The art of reinvention is a delicate dance, often spurred by the need to maneuver away from the formula that has always worked. For painter Georgia O’Keeffe, the loss of her eye sight at the age of eighty-five paralyzed any ability to take brush to canvas. Outside inspiration from an unlikely source and a new medium set the stage for her renaissance as an artist, recognized by Sotheby’s at an upcoming auction titled Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Juan Hamilton: Passage. Art history buffs and decorative arts collectors alike will be delighted with the sale’s offerings.
The curve of an antique secretaire, a swath of silk curtains and the movement of a master painting live exquisitely in the renderings of artist to the grand, Jeremiah Goodman. His works are so outrightly splendid, viewers want to walk right into the marvelous milieu the late Mr. Goodman created. Revered interior decorators and social fixtures alike called on Jeremiah to immortalize their spaces in paint and it is our good fortune that in 2006, he published a tome celebrating their cherished quarters. Yesterday morning, I was in the doldrums; a place of plain thinking only cured by the art of inspiration. A quick survey of my coffee table books later, I was transfixed by the elegant living rooms, worldly dining rooms and enchanting bedrooms in A Romantic Vision. A few pages in, I realized that the one year anniversary of Mr. Goodman’s passing is in two weeks and I’m grateful for the timely opportunity to celebrate his art by sharing a few of my favorite renderings below.
Jeremiah imagined his arrival in New York City as a young artist to be an exciting welcome full of professional promise and he was spot on. He started out as an illustrator for Lord and Taylor’s newspaper adverts showcasing interiors and fashion which caught the eye of Interior Design magazine’s editor. Goodman illustrated the cover of the magazine every month for 15 years all while having work published in House and Garden, The New York Times and Harper’s Bazaar. Esteemed commissions from decorators the likes of Billy Baldwin and Henri Samuel led to him painting the private homes of First Lady Nancy Reagan, Cecil Beaton, Besty Bloomingdale and Diana Vreeland to name a small few.
Many qualities of an artist transfer to that of a designer such as proportion, scale and color all of which are punctiliously mastered in a Goodman rendering. It comes as no surprise that Jeremiah had wanted to become a decorator before pursuing a career as a painter. Photographer Bruce Weber once remarked “In reality our rooms are a mess and filled with books and dogs’ beds. But Jeremiah’s interpretation of these rooms always makes one look as if they have the crème de la crème of taste.” A fine balance of real life recording in combination with artistic liberty keeps the viewer guessing as to what Goodman drew from directly and what was added for flair.
Jeremiah’s expert impressions have become a historical archive of interior decoration in the latter part of the 20th century. The pieces from his patrons’ collections of art, decorative objet, books and artifacts have been preserved in their interior habitat, a rare treat to look in on. To capture these distinguished delights, he would travel to Europe, Asia and beyond. Goodman would return Stateside to his Big Apple apartment and a carriage house in East Hampton that he painstakingly restored. He once had friend and decorator Albert Hadley come by and help him rearrange his entire living room only for them both to realize that it was perfect in its original state. Of his varied aesthetic aptitudes Jeremiah mused “the artist today should be a Renaissance-type man who applies his talents in many fields.” I hope Mr. Goodman’s inspired ouvre helps you, like it did me, to take a break from the bustle of life and rouse a dormant passion or two – whatever they may be!
P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you might like a similar one I wrote about portrait artist Aaron Shikler. It’s a bit more history heavy and full of beautiful portraits of faces you will most certainly recognize! Read it here.
All images via A Romantic Vision, 2006.
Al fresco dinners overlooking the ocean towards Cannes, fantastical art soirees in Paris and a true joie de vivre made Gerald and Sara Murphy the hosts with the most in 1920’s France. Their incandescent sensibility as a couple inspired works by the most prolific authors and artists of their time, while their entertaining prowess transformed the way the French Riviera summered. This is a tale of an American expatriate twosome who The New Yorker coined “masters in the art of living.” Welcome to the wonderful world of the Murphys!
GIRL MEETS BOY
Sara Wiborg enjoyed an idyllic upbringing singing classic opera with her sisters, becoming fluent in French, Italian and German and frolicking on the beaches of East Hampton. Her family home, the Dunes, was a 30-room mansion complete with an operating dairy, Italianate gardens, flagstone terraces and stables. The Dunes would set the stage for the meeting of Sara and Gerald, a 16-year-old boy 4 years her junior, at a splashy party in 1904.
Gerald’s father pioneered the first wrist watch, introduced the Thermos bottle to America and turned Mark Cross, a humble leather goods supplier, into an elegant 5th Avenue destination. While Gerald didn’t care to share this business ingenuity with his father, he did inherit his sense of style and was voted best-dressed man in his 1911 class at Yale.
