Chinoiserie furniture seems to be having a resurgence of late and it isn’t hard to see why. Beautiful detailed lacquer work sits well in almost all houses, be they in the manner of Billy Baldwin with clean lines, classic furniture and a mix of styles, an all out Chinoiserie explosion, or indeed just a one off statement piece.
Chinoiserie, a European interpretation of Chinese and East Asian artistic tradition, sees simple cabinets and tables take on a whole new life. The Chinoiserie style, although varied, is often characterised by Chinese figures in exotic looking landscapes which almost always feature colourful birds, dragons and the iconic pagodas. This exuberant decoration depicting wildlife or domestic scenes was thought by colonial-era Europeans to be typical of Chinese culture. There however were some who believed Chinoiserie to be an injustice to Chinese culture and arts, as well as overly feminine, and a sign of cultural confusion within Europe in the 18th century.
Chinoiserie has never really gone out of fashion as such. The style took a blow after the death of George IV, whose endorsement of the style as can be seen in some of the rooms in the Brighton Pavilion. In addition to this, the first opium war 1839-42, meant export from China became near impossible and people became generally less interested with the style.
Chinoiserie has, however, always been a popular choice for interiors favored by Kings and nobles alike, sitting well with Rococo furniture that was also in fashion in the mid to late 18th century. In 1754 the 4th Duke and Duchess of Beaufort commissioned
a Chinoiserie themed bedroom for Badminton House with William & John Linnell producing much of the furniture including the embellished bed with its imitation lacquer surface and pagoda-like canopy. A more contemporary interior is that of Coco Chanel’s living room providing excellent inspiration for a Chinoiserie interior; functional, elegant and chic. The 20th Century saw houses like Maison Jansen create fabulous Chinoiserie pieces for a larger market, although still proving popular with the higher classes. To this day the pieces appear to have an almost timeless quality, coffee tables like this 1950’s piece have simple clean form, oriental bamboo style legs and a highly decorated top. The actual make up of the piece is very simple, the art is in the detail. Top Photograph Courtesy of Etienne Gilfillan.
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.
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.
We have always loved the versatility of Japanese screens. Despite their age, they manage to look timeless, chic and almost modern when placed in a variety of different interiors, even the most contemporary. The unsung hero of the art world. They can be used as both a full impact piece of art, or a one off room divider that can adds a touch of drama. It is no wonder that their popularity seems to be going from strength to strength.
Like many Japanese arts and crafts items, the folding screens we see today originate from Chinese design. Unlike the Chinese equivalent of Coromandel screens; heavy wooden structures intricately decorated and not intended for much movement, the Japanese equivalent is light; a wooden frame with decorated paper, and even uses paper hinges.
While a larger screens with up to eight folds were used during dancing events and large parties. The late 19th century saw a massive upsurge in import of Japanese screens to the West. This was the first wave of true popularity. With the screens being incorporated into home design.
I have always found it slightly confusing as to why the screens have such a strong Chinese influence and often use Chinese characters as opposed to Japanese, upon research it is clear to see why. Heavily influenced by Chinese design and subject matter. Whereas Coromandel screens were historically saved for the elite, the Japanese equivalent were much more common and accessible to the masses.
Unlike the heavier Coromandel screens which are richly detailed and often darker in colour and tone. The Japanese equivalent sees a lighter pattern, often depicting cherry blossom, nature, animals and figures, they are much more sparsely designed, an aspect that lends them so beautifully to a modern and simplistic interior for that subtle flash of colour and design.
Last week, Anna and I went to Christie’s to see ‘Incredible Inventions and Curious Collections’.
On the first Tuesday of every month, Christies has a late night opening with art and wine, who could resist?! This was ashamedly my first time visiting Christies, and so when Anna suggested it, I had no option but to go.
The evening featured an array of unusual and unique objects. There was a demonstration of a one-and-a-half-metre-high mechanical corkscrew and wine-pouring machine. This gargantuan beast seemed to me a bit unnecessary however obviously a feat of engineering. If push came to shove…I would have no clue how to use it!
My favourite item was a modern Novelty ‘Dragon’ Clock by Alexander Mushkin. Made from over 1,000 individual pieces, including spoons, forks, car engine parts, brass wire, candlesticks, and many other random things.
Anna, for some reason, loved this Giant Stainless Steel Fork by Mark Reed… She claims it was because it was big and shiny, but I think the wine may have taken affect.
We also went to a highly informative and interesting talk by Dr Michael Pritchard, Director General of The Royal Photographic Society speak on the history of Leica cameras. Unfortunately we missed the game of mini golf that took place at some point during the evening.
We finished the evening with an Aperol Spritz at a nearby bar and then a delicious pizza at Franca Manco’s.
I love the idea of being able to view all of these amazing one off pieces especially combining it as a social event as opposed to what I had always imagined could be a very intimidating venue. Same again next month? Apparently, there will be a special Antiques Challenge – I wonder what the prize will be!?
One of the best things about working at Guinevere is the fact that we are constantly surrounded by a large selection of ever-changing eclectic and beautiful objects –predominantly antique but also some contemporary pieces.
Some of my favourite items in the showroom are by the contemporary artist Paula Swinnen, whose work is inspired by natural forms of flora and fauna. Not only are the objects functional, they are also works of art; engaging, quirky and unique.
