Thursday, March 25, 2010

In search of lost time

Without wanting to sound boorish, I must tell you I cannot abide Art Nouveau and it is entirely possible that my detestation will leak out as I am writing about Vincent Fourcade's Bridgehampton house. I've tried to like it for thirty years and still I don't. Perhaps the odd bit of Art Nouveau jewelry is interesting but, beyond that, the entangled sliminess of the style repels me. Just wanted to get that off my chest!

Vincent Fourcade, though not unknown today, is possibly remembered most by those of us who, like chickens scrabbling in the dust, pore through old magazines, and get together over a dining table to yack away about what fascinates us the most - decorating, decorators and the juicy, often salacious, stories attached to their names. Yesterday, for example, over lunch with a friend, she and I talked about Fourcade with the chef/owner when he came out of his kitchen to say hello.

The house, as you see from the first photograph, is a Long Island Shingle/Colonial, a house so ordinary from the outside that the inside is totally unexpected. Not unexpected, surely, of Mr Fourcade, but such a facade might imply an interior of momentous East Coast antique furniture disposed in a rather studied manner over patinad floors alongside hand-loomed rugs and carpets, bolstered all with suitably rarified paintings and prints.

Not for Vincent Fourcade, anything approaching a pallid evocation of waspish middle-class gentility. He installed his, and seemingly ship-loads of it, family furniture from France in a deeply buttoned agitation of Art Nouveau furniture, Second Empire upholstery, Pompeiian panels, Empire mahogany beds, Directoire chairs, all atop needlepoint rugs, bounded by brocaded walls betwixt marbleized pilasters and moldings.

Despite the remembrance of things past, as it were, in the decor Fourcade created, together with his partner, Robert Denning, during the 1980s - years when vast fortunes were quickly made - the celebrity nabobs of the time, like their predecessors at the end of the nineteenth century, required visible proof for themselves and their pals that they were the new aristocracy. How better to do it than evoking a fiction of the golden, olden days at the Chateau de Ferrieres during the Second French Empire?

Fourcade and Denning, decorated in a manner only to be described as le gout Rothschild, and it certainly was so described in the 1980s, a time when that other exemplar of the Rothschild Style, Geoffrey Bennison, was working. It will be interesting to compare Fourcade's version of this style to Geoffrey Bennison's, which in my eyes has a lightness of touch, serious certainly, but not pompous.

Vincent Fourcade died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of 58. Robert Denning survived Vincent Fourcade by 13 years.

Photos by Oberto Gili from House and Garden, June 1985.

Lunch, by the way, was at Le Lapin in Peachtree Battle and besides good food they make the best lemon cookies in the city.


  1. Sadly, I have to admit i'm not a fan of it either. I can appreciate it....but do NOT like it. You summed it up perfectly -but then still -the way it is put together here is pretty wonderful.

  2. Sad though I am that Mr. Fourcade was lost to a terrible plague, I have to admit that I am publicly on record as finding their style a poor and overwrought variation on Le Gout Rothschild. A few weeks I posted a friend's old bedroom formerly with subtle fortuny armchairs and to die for lacquer chinoiserie bed, and the room's reincarnation for another owner as one of the tawdriest Denning & Fourcade interiors ever. UGH.

    A find thing that you're doing with the series, however. I can't believe it's been 20 years since the Anthony Childs spread you posted a couple of days ago. I kept that living room on my bulletin board for a long time.

  3. I have come to understand the overboard aspects of D&F interiors, but this saloon space I love-it is the complete fantasy of it that so appeals to me-maybe I see sets from Cherie or some other gorgeous movie. I remember this from its publication and at least blue-feel good about finding one of my long lost loves! just can't help myself. pgt

  4. I thought of your post last night when I read how in 1900 a group of decorators and professors of fine arts had suceeded in having removed an exhibit of continental art nouveau furnishings from the "South Kensington Museum". It was judged a "pernicious influence!"
    What surprises me here is the brilliant high polish on the pieces of the last photo.

  5. I'm inclined to agree with your assessment of Art Nouveau, Blue.
    What is there about it that is so repellent? I usually pride myself on
    being able to see the point of many different styles and periods whether admiring of them or not, but Art Nouveau remains a blind spot.
    As for Denning and Fourcade, Down East Dilettant got it right when he flung out that word "tawdry" but then again, I am old enough to recall the impact of first seeing their house and then the NY apartment of Suni Agnelli, which was done in a bold decorating style that can only be described as F**k You. Wish I still had that issue of House and Garden showing her rooms.

