Saturday, June 27, 2009

Favourite Things: John Derian

EmpireLady could not have said it better!
If EmpireLady were to have to make a list of her top ten favourite artisans,
John Derian would certainly be in that list.

EmpireLady was astounded by Mr Derian's work on first seeing it some years ago, the initial reaction being a sense of relief, as she had earlier formed the impression that she had been aesthetically marooned in the Antipodes in an Art scene that was moving, at that time, in a very different direction. (Apologies to the Australians) but then again, any Australians reading this will probably recall being aesthetically brutalised by their fellow countrymen at some point.

EmpireLady seems to have assumed that everybody spends hours in Museums and that it is preferable to have a museum at home too, it is inevitable that she finds Mr Derian's work intoxicating to the extent that with a twitch of anglocentric narcissism, she feels immediately compelled to re-categorise Mr Derian as British. This, of course is a compliment but along with being impossible it is also rather unfair. America, and for that matter Australia, have so much to offer intellectually, aesthetically and creatively. As an antidote she creates a mental list of the many appeals of the New World and shares some of them here. Begrudgingly she includes Mr Derian in the American list, despite feeling compelled to check his biography... just in case ....

Henry David Thoreau, Walden.... a first rate, hard copy C19th blog!

KWID, which EmpireLady seems to admire despite not actually being a fan, could be nothing other than American, over stated but revealing a passion for an almost primal use of materials, bone, turtle shells, rain forest hardwoods, leather, stone; motifs of disembodied stylized heads and buddhist hands. EmpireLady's response (being a product of a culture that has elevated understatement to an art form) is to sense the restless rustling of the New World behind the aesthetic scheme; to be reminded of tobacco and sugar; of exploitation and indifference and an overwhelming desire to please. EmpireLady perceives no cultural inconsistency between the Playboy shots of Wearstler (formerly Gallagher) that abound on the net and the work executed through KWID. This is a glamour that does not depend upon subtlety for its impact and for that reason it is fascinating and intoxicating in a very American way. Almost romantic from afar.

With reference to the above, EmpireLady advises that when one is photographed without ones clothes, one should consider wearing a triple strand of pearls, that point being illustrated with great verve by the Duchess of Argyll, the subject of an earlier post

Babe Payley, Truman Capote deserving of lots of posts

Paul Pincus, EmpireLady is a fan

New York in general

Paris Hilton imagined through Andy Warhol's dead eyes, it is such a pity that he did not live to see her .... what a match it might have been.

It would be possible to go on and on and on but perhaps the most reassuring thing to do is to post the images received from the last two New York Gift Fairs, the work of an intriguing American, Mr Derian, whose work you should go out and buy straight away:


decoupage platters and trays

Dromedary Loveseat in Libeco Linen at centre

Cove Sofa and Fritillaria Chair

Field Bench in Libeco linen

Cove Sofa in Libeco oyster linen

decoupage platters

all images courtesy of John Derian

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In the Garden: Longing for Summer!

It is deep mid winter and EmpireLady, who loves to garden, is longing for sunshine. With this in mind EmpireLady is planning a patio garden and is sourcing some echeverias for mass planting in large containers. These images will just have to keep EmpireLady going through the winter gloom:

echeveria elegans (in winter)

echeveria secunda glauca

echeveria secunda

image from flickr, a wonderful planting

Echeverias Perle von Neurenberg and Lola with sempervivum

echeveria setosa

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Musing On: Under an Acorn Tree, thinking of Virginia Woolf.

It is midwinter here in Australia and, with the shortest day of the year drawing to a close, I have found myself rereading Virginia Woolf.

image courtesy of Barnes & Noble
who state on the jacket:

'Women must have money and rooms of their own, Woolf told her audience, if they are to write fiction. They must have the liberty "to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future and the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream." They must write books on every subject and fertilize every field of knowledge with their own understanding; and their writing must draw on both the masculine and feminine parts of themselves, for "it is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties." Then, when the next woman is born whose gift is a match for Shakespeare's, her talent will be allowed to bloom.'

