Jacqueline Duncan, Dean, attended a party at Adam Sykes’ house in Wimbledon recently. Adam is chairman of Claremont Furnishings.
Unsurprisingly, Adam’s house is featured in this month’s House and Garden.
Jacqueline Duncan, Dean, attended a party at Adam Sykes’ house in Wimbledon recently. Adam is chairman of Claremont Furnishings.
Unsurprisingly, Adam’s house is featured in this month’s House and Garden.
Jacqueline Duncan, OBE
I recall an interesting conversation which took place long ago between an ex RAF officer and a designer, both of them colour blind. The officer, Peter Dudgeon, had recently founded an upholstery business, and in doing so had extended his knowledge of colour, its versatility and the surprising effects that could be achieved by its manipulation.
The RAF roundel for example, he assured designer Michael Inchbald, looks as if the colours are all exactly similar in proportion to each other but they are not – the white, which to the normal eye spreads and thus looks larger by comparison, is slightly reduced to give conformity to the whole. Peter claimed that it had been devised by a colour blind artist (and yes, they do exist!).
The conversation led on to the fascination of camouflage, used so extensively in nature and adapted by man, sometimes for protection and at other times extended to decoration in the form of trompe l’oeil, a painting skill devised to ‘deceive the eye’. Where camouflage is concerned, the “handicap” of colour blindness becomes a desirable skill. Colourblind personnel were recruited in war to design the patterns, and indeed to detect those of the enemy, since the fact of colourblindness indicates a totally different perception of what appears to be the fact observed by normal vision.
Until the end of the 19th century the English army wore scarlet, and were known as redcoats for that reason – it is said that the colour choice did not show the blood! Red, an aggressive colour in itself, is a subliminal alert to danger, and several hundred scarlet clad soldiers bearing down on their opponents would in itself be a daunting sight. Interestingly, the gunners wore blue, a colour similar to their weapons and one that would draw less attention to their position. The guns were not only vital but very expensive. To a colourblind observer, however, both men and guns would be individually visible.
Scarlet morphed to green and finally around 1902, to the familiar khaki of modern warfare. This in turn led to the development of military camouflage as we know it, widely used throughout the first and second world wars to obscure and confuse, unless of course, the opposing officer was colour blind himself!
In decoration, the skills of trompe l’oeil artists have been extensively deployed to confuse and deceive the observer, using both painterly and architectural talents. Wallpaper manufacturers such as Zuber, have taken advantage of this style to produce paper panels that can transform a small room into a garden, or offer an amazing vista on a featureless wall. And the violin, hung rather nonchalantly with its bow on a paneled door in Chatsworth, is in fact painted on to the door, over the paneling. The first time I saw this I was astonished to discover that the violin and its shadow were no more than flat paint.
Colour, space, light can all be manipulated to provoke the imagination, or even provide a gentle joke!
On June 22nd I was invited to the Rountree Tryon Gallery for the Charles Stanley Summer party. I hadn’t been to the Gallery for many years, perhaps when Aylmer was still alive; the collection has widened a bit since his inspired limitation of subject to sporting and wildlife.
My particular interest is in bird painters and I found an enchanting little Thorburn in the back of the gallery, featuring ducks. I note from the website that they have number of distinguished bird painters in their collection. I am personally interested in Harry Bright, a 19th century illustrator whose bird paintings I have collected for several years. In my view, he is as good as Thorburn where the subject is similar, in some respects better, but I am not aware he ever took an interest in sporting subjects. It is in this respect of course that Thorburn so engaged his English public and his popularity has still not waned.
Aylmer Tryon was as active in his sporting life as he was in his chosen profession and I believe he was responsible for the group who inaugurated the English interest in the River Hofsa in Iceland.
I once spent a very happy week there with friends in the late summer. The river was as seductive as are all rivers, but allied to the flat landscape, the breadth of the sky and the birds, so unused to human presence that they lacked any fear, I found something very special about Iceland. And we did catch fish!
