. On the 27 June 1928 Evelyn Waugh married Evelyn Gardner making them Evelyn and Evelyn Waugh. (Let me take this opportunity to say that if you are planning to write a novel where the protagonist marries a women with the same name and you present this manuscript to a “writing” instructor, you will be told in no uncertain terms that one cannot have a book where both the protagonist and his wife bear the same name. The reader will forever be confused as to which on you are writing about.) This is why truth is stranger and often far more interesting than fiction.

She-Evelyn and He-Evelyn

It was quickly decide by their very quick friends that the Waugh’s would be known as He-Evelyn and She-Evelyn to differentiate them. The ever-quick Nancy Mitford felt they looked a bit like twins, like schoolboys. Present at the wedding were two of Waugh’s Oxford friends; Harold Acton acted as best man and Robert Byron gave away the bride.

Acton and Waugh remained close even though Acton was a bit ruffled by the character of Anthony Blanche in Brideshead Revisited.

Nickolas Grace as Anthony Blanche

Aesthetes, Acton and Brian Howard, came together in one of Waugh’s most notable characters, Anthony Blanche. Waugh, trying to appease his friend often said that Blanche was one-third Acton (the good third, presumably) and two-thirds Howard (the stammering, wicked parts). Harold Acton said of Waugh, “I still see him as a prancing faun.” The sophisticated Acton infatuated Waugh. Of Brian Howard, Waugh was a bit more leery believing him to be “bad, mad and dangerous to know.” It was Acton who stood on the balcony reciting T. S. Eliot from a megaphone. Brian Howard was thought to have had the greatest promise of his group of friends but his potential was never fully developed. His only biography/collection compiled by Marie-Jacqueline Lancaster bears the title, Brian Howard: Portrait of a Failure.

Acton went on to write extensively and is known for book, Memoir of an Aesthete and for writing a memoir of Nancy Mitford.

Another great read about this period (remember, Brideshead is ELEVEN hours, you will have plenty of reading time) is D. J Taylor’s
Bright Young People: The Lost Generation of the Jazz Age.

It casts a wider net of the characters and their hedonism in London during the 1920’s. Truly, the era between the World Wars was a unique and traumatic period of history. After enduring the ravages of World War I and believing it to be a war to end all wars, World War II happened. The youthful frivolity and reckless hedonism came crashing in around Bright Young Things as they faced a growing global darkness. So, yes, Brideshead grew darker as did the times. I won’t fault Evelyn Waugh.

16 March 2011

Brideshead Revisited

I have vivid memories of the first time I saw Brideshead Revisited --the sweeping mini-series, not the recently miscast abridged version. I am told that when it first in Washington, D. C., dinner reservations were easy to come by on the night Brideshead was shown as EVERYONE was home watching it.

WETA, the PBS station in DC loved it so much that it seemed every time someone need change for the parking meter, they would launch a fundraiser with Brideshead Revisited. But nothing beats that first experience. I was smitten. Pasty-faced English boys reading poetry and drinking champagne! It was divine. In fact, as memory served me, Brideshead Revisited was the perfect embodiment of Evelyn Waugh's novel. As I remember it, there were hours and hours of those pasty-faced boys and their alcohol.

So I can't tell you how happy I was when I received the 25th Anniversary re-mastered DVD of Brideshead. I was so excited that it took me months to actually watch it. I wanted just the right time to allow for the full 11 hours of uninterrupted viewing. Finally that weekend came to fruition. Just as had remembered there were hours of lovely boys drinking to excess. Actually there were about 2 1/2 hours of what I had remembered. And there were nearly nine hours of abject tediousness.

Needless to say I was crushed. How could I have remembered it so poorly? Why did Evelyn Waugh ever want to become a Catholic after writing Lady Marchmain? Was my love of Jeremy Irons clouded by my first sight of him? Should I even bother to watch the Medici's?

I turned to the great Nancy Mitford for clarification on these matters. Mitford had asked Waugh how he could behave so abominably and yet still consider himself a practicing Catholic to which Waugh replied, "You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being."

Mitford and Waugh carried on a robust correspondence which has thankfully been published for all to read. While Mitford believed Brideshead Revisited to be a classic, she found the character of Charles Ryder a bit "dim." Waugh wrote, “Yes, I can see how you think Charles is dim, but then he’s telling the story.” Still, this minor exchange was a revelation to me. "Dim" seems to be the perfect word for Charles Ryder and the more I watched my DVD's the more I wanted to smack him! It is inconceivable that anyone would have fallen for Ryder and allowed him to be a part of their lives.

