"I could write a book about Roderick Cameron but this is a small and humble tribute to the nicest man I ever knew.
"In 1954, when I was twenty-three, I was invited to lunch at Fiorentina by Elizabeth Chavchavadze who was staying there with Rory Cameron. Arriving on my rented scooter, I had little idea of the impact on my senses that that first glimpse into Rory's world would have, or what a tremendous influence he would be on my taste, or what a friend he would become. I was bowled over by everything, from the white-washed trunks of the straight rows of orange trees in front of the Palladian portico to the vast arrangement of sunflowers on the Louis XV table, next to the Sung horse and the huge books of engravings, to the fez on Rejabo's head, the Moorish water garden, the Battersby trompe-l'oeil inner hall, and the vista between the sphinxes leading down to the pool, which seemed to be part of the sea below.
"At the pool an elegant whippet welcomed me, followed by George III, but strangely tanned and tall, who greeted Shirley Worthington and me with diffident charm and introduced us to Pat Cavendish, Peter Quennell, Lady Alexandra Metcalfe, Jimmy Douglas, Lady Waterpark, Anthony Hail, and Hamish Erskine. Princess Chavchavadze looked after me at lunch, which was absolutely delicious, and when we had almost finished Rory's mama arrived with a Hirax on her shoulder, murmuring to the assembled company, seated on the Italianate loggia above the box and lavender, 'Rather late - painting, you know." She had to be Rory's mama - anyone less elegant, exotic, and simply beautiful would not have been appropriate. His sapphire eyes were from her.
"Quite overwhelmed, we left for our pension in Antibes, but I was determined to re-enter the magic world created by Rory that I had seen and, before leaving, I had pressed my London telephone number into his hand.
"That autumn he telephoned and I got to know him. Out of his kingdom he was a frank, sometimes shy, always invigorating personality. His knowledge of enthusiasms - for the pre-Raphaelites, Mies Van der Rohe, flowers, photographers, designers, writers, eighteenth-century follies, clothes, restaurants, exhibitions, travel, antiques, house and 'interesting' people - were so sympathetic. I was able to take him to the legendary Winnie Portalington and my Essex folly, The Temple, and other architectural delights he didn't know. Subsequent, almost successive, summers from 1955 to 1983 I stayed with him at Fiorentina, Le Petit Clos, Le Clos, in Co. Donegal, and finally at Les Quatre Sources. He came often to Britwell and came over to see us when we had Place de l'Horloge in Roquebrune-sur-Argens near St. Raphael and at Classiebawn Castle in Co. Sligo. His visits were always enormously enlivening.
"He would go through the rooms, feeling the objects, opening those that had lids. Once, at Roquebrune, he opened a large orange Scandinavian tub and was delighted to find that it turned out to contain ice. He had one of the best senses of juxtaposing objects, a wonderful appreciation of opulence combined with understatement, and he used beiges in a masterly way. If he was not a professional interior decorator he certainly had an immensely sure touch when doing his own houses and gardens.
"And he was the perfect host - the food, the comfort, the guests. Also a wonderfully appreciative guest himself, and a great traveler. Pamela and I did two expeditions with him - one to Aixe-en-Provence, the other around a game reserve in Kenya, and he edited out the boredom of, respectively, too many fountains and too man girrafes. 'Come on,' he said quietly, after banging on the landrover roof, 'we've seen the giraffes, let's go on to zebra.'
"He always called me 'Master David,' and the most wonderful thing for me - after all, I learned so much from HIM - was when in the spring of the year he died to told my Persian friend Nahid Ghani, for whom I was building a house in Portugal and whom he hadn't met before, "My dear, you are in the best possible hands.' It will be, forever, one of my greatest accolades.
"Whenever I've solved an architectural problem or wondered about a planting solution or when I hang pictures in Portugal and group objects, I long, long, long to see his reaction, to have his approbation OR gentle criticisms as in the pool garden at Britwell in 1964 - 'Do you think the garden is a little big for the pool?'
"The Prince of Provence is no longer with us but we have so many happy stories and events to remind us of what a tremendous, hugely warm, erudite, generous and cosy friend Rory has been in all our lives."
Two portraits, then: one, an affectionate eulogy by David Hicks of his friend whom he called the Prince of Provence; the second, a portrait thought to be of Samuel Johnson's much-cherished servant, Frank Barber, versions of which hang in the Tate Gallery and the Menil Collection - Joshua Reynolds' A Young Black, whether copy or original I have no idea, hung above the chimneypiece in that same Prince of Provence's drawing room in Paris.
Image of Francis Barber (or, as it has been suggested, of Sir Joshua Reynold's own servant) from the Tate Gallery.
Roderick Cameron's living room photographed by Jacques Boucher for Les réussites de la décoration francaise, 1950 - 1960. Collection Maison et Jardin, Condé Nast S.A. Editions de Pont, 1960
Making a Show of Itself
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