27 July 2010

Life after Castaing: Chez Harry Heissmann

Harry Heissmann's living room, featuring a pair of Castaing brackets, photo by Russell Gera
Madeleine Castaing didn't buy Important or Fine French Furniture, but rather what charmed her.  This pair of brackets in the form of tree branches captured her fancy and found a home at her fairy-tale Leves.  Years later when her estate was sold off, they also captured dashing designer Harry Heissmann's and here they are in installed today in his Brooklyn Heights flat. (That he lives in the most fabulous neighborhood in the city is enough evidence of his excellent taste to my mind; Harry also spent years working for the master of the refined, Albert Hadley.)

another view, photo by Russell Gera
Madeleine's quirky side would no doubt have found his snail table very amusing. 

As installed by Madeleine in the dining room of Leves - do you think the plant is plastic? I do.

Many thanks to Harry for giving us a glimpse into his personal world.  And another big thank you to Habitually Chic for including MC and EEE in her Fall Book Brigade.

25 July 2010

The House that Pleasure Built

Mlle Dervieux's boudoir

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by that singularly glamorous creature, the Courtesan.  Living outside of society's constraints and approval, hers was a life dedicated to mastering the art of pleasure in all its forms - intellectual and sensual.  

It was a job requirement to be dressed fashionably and sumptuously and her quarters, as an extension of her person, were just as exquisitely equipped.  The Opera dancer Anne-Victoire Dervieux (1752 - 1826) was one such mistress who was so passionate about her Paris neoclassical hotel particulier that she eventually married her architect François-Joseph Bélanger.* 

The house on the rue Chantereine (now the rue de la Victoire) was fabled for its elegance.  The Baronne d'Oberkirch was one of the many who toured it - while its mistress was out, of course - and described it in her memoirs: "It was a gem.  The furniture alone was worth a king's ransom.  Both court and city had contributed to its decoration."

The two story house was first constructed by Alexandre Brongniart, but was redesigned by Belanger in 1788 in the latest Pompeian taste.

The brothers Goncourt called it the most splendid of the small-scale hotels, "with its bathroom in the Etruscan fashion, the dining room preciously worked with silver arabesques, painted figures, and mahogany and lemon wood married together."  Most petites maisons were sited on the outskirts of Paris where men could engage in all sorts of unsavory pursuits away from society.  If interested, I highly recommend the 18th century novel La Petite Maison which narrates the seduction of a young woman through the architectural delights of a maison de plaisance.


Belanger was at the forefront of French neoclassicism which drew upon the arabesque decoration found in the Ancient Roman murals in Pompeii.  (Compare with his British contemporary Robert Adam who was similarly influenced.)

A rare exhibition of 20 watercolor designs was recently on view at Didier Aaron in London.  My dear friend Marc sent me a few images from the show, which I hope some of you had the good fortune to see.  For more, click here.

One of Belanger's most important clients was the Comte d'Artois who, surely no coincidence, was one of Dervieux's supporters.  I couldn't help but include Belanger's charming design for the comte's bedroom at the chateau de Bagatelle in the Bois du Boulogne.

*Dervieux was imprisoned during the French Revolution and her marriage to Belanger afterwards is said to have been more of convenience than of a shared passion enflamed over boiserie and mantelpieces.  Oh well.  The house was later inhabited by another lady of style, Hortense Bonaparte.  Click here to see Dervieux's boudoir in miniature.

For more reading pleasure, curl up with Katie Hickman's Courtesans: Money, Sex and Fame in the Nineteenth Century and Mistresses: True Stories of Seduction Power and Ambition by Leigh Eduardo.  Of course, I am always looking to expand my library on licentious ladies, if you have any suggestions....

07 July 2010

Rethinking Puppy Love

The same week Dog House, Carol Prisant's charming tale of "One Love, Ten Dogs, and a Forty-Two-Year Marriage" landed on my reading table, the article "What pets can teach us about marriage" arrived in my inbox courtesy of Mr. EEE. Clearly forces greater than I - forces that maybe had overheard me telling friends that I needed to get home to my little furry guys, and, oh yeah, my husband - were at work.

As the article pointed out, I am indeed more likely to forgive Gus in a heartbeat when he breaks heirloom porcelain boxes or Stubby when he shreds the velvet sofa, than a human - or, more specifically, the one I've pledged to honor in sickness and in health until death. This illuminating insight reminded me of how it's all too easy to take our most beloved for granted.

Ms. Prisant's book which examines love and loss with humor, tenderness and a disarming candor reinforced this a thousand fold. While Jack Russells, lurchers, and greyhounds come, go, and stay, Dog House is the story of how she and her husband Millard pursued their life together full of dogs (naturally), restoring old houses, nurturing rose bushes, and ultimately how they faced her husband's cancer to which he succumbed in 2000. Prisant bravely lets us in to her grief and gradual healing, an inspiring reminder of how resilient the human spirit is.

The author and her two dogs

If "'Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all" as Tennyson wrote, than it is also better to appreciate and delight in love's presence as much as one will lament its absence. Prisant's Dog House glows with warmth, laughter and sweetness - which is exactly how every home - dog, cat, or bird - should be.

Top photo: Mona Williams with her terrier, captured by Cecil Beaton