Virginia Woolf's room at Monk's House

Despite the rain, I was reminded of summer and then of summer in one house in particular. It is hard to imagine that this tiny cottage is in South Australia, but that is exactly where it is, near Stirling in the Adelaide Hills, tucked under a giant oak tree. The sensitive restoration project was inspired in part by 'Monk's House', owned by Virginia Woolf from 1915 until her death in 1941. The photographs taken at the end of summer, on Valentines Day, do not show the garden to its best advantage!

Acorn Cottage, built prior to the proclamation of the state of South Australia and was once a Public House (Pub) know as the 'Half Way House', located on the old bullock trail south of the Old Mount Barker Road.

The cottage is comprised of a honeycomb of rooms, not all of which are shown

the summer garden, exhausted by the heat

the windows flung open to let the summer breeze through the cottage

The original shingle roof underneath the iron roof was a home to several bats prior to restoration

If walls could talk.....

The remains of the old bar, from behind which refreshments were once served, has been retained in the bedroom.

I am reminded of summer
image via Amazon (currently out of stock)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Treasure Hunt: A little note

This little post is for K********, this is the tea table, I think that it is charming:

kind regards, B.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Favourite Things: Portrait of a Lady

It is winter here. Today, and for the next few days, I am in quarantine with flu from Mexico! How exotic, I have never had a house guest from Mexico before and now I am thinking about Frida Kahlo and her portraits. This is an entirely new experience for me. My neighbours have been kind enough to come to the window with a box of food to be left at the door before beating a hasty retreat.

With Frida on my mind, if I were to have my portrait taken now I would have to do my best and fashion myself in the mode of the 'Victorian decline,' a sort of The Fall of the House of Usher look (my mother does it so well and with so little prompting). However blogging and tamiflu seems to be a better, albeit unstylish, option.

There is little that lends a more evocative elegance to a room than a portrait, they offer a wonderful opportunity for juxtaposition. The portraits that I love are strongly neutral, they do not reveal too much of the painter's intent and allow the viewer to make their own mind up, this is particularly true of vintage portraits because the level of disassociation allows the viewer to make their own associations with the piece.

image via airspaces

In terms of modern portraits this evocative quality is rare but is certainly to found in the work of British born, Australian based artist David Bromley with whom I attended classes at Art School in what now seems a lifetime ago. I am a great admirer of his work, which deserves a whole separate post

David Bromley's portrait of Louise Olson (of Dinosaur Designs),
a 2008 entry for the Archibald Prize

To anyone who has reservations about hanging a portrait of an unknown sitter, I would say that it may be useful to consider that living with a portrait of someone you know all too well might be far more trying!

Recently I was admiring James Merrell's astoundingly beautiful portfolio when I came across these images which illustrate the point far more eloquently than my words:

James Merrell

James Merrell

On inspecting a blog called My Book Covers, a compilation of brilliant jacket designs by Random House designer Megan Wilson, I was thrilled to find an image from the painting of Sir Herbert James Gunn, the subject being his second wife. I have not actually seen the original but I know his other work well. I would love to know where the original hangs, if you know, please tell me! I have also posted images of his other portraits below

Sir Herbert James Gunn

My fascination with these mid century portraits is perhaps due to the fact that they seem to crystalise the end of an era , effectively the closing years of the British Empire. It is perhaps easier to regard them with the affection that comes with distance and loss.

Gunn's 1930 portrait "Pauline in the Yellow Dress" was originally controversial as it depicted his wife, an elegant, wealthy woman wearing make up and an elaborate dress in a period of austerity,'' when clothing was still rationed and women found it difficult to acquire cosmetics. When first exhibited in the Royal Academy some 14 years later it was described as "the Mona Lisa of 1944." I can still remember seeing the painting, as a child, in a museum at Preston, it puzzled me as I looked and looked and looked but I still couldn't work out what the lady was thinking!

