Monday, November 4, 2019

John Singer Sargent Drawings at The Morgan Library & Museum



John Singer Sargent double self-portrait from 1902 when Sargent was 46.

   The Morgan Library and Museum, originally built by financier J.P. Morgan in 1906, is one of my favorite places in New York, and now it's featuring on exhibition on one of my favorite artists – what's not to like?
    I admire the refinement of John Singer Sargent's art, and the Morgan has mounted a show of  his charcoal drawings. But this isn't just a bunch of drawings!
     Sargent is of course famous for his large portrait paintings, like the striking Madame X and the gorgeous Wyndham sisters, which both can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But by 1907, Sargent had grown tired of producing these large, elaborate paintings, which could require up to more than ten sittings with the model(s). His portraits were still in demand however, so he turned to charcoal drawings, which were quicker and more spontaneous.
    For the first time ever, this show at The Morgan focuses on Sargent's charcoal drawings and gathers together 55 examples, some of which have never been exhibited before as they are in private collections. Walking through the gallery, I enjoyed the easy, breezy nature of the drawings. They seemed so fresh and spontaneous, almost like photographs capturing the subject, instead of the studied grandeur of Sargent's oil portraits. And though of course I'm sure they weren't, they appear to be effortless. The drawings possess that combination of ease and elegance that I love.
    At the top of the this post is a double self-portrait by Sargent, who rarely produced a self-portrait. Good-looking chap.
      Here we have Sybil Sassoon from 1912. Sargent said she was the most beautiful woman he ever drew –


    This is Sargent's friend artist Paul-César Helleu – I like his charcoal grey clothes and his casual, relaxed posture as he reclines in a low arm chair.


    Handsome Italian model Olimpio Fusco looks like he just stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue -


    I was so happy to see one of my favorite portraits of all time -- Sargent's drawing of Irish poet William Butler Yeats –


    I love everything about this portrait, including the floppy bow tie and shawl-colored jacket. Yeats is from Sligo, Ireland, which is where my great-grandfather Daniel O'Donnell hailed from before he landed in Herkimer, New York. Yeats wrote the most beautiful poem about Sligo called "The Lake Isle of Innisfree." I hope to get to Sligo some day. In the meantime, I recommend a trip to The Morgan to see John Singer Sargent. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Personal Stylist at Your Service



    I've always enjoyed helping family and friends style their homes, wardrobes, clothes, and events/flowers. Having worked for years as a writer for fashion, decorating and lifestyle magazines and brands, I've learned a lot about design and have been fascinated by personal style. Now in addition to writing and editing, I am happy to offer my services as a personal stylist!
     Above is a quote from a client whose home I styled. For Katherine and Jim, I chose new paint colors for their walls, re-arranged their furniture and bought new pieces, re-hung their art work, and did an overall edit. After I was done, Katherine said to me, "Now when we walk in, we look at everything and smile." I wrote all about the project on the blog here.



    Here we have my cousin Uma Deming who is a young ballerina with the New York City Ballet. I recently dressed Uma for the red carpet at the Ballet's Fall Fashion Gala, which was a lot of fun. Tory Burch graciously agreed to loan Uma this gorgeous, sequinned, midnight blue gown which fit her to perfection. I worked with Uma to choose her hair and makeup and accessories, and I think she looked beautiful. After Uma walked the red carpet, she danced in the first ballet of the evening in a piece choreographed by Lauren Lovette with costumes by Zac Posen.
   If you or anyone you know needs a personal stylist, please email me at bartb3@gmail.com!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A New Magazine Column




I'm happy to say that I am now writing a monthly column about antiques called "Divine Design" for New York Cottages & Gardens magazine! The first one, in the September issue, is about the Lee Radziwill auction coming up in October here in New York City at Christie's, which already has people clamoring. One of the lots for sale is a pair of japanned tables that were designed for her by Renzo Mongiardino, one the greatest decorators of the last century. Read all about in the September issue -- and we have a good one coming up in October too!

