Thursday, November 24, 2011


Click here for a celebration of family and, perhaps, give thanks.

Photograph of a kitchen table in a shepherd's cottage "... an early 19th-century cottage, one room thick, built of rough flints. Oil-lamps are still used here and cooking is done either on the open fire or on an oil-stove. The fireplace is built up with bricks and has a wrought-iron front of two bars. The fire-bar which once when across the chimney and from which pots and kettles might hang, has disappeared" from English Cottages and Farmhouses, text by Olive Cook, photographs by Edwin Smith, Thames and Hudson, London 1954.

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.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Two portraits

"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