I was reminded of an old Fraiser re-run. (Yes, I read AND watch television.) The Crane Brothers find that their favorite actor (the one who came to their school and preformed a Shakespearean tribute and changed their lives) was now a "space alien" in a popular television show. They rent a theater to produce a big stage comeback, re-creating his Shakespeare. And then they see it and he is AWFUL.

Memory is a terrible thing to waste! I have given up watching Brideshead and have concentrated on more extensive reading. More later....

15 March 2011

Requiescat in Pace -- Leo Steinberg

Leo Steinberg died. He may not be a household name in most household's but in mine he loomed large. Steinberg had one of those remarkable moments in art history. He saw something in painting, the same paintings that art historians had peered at for years on end, and saw something that no one had ever seen.

In 1982, Steinberg delivered the A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts at the National Gallery in Washington. The lecture was unusually long, profusely illustrated and mesmerizing. Steinberg
saw a reoccurring pattern
in Renaissance depictions of Christ. There was, and always had been, the prominent display of the Christ child's genitals. The genital area was also prominent in the painting at the end of Christ's life. For Steinberg it was a visual marker to place the humanity of Christ in the forefront.

Needless to say, when published in book form the next year, controversy ensued. Still for some, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion is the finest art history book ever published.
It was always lingering in my mind during my graduate studies. I frequently go back to its pages.

Leo Steinberg obituary in the New York Times.

08 March 2011

Rex Whistler

Rex Whistler, Cecil Beaton, Georgia Sitwell, William Walton, Stephen
Tennant, Teresa Jungman, and Zita Jungman. Photographed by Cecil Beaton.

Andrew Graham-Dixon set the stage in his Sunday Telegraph review of the 2006 Rex Whistler exhibition at the Brighton Museum.

"October 1927 Cecil Beaton contrived a photograph of “the bright young things”, as they styled themselves, to which he gave the laconic title On The Bridge, Wilsford. Seven young men and women pose for the camera, all dressed up, in ruffs and frills, patterned silk waistcoats and faux-rustic breeches, as courtly versions of the shepherds and shepherdesses of Arcadia. Beaton himself is there, along with Georgia Sitwell, Zita and “Baby” Jungman, Stephen Tennant, the composer William Walton and the painter-illustrator Rex Whistler. Soon afterwards Osbert Sitwell took the whole group to visit Lytton Strachey at nearby Ham Spray. In characteristically acerbic fashion, Strachey pronounced them “perfectly divine … strange creatures with just a few feathers where brains ought to be.”

Zita Jungman, William Walton, Cecil Beaton, Stephen Tennant, Georgia
Sitwell, Teresa Jungman, and Rex Whistler. Photographed by Cecil Beaton.

Rex Whistler by Cecil Beaton

Rex Whistler showed a knack for art as a child. At age 8, he produced this silhouette of his brother, Laurence, aged 2.

Finding the Royal Academy too stifling, he moved to the Slade School and came into his own. Unlike many of his generation, Whistler was never taken by the burgeoning avant-garde. He preferred the Arcadian landscapes of England. He took great pride in providing the art that adorned the jackets of many of his friends works including Cecil Beaton, Edith Olivier, Beverley Nichols and Laurence Whistler.

Rex Whistler is believed to be the model for Charles Ryder in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. He made many attempts at purging his underlying homosexual tendencies including losing his virginity to none other than Tallulah Bankhead.

A nude of Lady Caroline Paget

The great "love" of his life was Lady Caroline Paget. He met her at the home of Edith Olivier. Olivier wanted Rex to settle down into a stable relationship. Edith's candidate was actress Jill Furse who was mad for Rex. The feeling was not mutual. (In the kind of serendipity we love at Lucindaville, Jill Furse went on to marry or "settle" as some would say, for Rex's brother, Laurence. Jill died in childbirth and within a few years, Laurence married Jill's sister, Theresa. But I digress...)

Rex Whistler's masterpiece is considered to be the 60 foot mural at Plas Newydd, the house of Lady Caroline's father, the Marquess of Anglesey. Plas Newydd is the largest repository of Whistler's paintings and drawings. It also houses the proof editions of his famous illustrations for Gulliver's Travels.

