... is that it gets in the way of blogging. We all have these weeks, lifetimes even, when looking back one wonders where the time went - and, just in case you were wondering, it really does go by faster the older one gets. I won't bore you with an account of a misspent fortnight, just suffice it to say that after many a tired moment and guilty feeling I'm back at my desk with a bit more energy than I've had for a while.
I first came across William McCarty's name two years ago in a forty-year-old Architectural Digest, and noting that he did not appear too often, at least in my collection of old magazines - a clear case for not writing based on assumptions - I wondered why he never made the big time. Little did I know, for when I began to research him as part of my personal history of late twentieth-century decorating, I discovered what to many of you might be an established fact: McCarty had been very well-known as a decorator in London, had worked for David Hicks, thereafter established his own firm and worked on both sides of the Atlantic. However, McCarty-Cooper, as he became, is of interest beyond any rooms he may have created.
There is a lot of available information about William McCarty, written after his death, and I felt rather put out that this, for me, new discovery - a member of the lost generation as I thought - was in fact very well-known. I was so put out, I deleted the essay about him I'd begun and got on with other subjects. But as the saying is, what goes around ... etc.
Earlier this year, in the office I came across a pile of Connoisseur magazines from 1991 and there written by David Patrick Columbia in the December issue, was an account of McCarty's life - all a run-up to the sale of his estate with its estimated $30,000,000 worth of art, the remnant, if remnant is the right word, of an inheritance left to him by his lover and adoptive father, Douglas Cooper - the man McCarty first met at the Philadelphia home of Henry McIlhenny. Also, and this is what tipped the balance of my renewed interest, there is a photograph of William McCarty at Van Day Truex's house in Provence - circles within circles, thus. In Columbia's account of William MacCarty's life is a curious quotation from Jay Steffey that in its way relates to what I have been writing about these past few weeks - circles of influence and friends of friends.
"He met people the way an attractive intelligent young gay man did in those days. There were cliques of older men. They found him; he didn't find them. Being homosexual and intelligent, Billy wasn't the type to spend his life running around bars and being a hooker."
As I say, a curious, if not dubious, implication about an older generation of gay men, cliques no less, roaming the cultural byways of Europe and America seeking in a Pygmalion way the young and the ready for advancement. Whatever the process, the twain - the older man and the young flibbertigibbit - Cooper and McCarty met, and history was made.
Here you see photographs of Douglas Cooper's Monaco apartment decorated by William McCarty - described in the text of the article as "an old friend and therefore aware of Cooper idiosyncrasies" - an apartment which, despite the poor quality of the twenty-year-old images, is pretty impressive, if in an hermetic way. These are rooms in a highrise building overlooking the Mediterranean, created out of newly-constructed raw space, that have the character of a reliquary, precious, preening and protective of priceless contents - and perhaps it is precisely those contents, the paintings, the sculpture, gouaches, medallions and drawings by artists such as Henri Laurens, Picasso, Giacometti, Gris, Miró, Léger, David d'Angers, Braque and Klee, rather than the architecture and decoration, that make these rooms interesting. Not that I wish to diminish William McCarty's achievement - for it must be said that the space does not seem vast and my image of a reliquary, small-scale, enameled, inlaid, chased, gilded and lined in costly stuffs, is not far off the mark.
Beyond what I have written here about McCarty, I think it a better use of your time if you read this and this. It would be redundant to repeat either. However, what is of interest are the connections, circles within circles and who know whom. Much of the history of twentieth-century decorating is, in my opinion, an account, albeit deeply buried, of talented gay men who had connections, cultural and social, both covert and concealed.
William McCarty-Cooper died of AIDS in 1991, aged fifty-three, having disposed of his estate beyond a few small bequests equally amongst family and friends.
Photographs of William McCarty's work by Derry Moore to accompany text by Lesley Branch for Architectural Digest, February 1981.
Photograph of William McCarty in 1973 at Van Day Truex's house in Provence by Gloria Braggiotti Etting, published to accompany an essay Sons and Lovers written by David Patrick Columbia for Connoisseur, December 1991.
On the Defensive
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