Category Archives: Haute House

Jean-Frederic Schall’s Dancing Ladies

Jean-Frédéric Schall, a French painter born in Strasbourg in 1752, was one of the last important artists to contribute to the fête galante style popularized by Antoine Watteau.  His works are mostly small in scale and executed with a characteristic liveliness in form.  His female subjects, particularly his dancers, portray an idealized femininty with delicate facial features and impossibly slim waists.

I find them utterly charming.  They’re like miniature cupcakes, sweet and lacking substance.  And they’re so 18th century, or at least how the 18th century aristocracy had hoped to appear.

Graced with innocence and ebullience, these ladies seemed a natural pairing with flower sketchings from The British Florist volumes.  Enjoy!

Lady with a Dog

Dancer with a Tambourine

A Young Lady Dancing in a Wooded Glade

 Portrait of a Lady, possibly Marie-Madeleine Guimard, ballerina of the Paris Opéra

Dancer with a Feather Hat

Dancer with a Bouquet

Dancer in a Louis XVI Costume

All drawings from The British Florist, or a Lady’s Horticultural Journal, Volumes 1-8

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A Night at Chambord & Chenonceau

While visiting these châteaux you just have to wonder–what’s it like at night when you are NOT ALLOWED to visit?  What does it feel like to, say, slink around in the shadows, watching the royals sleep?

Okay, that’s creepy.  But you kind of want to know, don’t you?  When nobody else is around but ghosts, when all is dark and silent, what mood stirs beneath the moonlight?  An imaginary nocturnal visit to Chambord and Chenonceau, if you will . . .

Chambord

Louis XIV Ceremonial Bedroom

(I didn’t scale down the resolution – click away for the full experience)

The dude who (occasionally) slept here

Louis XIV – Charles le Brun (1661)

The Queen’s Bedroom

Marie Thérèse of Austria, wife of Louis XIV – attributed to Charles Beaubrun (1666)

Chenonceau

Louise of Lorraine’s bedroom

The Lady in White (aka Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, one time Queen of France) designed this room for her retirement from Court.  In grief after the assassination of her husband Henri III, she bedded down here for the remainder of her years.  The matte black walls and white motifs are symbols of mourning.  Take a closer look at the chandelier-esque stencil on the lower lefthand wall.  It’s actually a cornucopia of eternal tears.  Images of death abound: crosses surrounded by spades and picks, widow’s cordons, crowns of thorns, and the Greek letter lambda to represent Louise’s and Henri’s initials intertwined.

I’m not sure what it says about me that I thought this room was amazing when I visited Chenonceau. I’m sure the pious Louise wouldn’t approve, but it looks positively witchy to me.

Regarding photography in this post:

Creative Commons License

Follies: An 18th Century Fascination

My interest with follies began in the early summer of 2001.  I had hiked up a long, sloping hill in Barcelona to visit Gaudi’s Guell park, seeking to bask in the artist’s vision beneath a sweltering midday sun.

I knew what to expect.  I had seen the apartment he’d designed along the busy street far from El Carmel Hill, strolled through the perpetually-in-progress La Sagrada Familia.  In the light of his creations, I understood one thing: magic pervades his work.  The symmetry feels utterly foreign, as though you’ve stepped in Dali painting and are unsure whether you wish to find your way out.  His world is at times sinister, at other times stricken with childish delights, but despite its fantastical elements, Gaudi’s buildings would not be considered follies.

 

The demarcation between fantasy and folly lies in the buildings intended use.  Upon approaching the nineteenth century, however, follies were increasingly allocated to activities beyond titillating one’s family and friends.

A confusing and ambiguous definition, when you get down to it.

Essentially, the strict definition of a folly distills down to two components.  One: does the buildings express purpose lie in ornamentation?  Two: is the nature of the structure symbolically relevant in terms of ideals and/or values?  Answer yes to both and you have genuine folly on your hands.

Sir Thomas Tresham’s Rushton Triangular Lodge, built 1593-1597.  This is what gets built when you imprison a Roman Catholic for not converting to Protestantism.   Throughout the design, you’ll see symbols of the Holy Trinity with its enthusiam for threes.

In addition to being expensive and impractical, follies were imitative in desgin.  Art wanted to reproduce a life already lived.  Like most trends, the initial concept of follies started with the privileged and trickled down to all who could afford historical aspirations, including the actor David Garrick

Garrick’s Temple by Johan Zoffany, 1762.  As a Shakespearean actor, Garrick desired to commemorate the playwright with a temple in his honor. Located on the north bank of the Thames in Hampton, London on what was once land adjoining Garrick’s villa, it’s the only known tribute devoted entirely to Shakespeare.   

Aristocrats whose estates boasted authentic ruins were envied by peers who viewed their lands as aesthetically barren.  To honor the upper class dictate of do thy neighbor one better, the 18th century—the last great hurrah of the landed aristocracy—saw a renewal in folly construction, although the trend was born some two centuries before.