'Portrait of Gwen' 1925 the artists first wife

EmpireLady, resident muse, is insistent on the posting of even more Gunn portraits, perhaps just one in particular .... the subject being a Lady who meets unreservedly with EmpireLady's approval, the Duchess of Argyll, the subject of the most infamous British legal case of the twentieth century, the Argyll v Argyll divorce case of 1963 better known as the ‘Headless Man’ case, where the central evidence was a photograph – taken possibly with the only Polaroid camera then in the country which belonged to the Ministry of Defence – taken of a naked man whose head was cut off the top of the frame and in which the naked Duchess, in her mirrored bathroom, was identifiable by her triple string of pearls. Throwing caution to the wind, EmpireLady is of the opinion that this is simply the most stylish way to wear pearls and is certain that Boris agrees.

The history of the proceedings are counter pointed by the statements of complacence and almost hypnotic self-regard that survive in sources such as the Duchess’s autobiography 'Forget Not' written in 1975. Resoundingly well-dressed and astonishingly coiffed (an auburn, baroque-swirl bouffant was her trademark), Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, to no one's surprise, was famously self-involved. Described in her own words, "I had wealth, I had good looks. As a young woman I had been constantly photographed, written about, flattered, admired, included in the Ten Best-Dressed Women in the World list and mentioned by Cole Porter in his hit song You’re the Top." Here she is:

She once told the New York Times, "I don't think anybody has real style or class any more. Everyone's gotten old and fat." More to the point, she described herself as "always vain." To the end of her life, her superficiality remained superbly intact, as evidenced by one characteristically vapid quote: "Always a poodle, only a poodle! That, and three strands of pearls!" she said. "Together they are absolutely the essential things in life."

The Duchess was duly divorced, and her life became a desperate scrabble to cling on to the high life from which indebtedness and notoriety remorselessly excluded her. Despite her cataclysmic fall from grace the Duchess made sure that her house at 48 Upper Grosvenor St was a linchpin of society in postwar London, with visitors such as Noel Coward, Cary Grant, Anthony Eden and John Paul Getty. A few years ago ago the house was sold. The agent’s brochure says rather coyly: “This great address is exemplified by her indomitable spirit.”

Her Biographer Michael Thornton wrote “After the case, people thought Margaret would go abroad or disappear from society, but she refused to do that. She never skulked or wore dark glasses, she just went out and about and carried on hosting parties. Some people stayed away, but not for long — in the end, they all came back. She was very courageous.”

When one considers what part the house played in the duchess’s downfall, it seems odd that she kept the bathroom exactly as it was. The house is listed and so is the bathroom, not because of what went on there but because it is so gloriously Art Deco, with mirrors on all four walls, on doors and handles, even on fake Greek columns. There’s also a bath big enough for two, naturally, and a pale-blue leather loo seat. At the top of the house is an ornate cupola, etched with flowers and in a good order. The main bedroom is large, with a faded bed canopy, his ’n’ hers wardrobes lined with pale blue silk, and, bizarrely, two doors into the passage.

Another lady entirely, but fascinating all the same, available at Mossgreen :

Lazzollo "the Socialite"

In the Garden: An answer to a Gardening Question

Like many an aesthetically driven person, I find it impossible to limit myself to the indoor world. I think that I might be a passionate gardener. I say this because I bear the weight of the disapproval of various family members who have been inconvenienced by my gardening activities which have been known to occur on a large scale, sometimes involving heavy machinery and on one occasion a crane and a semi trailer.

These days I endeavour to be a little more subtle in relation to the extent of my horticultural ambitions so as not to incur the wrath of people who who prefer my cooking. I now have the wisdom to wave my hand over an area and, with a very airy, innocent expression on my face, state that I am going to 'sort of plant some things' and that 'it will look nice'. I have two gardens, one which is sun drenched and mediterranean and the other which I am making into a sort of a big orchard surrounded by meadows (note the purposeful vagueness here).

A little while ago I noted a question posed by another blog author in A Bloomsbury Life about climbing plants suitable for growing up a wall 'facing away from the equator'. I use this term because I live in Australia where southern walls are shady and spring is in October, and as a gardener, I still feel upside down and back to front even after many years. A most useful plant for smothering a shady wall in a warm climate is the self clinging hydrangea petiolaris:

the above images are via, posted by a french ebayer selling bare rooted stock.
In France you'll see this plant described as hortensia grimpant
but it is widely available at most good nurseries

This particular climbing hydrangea is charming in a beautiful and simple way, the kind of thing that song thrushes will nest in. It does take quite a while to take off as the plant will insist on developing a good root system before lurching upwards at an eventually quite rapid rate. The flowers are only ever white and it is tolerant of a wide range of soils so long as there is plenty of well rotted compost dug in. As with any creeper, water is essential until the roots become widespread enough to reach beyond the line of the eves to the areas that receive rainfall. In a Mediterranean climate, drip irrigation may prove to be essential.

