Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Always Judge a Book by its Cover: I Love Pictures! Tim Walker

We’re deep into the recesses of a bleak and very cold January but luckily the cover for Hatje Cantz’s book I Love Pictures! Tim Walker is the perfect antidote for the all-pervasive grey of the sky.

Published in 2007 to accompany an exhibition in Hanover, Germany at the kestnergesellschaft this is a monograph on the fashion photographer’s work, created a year before teNeue's larger and more commercial book (with not such a fun cover!).

The cover image is half of Beds on Cars (Northumberland, England, 2004) shot by Walker for Italian Vogue. The other half of the image appears on the back cover. One can guess that the shoot was to advertise fabrics but, as with so many of Walker’s magazine photographs, the product is secondary to his own fantastical world. English eccentricity, faded grandeur and surreal composition combine to make this delightful and witty image. It’s typical of the rest of the images that make up this smile-inducing book.

Beds on Cars, Northumberland, England, Italian Vogue - Photo © Tim Walker, 2004

I dream of living in a wooded glade, camping out under the stars à la Famous Five, the Princess and the Pea on her quilted bed.

“I Love Pictures!”, especially if they’re by Tim Walker.

(I Love Pictures! Tim Walker, edited by Veit Görner & Caroline Käding, Hatje Cantz & kestnergesellschaft, 2007)

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Mrs. xxx

I stumbled across this wonderful auction catalogue the other day. Une Américaine à Paris. Un Pied-à-Terre par François Catroux was a sale held by Christie’s in Paris on 11th October 2006. Catroux is a leading French decorator and he has created interiors for the former Shah of Iran, King Hussein of Jordan and various Rothschilds. He also created the wonderful Parisian apartment for the mysterious Mrs. xxx, the contents of which form this sale. Does anyone know who Mrs. xxx is? I do have one clue to set me on the trial – she has exquisite taste and bags of style!

‘From the five houses I helped Mrs. xxx to decorate, it is her Paris apartment which appears to me to best reflect her eclectic taste.
In this apartment, 18th century French and 19th century Russian furniture work in harmony with furniture by Jean-Michel Frank, Giacometti, Arbus and great contemporary art.’ (François Catroux, from the Introduction, September 2006).

The catalogue is a wonderful blend of the individual lots and photographs of the pieces in-situ in Catroux’s elegant interiors.

If I could go back in time, these are the lots I would have raised my paddle for:

© David Douglas Duncan, Photography Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas, Austin

Picasso in Underwear, inscribed, black and white photograph by David Douglas Duncan, 1957, made €6,000.

The drawing room by Catroux in which it hung.

A rock crystal celestial globe, made in Milan or Prague, diameter 6cm, circa 1600, made €120,000.

Starlet, a gilt patinated tubular metal bed by Jean Royere, circa 1956, made €42,000.

(Une Américaine à Paris. Un Pied-à-Terre par François Catroux, Christie’s, Paris, 2006; photos – Christie’s France SNC)

Sunday, 17 January 2010

NEW! Getting the Point of Ponti.

Rizzoli have just published Gio Ponti, edited by Ugo La Pietra. I say just published but this is actually a ‘revised edition’ of a book first published in 1988 and then again in 1995. Now, I haven’t actually read either of the early editions, but from reading this latest one I get the impression that the any revision has been minimal. Spelling mistakes are still there, the layout of the images and their captions is very clunky and there is nothing in the text that brings Ponti’s work and influence into the 21st century. However the previous editions of the book are increasingly scarce so “thank you” Rizzoli for bringing it back on the market and allowing me to read it for the first time…

Gio Ponti, Caracas, 1954 – photo G. Ponti Archives / S Licitra

Gio Ponti (1891-1979) was one of Italy’s most prolific designers of the 20th century. He designed buildings, interiors, furniture, lights, ceramics, textiles, cars, costumes and much more. The book is split into decades, and although his hey-day was in the 1950s and 1960s, it is fascinating to see that he started out in the full glare of the Art Deco movement (he was awarded a Grand Prix at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris.). Because of the sheer breadth and length of his output it is difficult to read a definitive style or movement in his work. This ambiguity is one of the book’s key threads – Neo-Classicism versus Rationalism; Decoration versus True Form; Artisan versus Industrial.