The ducks remain in their gallery – Thorburn’s popularity has become exceedingly expensive, but it was a lovely party.
Jacqueline Duncan, Dean
The hottest day this summer found me walking with David Harber through the gardens of Eaton Square to view his spectacular new collection, this time of garden sculptures. It was a wonderful venue made available to him by the late Duke of Westminster. The garden planting, the immaculate level of upkeep both went towards an impressive backdrop to sculptures, mostly of metal, conceived to provide particular interest in a garden landscape at once both empathetic and dramatic.
One piece, a pierced ball of bronze petals, each petal gilded on the inside, created an extraordinary effect of captured sunlight and last Wednesday was certainly the right day to appreciate the inventive skill of its author. This piece, called Mantle, can be lit from inside creating a shimmering and evasive light effect in the darkening twilight. Another ball, made of tiny flat obsidian stones, has been seen at Chelsea, devised as a fountain, the water sliding evocatively across the stones so that the obsidian is presented with a permanent soft gleam. Another similar model has a quarter lined out of it like a ripe fruit, the new surfaces lined with mirror to conjure and delight the eye.
It was a privilege to be escorted round such an exciting exhibition by David Harber himself, surely the Grand Master of his profession in every way.
Find his work on his website. Forget the bust of Ceres and the Grecian urns; invest in a work of Harber’s art to intrigue and provoke all who visit your garden.
Jacqueline Duncan OBE, Dean reflects on the use of large trees in garden design on her visit to Audley End, Essex.
Last weekend I took the opportunity to re-visit the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) at Audley End and found it, handsome as ever and still in flower.
Audley End is one of the most extraordinary of the great English mansions. Once a monastic foundation more than twice its present size, it has served as a royal palace and latterly as a private home. There is much to admire in the house, but surely the pride of the estate must be the magical parkland setting with a rich variety of specimen trees; and included in this collection is a magnificent tulip tree. Find it to the left of the restaurant area as you look at the front elevation; not yet at its peak it is the perfect size and spread, the curious rather fat leaves giving the plant a particularly attractive texture. It is presently in the midst of flowering, the pretty bell shaped blooms with golden petals and orange stamens, the tree still covered in buds.
Through this exceptional parkland flows the Cam, with a small tributary running alongside the Walled gardens featuring a fine double herbaceous border and some interesting orchard planting which will look magnificent in maturity.
Last year I planted a handkerchief tree (Davidia) purchased from Landford Trees and must wait some years for it to flourish the remarkable white sepals that appear in the late spring – here in Eccleston Square is a well established specimen that emphasizes the drama and the joy of trees. This autumn I shall order a tulip tree from the same nursery and hope that some future guardian will benefit from its mature beauty.
If you find the notion of such a major tree in your garden overwhelming, then look at Cornus Eddie’s White Wonder, a beautiful plant of more modest size but offering a spectacular and long lasting flowering in the late Spring.
And go to Audley End – it is so worth a visit.
Jacqueline Duncan, OBE, Dean of Inchbald visited the Mendip NADFAS (National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies) Branch recently to listen to a lecture on the History and Application of Wallpaper given by Diana Lloyd.
Long ago Diana was a particularly successful student at Inchbald; shortly after completing her course she started lecturing at the Victoria and Albert Museum on glass. She became a regular lecturer on decoration at Inchbald and soon took over the Directorship of the History of Design Faculty. With the advent of children she pursued an independent career as a lecturer on the Decorative Arts and her range is very broad, as NADFAS members across the UK will know to their benefit.
Diana is renowned for forensic research into her subjects and a sparkling delivery which captivates her audiences’ attention. I was particularly interested in the manner in which she handled her subject, bringing a fresh perspective to the fascinating story of wallpaper’s origins and subsequent decorative history.
The NADFAS organisation, founded some years after the 1960 foundation of the Inchbald School of Design, has made available a wondrous programme of lectures dedicated to the Arts, and promulgated both education and enjoyment in this wide subject, making it available across the UK to so many people of all ages and interests.
