It is very cold right now…I can tell you it is even colder at 5 am, and even colder still in Brussels.
Marc and I went on a whistle-stop tour on Thursday last week. Fortunately there was no snow or rain so I skipped along with a glass half full attitude, and an intravenous drip of caffeine. The first shop we went, we struck gold (I am told this isn’t always the case). We found a rather large 18th century Flemish Tapestry, with a far off chateau; recently Tapestries have been selling like hot cakes (hoping I haven’t jinxed that!), they provide a fantastic wall covering and add an interesting focal point to a room as well as a warmth, both aesthetically and literally. This one is winging its way to us this week!
I had never been to Brussels before so Marc pointed out what I think is his favorite area “chocolate square” and like small children starved of sweets we pressed our faces to the windows, but then like the consummate professionals we are, walked on by with out a second thought….
A few more shops and a beautiful harlequin set of Val st Lambert 50’s hi-ball glasses, which are probably my favorite purchase of the day, especially as Marc didn’t seem that impressed with this pair of diamanté encrusted candelabra suggested, there is no accounting for taste. Then to lunch, there is a certain novelty about being encouraged to have a glass of wine while technically at work, I didn’t even pretend to say no, the food was delicious, and the restaurant was warm, but alas we ventured back out into the cold. But not for long as we were on our way to BRAFA art fair.
BRAFA, if I had to compare to a London fair is a lot like Masterpiece, and one of the most easily navigable fairs I have ever been to, which was a bonus. I would be lying if I said that everything in there was to my taste, but that is life, the stands were impressive, well thought out and had a selection of very fine items. As with most fairs there was a healthy smattering of the very modern in contrast to the antique elements. We saw some beautiful works, with tapestries on the brain, of particular interest was the De Wit stand with some of the most impressive and beautiful examples of tapestries I have ever seen, Marc liked one of a cabbage leaf with an ornate floral and figural border, but I preferred “Separation of day and night” (Southern Netherlands 1585 – 1600) there is something both whimsical and fantastic about it, and it is a bit more out there than the usual landscape scene.
The day that I walked in to Guinevere to find Dean’s dark and mysterious room of plaster breasts, legs, bums and tums, I was instantly mesmerised. The limbs are spread throughout the room, clutching banisters and breasts, kicking balls (metaphorically) and tiptoeing down stairs, they filled my face with a smile from ear to ear. The 60-piece plaster set from the workshop of renowned Parisian sculptor Max Le Verrier has been nestled amongst stunning Neo-Classical Mirrors, luxurious bone veneered Regency style daybeds and glistening gilded 8ft fluted Torcheres from southern Spain, creating a feel of eclecticism but in a sophisticated and somehow controlled manner. With the rich aubergine coloured walls, the pale plaster is all the more eye catching, and when a knobbly knee protrudes from the wall you almost believe there is a Centurion behind it breaking free from the past.
As one of the leading pioneers of the Art Deco movement in the mid 1920’s, Max Le Verrier won a gold award for his work at the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Art in Paris 1925. The predominantly Greco-Roman inspired casts were used by Max Le Verrier to create some of his most beautiful sculptures.
When I first saw the limb covered walls, it reminded me of photographer Marc Lagrange’s sculptor workshop scenes in Tongeren, Belgium. The magnificent form in the centre blew me away, but then the clutter of moulds and mannequins on the wall meant you could look at it for hours and continue to find new amusements hidden in a dark corner. From the floor to the ceiling there is something beautiful everywhere you look, and ensuring no surface is left bare, whether that is the dust-covered floor or the old easel hanging from the banister, I found it quite inspiring.
Having always been fond of the more eclectic taste, this is something I would happily take home, creating drama in a sort of peacefully chaotic way.
I saw an old lady standing at a bus stop the other day. She was wearing a shabby purple coat, the sort that old ladies wear, with a bright pea green sweater and deep pink trousers. I doubt she had very much money or that life had been very kind to her. She looked fabulous. Beautiful colour combinations can happen anywhere and when they do they are a gift for the brain. They stay lodged, stored in some recess, to be recalled years later when one reminisces about a time and a place, or used immediately next time you choose a bunch of flowers or place a cushion on a chair.
My mind is full of, among other things, a myriad of colour combinations. Things I’ve mixed together in my head and things I’ve seen, sometimes remembered exactly as they were and sometimes re-imagined as better versions of themselves.
