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.