Monday, September 2, 2019

Memories of Summer in Upstate New York



I always feel a little melancholy when summer draws to a close because I enjoy summer so much - the light, the warmth, the easy cotton clothes. People say, "I am ready for summer to end," but I never am. I wish it stretched on longer.

TD likes the summer too and we both enjoy the beach. We traveled to a lot of beautiful beaches and visited friends and family this summer. We've been to the Jersey Shore, Fire Island, Southampton, Jones Beach and Rockaway Beach. The photos above and below are from Rockaway where we were this Saturday. The photo above is from the ferry ride home across the New York Bay. At the end of the day walking from the beach to the ferry we can stop at a deli and pick up two cold cans of Montauk Ale and then drink them while sitting on the top deck of the ferry on the boat ride home.


I grew up in a small town, New Hartford, in upstate New York, next to Utica, where the winters were long and harsh so when school let out when I was young and summer came it was a great joy. My parents liked summer too and we were outside all season long. This was before air conditioning was common. My brother Thom and I shared a bedroom on the top floor of our Cape Cod house, which was beastly hot. So outdoors we went. We had a wooden picnic table in the backyard and my mother and father and Thom and I and Cynthia and Eric often ate dinner there. My mother made cold salads - tossed iceberg lettuce salad, macaroni salad, tuna salad - and my father piled charcoal briquettes in the round charcoal grill and barbecued. My mother got ripe cantaloupe melon from a farmer in Clinton along with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

There were limited options for swimming in our vicinity but on summer mornings during the week my mother would pack up a lunch and we'd get in the station wagon and maybe stop and pick up a friend and visit a local swimming hole for the day. There was a lake near Rome, New York, the Delta Reservoir Park, that we went to. My mother was good at entertaining us and keeping us busy. I think she enjoyed being the mother of small children.

My father liked summer too and he wanted to be outdoors at night after he came home from work. He didn't talk to me much; he showed his affection by doing things. After dinner at the picnic table, he played hide and seek with us in the yard. Green shrubbery branches scratched my arms as I hid inside bushes that lined the yard. Sometimes after we ate we got in the car and drove to a park to play. Utica had many nice parks, and this was a very pretty park that we went to. It might have been Proctor Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who created Central Park in New York City. We could really run free through the woods and lawns knowing that our father was nearby.

Baseball was a favorite sport of his and he enjoyed going to see the Utica Blue Sox minor league baseball team play so after dinner we drove down to Murnane Field in South Utica. I couldn't have cared less about baseball but I got to bring my friend Patty Parker who lived next door and it was pleasant to sit outside on a cool summer night under the big, bright, white lights of the baseball field. There was a small swimming hole in New Hartford called Power Dam and my father sometimes took Thom and I there on the weekend. We played together in the shallow water and he let us climb all over him. His skin was oily. My father was distant from me growing up so it felt nice to be close to him at Power Dam. 

In the summer we saw lots of cousins in upstate New York -  on my father's side we visited Boehlert cousins in Rochester and Noonan cousins at Oneida Lake. On my mother's side, the Border girls came to 611, my great aunts' house in Herkimer, and we got together there. It was always jolly to see my cousins. Summer was a happy time, a holiday, then and I like it still. On a cool summer morning when I am standing in the kitchen with the window open, it feels like when my mother was making lunch for a day of adventures ahead. And I when I go to the Olmstead-designed Central Park (thank you Mr. Olmstead), it's like I'm with my father again in south Utica.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

My Profile of Mary Fox Linton for Architectural Digest



I recently had the pleasure of meeting Mary Fox Linton, the "grande dame of interior design," and writing about her for Architectural Digest's digital platform AD Pro. Fox Linton, age 88, was in New York for a brief visit, and I had the chance to hear her speak on a professional panel and then sit down to talk with her afterwards. I found the patrician Englishwoman to be deliciously funny and unorthodox and refreshingly un-grand-dame-like.
You can read the story online here (register with AD Pro for access) or you can read a pdf version here. I hope you enjoy!

