Monday, February 29, 2016

Sotheby's Auction: Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire

This weekend I spent a few hours poring over the catalogue for the upcoming Sotheby's Auction on March 2 of the contents of the home of Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire. She was the last of the legendary Mitford sisters. Although she mostly avoided the limelight, in 1941 her life changed forever when she married Andrew Cavendish, the second son of the Duke of Devonshire. They unexpectedly inherited Chatsworth estate, one of England's most splendid houses, when Andrew's older brother died in the war. They became the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and moved into Chatsworth House in 1957. This was a mixed blessing as it had been badly neglected during two wars as well as in a great amount of debt due to inheritance taxes.

The Dowager, Duchess of Devonshire, photographed at Chatsworth in 1995

They set about saving the estate by selling thousands of acres of land and giving many works of art and ancient books to the National Treasury. And slowly but surely they turned the estate into a successful business. By the 1960's and 70's thousands of tourists were visiting the house and gardens. In 1977 a farm shop selling local produce, one of the first of its kind, was opened. This was one of the many ingenious ideas from the Duke and Duchess that helped the estate turn a profit. Today more than 700 people are employed in the running of the estate for more than a million annual visitors, as well as helping run the many events which bring in more tourists.

Chatsworth House

Deborah was largely responsible for bringing the house back to life and turning it into one of England's most popular and beloved historic houses. Sotheby's will be offering the contents of her final home, the Old Vicarage at Edensor on the Chatsworth estate. It includes the wonderful objects with which she lived -- from exquisite jewels gifted to her by her husband to a rare copy of "Brideshead Revisited" personally inscribed to her by her friend Evelyn Waugh. This historic auction will offer fine and decorative art (I counted three paintings by Duncan Grant!), furniture, china, jewels, and the Duchess of Devonshire's library. Here are a few images of her home:

I was in England in September, 2014 when Deborah Mitford passed away at age 94. I was touched by the huge outpouring of sympathy and articles about her in all the newspapers. She was an admired woman in Britain, considered gracious, down-to-earth and credited as the driving force behind making Chatsworth House one of England's most popular stately homes. If you want to know more about her read Wait for Me, her wonderful memoir about growing up in the storied Mitford clan, her life with Andrew Cavendish, and living at Chatsworth. She was a talented writer and her story is enchanting.

Oh to be in London for this! The auction is happening on Wednesday, March 2. Viewing is from February 27-March 1. Go to Sotheby's to watch the amazing video of how they put this auction together. If you are in London and get a chance to see this, please let me know. I would love to hear about it. What an opportunity to see Deborah Mitford's beloved objects and interiors before they go on sale at auction.

P.S.  I am very excited about the new banner for my blog. After all these years, it was time for a change. The talented team at Thunderwing Press created it for me and I couldn't be happier!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Out And About

Winter seems to be coming to an end, at least here in Los Angeles. Hopefully we will get some more rain but this week the temperatures are going to be in the eighties. And everyone wants to be out and about. I was in Sonoma for Valentine's Day weekend and had the opportunity to relax and read some of my favorite magazines, newspapers and websites. So many exciting items caught my eye. As always, there is a lot going on in the spring. I thought it would be fun to compile a list of some cultural happenings that look especially good to me. Here are some of the art, literary, and garden events I've spotted recently. I hope to make it to some of these. They are guaranteed to make the spring season just a little sweeter!

In Southern California...

Catherine Opie: Portraits at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles

Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV at the Getty Center in Los Angeles

Literary Affairs lecture on Love in the Time of Cholera on March 10 at the Hotel Bel-Air

In San Francisco...

Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective at the de Young Museum in San Francisco

In New York...

The fourteenth annual Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Gardens. This year's theme is Orhcidelerium: the history of orchid collecting.

In London...

Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse at the Royal Academy of Art

Botticelli Reimagined at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Vogue 100 -- A Century of Style at the National Portrait Gallery

And in the world of books...