Conceit was the lifeblood of these fantasy constructions.  Roman and Doric temples illustrated a desire to emulate classical virtues.  Nods to faraway cultures gave way to Egyptian pyramids, Chinese temples, and Tatar tents.  Travelling abroad, one might say, without ever leaving home.

Désert de Retz near Chambourcy, France

Simple peasant virtues, like those expressed in Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet at Versailles, were somewhat rarer but appeared in the form of mills, cottages, and rustic villages.  As the eighteenth century progressed, exoticism surfaced much the same way Chinoiserie did in textiles and home décor in the early 1700s.  Chinese pagodas and Japanese bridges were favored in lieu of castles and ruins, furthering euphoria over displaying one’s wealth through useless landscape ornaments.

 Brizlee Tower, from A Description and Historical View of Alnwick, 1822

Many notable follies were built to commemorate a loved one, particularly a woman.  Brizlee Tower, located on Hulne park near Alnwick Castle, was commissioned by Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland, after Lady Elizabeth Seymour’s death in 1776.  In high gothic style, the tower sits atop a hill and rises 26 meters for a clear birdseye view from the north, east, and west.  As with a number of the tower follies, a beacon is surmounted at its heights.  When lit the fire can be seen for miles around.

Broadway Tower via Wiki Commons 

This is likewise the case with Broadway Tower.  Built in 1799 for Lady Coventry, the tower functioned as a sort of test to ascertain whether or not she could see its beacon from her house in Worcestershire, 22 miles away.  She could.

Stancombe Lake and Temple from The Temple

Among the most romantic examples of a folly is the temple at Stancombe Park in Gloucestershire.  Although its creator, the reverend David Purnell-Edwards, was newly married and more pointedly a reverend at the time, the temple was supposedly an ode to his secret lover. The legend surrounding its construction is something of an amusing tale.  Apparently, when Purnell-Edwards married, the dowry he received was as equally generous as the physical proportions of his bride.  We are left to imagine they didn’t take well together.  Mismatched personality, sizist attitude, no love lost–well, irrespective of the facts, Purnell-Edwards had a beautiful gyspy on the side and no suitable place to engage in trysts with her.

His solution?  Construct a romantic walk around a two acre lake, conceive a series of tunnels too narrow for the wifey to fit through (they measured just over three feet in width), and at the walk’s end, erect a temple outfitted with snuggling quarters and a boudoir.  The good news is that for £300  a night, the lover’s tryst is all yours to re-enact.  The bad news, however, is that considering it was once voted the most romantic place in Britain, that re-enactment has been set on repeat for quite some time now.

Happy 2012, readers, and thanks for being among the first visitors of the new year!  Your comments and faithful readership are very much appreciated!

Stepping Outside Cà d’Zan: More Ringling Photos

Approaching the bay–isn’t the marble beautiful?  It looks like a Missoni pattern.

Journey straight through the simple stained glass windows and you’ll be in the Great Room again.  Turn around and there’s the bay.

The unsual looking glass continues throughout the house–come to think of it, I don’t believe the house has a single clear window.  They’re all like the one below.

The view from the Great Room

The Secret Garden north of Cà d’Zan

Secret Garden second view

Statues like this boy are everywhere around the estate.  I like how he’s being taken over by one of the many banyan trees on the grounds.

Missed the first Cà d’Zan post?  Find it here.

Interested in the layout of the estate?  Find it here.

On tap for tomorrow: The Prettiest Circus Drawings Ever

Cà d’Zan : The Ringling Mansion

Cà d’ Zan , the Venetian Gothic mansion belonging to the famous circus owner John Ringling, is a house unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  It’s part circus cheek, part Venetian elegance, and all at once oddly charming.  Built in 1924 and finished around Christmas 1925, it set John and Mable Ringling back 1.5 million–a princely sum in those days.  Situated right on Sarasota Bay, this 36,000 square foot home is on prime real estate and with a Belvedere tower rising 81 feet, the view is a sight to behold.  In total the house boasts 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms, although in person it doesn’t quite feel this large.  All in all it has five stories, including a basement, and stretches two hundred feet across the waterfront. 

The Mansion on the Bay

Approaching the house from the secret garden.  Although on a clear day, the house sparkles, it’s particularly moody with overcast skies.

From the Main Walk

 Facing the golden door where one enters the house

Turn 180 from the view of the golden door I just gave you and you’re facing an anteroom that looks into the great room to the right and a dining room which is not shown.  The red is dramatic, isn’t it?  Perfect for a circus family, I think.

The room directly beyond the foyer looks onto the bay.  It’s a big room full of nothing too interesting except an enchanting ceiling jam packed with vignettes.

The 1920s vignette is a nice ode to the time the house was built.