Monday, May 13, 2019

"Camp: Notes on Fashion" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute




"One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art." So said Oscar Wilde, the patron saint of Camp, which is being celebrated now in the new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute in New York City. For this eye-popping exhibition, Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge at the Costume Institute, was inspired by Susan Sontag's 1964 essay "Notes on Camp." In it, Sontag sets about to describe the sensibility called Camp, stating that a sensibility is different from an idea. "The essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural and exaggeration," she says. "The way of Camp is not in terms of beauty but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization." She writes that fashion in particular has an affinity for Camp as Camp is a decorative art, "emphasizing texture, sensuous surface, and style at the expense of content." With this these thoughts in mind, Andrew Bolton presents Camp (I capitalize the word as Sontag did in her essay) with a dazzling range of bejeweled, be-feathered and extravagant clothes and accessories in the galleries at the Met. While it is hard to define Camp, I think the common thread is exaggerated style combined with an arch sense of humor. This show is one big delicious wad of pink bubble gum to chew over and enjoy.

The exhibit begins in small, low-ceilinged pink galleries, which explore Camp as a noun and a verb and an adjective. Audio overhead features the sound of a typewriter clacking out quotes about Camp and Judy Garland singing "Over the Rainbow."
Nothing says Camp like a dress made of feathers - this Balenciaga dress from 1966 was owned by Jayne Wrightsman – 



This elegant jacket by Schiaparelli features golden beaded hair running down its sleeve and a jeweled eyeball –



Around a couple of turns, the pink boudoir galleries give way to one large room filled with colorful double-decker squares that display more Camp clothes. In the center of the room a large square installation holds accessories.



Circus dresses by Manish Arora and Christian Francis Roth –



It's a dizzying effect and honestly it's hard to take in all of the clothes in the bright cubes, especially the ones in the top level of the super-glamorous "Hollywood Squares"-like design. Judy Garland sings "Over the Rainbow" in this gallery too, bringing a melancholy twinge to the happy mood of the colorful room.

As is tradition, at the press preview I attended the morning of the Met Gala, guests were ushered to the first floor Petrie Sculpture Court to hear remarks about the show. Max Hollein, the new Director of the Museum, welcomed guests and thanked "our Camp idol Anna Wintour," which made Anna, sitting in the first row, laugh. He noted, "Camp is the great democratiser" and "sees everything in quotation marks." Alessandro Michele, Creative Director at Gucci, which sponsored the show, gave his remarks in Italian. Curator Andrew Bolton described how the first, small, narrow boudoir-like galleries are like closets, which evoke the "secret, clandestine nature" of the origins of Camp. He pointed out that in the first galleries, the recording of Judy Garland singing "Over the Rainbow" was from when she was 16, while in the last gallery, the recording was from a month before she passed away. Ultimately, he said Camp is "a mode of enjoyment. It puts a smile on our faces and a warm glow in our hearts.”

At a party recently I was sitting next to a fellow who had his knickers in a serious twist because he felt this show was "superficial." (These Costume Institute exhibits often elicit strong reactions and opinions.) I disagreed; I think it treats Camp very seriously and at the same time is a lot of fun to look at, as it should be. This summer, head up to "Camp"!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Dawn Mello, Bergdorf Goodman and Gucci




Dawn Mello, the great retail fashion director who revived the staid, unprofitable Bergdorf Goodman and resuscitated the moribund Gucci, is the subject of a new book titled Dawn. Published by Pointed Leaf Press and written by John Tiffany, it includes many remembrances and anecdotes from fashion designers who Miss Mello, as she was called, discovered, cultivated and promoted.

Located at the foot of Central Park at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street, Bergdorf Goodman had catered to the elite carriage trade of Fifth Avenue but then began to lose its luster. In 1975 Ira Neimark was brought in as President and CEO of Bergdorf Goodman, and he hired Dawn Mello, a colleague, to be the Fashion Director. Together they set about to recreate Bergdorf Goodman. Ira Neimark, 97, just passed away this week. I interviewed him once and he was as charming as you can imagine.