Unlucky in love, Whistler joined the war effort. He was commissioned into the Welsh Guards as a Lieutenant.

Self-Portrait in Uniform, 1940

During his stay in Brighton, before his embarkation to France for the invasion of Normandy, he painted a cartoon now known as Allegory: HRH The Prince Regent Awakening the Spirit of Brighton. The painting depicts the Prince Regent, naked except for a blue ribbon of the Garter and the badge of the Order resting on his backside. He is kneeling before a sleeping figure with a pink sash emblazoned Brighthelmstone.

Allegory: HRH The Prince Regent Awakening the Spirit of Brighton

Forty-three days later, Rex Whistler died. It was his first day in action. He was 39.

Many years later his brother wrote a biography of Rex Whistler, The Laughter and the Urn.

05 March 2011

More Edith

Edith Olivier at 54

There was a lot of response to the Edith Olivier post. Again, I can't believe that I never posted about Olivier before. I also failed to mentions some obvious or perhaps I should say, pertinent facts about Edith. The great thing about blogging is that you may leave something out, but your readers always remember. And we are all better for our collective knowledge.

Home Before Dark pointed out that "Olivier" was not only Edith's family name, but one she shared with her distant cousin Larry. A quirky detail I left out but HBD caught: "Edith Olivier was distantly related to the actor Laurence Olivier. I think Edith’s uncle Henry was Sir Laurence’s grandfather. "

Just the type of weirdness I love and left out! Shame on me.

Edith Hope who has a wonderful blog wrote to point me toward her recent post on lunching at the Tate Gallery and visiting "Epicurania" a world created in a 1927 trompe-l'oeil mural by Rex Whistler. The mural was a collaboration with Edith Olivier depicting the story of seven people on an "Expedition in Search of Rare Meats." The Tate, Olivier, Whistler and Rare Meats, what could be more fun!

I was not obvious enough in my post. While Edith Olivier was closely connected to the "Bright Young Things" of Britain's 1930's, she was a bit older than that group whose exploits occurred largely in London. As I pointed out in my somewhat rambling post on Ashcombe, it would seem that much of the BYT's came to Wilton.

Cecil Beaton in the bathroom at Ashcombe

The young Rex Whistler became Edith Olivier protégé.

Handmade "monogrammed" envelope from Rex Whistler to Olivier

It was Olivier who first found Ashcombe for Cecil Beaton. She was a kind of den mother to this passionate and artistic bunch that came to Wilton for their weekends. The guests who came and went are a cavalcade of characters from Harold Acton to Elinor Wylie with a sprinkling of Guinness, Sitwell and Huxley thrown in for good measure. Penelope Middelboe, Edith's great great niece, edited selections from Edith's journals.

The cover features a painting of Edith by Rex Whistler. The journal entries are a fascinating counterpoint to books written during this period. As I said, most of the books about Britain in the 1930 are based in the cities, but Olivier remained in the country. While she was entertaining Oliver Messel and Stephen Tennant she was active in Women's Institute. The journals offer incite into the English countryside juxtaposed against a who's who of the artists that became household names.

Before I got any comments on Edith, I realized I had posted on Ashcombe, who's jacket was done by Rex Whistler and then on Olivier. I thought my next post should really be about Rex Whistler. And maybe it will.

03 March 2011

Where Have I Been?

I was in D.C. for several things but mostly to attend Emily Evans Eerdmans lecture:

"Mirror, Chrome, & Gin Fizz: Art Deco in Britain"

Presented by the Royal Oak Society and the Institute of Classical Architecture.

The good news is, I remembered to bring my book to get it signed.

The bad news is, I forgot a camera so I have no pictures of Emily, just the National Trust building where the lecture was held. Not only was it lovely to hear the lecture and to finally meet the lovely Triple E in the flesh, but there were other bloggers in attendance.

I also got to meet in the flesh Stefan from ArchitectDesign, which is a definite "must read" and of course "must see." You will be happy to know that Stefan remembered to bring HIS camera.

Also in attendance was Janet from...

... which is always filled with just the tidbits of info to keep one on the road to erudition.

What do bloggers talk about?

About how reading a blog is like knowing someone... but you don't really know them... but you do.

I think about people reading my blog and thinking I am cooler than I am in person! Having spent part of the day running errands and not getting back home in time to spiff up for the lecture, I went in my barn coat and tennis shoes -- business casual in West Virginia.

It was a joy to meet everyone. Lets do this again!

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