17 November 2009

Trompe Foolery

Lady Diana Cooper by Derry Moore

After seeing Lady West's yachting cap homage to the great Diana Cooper here, yours truly just had to show off and remark on the Rex Whistler painted decoration behind her which I had seen before and included in Regency Redux.

Duff and Diana Cooper's London flat decorated by Sibyl Colefax, 1937

Well, Ms. Know-it-all was a little hasty - as Toby Worthington kindly pointed out, the trompe l'oeil trophies in the Derry Moore portrait were done by Martin Battersby in the 1950s for the Coopers' French chateau in Chantilly and later relocated to London.

Battersby was a one-time assistant to the hyper-competitive Cecil Beaton who was no doubt peeved that Diana, a close friend, didn't consult him instead.

One example of Beaton's cut-throat tendencies was when fellow designer Oliver Messel asked Beaton his opinion on the considerable fee Messel was proposing for designing the sets of Caesar and Cleopatra, Beaton told him it was fine and then submitted his own estimate at a much reduced rate. Meow!

Another view of the Battersby trophies - AND the Regency sofa which also featured in the 1937 Colefax scheme

Battersby photographed by Angus McBean in 1960

I was mortified by my misappropriation of the facts on several counts - not least of all that I didn't give credit to one of my heroes of interior design history. He didn't just give us magnificently conceived and realized decorative schemes...

such as this one for Lady Kenmare at La Fiorentina in St Jean Cap Ferrat (later purchased by advertising dymano Mary Wells Lawrence ), but two of my favorite books The Decorative Twenties and The Decorative Thirties, without which no design library is complete. That I do know.

Battersby's jazzy hall decorated with blue and silver paper and textiles of his own design


little augury said...

EEE- LOVE the backstory with all the man cat stories! Battersby- I have 2 great books with his stuff in them-some of the 1st design books in my library. That last photo of the hall is gorgeous-so shimmery and elegant. The portrait-masked.Wonder who?, and as for the masked sphinx-what can I say? And where would we be without the unerring eye for Mr Worthington? la

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

la - don't you loved that Masked portrait? The sphinx behind him is a model for the murals he did at the Carlyle... all the lone ranger masks make me think of Hamish Bowle's masked bust in his old Paris dig featured in WoI... heaven... EEE

Mrs. Blandings said...

This is what I love about blogging. It's like having a conversation.

little augury said...

I will have to go right back to that-surely a nod to Battersby.I would love to know who it is? She also appears to have a slightly dapper all in one masked yachting hat? don't you think? G

home before dark said...

Back stories area always so illuminating. It is reassuring that TW is there with kindliness not always found in people who know so much. You and TW should do a duet-sleuth sketch. Time to don the turban again, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

I hope that this doesn't upset you-
I'm nearly certain that Mrs. Safra never owned La Fiorentina. She owned, and currently owns, La Leoploda, built by Ogden Codman, which Lady Kelmare rented with her son, Mr. Cameron, before they bought La Fiorentina.
To the best of my knowledge, The Harding Lawrences bought it from Mr. Cameron, and sold it several years ago to a very, very rich couple from Germany. They intended to keep it exactly as they bought it, only to discover, during a roof repair, that the house was about to fall down. They then spent several years completely reconstructing the house from the inside (lots of steel and even more money!)
I was told that it was impossible to save most of the decors. It is now filled with boiseries and palace furniture.

Susan Adler Sobol said...

I am bowled over -- very impressed with the knowledgeable T. Worthington, whose comments I always note on many blogs. I assume he sent you a personal e-mail because I didn't see his comment correcting you and was curious to know how he knew these were the work of Battersby. I became enamored with Rex Whistler about 10 years ago, after seeing his murals in the dining room at the Tate. I, also thought that the famous Whistler murals were the backdrop for Derry Moore's photo of Diana Cooper. Your post sent me scurrying through my bookshelves. I discovered that the Cooper's Gower Street home with the Whistler murals had been sold in the late 30's. All of this fuels my addiction to design blogs -- I could never have a conversation about this with any of my friends! Thank you EEE and Toby Worthington!

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Anonymous, many thanks for the correction....my brain is so fried these days, I think a trip to research primary source material in St Jean Cap Ferrat is the only remedy for my slip-ups! EEE

The Peak of Chic said...

I'm confused. I too thought it was painted by Rex Whistler. I went back to look at a post that I had written on the mural, and I also wrote that it was a Rex Whistler. I consulted "Rooms", and it attributes the mural to Whistler. So I'm wondering... was it Whistler? Or Battersby? Did Battersby only paint the trophies?