At a time when Pauline Trigere was the top American label in the store, Dawn Mello sought to elevate Bergdorf Goodman and bring energy to the store first with the new Italian designers, including Fendi, Krizia, Gianfranco Ferre and Giorgio Armani. The French followed -- like Claude Montana, Azzedine Alaia, Jean Paul Gaultier and the super-star of the 80's, Christian Lacroix. Then came the Americans including Geoffrey Beene, Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and Donna Karan. Bergdorf Goodman became the most fashionable store in the world.

From Dawn, Miss Mello with Giorgio Armani who she brought to Bergdorf Goodman in 1980 with the first in-store Armani boutique in America –



In 1989, Dawn Mello left Bergdorf's and went to Gucci in Milan as Creative Director. She was hired to rebuild the over-exposed, once luxurious Italian brand by Maurizio Gucci, who in 1995 was gunned down by a hit-man hired by his ex-wife Patrizia Reggiani. In New York, Ellin Saltzman from Saks Fifth Avenue replaced Dawn Mello at Bergdorf Goodman. At Gucci, Mello hired a young American designer named Tom Ford. Together they restored the historical brand with a new, modern, clean style. In 1994 Mello left Gucci to return to Bergdorf Goodman in New York and Tom Ford was promoted to Creative Director at Gucci. We know that worked out well!

The other night, Bergdorf Goodman hosted a book party to celebrate Dawn Mello, 86, and the publication of the book. Her legions of fans crowded the fourth floor and stopped by to say hello including Michael Kors –

At the party, Michael told me a good story about when he was a fashion student, which is also in the book. "I was working at the Lothar's store across 57th Street," he said. "I was the display guy working in the window. Dawn knocked on the window and said, 'Who designed these clothes?' and I said, 'I did.' She said, 'Oh I thought you were the display guy,' and I said, 'I am.' She said, 'When you are ready come over and see me.' I did and here we are 37 year later."

"She had great taste but she also had a great empathy and understanding of the woman who was the Bergdorf Goodman customer," Kors said in explaining Mello's success as a retailer. "When I showed her my line, with the third piece, she said, 'We'll take it.' It's heaven when you have someone who understands their customer."
From Dawn, Michael Kors on his fashion show runway in 1986  – 


Linda Fargo, Bergdorf's Fashion and Creative Director, who Dawn Mello hired to work on window displays, was in attendance as well. "She changed the face of American luxury retail and changed the face of Bergdorf Goodman and a lot of the lives of the people who are in this room tonight," Linda Fargo told me. "She really was a divining rod and had an eye for talent and then nurtured it." This book pays tribute to an important retailer who shaped fashion in her time, and was devoted to beauty and style. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Andy Warhol at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Yours truly in front of Andy Warhol's colorful silk screen of art collector Ethel Scull. 
TD and I headed over to the Whitney in the Meatpacking District to see the Andy Warhol retrospective up until March 31. I think the new Whitney is great; I like it much better than the old Whitney uptown designed in the brutalist style by Marcel Breuer. The new version created by Renzo Piano is lofty and airy with super-high ceilings, and the gallery walls can be reconfigured for each show. The Warhol exhibition takes one whole floor and it's spaciously mounted.

I found the show to be very interesting and surprisingly serious. I thought it would be more colorful and jazzy and celebrity-driven since Andy was best know for his portraits of famous people - Liza! Liz! Farah Fawcett! But this show was toned down and quite rigorous as it explored Warhol as an artist. One also got the sense of what a hard worker Andy Warhol was as he produced art works, films, tv shows and Interview magazine.
I liked these delicate gold leaf shoe paintings --


I think I was expecting more razzmatazz because of The Andy Warhol Diaries, the very entertaining book that was published in 1989 following Warhol's unexpected death in 1987. Andy was out on the town socially in New York City practically every night and at the end of each night he dictated notes to a friend. He was a sharp observer and the book is an amusing account of New York in the '80s with appearances by Halston and Liza and Mikhail Baryshnikov, etc, etc. Andy talks about how hard he worked to get commissions for those expensive portraits which kept his whole operation running. I, incidentally, am a big fan of diaries - Leo Lerman's diaries called The Grand Surprise is wonderful, and Tina Brown's The Vanity Fair Diaries is wickedly humorous.