The outcome is that is impossible to label Ponti with words or images. The only way to do justice to his prolific creativity is to illustrate a vast quantity of his oeuvre and let the reader decide for themselves. And this is what this book does so well. There are over 800 photographs and drawings reproduced (largely thanks to Ponti’s own magazine Domus, which acted as a mouth-piece for his ideas and work throughout his career). Immerse yourself in them and you’ll understand Ponti so much better.

Below are my favourite things about Ponti:

Decorated Window – photo Archivio Fotografico Casali

The Furnished Window – in Ponti’s interiors a large window would become a fourth wall. Furnishings, such as a desk, a bookcase, a picture and a lamp, are placed against it creating a play of shadows when lit from both inside and out. The idea was apparently inspired by a visit to Philip Johnson’s Glass House.

Swimming Pool, Parco dei Principi, Sorrento, 1960 – photo Eugenio Bersani

Ceramics – Ponti loved to put ceramic tiles everywhere – whole floors and walls (external and internal) were covered with them. He loved the way the light bounced off the surfaces. Nowhere is this more evident than in the blue-and-white heaven which is the Parco dei Principi Hotel, Sorrento, 1960.

Desk, Casa Ceccato, Milan, 1950 – photo Domus

Decoration – During the 50s Ponti produced furniture that was lighter, more linear and simpler in form; what he called ‘true form’. The Superleggera chair epitomises this ethos. But ‘true form’ did not eliminate the extensive use of surface decoration and material finishes. I adore this desk, papered with a floral print and with the chic finish of the brass ferrules.

Open-Plan – Even in his own house, Ponti was an early exponent for open-plan living. Folding and multi-purpose walls made it possible for the inhabitants to dictate how they wished to interact with each other and the house. Sight-lines were opened up and free circulation made for a relaxed mode of living.

This book does have it drawbacks. Although it is invaluable with its extensive library of images of Ponti’s work it fails to contextualise the designer and his output. A biography of his life (as well as his work) and a new essay on where his work figures in the 21st century would have been a wonderful addition to this new edition. La Pietra’s introductory essay is a tough opener; the writer’s architectural leanings are very evident. What saves the day are the words of the designer himself. The sheer passion, humour and belief in Ponti’s own writing bring the reader close to what drove this man to produce and achieve so much.

And so I leave you with words from the man himself:

‘Love architecture for the joys and sorrow to which its walls, sacred to love and grief, have given protection; for all that they have heard (if the walls could speak!) and kept secret. Love it for the life that is lived in it, for the joys, the dramas, the tragedies, the follies, the hopes (one kind of folly), the prayers, the moments of desperation (one kind of lucidity), even the crimes that make all walls sacred…’ (Gio Ponti, Love Architecture, extract published in Domus 330, 1957).

(Gio Ponti, edited by Ugo La Pietra, Rizzoli, New York, 2009)

Bookshelf Neighbours:

Gio Ponti. Le navi. Il progetto degli interni navali. 1948-1953.
By Paolo Piccione, Idea Books, Milan, 2007

Domus 1928-1999: The Very Best from the Seminal Architecture and Design Journal.
Edited by Charlotte & Peter Fiell, Taschen, Germany, 2007

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Wrap Up In Style!

Baby, it’s cold outside…and I don’t advise stepping outside without your hat, scarf and gloves. To make sure you look good on those mean streets get some inspiration for your essential accessories:

Hats. Status, Style and Glamour. A bishop’s mitre? Fred Astaire’s top hat? A Givenchy boater? A Lilly Daché creation? This comprehensive history of hats and their social meaning is one of the best books available on the subject. There is a wealth of images and chapters such as “Etiquette and Status” and “The Heyday of the Hat” make this an entertaining read.
(Thames & Hudson, London, 1992, by Colin McDowell)

The Hermès Scarf. History & Mystique. Oh, those beautiful squares of shimmering silk. They might not keep you warm, but you will look stylish! Over 2,500 designs have been produced by Hermès since 1937 and this book reproduces over 250 of them. The weighty square format of the book illustrates perfectly its four-sided subject-matter.
(Thames & Hudson, London, 2009, by Nadine Coleno)

Gants. A pictorial album of gloves, this book is a visual scrapbook of hand-coverings. It is predominantly composed of full-page photos of each item; there isn’t much text, although Christian Lacroix has written the preface;  Gloves throughout the centuries are featured from medieval to Dior. What amazes me is the use of different materials – leather, lace, chain mail, fur, feathers, sequins, rubber and metal.
(Ramsay, Paris, 2007, by Nicolas Descottes, preface by Christian Lacroix)