Gerald the clotheshorse would tie the knot with Sara, the warm and very direct socialite, 11 years after their meeting at the Dunes. The Murphy marriage was one of wonderful contentedness, admired by their friends and inspiring the characters of Nicole and Dick Diver in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender is the Night.” Their Bohemian bond allowed them to blossom individually and both felt as though Boston was a stifling place for their creative pursuits. In 1921, with their three young children in tow, they set sail for Europe and didn’t look back.
Thanks to a highly favorable exchange rate for Americans, Sara and Gerald arrived in the City of Light and became unpaid apprentices to Serge Diaghilev at the Ballets Russes. Ballet Russes was the epicenter of the modern arts movement and where the duo met most of their European friends, all of whom had favorable impressions of the Murphys.
Their memorable debut as party hosts was a famous 1923 bash to celebrate the première of Stravinsky’s ballet Les Noces. It was held on the Seine in a barge in front of the Chambre des Députés with the who’s who of the modern movement onboard. The party lacked flowers, as they were not sold in Paris on Sundays, so the Murphys purchased a boatload of toys from a local bazaar and arranged them down the middle of the long banquet table. It is said that Picasso was entranced by the décor! The champagne dinner was legendary, filled with music, convivial conversation and performances by ballerinas. While Gerald and Sara were enchanting their new amis, they, in turn, were being influenced by these modern thinkers and artists.
THE ARTIST MOVEMENT
On a winter day in Paris, the couple wandered into the Rosenberg Gallery and Gerald was immediately taken by Picasso and Braque works which he was seeing for the first time. He turned to Sara and remarked “if that’s painting, it’s what I want to do.” Gerald began his only formal training by taking art classes from Natalia Goncharova. Accompanied by Sara, they would go to Natalia’s home and he would learn techniques attributed to the Precisionist, Cubist and Pop Art movements. Gerald Murphy would produce 8 prominent paintings from 1921-29 in the Realism and Abstraction genres. A single painting would take months to complete due to his meticulous attention to detail of objects like a wasp or pear. He exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1923 and 2 of his most notable works are currently in the Dallas Museum’s permanent collection. While Gerald was busy painting, Sara was enjoying being painted.
Mrs. Murphy became a muse for Picasso in 1923 and was the subject of many of his works including Woman in White. She wore pearls over her shoulders at the beach, explaining that it was good for them and Picasso took note. Her signature pearls can be seen in some of his classical representations of women during this time. The Murphys’ sun-splashed life on the French Riviera was also captured by friend and photographer Man Ray.
SWEET SUMMER TIME
Gerald and Sara set up camp in Cap d’Antibes and purchased a humble home they named Villa America. The villa was unpretentious but the garden was exquisite. The previous owner had grown exotic choices such as lemon, date and olive trees that paired nicely with Arabian maples, pepper and fig trees. They would break bread under a large silver linden tree surrounded by camellia, tulip and rose bordered gravel paths. It wasn’t long before their friends like Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and Cole Porter would come to visit.
The couple is credited for single-handedly making the French Riviera a summer destination. In 1923, they convinced the Hotel du Cap to stay open during the summer months so they could entertain their globe-trotting pals. Sara introduced their set to “sunbathing” and made it an acceptable form of leisure hosting picnics and relaxing on the shore before a late afternoon swim at Eden Roc. Provençal and traditional American fare kept guests satiated while they overlooked the coast from the Villa America garden. The Murphys kept three boats; a small looper dubbed Picaflor, Honoria a larger vessel named after their daughter, and a 100-foot schooner called the Weatherbird after a Louis Armstrong record. I found many pictures of Gerald sailing the seas on the Picaflor in little more than a hat but thought best not to include them here!
The spirit of the U.S.A. was kept alive with the expatriates always reading the latest American books and playing the most current jazz records in the villa. They made sure to have the newest American gadgets, such as the waffle maker, shipped to them much to the delight of their young children and European friends. These little touches were examples of how while guests were not entertained lavishly with big parties, the intimate setting they were welcomed into would charm them greatly. Their daughter Honoria remembered them as “a comfortable unit. Comforting to their friends when they were discouraged. Mother was warm and friendly and direct. Father was reserved and very funny. It was an exchange of minds.” The Murphys’ legacy will always be the original, beautiful life they created for themselves and their friends.
In 1934, one of their sons fell very ill and the Murphys came back to the Hamptons. Shortly after returning Stateside, both of their sons passed away of meningitis and tuberculosis, respectively. Gerald became president of Mark Cross in Manhattan out of necessity and was relieved to retire in 1956. Sara’s family home the Dunes became too expensive and vast to upkeep and they wound up demolishing it in 1941 when they couldn’t find a buyer. Sara and Gerald converted the dairy barn into Swan Cove where they would live for the rest of their days.
Interested in more things Murphy?
Head to Mrs. Blanding’s blog to see the Pink House, the original servants’ quarters of the Dunes property, owned and enjoyed by daughter Honoria’s children until 2010.
