Friday, October 22, 2010

Red pants, white cups and blue dragons

New purchases, for me, like new ideas, are not embraced immediately: they sit prominently displayed where I – crab-wise and apparently typically of my zodiac sign – walk by, look askance at, consider, reject for a while, even play with... until I finally trust them. So it was with the red pants I bought three weeks ago: only yesterday were they taken out of their packaging and moved on to the next part of the journey to what will be part of a splendid outfit. So it will be with the white, mark-embossed Meissen demitasses I bought on Saturday - they sit in their box by me on the dining table, yet to reach the china cupboard - and so it is with my writing about Roderick Cameron and his circle.

In many ways I walked backwards into Cameron and now shortly will begin an amble through his circle of friends - people who, in the main, held him in deep affection and appreciated his talents. His sister, particularly, loved him deeply and judging by her autobiography, was also in awe of him. As well she might have been, for in her book the man who hitherto I saw only in glimpses now has shading and depth. In a profession where we tend to exalt those with talent, and it must be said, those without a shred of it, I found it refreshing to read about man of quirks, pretensions, standards, erudition, talent, taste and, very definitely, clay feet. Affectionate, though, this portrait of one sibling by another is, it's no canonization.

It was inevitable, I suppose, that the more I learned, the more connections made, that my scope should widen and a greater picture would emerge, however faded and overlaid with the chicanery of memory, of a band of men who, to a great degree, were outlaws in their own time. Socially acceptable only because they were obliged to hide their inner lives, their sexuality and their partners. It is a dichotomy that continues today in the lives of many and leads in increasingly more instances to unspeakable tragedy - except where anonymity can be bought. 

I have mentioned before, how fortunate I've been in receiving positive comments, suggestions for further research, anecdotes from people who worked for him and on occasion scans of images from magazines not available to me. One correspondent scanned the photograph of Cameron's Paris living room - yet to be used in a post but no less welcome for that. If it were possible to tell you who these people are I would, but they generally speaking wish to remain anonymous. Another such kind soul, the blogger le style et la matière sent me the photograph above of Cameron's Anglo-Indian room, his study at Le Clos where he wrote his books - The Golden Riviera, the book I've just finished being one of them.

"By the time Rory had finished Le Clos itself, the top two floors consisted of six bedrooms and ensuite bathrooms and the ground floor was the dining room, a library and a large sitting room. The walls were painted the palest of pale olive green. I watched him pick an olive leaf and, turning the back of the leaf over, he got the painters to match the color. The sofas were large and opulent, covered in off-white, thick textured cotton with matching cushions. The chairs were large and Louis XV. Stripped to a pale olive grey, they were also covered in heavy cotton but in the lightest of lemon yellows.

Rory was, I believe, the first person to conceive the idea of the modern-day tablescapes. Large tables were covered in thick layers of material that flowed to the floor and on them he would place his flower arrangements and his precious collected pieces. He would go to the Nice market and buy tuberoses, carnations, lilies, and roses, all in the palest of pinks, whites, creams and yellows. He would cut off the stems and arrange large bowls of massed flowers. The rooms all had french windows open to the sunlight, which used to filter through the leaves of the olive trees and dance on the Aubusson carpets. The scent of the flowers would drift through a house bathed in the glow of warm Mediterranean sunshine. One of the sitting room walls had Louis XV panelling to frame Rory's collection of beautiful leather-bound books, many of which were first editions of the Belgian botanical artist Pierre Redouté and the 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. There was a secret panel in the carving and on pressing one of the rosettes, a door would swing open, leading into a library where other first editions lay opened and displayed on easels, their pages changed each day. Not nearly as large as the sitting room, the library walls were also panelled and housed the rest of his famous collection of books."

Soon I shall move away from Roderick Cameron - not entirely, for I'm not yet done with him - to his circle and beyond. Some are well-known, others less so. Not all are known for their decorating skills but all were in their times famous or even notorious for how they lived their lives.