An unknown story by Beatrix Potter has been discovered and will be published by Penguin

A new garden book:  Oxford College Gardens by Tim Richardson

A new cookbook spotlights 25 female chefs who are redefining cooking in New York


The last episode of "Downton Abbey" will air on March 6. Oh the sadness...

 "Outlander" will return on April 9


A Grammy win for "Hamilton!" This was so well deserved.

And photography...

Stunning photos of Adele by Annie Leibovitz in the March issue of Vogue

The spring arts season is officially in bloom!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Emma Tennant, Botanical Artist

Many years ago I took a class on botanical watercolors. It was a humbling experience. But I was excited to try it out since I have never had any skill as an artist. I enjoyed the challenge. For one week we studied our subject and were instructed in the art of botanical watercolor painting. I learned about looking and seeing the flower (mine was a fuchsia) as I'd never done before. I loved mixing colors and painting with watercolors. But I was amazed at how difficult it was to capture my subject. To this day I stand in admiration of those artists who are able to render beautiful representations of nature's beauties. And every time I see an accomplished botanical painting I remember how challenging it was to paint that flower!

With spring around the corner, I've been thinking about gardens and looking at botanical art. I have read that the ability to capture the essential nature of a plant lies at the heart of the best botanical art. And lately there's one name I've been drawn to: British artist Emma Tennant. Her delicate watercolors are beautiful and have a freshness and immediacy that makes them stand out. Although I've never seen her work in person, I am now completely in love with it. Since she recently had a show in London, there has been a lot of press on her and I have been enchanted with everything I have seen and read. Here are some of the highlights:

She is part of the storied Mitford family and grew up on the estate of Chatsworth House which her parents inherited when she went off to college. She is the daughter of the youngest Mitford sister, Deborah. Her daughter is the well-known model Stella Tennant. Her other daughter Isabel is a gifted gilder and with Stella runs Gilded Pleasures by Tennant & Tennant. They produce a handmade collection of gilded lamps, mirrors and carved flowers. Their mother Emma has been gardening most of her life, studied painting in college, but only took it up seriously after her children were born. Her love of gardening and her talent as a botanical artist go hand in hand.

She spent her childhood at Edensor, a family house on the Chatsworth estate in Derbyshire. The garden on the estate was a big part of her life. While at Oxford she painted and drew at the Ruskin School of Art. She married Toby Tennant and they bought a neglected farm in the Scottish borders and restored it. After having three children and setting up the farm, Tennant converted a small outbuilding into a studio and began her career as an artist there. Her experience as a gardener was key to her success as a painter. She knew the plants as only a gardener would. Her painting style is unique and deeply influenced by the flowing technique of Chinese and Japanese artists. Because their art was on scrolls or screens rather than contained in books or frames, they were able to do great flowing lines. She decided to incorporate this looseness into her art by using absorbent Japanese paper which allows her brushstrokes to bleed into the surface. This gives her paintings a distinctive look.

Take a look at some of her watercolors.  I think you will agree that they capture the essential nature of the plants, which is what the best botanical art does. And they are full of joy and poetry.

Emma Tennant describes her art as "botanical accuracy with a free line." What a perfect description. Most of her watercolors are framed by her daughter Issy who has been a gilder for 30 years. I loved learning about this inspiring family of women, their art and the Chatsworth connection. Hailing from Deborah Mitford, Chatsworth was an influence on all of them. Emma was affected by the garden and daughter Isabel was affected by the beautiful carved flowers she discovered at the Chatsworth attic sale, bringing this concept into her gilding business. I learned that Chatsworth is famous for many garden and architectural features, including its gilding which adorns the rooms and even the window frames on the outside of the house. It seems that both Emma and her daughters discovered their artistic calling through the legacy of this great house. What a remarkable group of women and artists. Next time I have an opportunity I will make a beeline to see Emma Tennant's art.

Images via here, here, and here