  6. Architect,thank you. I find this kind of decor suffocating. Perhaps it's good of its kind but ....

    Dilettante, I will seek out the article you mention and look also for your post about D&F. Their work never appealed for me - maybe a result of Modernist training/indoctrination about Victorian decorating. I think I would apply the word "tawdry" most of what I saw, and that really does come down to taste, for some people still like it. Totally know what you mean about the Antony Childs' interiors!

    Little Augury, we must differ, but in a friendly way.

    le style et la matiere, you're right, Britons of that time, or those who had an opinion of it, really did not like Art Nouveau and that was probably more xenophobia than rational consideration of a new style. As to the sheen on the armoire - perhaps the result of a generations of wax but more that the 1980s tycoons were not about to buy crumbling furniture, it had to be refinished.

  7. Mr Worthington, it's odd, however rational we are and pride ourselves on being so - as I do - we can still react viscerally (I use that word advisedly) to physical characteristics in inanimate objects. I have a abhorrence of having bits of animals or their skins lying about the place, yet I wear leather shoes and belts. I agree with the use of "tawdry" with regard to D&F's work and for me it has not so much to do with the recreation of a particular period (which is another discussion) but more to brashly layered opulence upon opulence - the Fuck You Style, as you so rightly put it. (Nice one, Mr Worthington.) None of it was a personal choice by the owner but just my dick is bigger than yours, sort of thing. Perhaps that should be my antlers are bigger than yours. Interesting times the 1980s!

  8. Blue, Toby W etc. I am not particularly keen on art nouveau revisited myself and I have never heard of the wretched F&D, but come on chaps this is no more F**k You than half the rhetorical wank that a lot of interior decorators rise to, including some of the stuff I've seen in your AIDS series I am sorry to say. It may not have been as tawdry but it
    can still be dick led.

  9. Hmmm. Let me think about that one, Rose!

  10. Oh, but the interiors that Denning and Fourcade created for Susanna
    Ratazzi (neé Agnelli) were definitely suited to her character and I very much doubt that her surroundings were imposed upon her, for she was a personality in her own right. The DF look was based on a reaction to prim and cautious decoration, and to rooms that were repressed or puritanical. So when their work began to be publicized it created a stir in a positive way. When I blithely referred to them as F**k You it was meant as a compliment. After a while, that look grew oppressive and today it is questioned outright. The approach to
    Jayne Wrightsman's big drawing room in Palm Beach strikes me, today, as being cavalier in the extreme, nor was it remotely suited to
    her style. So that would be an example of D& F's high-handedness.
    But I wouldn't dismiss them outright.

  11. Its difficult sometime, Mr Worthington, not to let one's personal tastes intrude and if I misunderstood you, I apologize. We are in violent agreement!

    That the Denning and Fourcade interiors created for the very (newly) rich were meant as F**k you displays of money and status, is a given, and there's nothing new there! I rather liked your description, blithe or not, and I took it as you intended. I might, generally speaking, not like D&F interiors but I take them for what they represent. As to dismissing them: their work for Oscar de la Renta, interiors I rather liked, is something I intend to post about in the coming weeks. There are many aspects of 1980s design I would like to discuss and Denning and Fourcade's contribution is but one facet.

  12. Now I am scratching my head-who's on first? & as always Rosie rises above.

  13. It is perhaps a mistake to see 'Art Nouveau' as being of one particular all-encompasing style, as in the French/Belgian version which to be fair is very fussy, convoluted and full of affectations.

    There were a number of centres across Europe that had very distinctive and indigenous styles that are still classed as Art Nouveau but are nothing like the style seen in Paris or Brussels.

    Glasgow, Vienna, Munich, Cracow, Barcelona, Budapest, Riga the list goes on. All are interesting and individual and though some may have followed the French/Belgian style, many more were closer to early aspects of Modernism, particularly when thinking of Austria and Germany.

    However, I also find French/Belgian Art Nouveau difficult to understand, fathom and stomach, though I like some of the other aspects in other parts of Europe.