I personally did not know Andy Warhol as others in New York did though I did see him out at the night clubs Area and Palladium. The exhibition includes a big painting with "Paramount" splashed across it and notes that it may refer to Andy's boyfriend Jon Gould who worked at Paramount when Barry Diller was running the studio and hiring handsome men. When I worked for a small magazine company my boss was Katy Dobbs, whose best friend was Jon Gould. They had met at the summer Radcliffe Publishing Course. I remember seeing him a couple of times - a super-chic man. Jon Gould died of AIDS. Katy spoke at his funeral and said it was the hardest thing she ever did.

Then Andy passed away in 1987. That was a shock. He went into the hospital for a routine gall bladder operation and died the following morning.  It was one of those moments when you hear the news about someone and remember exactly where you are standing - I saw it plastered across The New York Post at the neighborhood corner magazine store. Besides being a prolific artist, he was a great connector of people in New York and it was a big loss for the city. Now with this exhibition at the Whitney, Andy was gotten his due.

One of the favorite things I saw at the museum was on another floor - this portrait of Andy Warhol on the right with his friend Ted Carey painted by Fairfield Porter from 1960. Ted Carey also died of AIDS.


I love the easy elegance of Fairfield Porter paintings and how this portrait captures a young Andy Warhol before all of his big success.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A Celebration of the Life of Mario Buatta


Writer Emily Evans Eerdmans (center) speaking at the event. 
Now that's what I call a memorial service. On Monday night I was invited to attend a celebration of  the remarkable life of American decorator Mario Buatta who passed away in October. The event was hosted by Emily Evans Eerdmans, Patricia Altschul, Anne Eisenhower and Hilary Geary Ross, and held at the Park Avenue Armory where The Winter Show (previously called The Winter Antiques Show) is now in session. Mario is an old pal who Ted and I had known for years. Besides his talent for creating beautiful rooms inspired by the English country style, he was indeed a larger than life character with an ebullient personality and a mischievous sense of humor. When Mario received an honor from the New York School of Interior Design, we did a video interview with him on the blog - you can watch it here.

On Monday night it was 11 degrees out, RealFeel negative 9, or something like that. I bundled up and headed uptown. When I arrived the place was already packed! There must have been 300 people already sitting on gold gilt chairs so it was standing room only. I stopped at the bar for a glass of red wine to fortify myself. A man said to me, "Mario would have loved this."

I inched through the crowd and secured a place to stand along the back wall where I noticed how beautiful the renovated, ornate Veterans Room is with its carved wood paneling and green-painted walls. Glass globes holding lights dangled off of exotic metal chandeliers overhead. The program began with a tv interview with a younger Mario. Then there were nine speakers in the program, commencing with Mario's friend Hilary Geary Ross. The pretty and blond Ms. Ross noted that Mario and she "were like brother and sister though he always introduced me as his mother."

I think every single speaker mentioned Mario's insect gag which I witnessed myself one day when we went to a lunch at the Sherry Netherlands Hotel. Suddenly on the white linen cloth was a big, ugly, brown cockroach jumping across the table. There were shrieks all around, but the cockroach was a plastic fake on a fishing wire tugged by Mario himself.

His cousin Anne Newgarden reminisced about growing up on Staten Island with Mario. Designer Christopher Spitzmiller recalled how Mario told him his pants were "like a cheap mansion - no ballroom." Editor David Patrick Columbia observed that though Mario was fun and jolly, there was a darker more complicated side to him and I think that is correct - Mario talked to me about being single and his frustrations with dating.

