Monday, November 21, 2011

Figure in a landscape

I have written* and quoted much about Roderick Cameron over the last year or so and, though this is likely to be the last post about him for a while, I'm not done yet - to quote David Hicks, "I could write a book about Roderick Cameron."

Spurred on as I was, in the beginning, by my distaste at two comments in print about Cameron: waspish and grab-arse pansy, long dead of Aids** eventually I came to realize how central he had been, not only to the lives of his friends but central also, if not to my life, then to much of my thinking. Given that I've concentrated on the positive aspects of his character as related by his friends and, in two gratifying instances, by people who had worked for him, what I have written borders, perhaps, on hagiography but, to be honest, I've never been interested in writing an exposé.

"For almost all of us here this morning in the Grosvenor Chapel - a building he must have particularly admired - the death of Roderick Cameron marks the end of a very long friendship, which made a great addition to our lives. My own friendship with him began just after the end of World War I, and lasted nearly forty years. When I first met him, he was living with his mother in London at nearby Lees Place; and he and Lady Kenmare used sometimes to attend the delightful dinner parties given by the famous Anglo-American hostess Lady Cunard (who for some reason hated to be called a hostess) on the seventh floor of the Dorchester Hotel. I remember him in those days as a tall, elegant, but rather quiet young man, somewhat overshadowed by his resplendent mother, a celebrated beauty of the pre-war world.  And it was only a little later, when I stayed with them at their house in the south of France, that he seemed quite to have emerged from the chrysalis of youth and to have become a completely individual character."

Among his earliest achievements, I suppose, was to redesign his mother's house, La Fiorentina, near St. Jean, Cap Ferrat. Before the war it had been a large Edwardian villa; but during the German occupation it was half-destroyed, and Rory completely transformed it on the classical lines of one of the splendid villas Palladio built near Venice. This was an important feat, since in later years, La Fiorentina was the harmonious background against which he exercised his gift for friendship. Rory Cameron was a man with many friends - that is a point I should like to emphasize; and, besides being himself a Man of Taste, he always loved to share his taste. It was not only for himself but for his friends' benefit that he both collected pictures and smaller objects of art, and at the same time laid out a glorious garden overlooking the Gulf of Beaulieu - it once included, I recollect, a pool covered with bright blue water lilies he had brought back from Australia, which, alas, a greedy fellow-gardner eventually stole.

"Rory's generosity was a keynote of his character. So was his hospitality; and among his guests were many writers. I remember Cyril Connolly (for whom La Fiorentina was an anticipation of Heaven) sunning himself upon the terraces. Rory's neighbours were William Somerset Maugham and Jean Cocteau. He was deeply interested in literature; and though he was conscious of having had a somewhat neglected education, he felt, himself, a keen desire to write. His subject was often his own travels; and his first book, 'My Travel's History,' which dealt largely with a visit to Egypt, was spotted by a clever publisher's reader, and accepted and published by Hamish Hamilton. He gave us - and I personally much enjoyed - no less that eight other books, mostly dealing with his impressions of foreign lands, from India to Australia, the continent where his mother had been born and brought up. And in each of his books I noticed the same quality. He had what I can only call a painter's eye. He could bring an exotic landscape or building to life by his evocative observations of line and colour, and his discerning sense of beauty.

"I have said enough, I hope, to suggest that he was no mere leisured dilettante, but had a true creative impulse. He worked hard, was always ready to accept criticism, and aimed at perfection in everything he did, whether he was writing a book, rebuilding a house, planting a garden, or placing a picture he had discovered and acquired exactly where it should be hung. His tastes were catholic, and he exercised them generously. In his personal life, as I have already said, he had an extraordinary gift for friendship. It is both as a friend we valued and as a creative spirit we respected that we are bidding him goodbye today."

                                                    Peter Quennell's "eulogy at Rory's memorial service, November 1985."

I first came across Roderick Cameron, merely a figure in a landscape - territory fascinating and as yet unexplored by me - in an article published in The World of Interiors twenty-seven years ago. I had no idea who he was - all I knew was that his house, Les Quatre Sources, at Ménerbes, impressed me no-end. The photographs and his description of what was his last house house stayed with me for years - his phrase the silver-green of the back of an olive leaf  has assuredly been a touchstone for my own aesthetic. I look around our flat, sparely but not sparsely furnished, and can see colors, muted but not diminished, responding well to the early light from the east and to the golden light of the westering sun.

As the Celt and I head to Manhattan for Thanksgiving, let me offer my thanks to all of you who have over the past two years, contributed to and commented on my journey of discovery of Roderick Cameron and his circle. It has been, and continues to be, a delightful odyssey. Thank you all for coming along for the voyage.

*Click on Roderick Cameron's name in sidebar "Topics"
** The link for this quote seemingly is inactive.

Photographs of the Grosvenor Chapel where Roderick Cameron's memorial service took place from Wikipedia Commons.


  1. The death of someone with style and taste is always particularly hard for me; there are so few that the loss seems particularly great. I am not surprised that the prolific writer Peter Quennell was so articulate in his eulogy, but was caught off guard by the choice of location for the service. Not that I should have been, of course, and the church certainly meets the esthetic requirements. Maybe I was thinking more along the lines of the ballroom at Claridge's. I greatly appreciated your post.

  2. It has been a real boon and privilege to us, your loyal readers, to have been educated by you in many things, including the life and times of Rory Cameron. Thank you, Blue. We are the richer for it, and our lives changed by it. Reggie

  3. As for painting, a landscape is always more valuable with a figure in it. This is a very beautiful post.

  4. I think it is we your readers who should be indebted to you for allowing us to discover or re-discover Cameron's life and work.

  5. I hope that last paragraph isn't a farewell speech!

  6. JT, thank you. Peter Quennell's eulogy is the third I've quoted - there are more but I have yet to get the original book. Clearly Cameron's death was a great loss to his friends and family and not all eulogies of the good and the great are as sincere as were Quennell's, David Hicks' and Walter Lees' - their's were no formal exercises in dissimulation. Interestingly, no one has ever written to me with a negative word about Roderick Cameron, and that says a lot, I think.

    Again, thank you.

    PS As to the ballroom at Claridges - I'll be in the hotel at the end of the year so will certainly take a look.

  7. Reggie Darling, my sincere thanks. I am grateful for what you write. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself over the last two - actually, almost three years - and I'm very aware of what I too have gained from blogging. We all, I think, are the richer for knowing each other and each other's ideas.

  8. gésbi, thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you!

  9. Columnist, thank you. I'll bet you are glad to be home. The photographs of your flat shouted "welcome."

  10. ArchitectDesign, thank you. No, it isn't a farewell speech, but I'm grateful that you asked.

  11. Long one of my own touchstones---since I first saw a European magazine spread (L'Oeil? Realites?) about La Fiorentina, one of my earliest jolts out of the prevailing New England Colonial aesthetic of my childhood. Ever since, I've happily devoured everything---and must remember to send you a clipping that I haven't seen appear in your posts yet :-). Not over til it's over.

  12. Dilettante, thank you. Good to hear from you - I know you've been busy. Can you scan the clipping?

  13. Quennell, who is great fun (and most of whose books are here, for the same reason he knew Mr Cameron), gave a devastatingly tasteless eulogy in the form of an editor's critique, from "History Today." You've done creditably better, and you have certainly been right not to scrape at the core of nobody's business.