The Great Room and looking up. . .

I’m a sucker for detailed ceiling work as I am alway craning my neck.  Ca d’Zan does not disappoint in this regard.  Everything is finished with a discriminating eye.

Hand painted on wood

 

View towards the bay

I think I’ll post a few more photos tomorrow as this is running longer than expected and due to other obligations I’m getting to the post rather late.  So tomorrow then . . .

Antoinette Tulips

I have a thing with gardening, an obsession really.  I would not quite call it Tulip Mania, but it’s bad, and now I have one more obsession to boot.  The Antoinette tulip is multiflowering, which essentially means its hues change over the bloom period, and it is gorgeous.  Antoinette would have been a fan simply for the tulip’s whimsical nature.  It’s Easter yellow and green . . . no, wait, raspberry pink.  No, salmony orange.  Oh, dear.

As a bouquet tulip, Antoinette is also abundant, producing 4-6 flowers per bulb.  The name really is perfect and although spring seems an awfully long way off, any Antoinette fan would be remiss to not have some of these in her garden.

Versailles Gilt: A Photographic Journey

I have only about a gazillion pictures of my travels.   Behold a few gilty pleasures from Versailles to glam up your work week . . .

Paper Your Walls, London Style

Finally, a patterned wallpaper I could spend hours looking at.  Based on a map from the 1700s, Thibaut Design offers both wallpaper and fabric making it perfect for the full scale 18th century Anglophile or the occassional admirer of antique cartography.  Plus, the colors are so pared down as to almost be neutrals.  I particularly like tobacco which looks like aged sack cloth and would make a cute pillow.  Aqua and Linen are nice too.

Tobacco

Aqua

Linen

The Bones of Holkham Hall

 

Holkham Hall is the ancestral seat of  Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, and his descendants.  As one of the most notable examples of 18th century Palladian revival, which celebrated the symmetrical style of ancient Greece and Rome, its construction lasted a total of 30 years, between 1734 when its foundation was laid and 1764 when the great house was finally completed.

This early blueprint is based on the principal plan of the piano nobile, or first floor, drawn by Matthew Brettingham in 1761.  For purposes of understanding what an 18th century country estate might look like to the bones, it’s fantastic.  The reception rooms are situated around two courtyards.  Wings extend from the heart, comprising the bedchambers and the family’s various private rooms.

Upon close review, Holkham Hall might look familiar to you.  The 2008 film, The Duchess, was set on location here.  The Great Hall in particular was the setting for many of Georgina’s emotional interludes, including her  argument with Charles Grey after she’s returned from their love affair in Bath.

The Library

The Chapel

The Salon or Saloon

For more information, see:

360 degree view of Holkham Hall

Visit Holkham Hall

More pictures

Singerie a.k.a The Monkey Craze

The monkey craze was born out of orientalism, a close relation to chinoiserie, the other craze of the 17th and 18th centuries.  Like many aesthetic obsessions of the time, it manifested from western Europe’s fervor for all things exotic and first cemented its mark in France.  Today we can thank Claude III Audran, a designer working at the Chateau de Marly, for entertaining us with his notion that monkeys can and should sit around a table just like us humans.  Or at least, they should in paintings.  This idea of Audran’s was most likely inspired by 17th century aristocrats’ penchant for dressing their pet monkeys in outfits where the monkeys would then perform tricks for the amusement of courtiers at Versailles.

Unfortunately Audran’s designs have gone the way of the chateau, but we can the work of his successors.  Jean Berain, the Elder, a rococo artist who painted arabesque wall decorations f0r the Sun King renewed enthusiasm for the style when he added monkeys to his engravings in 1711.  I’ll leave it up to you to decipher what business the monkey is up to here.

The artist Jean Baptiste Siméon  Chardin is a also notable contributor with his singe paintings, the most famous being Le Singe Peintre (below) but many influential artists of the time dabbled in the style, including Antoine Watteau and Nicolas Lancret.

In art, as well as textiles and home furnishings, singerie eventually became the term for the humorous depiction of monkeys imitating human behavior.  Often, these simians were fashionably dressed in oriental attire and were depicted engaging in playful pursuits.  In fact, that’s where singerie comes from.  In French, it translates as “monkey trick.”   

 

The greatest surviving example of a room decorated in the singerie style is located in the Chateau de Chantilly.  From 1643 to 1830, it was owned by the Bourbon Condé family, cousins to Louis XIV.  For an up close look, visit Le Grand Singerie.  The images above are part of the wall paneling.  The whole of the room, formerly believed to have been painted by Watteau, is now credited to Christophe Huet.  He also painted Le Petit Singerie which functioned as a small room between the apartments of the Duc and Duchesse of Bourbon. 

For further information on singerie, see:  NY Times’ Chateau’s Monkey Room is Lovingly Restored

Liked the post?  Check out 18th Century Chinoiserie