Saturday, December 18, 2010


"Here he amassed his immense art library, paintings and drawings and such memorabilia of Picasso, a close friend and neighbor. Here he drew around him that circle of painters who shed a special luster over the first half of this century, so that their work - which he began acquiring around 1928, in his ambulatory years between London, Paris and Berlin - became less collector's trophies than records of personal relationships. 'The Chateau de Castille was a noble house, and people came there, and I was able to ennoble it,' says Douglas Cooper, describing the legendary Picasso wall, which ran the length of open loggia used as a summer dining room. Its concrete surface was ornamented with five 1962-63 drawings by Picasso, projected by magic lantern, traced and then sandblasted - the lines being created by black basalt chips embedded in the grout. The subjects, which were specially chosen by the artist, had a personal meaning and relevance for him.

"Abandoning a life of such dimension for the restrictions of an apartment might appear daunting. It is certainly surprising to find this profoundly cultivated, yet rumbustious force de la nature among the high rises of the principality of Monaco. 'It was a question of timing,' he says. 'You know, about ten years ago I did manage to foresee the problems of inflation, taxation and staff shortages closing around. Besides, when you have created something, and perfected it, it's time to move on. Life is a cyclic affair. Most of those who came to the chateau had died. Can you see me stagnating among the bourgeosie in the small town of Nîmes?'"

Cooper's life at Chateau de Castille is not really of any interest here, except as another step in my theme of connections because two more associations are made. After John Richardson - Cooper's companion at Chateau de Castille, who had yet to write Picasso's biography - left Cooper to work at Christie's, New York, Cooper met William McCarty, the man who became his lover, adopted son and heir, at the Rittenhouse Square house of Henry McIlhenny.

The chateau itself is of interest, not really for its architecture or age, but for the designer to the owners after Cooper, an émigré American, Dick Dumas. Dumas, a name not I think much known this side of the Atlantic, but one I'd first heard of twenty-five years ago at Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Provence. In a sense, thus, with Dumas I've come full circle, or at least so it appears. 

Dick Dumas, born in Bryn Mawr, spent his teenage years in Detroit, joined the navy during the Second World War, had bit parts in Hollywood movies, married, divorced, worked for Charles James, had his own label, moved to Paris from New York, and eventually bought what became his fourth house in France, a former café, in Oppède-le-Vieux, a town not four miles from Ménerbes, where not only Roderick Cameron, but Peter Mayle, the author of A Year in Provence, also lived.

Dumas' provençal interiors typify, in my estimation, what may be thought of as expatriate interior decoration, beguiled by the sun, bedeviled by the wind, light-toned, pretty, comfortable, bucolic but not churlish - in fact, simply a one-sided conversation with the spirit of the place, and of little significance beyond that.

What is of significance for me is that as the end of the year draws near, I feel the need to reiterate, but not draw a line around, my themes of the last few months. I began thinking about my theme, to which I have only recently given a name - circles within circles - with this post on Billy Gaylord. He was not the first of what a friend has called my "dead decorators" series; but something written by an anonymous commenter, who has subsequently became a dear friend, made me see Gaylord, this man who died of cancer when forty years old, as perhaps emblematic of a theory, the structure of which I had not yet perceived.

The history of 20th century interior design has, in my opinion, been skewed by two major tendencies: the first, the predilection for beatifying celebrities to the frequent exclusion of quality, originality and what the ancient Greeks believed be the three components of beauty: symmetry, proportion and harmony; the second, the growing ignorance about those men who died during the last two decades of the 20th century, frequently of AIDS.

I use the word men in the last sentence quite consciously. For various reasons, I have limited myself to writing about men, not all of whom were gay. Yet there was such a preponderance of gay men who died during the 1980s and 1990s that it could be argued that the history of 20th century interior decoration is gay history - a theme to be investigated in the new year.

I cannot tell you the name of the photographer for these images as the page where his or her name would have been was cut from the magazine before I acquired it. If someone can tell me I would be grateful.

The text they accompany and from which I have drawn notes was written by Dodie Kazanjian for HG, January 1989 - that much was in the table of contents.


  1. If you aren't using this material for a book I will be very upset!

    May I say that your twin thesis is spot on? Yes! Yes! Yes! I want to cry. And it's not just interior design that has been impacted (I don't really like that word but it serves the purpose) by AIDS- it is Art (with a capital A) that has suffered as well. Gone are the legions of men- say- in the opera house who knew what they were listening to, and either accorded accolades of not. If anything, gay men have been the arbiters of Culture. And the great line from the last thousand years has been nearly severed.

  2. I discovered your first posting on Mr Gaylord when I discovered your blog, and did feel then as if I had suddenly plunged into a space I knew extremely well, but hadn't seen in years. I have been anticipating the development of that posting which you predicted then; and if recent months are any guide, it will be definitive, and illuminating even to alumni of that Symposium. And this goes directly to the distinction of this "theme" as it has pertained to other design professionals: when you relent, under what must be gathering pressure to submit this draft to print, your editor is going to tell you, you really should expand upon your sources somewhere. There's the narrative, there's the book, there's the corroborating assurance, there's the proof of the theme. It matters to you and I think you should execute it.

    I'm quite engaged to see this move forward. The Cameron series was historic.

  3. A lovely house and thought provoking text.

  4. Just an affirmative nod. I've always been just awestruck by the loggia and mural at the Chateau de Castille, and Dick Dumas's long book room has been one of my all time most envied rooms since the day it was published in HG.

    Recently I've been thinking about the many friends of our generation, talented all, who are no longer around...I remember them all, young, talented, and miss them terribly

  5. Blue,
    Please write a book wit this as your subject. I beg of you.

  6. It is lovely to hear the sounds of YES! Blue! Write this book! And, again I hope anyone who comes to this blog and knows other circles within circles contacts you with information. The 80s were a holocaust that needs its own remembrance. When reading your words, the song to the Thomas Crown affair always plays in my head,

    "Like a tunnel that you follow
    To a tunnel of its own
    Down a hollow to a cavern
    Where the sun has never shone
    Like a door that keeps revolving
    In a half forgotten dream
    Or the ripples from a pebble
    Someone tosses in a stream."

    This book is in you. It needs to be born.

  7. In addition to your dual themes, here with Dumas, you mention expatriate decoration and speak even of a one-sided conversation in the arrangement of his Provencial home. This is another subject that interests me throughout your various postings - your allusion to a cultural mingling of US, British and French (further?) decorating worlds. Often it would seem a certain set is in agreement aesthetically, but the end results have very distinct accents. I hope you will be able to touch more on this aspect in your growing oeuvre!

  8. Reading one of your posts is like settling down with a good book.

  9. Voice Talk, Carter Nicholas, The Devoted Classicist, The Down East Dilettante, Reggie Darling, home before dark, le style e la matiere, Janet,

    Folks, I'm truly overwhelmed by your words of encouragement and your enthusiasm. At this point all I can say is that you've definitely given me something to think about. I am truly touched .... you never know.

    With much affection and to gratitude to you all and best wishes for Christmas - to those that celebrate it - and to all a Happy New Year.

  10. Blue,

    I know this is your passion and follow it you must! Your friends are with you all the way....

    Joyeaux Noel!

    Art by Karena

  11. Let me add my Yes!!
    The rooms are so stunning I could more right in!

    Barry, I wanted to wish you and your Celt a very Merry Christmas! (are you in nyc again this year?!)

    Happy Holidays from our home to yours,