Paula Swinnen discovered her passion for the arts at the early age of fourteen, which led to her studies at the Fine Arts Academy in Brussels. Twenty years later, Paula’s interest and experience has developed and she is now a highly successful self-taught sculptor. Using the ancient lost-wax technique,
which enables the artist to capture exquisite detail. Paula has mastered every stage of working with bronze, from the casting to creating the patina.
Although working in a field largely dominated by men, due to the huge physical effort involved, Paula has become a prominent figure, creating truly expressive and personal works. Paula is a great friend of ours and we have been lucky enough to represent her since 2011.
It’s always exciting when a new piece of Paula’s comes into the showroom from Brussels. Each piece always has a new element or special twist, which displays the artist’s constantly developing personal style. What piece of furniture will she create and which animals will she choose to incorporate into them? A snail creeping up a banister perhaps, or a lizard or dragonfly perched on a branch of a candelabra?
Last week I was delighted to find a new ‘Vignes’ center table placed in the showroom. We had a similar design in a coffe table a few years ago, but the scale and intricacy of this piece is spellbinding. The legs of the table and the branches that spring from it are moulded as gnarled vines, patinated in a light brown finish. A great deal of attention is paid to the vine leaves, each one being individually shaped, adding a real sense of life and movement to the piece. Delicate curling shoots and bunches of ripe grapes also issue from the main branches. The leaves, shoots and grapes are finished in polished bronze, with a lovely warm gold tone complementing with the brown branches.
When you look closely, you can spy two snails creeping along the branches. A freestanding polished bronze bird stands poised on top of the glass table top, with a crown on its head, surveying its kingdom, watching us work and looking out for potential buyers and a new home!
We recently came across a collection of Bianchini Férier designs in black, blue and autumnal watercolours. The designer's notes scrawled around the edges, a couple even had stamps charting their progress through different stages of approval, in the hopes that they might become one of the signature fabrics produced by Bianchini Férier. Not knowing much about the company, I began doing a little research, and started to realise what a huge part of fashion industry history these 12 watercolours represented.
For those of you, like me, who didn't know, the silk weaving house of Bianchini Férier was founded in Lyon on the 23rd July 1888 by François Atuyer, Charles Bianchini and François Férier. After a few decades of successful partnership, in 1912 the artist Raoul Dufy (1877-1935) was contracted by Bianchini to design textiles for the company, which turned into one of the best known collaborations within the design industry at the time.
It has been said that Dufy was poached from right under the nose of Paul Poiret, who he had been working with for just a year before being tracked down by Bianchini, however his designs were still used in Poiret's garments.
Over the course of his contract he produced over 4000 designs, and would see each one through from conception to completion. The firm continue to prosper after Dufy's contract came to an end in 1928 as planned,
and continued supplying fabrics to the great fashion houses of the time, a practice which continued and expanded in the sixties to the production of designs for designers such as Givenchy, Balenciaga, Chanel, Dior, Laroch, Nina Ricci and Yves Saint Laurent, to name a few.
Much like the prints used in the fashion industry today, the simplicity and pared down colour scheme of the watercolour designs ensures a seamless transition from design to fabric.
These 12 'working' watercolour sketches have an immediacy that gives them a fresh, timeless look, which along with the insistent French notes in the margins (“And they had better be consistently engraved!”) to remind us of their origins, makes them the perfect addition to the Guinevere walls.
Collection image courtesy of dufy-bianchini.com
Red-eye from Los Angeles and noon touchdown at Heathrow the 28th of July, cab it into Fulham, shower, and make myself ready for the opening party of the Guinevere Pop Up Shop at Weiss Gallery in Jermyn Street. I have flown in from LA to work at the Pop Up for the six weeks it will be open.
‘Pop Up Shop’ sounds a tad casual for what I find when I get there. The gallery, styled by Guinevere’s resident designer, Dean Robinson, is looking gorgeous and luxe. Furniture, lighting and accessories are mixed together with specially selected paintings from the Weiss collection. The look is sumptuous, gold, red and ebony feature in the main room, and cream, soft green and gold in the long gallery.
A crowd soon gathers, enjoying the hors d’oeuvres by the Imperial, the champagne, and, I notice, especially the Tom Collins with blood orange!
My favourite pieces from Guinevere are a pair of bronze statues of Atlas standing on plinths inscribed with quotations from Pliny the Elder’s Natural History.
One figure is holding up the planetary system, and the plinth is inscribed: ERRATIUM MOTVS LVMINVM CANONICA (The motions of the Planets and the General Law of their Aspects) Volume 1, chapter 12.
The other figure is holding up the planet Earth, with the inscription below: MEDIAM ESSE MVNDI TERRAM (That the Earth is in the Middle of the World) Volume 2, chapter 69.
My elegant Louis XV style desk here at the Pop Up is directly opposite a portrait of a Dutch lady who looks incredibly like Frances McDormand (the actress from Fargo). This lady is in formal court dress, a stunning black and gold gown, delicate lace at her neck and cuffs, ropes of pearls and a massive brooch on her bosom. Somehow I can’t see Frances in this outfit, but here she is, every day, keeping her counsel!