I’ve been thinking about Italian Renaissance colours for a while, the type one sees in paintings. That particular red that might be pink, a green that is more green than green can be and of course, that gorgeous blue that seems to be made of cornflowers and lapis lazuli.
The National Gallery’s recently staged an exhibition “After Caravaggio”. The first time I attempted to see it was sold out, undeterred and having made the effort to haul myself into the centre of town on a Friday evening, I decided to have a look around the permanent collection anyway. One forgets how lucky we are to have such wonderful places on our doorstep for free, we should all make more of an effort to visit them and not just queue for the blockbuster exhibitions. I focused on the High Renaissance Galleries. All the colours I wanted to see were there. I knew them already, of course, they were in my head and I could visualise them, but it was wonderful to see them in front of me, together.
The blue, the pink red and the green are all in Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne (dated 1520-23, top left image), a painting that positively dazzles. Bronzino’s monumental ‘Allegory with Venus and Cupid’ (dated 1540-46 Right Image) has them too.
As a child I loved Bronzino’s paintings. I was given a book and found them mesmerising. I was a quiet, bookish sort of boy, alone in my own little world.The National Gallery has his ‘Portrait of a Young Man’ (dated 1550-55), an unidentified sitter portrayed in front of a pinkish red curtain; this was close to the shade I’d been thinking of. By way of a slight detour, but continuing on the drapery theme, Hans Holbein the Younger’ ‘The Ambassadors’ (1533, Image Below) has the most beautiful green curtain as a backdrop, of a shade so unique that it is impossible to accurately describe. The gentleman on the left of the painting, Jean de Dinteville, French ambassador to England, is resplendent in silk of pinkish red and against the green the effect is brilliant.
So, I had my colours, I had my combination, now, what to do with them?
I wanted to create window displays for Guinevere using this Renaissance palette, but re-interpreted in a fresh modern way. The last thing I wanted was some sort of historical pastiche, all trompe l’oeil painted draperies and bunches of grapes with bits of marble. We may be an antique shop but, perversely; I always want us to look new.Could the paint take on a life of it’s own? Initially applied by the artist in a careful, considered manner and then left free, unconstrained by rules to run and drip and splash and pool on the floor? That would be a different and interesting thing to do with this bunch of shades that was living in my head.
I had paint especially mixed, water based gloss that behaved just as I hoped, first neat in broad bands of vertical stripes, then slipping and sliding as we left it to drip.
The colours, deliberately splashed and splattered onto the floor, took on a new energy and proved to be the perfect backdrop to bold red Chinoiserie furniture, (53391) a French Empire daybed with a green chartreuse silk seat, (52654) a Cheval mirror shaped like an artist’s palette (50917), coloured glass and Italian modernist cabinets of steel and brass (53268). A strong backdrop is a great way to display strong pieces.
I don’t know whether other people see the colours of the Italian Renaissance metamorphosing into C21st century randomness when they look at the windows. Maybe they just think “oh, that’s fun and jolly for spring”.
That’s the wonderful thing about colour; it’s filtered through the individual’s eyes and imagination and means something different to everyone. Never let anyone ever tell you there are rules, it’s as subjective as taste.
Look for colour wherever you are and in all that you see. Load it to your visual bank or put it away somewhere in your memory. Remember the shades you like and the mixtures that entrance. Imagine the possibilities.
Then, when life is quiet or grey recall, think of it, visualise it and let it take you to another time or place.
London Design Week is always something to look forward to with the new collections being launched heralding the start of Spring and longer days (finally). It's easy to forget how lucky we are in London to have such a fantastic design district with Chelsea Harbour and Chelsea Design Quarter, a London home so many International brands mixed in with more eclectic standalone shops.
We are particularly looking forward to visiting the new de le Cuona showroom, we always enjoy using their beautiful fabrics on our furniture. Both Alton Brooke and Pierre Frey have exquisite fabrics that look fantastic on both traditional and contemporary furniture so we always make a point of visiting their showrooms and seeing the latest designs.
There is a great buzz during design week, with both Trade and Retail participating in the week’s events, talks and lectures. Many of the UK’s top Interior Designers and tastemakers give informative talks during the week and these are a great place to pick up design tips, recommendations and inspiration.
Easter Island, the remote Polynesian island located in the South Pacific, has always been steeped in mystery. The island of ‘Rapa Nui’ or ‘Easter Island’ as it is more commonly known earned its nickname thanks to Dutch explorers landing there on Easter Day in 1722.