Interesting, isn't it, that Cameron's sister credits him with the invention of tablescapes - that pleasurable if not always beautiful arrangement of favored objects so indelibly associated with David Hicks - a great friend of both Cameron and his sister. Those early arrangements of objets de vertu arguably are the parents of many a tabletop agglomeration of ... well, just stuff, and which of us is not tempted by such a display, especially when persuaded that we too can live the life portrayed by magazine proppers and stylists? But that is a discussion for another day.

Blue Dragons? Roderick Cameron in The Golden Riviera begins a lovely account of an early morning on the Pointe de Saint-Hospice with "How one becomes attached to routine, always the same china: Royal Worcester's 'Blue Dragon', a stylised pattern dating from the last century and one that is to be found in countless English houses." I will continue with this story in a later post but for now here is Royal Worcester's 'Blue Dragon'.

Quotation from A Lion In The Bedroom by Pat Cavendish O'Neill, Park Street Press, Sydney, 2004.

Photo of Roderick Cameron at his desk in the Anglo-Indian room and of the library at Le Clos from the book mentioned above but for which there is no attribution given.


  1. My husband too will never use things right away when they are 'too new'. I have tried to be the cool and sophisticated connoisseur but in reality, I love to jump right in and take possession , sometimes even unwrapping my goodies to admire them again before I can get home. Geminis like change, so they say.

    What a magical description of the Cameron library --- "a secret panel in the carving and on pressing one of the rosettes, a door would swing open, leading into a library where other first editions lay opened and displayed on easels. " What a lovely, dramatic place - a treasure chamber-- to enjoy his collection.

  2. It will be a sad day when you move away from Cameron as we have so grown to love him through your words. But we will, I am quite sure, rejoice as we discover new ideas thanks to you.

  3. My Gemini husband (we both agree this sign does not fit his truest nature except for the fact that this Gemini lawyer can start at one point in a sentence and end up on the other side without ever signaling a lane change) has to make peace with new. From hating to shop, to bringing home the goods, to arranging in the closet, and then waiting for some proper moment to acquiesce, to give in (or up) and accept the fact that something new must be worn. Yup, you two are alike in that regard. Looking forward to seeing this smashing outfit that starts with those lively red pants...perhaps shown while sipping a coffee in one of those lovely new cups. Have so enjoyed the Cameron chronicles. I do think his life is a metaphor for an age. I don't know if I will live long enough to see a world embrace our differences as wonderful gifts that make the world a richer, more complex, more interesting place. Until then, do know this strong willed, highly opinionated, sassy, atheist in Kansas is glad I found you and your wonderful musings.

  4. My dining table now is unsuitable for eating as every book and object and a new collection of antique royal doulton china that i've acquired in the past month or two is set on it. I was going to put everything 'away' this past weekend but thought it just looked too pretty to destroy! There it remains; I normally eat on my couch anyway as it's just me.

  5. le style et matiere, thank you. I wish I could find more photos and larger ones of the library but that is all there is, as far as I know. The red pants and I are still not in a close, personal relationship. It's clearly going to take a while.

    Hello, Bruce, and thank you. I'm moving from Cameron only slightly this week and looking at his extended circle.

    ArchitectDesign, thank you. I see nothing wrong in using one's dining table as a display space. I wish I could dignify my table with that name but at the moment it's clear evidence that I need my own office. Luckily we have a kitchen table at which we eat most days.

    Are you going to write about your china? Antique Royal Doulton needs to be blogged about.

    home before dark, thank you. Only yesterday I heard that I needed new jeans - just at the point where they are comfortable, soft and faded, they are apparently tragically out of date and too light in color. The red pants and I have still not come to terms and I had thought I might wear them this week when I'm a speaker on a panel but they need shortening and that's taking commitment too far.

    I know I shall not live long enough for difference to be celebrated and I wonder if it will ever happen. I wish, and if wishes were horses, etc. Yet there are people like you who remind me every so often that there's more to humanity that gets in the news - and I am grateful for it. Thank you.

  6. I have the exact same blue dragon on a cicular flat cake stand?/plate?, but I use it for cheese.

  7. fantastic site you have.... ive come here a few times, but today, i spent a leisurely afternoon looking and reading your postings. a fantastic point of view, and i look forward to reading you more...

    i also just added you onto my interior links. hope that is ok:)

    all the best
    david john
    los angeles