Another contender is the self clinging virginia creeper parthenocissus tricuspidata , although on a shady wall it will only tend to dominate the upper reaches. The images that I have posted below are of the Fountain Inn which was close to where I lived as a child in Cornwall. If my memory serves me correctly, the wall gets morning sun but is still subject to a lot of shade by virtue of the rather steep adjacent buildings and the very narrow street:

Hanging baskets are now very out of fashion and seem to have been deemed un-chic by local landscape architects. This makes them especially attractive to me as I am becoming increasingly bored with the stylish, spiky armies of cordelynes and cabbage trees ensconced in pretend sandstone that are featured in the newspaper. I have posted a picture of the Fountain in the quiet season in order that you can see the structure behind all of that abundance.

Before I get myself into too much trouble here, I must say that I do love sculptural plants, I collect echeveria, it is their formulaic overuse that aggrieves me.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Old Favourites: More from the V & A

As promised, I have posted a few more images, all available in extra large sizes as prints or canvas transfers at reasonable prices by mail order from

Furnishing Fabric, Pierre Chareau (1883-1950) block printed linen

Wallpaper, from Dodington Hall, near Nether Stowey, Somerset. Hand-printed in colours from wood blocks on paper. England, 1770.
Astoundingly.....1770 and not 1960!

Poster, China 1920's.
I love both the composition and colour!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Old Favourites: Blue Bird for Bloomsbury

Being a complete novice to the art of blogging, and in order that I might politely introduce myself, I have posted this image especially for Ms. Lisa Borgnes Giramonti of A Bloomsbury Life. I have vetted Mr Lear and have ascertained that he is possessed of all of the characteristics listed in the 'A Bloomsbury Life' post of June 4th.

'The Dark Blue Bird' by Edward Lear (1812-88). Ink & watercolour, one of six. England, 1880.
(another V&A treasure available through

Long celebrated as the author of "The Owl and the Pussycat" and recently rediscovered as a landscape painter, Edward Lear has emerged as one of the formidable figures of 19th-century England - a larger-than-life and gloriously eccentric Victorian, part naturalist, part artist, part raconteur.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Something for Everybody!

I have to admit to a sort of wallpaper addiction (Gracies, de Gournay etc).

via Domino (Feb. 2007) photographed by Barrie Benson

As a child I was enthralled by the studio and home of two of my mother's close friends who specialised exclusively in wallpaper design. So of course I was thrilled to see a like minded soul at work whilst admiring the posts in 'A Bloomsbury Life'.

Inspired by the large de Gournay panel pictured above, it was the peculiar addictive properties of wallpaper that led me to the Victoria and Albert Museum archives. I thought I should share the invaluable resource available at the V & A Largely based on wallpaper and fabric design, the designs are available in custom sizes as prints and canvas transfers, and yes they do ship overseas. Pricing is excellent for rolled prints and canvases. Standard sizing is up to 1250mm with larger images available as custom orders. Available collections include stunning mid century photographic images and a multiplicity of antique and vintage of graphic designs. I'll post more over the coming week:

Wallpaper with flowering shrubs and fruit bees, on a pale green background. China, 18th century.

Wallpaper Fragment. The Thorn Damask Pattern. Machine & woodblock print. c.1838.

Wallpaper panel. Tempera. China, 1725-50.

Bird Pattern Wallpaper, by Luise Delefant (active 1950s), from The Oman & Hamilton wallpaper catalogue. Breisach, Germany, c.1955.

Wallpaper from a book of wallpapers. Lyon's Stripe. England, early to mid 19th century.

Wallpaper. Paper impression from a copper plate of a textile design, from the Bromley Hall Pattern Book. England, late 18th century

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