Jacqueline Duncan OBE on collectors, collecting and the Mostyn Reception at the British Museum at which the renowned clock has its annual winding.
Contemporary interior designers today show a marked disinterest in the use and beauty of antiques; I begin to wonder if the antique market will be saved by the enthusiasm of the Collector.
This was brought particularly to my attention on 23rd February 2017 when I was privileged to be invited to the annual winding of the Mostyn Tompion, now a prized feature of the British Museum’s spectacular Clock Collection. Probably now the finest horological collection in the world, a major part of it was formed by engineer Courtenay Ilbert and acquired by the Museum in 1957 on Ilbert’s death.
“There are plenty of people who still enjoy the challenge of acquisition.”
Collectors fall into categories, but they share a single minded passion for their specific interest, whether it be diamonds from Golconda or pottery shards from Troy. In Courtenay’s case he was intrigued enough to purchase a tray of watch parts in a jewellers’ closing down sale in order to see what he could make of them. Within the week it is said that he had restored the muddle into three watches; at the time he was still at public school, aged about 13. Childish fascination turned into obsession and he was to pursue his accumulation of items concerned with the measurement of time until he died in 1956. A qualified engineer, he remained committed to the mechanics of his clocks and watches: the cosmetic grandeur of jewelled watches and wondrous clock cases was of secondary importance.
“Collectors share a single minded passion for their specific interest.”
On one occasion in 1910, buying a newspaper in a booth in Piccadilly, he saw a new watch for sale for 2/6d. He bought it, pointing out later that he didn’t think that finance and manufacturing would ever again so coincide as to produce a very complicated product at such a very modest price. The cheap Piccadilly watch shares space with, among many hundreds of examples, James II’s personal pocket watch, a spectacular clock by Nicholas Vallinn, clockmaker to Elizabeth I and the smallest Tompion known, devised for travelling with its own travelling case in the age of carriages.
It was always the ingenuity that held him spellbound, rather than the cosmetic or associated appeal and this is a collection that represents an international review of the measurement of time. It is easy to say that there is less opportunity for collectors like Ilbert, but this is really not true and there are plenty of well informed people who still enjoy the challenge of acquisition.
The Mostyn Tompion is a year going spring driven table clock made by Thomas Tompion, known as the Father of English Clockmaking. Created for the Coronation of William III in 1689, it remained in the King’s bedroom until his death.
Guests at the Mostyn Reception in the Museum are allowed to turn the key once to augment the annual winding ceremony, and with other (and with great caution) I did just that on February 23rd. If the Museum holds its next reception later than February 2018, Mr Tompion’s clock will still run on beyond its stated 12 month cycle.
Not at all bad for a clock created nearly 350 years ago.
The Spring lunch was held this year on Shrove Tuesday at the Cavalry and Guards club, a venue which is very popular with our guests.
Guest of honour was David Mlinaric, who long ago worked for Michael and Jacqueline Inchbald before going on to be the leading authority on the restoration of important houses in both England and Ireland. David brought his daughter Frances, who has now started her own studio.
All the guests at this event are distinguished in their own spheres; they included Annie Stevens, past President of BIID, Diana Yakeley, also a past President and newly honoured with the OBE for her contribution to the progress of the British Institute of Interior Design.
Old friends included architect Guy Greenfield, graduates Tatiana Tarfur, Keisha Hulsey from Staffan Tollgård, Nic Savage now working in Garden Design, and Nina Campbell a long ago student, now internationally famous.
It was a lovely day, most suitable for a Spring lunch and everyone enjoyed the event; most particularly hostess Jacqueline Duncan.
It would appear that the strong links once existing between the world of antique furniture and the design community are now almost non-existent. It is surely regrettable that furniture produced in the 18th and 19th centuries should be increasingly ignored in terms of private use, to be viewed as exhibits in public spaces rather than enjoyed in the interiors for which they were intended.
The works of the English cabinetmakers in both centuries are not only beautifully designed but are of superb quality.