Add this book, a portrait of Sara and Gerald’s legendary life written by Honoria Murphy Donnelly, and this volume about their love story penned by family friend Amanda Vaill, to your summer reading list.
First image: Sara and Gerald Murphy Papers, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. © Estate of Honoria Murphy Donnelly/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
The sentimentality of Mother’s Day is heightened for me this year as it’s my first one being a mom. My baby daughter has given me a new found appreciation for my own mother who raised three of us girls with much grace and heaps of love. Growing up, we had a couple of Mary Cassatt prints in our bathroom and they perfectly mirrored what transpired in that space everyday when we were little. The evening bathing ritual of a mother fastidiously, yet oh-so-gently, washing the day’s dirt off her small child with stories and songs woven in. While maternal imagery is abundant in art history, think the Madonna and child, we are rarely treated to the theme of mothers and daughters. Fortunately for us, Cassatt captured on canvas many tender moments depicting mothers and daughters during the Impressionist movement.
Motherhood is not idealized in Cassatt’s works, the subjects’ hands look worn while involved in the most ordinary scenes of daily life. Inspired by the fondness of her nieces and nephews and a renewed cultural interest in child rearing, Cassatt created a new genre of painting for mothers and children outside of commissioned portraiture. The late 19th century was a time of child rights reform and we see Cassatt’s championing of that in her depictions of modern female figures, upper and working class alike, making an effort to protect their children through everyday actions.
Her dominant placement of mother and child, filling up the entire composition, was inspired by photography and Japanese wood-cuts. Cassatt often molded the mother-daughter duo into an aesthetically delightful unit using color, form and shape to present us with powerful imagery of maternal nurturing. Much like Japanese wood-cuts, the perspective of her pieces have unusual angles and we’re thrust into the work using the subject’s point-of-view.
Japanese decorative works were à la mode in Paris at the time Cassatt lived in France. Their heavy influence on her pieces is most evident in The Boat Party. This ambitious painting was created to be the pièce de résistance of Cassatt’s first solo exhibition in the States in 1895. Boldly hued shapes come together making an almost abstract composition while patterned ensembles and textured water create a distinguished geometry most pleasing to the eye. A sliver for a horizon at the tippy top dwarfs any distance and we’re cajoled into looking down at the scene of a mother and baby being rowed ashore. Cassatt’s wealthy American contacts helped to make French avant-garde painting like this just as wildly popular in the US as it was in Paris.
Louisine Havemeyer, an American who purchased Young Mother Sewing in 1901, marveled: “Look at that little child that has just thrown herself against her mother’s knee, regardless of the result and oblivious to the fact that she could disturb ‘her mamma.’ And she is quite right, she does not disturb her mother. Mamma simply draws back a bit and continues to sew.” Cassatt captures all the nuances of the close mother and child relationship which is remarkable considering these two subjects were unrelated. Likely two models or friends of Cassatt, they serve as living props in this revolutionary take on the still-life genre.
In Summertime we again see models, a young woman and girl, posing as mother and daughter. Boats and ducks were a common scene for Mary Cassatt at her country home about an hour outside of Paris in Mesnil-Théribus. While summering there in 1894 she created a series of water-inspired paintings commemorating the outdoor splendor. The mother figure is dressed in genteel finery for the hot climate with a wide brimmed hat and white gloves. We see her daughter in a carefree shift dress, its strap falling, soaking up a leisurely summer afternoon; a simple moment commemorated in oils.
Vibrant yellow tones and an affectionate bond draw us into the above piece highlighting a more working class mother and daughter than the duo in Summertime. A worn chair, the child’s lack of clothing and slightly bronzed skin, a sign of much time spent outdoors, tip us off on their social standing. The hand mirror suggests that the mother is teaching her daughter at a very young age that vanity is of utmost importance. By painting this, Cassatt is making a statement against traditional gender roles and fighting back at the patronizing treatment she received from male artists during her career.
While Cassatt inserted social commentary into most of her work, Breakfast in Bed (one of my very favorite works of art!) seems free of any and is simply lovely to gaze at. We’re met with a child’s curious fixation on the nearby tea cup while her mother is physically engaged in their embrace yet looking wistfully away. It makes us wonder what she’s thinking about on such a quiet and dreamy morning – perhaps how awe-inspiring motherhood is.
These exquisitely private portraits of mothers and daughters have reminded me to savor every minute with my little one which is just how I plan on spending this Mother’s Day. I hope they have moved you in a similar manner and to all the mothers and nurturers, here’s wishing you a wonderful Mother’s Day with your nearest and dearest!
PS If you’d like an easy way to introduce art history to your young children or grandchildren, I recommend the board book Quiet Time with Cassatt. I’ve really enjoyed reading it to Louisa, I’m hoping she catches the art bug too!