Saturday, 2 January 2010

The Stars of 2009

So this is the beginning… the beginning of what I hope will be an enchanted journey through the pages of the most beautiful books. Some books will be familiar and others will be discovered along the way. Before I begin, I present to you a snapshot of my top 10 books from 2009.
So here goes…first blog…in no particular order!:

1. The Private World of Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Bergé. It was the sale of the year and this is the book of the year. Interiors by Jacques Grange, art by Picasso, furniture by Jean-Michel Frank, tapestry by Burne-Jones, exquisite taste courtesy of Saint Laurent and Bergé. Thank goodness this visual record was made.
(Thames & Hudson, 2009, text by Robert Murphy, photography by Ivan Terestchenko)

2. Redeeming Features. A Memoir. By Nicholas Haslam. The eagerly anticipated memoir from the rock star of interior decorating, Nicky Haslam. Every page is laced with celebrity names and crowd-pleasing anecdotes but at the heart of the book is a man who is intensely passionate about what he does and has a great time doing it.
(Jonathan Cape, 2009, text by Nicholas Haslam)

3. Ballets Russes. The Stockholm Collection. There have been a wealth of titles published to mark the centenary of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes but this is my favourite. The Dansmuseet in Stockholm has a world famous collection of costumes from the ballets by the likes of Bakst, Gontcharova, Larionov and Matisse. Fantastic photographs and inspiring book design make this a sumptuous and fascinating tome.
(Dansmuseet and Langenskiöld, 2009, text by Erik Näslund)

4. English Country House. From the Archives of Country Life. This is the perfect package – 62 of the finest homes in England beautifully photographed and authoritatively described, with essays by leading architectural historians. The old favourites are featured, plus some lesser-known “country piles”.
(Rizzoli, 2009, text by Mary Miers, contributions by Tim Knox, Jeremy Musson, Tim Richardson and Marcus Binney)

5. Irving Penn. Small Trades. Penn’s celebrated series of photographs of workers is finally published in detail in this stylish, unfussy book. The portraits, many of which appeared in Vogue during the 50s, are captured with dignity and Penn’s trademark grace and beauty. Sadly the first print run is already sold out, but hopefully it will be back in time for the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London in February.
(Getty Publications, 2009, text by Virginia A. Heckert and Anne Lacoste)

6. Robert Polidori. Parcours Muséologique Revisité. Not one, not two, but three volumes make up this visual feast from Polidori’s lens. Alongside photographing more political subjects like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Polidori has been capturing the behind-the-scenes restoration of Versailles for 25 years. The faded beauty and historical charge in the images make a poignant and thought-provoking survey.
(Steidl, 2009, photography by Robert Polidori)

7. Wallpaper. A History of Style and Trends. Quite simply, a wonderful book. From Chinoiserie to Paul Poiret; from scenic landscapes to Pugin; and from Percier and Fontaine to Warhol this is a comprehensive and inspirational history. And it smells so good!
(Flammarion, 2009, text by Carolle Thibaut-Pomerantz)

8. Fornasetti. L’artista alchimista / La bottega fantastica. This book is constantly surprising me. First it’s a scrapbook of Fornasetti’s ideas and inspirations; then it’s a catalogue of his vast output; then it’s a biography of his life; and next it’s a printed museum. One thing you can be sure of is this book is an investment worth making – it just keeps on giving.
(Electa, 2009, text by Mariuccia Casadio, curated by Barnaba Fornasetti)

9. In House. In House lives up to its superb predecessor Rooms. Derry Moore’s photography is always of the highest calibre and he manages to make the interiors, including Sir John Soane’s Museum, Alphonse Mucha’s apartment and a Jodhpur Palace, look as wonderful on the page as they must do in the flesh.
(Rizzoli, 2009, text by Mitchell Owens, photography by Derry Moore)

10. David Hicks. A Life of Design. Do we need another book on David Hicks? Does his son Ashley have anything new to say on the subject? The answers are “yes” and “yes”. This visual biography places Hick’s work in the context of his life and influences. The archival photos and journals are especially valuable for understanding this 20th century decorating legend.
(Rizzoli, 2009, text by Ashley Hicks)