George and Lucinda Oakes | A Decorative Line

Eerdmans is pleased to present George & Lucinda Oakes: A Decorative Line, a collection of artworks by the celebrated Colefax & Fowler painter (1927–2017) and his daughter. The exhibition runs from June 23 to August 20 in the recently expanded Greenwich Village gallery.

A Decorative Line marks the first time the work of the father and daughter have been shown together. George’s pieces include a selection of his iconic hand-painted cushions—whimsical oil-on-silk depictions of fruits and flowers—as well as framed works. Lucinda’s pieces include masterful takes on her father’s cushion format, as well as botanical sketches and two works of a larger scale: a grisaille gardening trophy and a cabinet-of-curiosities chimney board.

Details

June 23-August 20, 2021

Location

E E R D M A N S
14 East 10th Street
New York, NY 1003

Hours: Wednesday–Saturday, Noon to 5 p.m.

Sofa with a selection of what George called "those damn cushions"

For enthusiasts of English interior design, the Oakes name is virtually synonymous with Colefax & Fowler, the storied firm known for imbuing the stateliness of the country house with comfort and ease. George, following studies at Saint Martin's School of Art, joined the firm in 1956 as a freelance artist. As John Fowler’s right-hand man, George would add his signature decorative embellishment—trailing botanicals, trompe l’oeil architectural motifs, fantastical vistas—to interiors including Colefax & Fowler owner Nancy Lancaster's Haseley Court, Chiswick House, and Buckingham Palace. He worked at the firm for more than 30 years, leading its paint and textile studios and ultimately rising to director. Princess Margaret was a client; collectors of “those damned cushions,” as Oakes once called them, included society grande dames like Lee Radziwill, Evangeline Bruce, and C.Z. Guest. American tastemaker Bunny Mellon treasured her pair of trompe l’oeil “message boards.”

[George Oakes]’ work is custom-made and exquisite.

— Lee Radziwill

For Lucinda, memories of her father with brush in hand are indelible. “I learned to draw from him when I was a little girl. He had a studio in our house, so we literally saw him at work.” Lucinda saw how he treated his art “like a real job,” while also gleaning technical insight. “You see the lightness of touch required. You need to see someone do that, how someone goes about holding the brush.”

“I just adore his work, and to this day look at it often for inspiration,” she continues. “He had the most wonderful sense of composition.”

His influence on my work is ever-present.”

— Lucinda Oakes
Lucinda Oakes in her studio in Hastings, England

After completing a Master of Arts at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, Lucinda started her career hand-painting silk scarves. Then, in 1995, George sent Lucinda to the South of France to fulfill a commission for a mural in a garden room; he’d recently retired. Lucinda is now renowned for such large-scale works—murals, scenic wallpapers, and folding screens—inspired by 18th century wall paintings and classical chinoiserie. Recent commissions have included decorating the ballroom of a Côte d'Azur chateau and various rooms at Ballyfin, a luxury hotel in the Irish countryside. Continuing the family’s association with Colefax & Fowler, she works closely with related firm Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler. When not onsite for a project, she works from her home studio in Hastings, on the southeast coast of England.

Collectively, A Decorative Line paints a portrait of an idyllic life in Kent, “the garden of England,” where Lucinda grew up surrounded by apple orchards and hop gardens. Indoors, there were piles of Colefax & Fowler fabrics, she remembers, as well as furniture from Fowler’s personal collection, which he’d passed on to the family—a green slipper chair here, a plaster scroll sconce there. Lucinda says she continues to call up such objects as subject matter when conceptualizing her paintings. She recalls going with her father, the executor of Fowler’s will, to Fowler’s hunting lodge and seeing his treasures tagged with stickers, on their way to their new owners.

Warmly reflecting on that generation of English antiques dealers, she says, “They were eccentric men who liked unusual things."

Lucinda’s gardening trophy in the exhibition—an oil-on-board work typically hung over a mantel—builds on a rich tradition of trompe l'oeil rendered in grisaille, i.e., grey monochrome. Lucinda says, “I wanted it to look as if it could be hanging in Bunny Mellon's garden room,” referring to Mellon’s Oak Spring estate in Upperville, Virginia, whose garden-room cabinetry featured trompe l’oeil decoration by Fernand Renard. The trophy, like much of Lucinda’s work, recalls the early 20th century British artist Rex Whistler. The chimney board, meanwhile, depicts a coral-filled cabinet of curiosities. For this, Lucinda worked from her collection of specimens, including a nautilus shell she found in Indonesia some 30 years ago, and from old photographs she'd taken at the Natural History Museum in London.

View of the George & Lucinda Oakes | A Decorative Line exhibition installed at Eerdmans New York