These are items that not only provide comfort and convenience but are visually a delight, effectively works of art.
Fashion swings from one extreme to another, and the popularity of furniture we called ‘antique’ has given way to the attraction of furniture made of contemporary materials with contemporary finishes, a trend that was started in the thirties and only interrupted by WW2 and the very different priorities of producer and public.
The pressures driving this change of direction are simple; today it is important that the care of an interior design is as simple and as convenient as manufacturers can possibly make it. Classic furniture and artefacts require classic treatment; thus in a world where hot drinks are served in mugs, polished surfaces become a liability. Washing up machines are not compatible with fine china and glass; underfloor heating is not good for valuable carpets and in addition to such considerations is the cost of good antiques and the added burden of insurance.
So what is the future for fine period furniture and indeed the professions allied to is distribution? Is this amazing resource to be side-lined by contemporary designers?
Will such artifacts be relegated to buildings open to the public, for cursory inspection with little further interest in production or provenance? In addition to the care involved, spiralling costs in both galleries and auction houses have certainly left private middle of the road clients disenchanted and the draconian buyers’ premium now imposed by auctioneers and passed on through the antique trade has not been helpful.
Cost is certainly a part of the thrust behind the fashion for ‘boho’ interiors.
Rooms are furnished with old provincial furniture now valued not for quality but for its aged appearance. Strange perhaps that, whilst ignoring the appeal of quality and elegant design, clients still crave items that have an appearance of age; damaged paintwork is applauded as having an ‘interesting patina’ and eccentric artefacts are graced with equally eccentric descriptions in auctioneers’ catalogues.
Is this odd preference a desire for familiarity, an atavistic link to our generic past, a reassurance of historic stability? Or is it a manifestation of a fundamental difference in perception, a move to the press button household where material values are a responsibility and the achievement of beautiful design, past or present, is side-lined in the Gadarene rush to the next appointment?
I hope not, if only in the interest of a contemporary contribution to the history of English culture.
This week saw the opening of an exhibition at the Fine Art Society, devoted to three women artists, one of them Gluck.
I went especially to see Gluck’s paintings which I have long admired – indeed we once had one in the family and to my eternal regret it was sold. She was an extraordinary woman, with a wondrously classical profile belied by her tiny figure – she was only 5’2” tall, dressed elegantly like a man, and when I visited her studio was living with her partner Edith Head. Edith was no taller than Gluck, with hazel curls, and a sweetness of manner that indicated, on brief acquaintance, a softer and perhaps less demanding personality.
Gluck; Lilies, c. 1932-6
Gluck’s landscapes were challenging and I have always thought most successful, her still lives concise and jewel brilliant. The large Arum Lilies was painted for a client of Syrie Maugham and framed in a design of Gluck’s own which she took the rouble to patent, perhaps an interesting comment on her attitude to her art and her possessive attitude to it. All the Glucks in the Exhibition are in private collections, with a waiting list of buyers should any come onto the market. Ours was not there, sold some years ago for £3,000 at Christies. It was originally purchased at the Gluck Exhibition in the thirties by horologist Courtenay Ilbert, the only modern art work he ever bought, and like all the other owners he was devoted to it. When he died Gluck rang up to ask if she could have it back!
Gluck’s world was the circle of Syrie Maugham, Oliver Hill and so many other luminaries of the thirties for whom she painted and with whom she collaborated.
WW2 caused a dramatic slippage in art and fashion and her achievements, like those of her contemporaries, seem to have been quite overlooked in the rage for French and American painters. Further, the break-up of so many English Mansions and their collections put a treasury of popular 18th century works on the market which became closely linked to the English Style and the ubiquitous Colefax and Fowler influence. Thus the elegant designs of the artists and designers of the inter war era sank out of fashion, but as in all matters of design, only temporarily
I was delighted to see this incredibly talented woman’s work revived and re-assessed, even though this higher profile will make her paintings even more difficult to obtain.
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