Towards the end of the event a diminutive lady in the back row stood up and left her seat - I thought she might be looking for a restroom. But she walked to the front and picked up a microphone and started singing; it was the great cabaret performer Marilyn Maye who then offered moving renditions of "Secret of Life" and "Here's to Life" followed by loud applause. It was one of those moments when you think, "New York is so amazing." After the event was over, it was back out into the cold night but the warm affection that was in the room stayed with me. It was a lasting tribute to Mario; indeed he would have loved it.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Carolyne Roehm's Constant Thread



With Carolyne Roehm at her book party in Susan Gutfreund's Fifth Avenue home, and the cover of her gorgeous new book.
     Carolyne Roehm, a longtime friend of this blog, has a new book out called Design & Style: A Constant Thread. Besides being impressively large and heavy (you could do bicep curls with this thing), it's unusual for Carolyne, who has produced twelve books, because this one is largely autobiographical.
     We caught up with Carolyne a few years back at home and did two video interviews on the blog when she published her book A Passion for Interiors. Her living room, with its double height ceilings and brown velvet walls, is I think the most beautiful I've been in. Two years later we did a video with Carolyne in the New York City flower district for her book Flowers.
     Throwback to a book party past –


   For this book, Carolyne's friend Susan Gutfreund hosted a party in her renowned apartment on Fifth Avenue, and that was a real treat. The Fifth Avenue building was designed by architect Rosario Candela, who I recently wrote about for Architectural Digest. The stunning apartment was decorated by Henri Samuel, who was the subject of a book by Emily Eerdmans Evans, which I wrote about here on the blog. Candles flickered in the long salon facing Fifth Avenue where the party was held, and we had the chance to duck into the celebrated Winter Garden room, which is decorated in tones of yellow and green and pink.
    Carolyne is dedicated to beauty and her books have been about her expertise and passions in decorating, gardening, fashion and entertaining. With this book she combines them all and explores how everything she does, from her fashion designs to setting a table to arranging flowers, is inspired by her consistent taste and style - her constant thread. This book is unique too because she writes about her personal life experience. 
Carolyne at home in the 80s and her gorgeous peonies –


Joyful tulips inspired this Roehm design –


     Carolyne Jane Smith grew up in a Missouri farm town and was called Janie Smith until she decided to go by her first name and married Axel Roehm. She later married Henry Kravis, the Wall Street financier, who invested in her designer fashion collection. For ten years at the height of the rollicking 80s the couple were the toast of the town. But in the early 90s came divorce, her decision to close her fashion company and an unsuccessful attempt to start a catalogue business. Carolyne writes that, "there were moments in which I genuinely believed I wouldn't find the strength or the will to continue."
      As an escape, she decided to go to a college in England to study Shakespeare's tragedies, thinking that "the Bard might help me understand what the hell had gone wrong with my life." She tells a funny story about being locked out of the college dorm while taking a shower and hanging naked by her fingertips off a windowsill three stories above ground. There were regrets about her decision to close her fashion business and walk away from her catalogue venture. In Paris she had an unpaid internship at the legendary flower shop MouliĆ© Fleurs and had the idea to create an everyday, how-to-book about flowers.
     In one of her designs –


Carolyne in Chanel and one of her creative gift wrappings –


    Carolyne returned and writes, "...now three years after I'd slunk out of New York, feeling in every meaningful way a failure to myself, I was back. At my lowest moment, I had gotten off the floor and taken a baby step, one that liberated me to move on to a new, and very rewarding enterprise. Once that happens, you never lose the faith that no matter how difficult life becomes, if you just take that step, things will get better. That was the great lesson of my wilderness years."
     Hers is a wonderful story of resilience and strength, and how creativity, beauty and art can rescue a person. A Passion for Flowers was the first of a dozen books. Carolyne is also an accomplished watercolor painter and she announced on Instagram (@carolyneroehm) that she has just launched a collection of Chinoiserie jewelry on her website. She designs and creates boundlessly without fear or limitation. I think these traits are in fact her constant thread. Cheers to Carolyne Roehm, a great inspiration.