This island’s most impressive claim to fame is an array of almost 900 minimalist monolithic human figures known as ‘Moai’ which were constructed between 1250 and 1500AD. The iconic moai have overly large heads with broad noses, strong chins and thin pouting lips. The statues have heavy torsos without legs and are usually portrayed as squatting. The oversized heads are thought to relate to the Polynesian belief in the sanctity of the head and represented both dead ancestors and powerful chiefs. Varying sizes of the statues directly related to the status of the chief who had commissioned it.
Originally the majority of the statues were located along the coast gazing inland overlooking the community as if to keep them safe. The exception to this was seven figures which looked out to sea, legend has it, to guide travellers to the island. There are a few inland ‘Easter Island Heads’ which are the most iconic of the moai which recent excavations have revealed to have full torsos buried beneath the earth.
Much has been made of how these monumental statues carved from a compressed volcanic ash which weigh on average 15 tons and are 13 feet high were moved around the island from the quarries to their final resting place. The most likely theories involved either rolling the statues on logs or ‘walking’ them into position using ropes.
Following on from the Moai era was the ‘Birdman Cult’ which was an annual competition to select a new leader. The competition comprised of a race to a nearby islet to collect the first egg of the season from the Sooty Tern bird. The first person to swim back to Easter Island and climb up the sheer cliffs with the egg intact to hand over to their sponsor was then declared ‘birdman’ for the year, an important position of status.
The demise of the island is still much debated amongst archaeologists with several leading arguments. It has long been thought that deforestation was the major cause along with the invasive Polynesian rat which devastated crops followed by the slave trade. The few survivors of the slave trade were vulnerable and as landing missionaries forced their religions onto the islanders the natives quickly lost their identity and were forced into living on a small portion of the island with much of their ancestral history lost or destroyed.
As of 1994 The Rapa Nui National Park and its Moai are a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Bohemian glass, or Bohemia crystal is glass produced in the regions of Bohemia and Silesia (now the Czech Republic). For centuries it has been internationally recognised for its high quality, craftsmanship, and innovative designs and is highly collectable.
The main fashion for colours came in the 1830’s glass was then coloured by layering or by colour stains and lustres. Usual colours were cornflower-blue and emerald-green. In the 1840’s green and greenish yellow glass came into fashion, was coloured with uranium and yellow glass coloured with antimony or silver chloride. Ruby glass coloured with copper was used almost exclusively for over-laying clear glass. A cut decoration that exposed the transparent layer underneath gave the glass a richly decorative effect. Gold was used for colouring the pinkish Rosaline glass that was made around the middle of the 19th Century by both the Harrach and Meyr glassworks.
The traditional techniques of engraving remained artistically in the forefront in Bohemia. In the traditional refinery region of North Bohemia only naïve mythological and allegorical scenes were engraved in the first quarter of the 19th Century celebrating loyalty, love and friendship, the ages of man, etc. According to the latest research it seems that the high standard of engraving was preserved in the first place by the engravers in Nový Svĕt, such as both Franz and Johann Pohl (1764-1834) who like the Silesian engravers engraved seals. Both Pohls are cited as teachers of the most famous engraver of the first half of the 19th Century Dominik Biemann (1800-57). Biemann left a wide range of signed works in the first place excellent portraits on glass medallions and on Harrach beakers, which show his training in drawing at the Prague Academy of Painting. Biemann settled in Prague, but he seems still to have worked occasionally for the Harrach glassworks in Nový Svĕt.
Bohemian glass is shaped by the two principal activities of the region – deer hunting and health spas. The town of Carlsbad was established, according to legend, when King Charles IV's hunting party chased a deer over a cliff. In their pursuit, the hunters descended into the valley and found a bubbling hot spring. The king established a town there and a statue of a deer is one of its symbols. By the 19th century, aristocratic visitors from all over Europe combined hunting trips with a spell of detox, drinking the water and bathing in the health-giving spas.
Glassmakers in Bohemia, led by Friedrich Egermann, responded with endless experiments. The secret of ruby glass that had been made from gold a hundred years earlier was rediscovered, along with recipes for rich blue and green glass. Whilst solid coloured glass was exciting, it wasn't suitable for engraving as the carving didn't show up. In order to overcome this a thin layer of richly coloured glass was applied on the surface.