Toby Worthington said...

In the final volume of her autobiography (Trumpets From the Steep, 1960 ) Lady Diana Cooper extends "a special word of gratitude to Martin Battersby for letting me decorate my three books with the epics he painted on my walls."
By "epics" she means trophy panels (her idiosyncratic use of language being one of the reasons to read her), and she refers to the Battersby murals which were printed in monochrome for use as endpapers to the 3 volumes of memoirs.
The panels contained symbolic references to both Duff Cooper's family and that Lady Diana Manners
and were carried out some time after the 2nd World War, at which point in time the great Rex Whistler was dead. At first glance the work suggests Rex, but Battersby's approach to painted illusion was sharper and more precise. Rex Whistler was a romantic, Martin Battersby a realist~or so it seems to me.

Toby Worthington said...

Note to Susan Adler Sobol:
According to Laurence Whistler, the murals that his brother Rex painted for the Cooper's house at 90 Gower Street in 1935, became the property of University College, London. They were "removed from the house before its demolition, with the plaster on which they were painted, but seriously damaged by cleaning."
These consisted of four circular plaques painted with appropriate shadows; two pretence mezzotints; and a jug which seems to stand in a niche.
Note to Peak of Chic: The caption in "Rooms" has misled you, and I am certain that the ghost of Martin Battersby is NOT at all pleased with whoever
cobbled together the book "Rooms". Don't you just deplore that brand of slapdash inaccuracy?

John Tackett said...

I had not seen that color photo of La Fiorentina! As a pre-teen I had flipped over those trompe l'oeil paintings in the manner of pinned up drawings, and was thrilled when I much later had the great pleasure of meeting Rory Cameron. He seemed genuinely pleased that I had been so influenced by his house and that it played a part in the early development of my taste.

little augury said...

might I add tobyworthington.blogspot.com ?

soodie :: said...

This is great -- I love these collaborative efforts!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


A superb post, brilliantly illustrated.

For a second...when I saw the thumbail picture...I thought you were playing a little joke--and had a creative and brilliant costume/makeup/hair team do a major job of makeup/padding/wigging on you...and thought...how very clever of Emily to hire a portraitist, and for you to act the part and kind of slump a bit (art and theatre and a bit Cindy Sherman)--and how beautiful you looked even with the wig and cap.
It's a genius post...full of provocative ideas.
La Fiorentina-one of the greatest all-time interiors/ exteriors/everything.
cheers...totally brilliant, www.thestylesaloniste.com

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

Susan, Indeed Mr. Worthington very elegantly sent me a private email to let me know of my misattribution.

It is precisely for exchanges like this and finding the community that has the same fascination with Rex Whistler, Lady Kenmare, and all of those ghosts of the past (that make Mr. EEE's eyes glaze over!) that I love the blogosphere.


Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

DDS - I'm chuffed - thank you, Ms. Style Saloniste. AND you've given me ideas for next year's Halloween... for which I'll have to return to San Francisco as you all really know how to do it right! EEE

Michele from Boston said...

I just ordered both books through Amazon after looking for something just like them for ages. Thanks for the wonderful recommendations. You're a peach!

Lynne Rutter said...

i was squealing about the post and the images, but the comments are making me positively giddy.
pray continue!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Emily-

YES...that's the idea! You as Diana Cooper.
Come to San Francisco for next Halloween. I am sure we can find the perfect party. You, Diana Cooper...you've already got the 'look' to emulate.
Wow, if only to look like that when ancient.

Rex Whistler: can you do a total definitive post?
Clear up all these confusions.

EEE--I hope you are reading the new Nicky Haslam bio. It has so much insider insider visits to houses, great and grand and old. When he was at Eton, 16, he was already taking weekend trips to friends' houses, and to the great country houses of England.
While the book is one endless namedrop--interspersed with bons mots and witticisms and shriekingly funny droll retorts...there is insight and thrilling info on interiors of the greats (just read a very very insightful and articulate description about EARLY David Hicks (then a pair with Tom Parr)...and a total elluciation of chic decor a la Hicks.
You will love it.
cheers, www.thestylesaloniste.com

Emily Evans Eerdmans said...

DDS, Picked up Redeeming Features last week and am ADORING it. His descriptions of people and rooms are hypnotic... it's the sort of book one wants to go on forever and forever... EEE