June 10, 2015

Blanc de Baroque

Mona Williams captured by Cecil Beaton who included her in his pantheon of greats (cf. The Glass of Fashion)

Anyone interested in the brittle elegance of the interwar years has long revered Mrs. Harrison Williams, later the Countess von Bismarck, as a paragon of style. In 1926, after steadily marrying up, the Louisville native married Williams, purportedly the richest man in American.

Where others might dive into a surfeit of ormolu and opulence with such ample means newly at their disposal, Mona kept it (relatively) spare and simple. And as all my designer friends know, "less" is a lot more unforgiving than "more."

The Delano and Aldrich house at 1130 Fifth acquired by the Williams in 1928

For both their Manhattan townhouse and their Palm Beach residence, the Williams turned to Syrie Maugham for the right balance of blanc de Baroque. I recently stumbled across these photos of the townhouse's dining room taken in 1931.

My first thought was to question Mona's mythical status as it seemed more depressingly stark than glamorously so. However all was soon explained when I read the inscription: "to be used by Mr. Sert in drawing murals."

Jose Maria Sert's murals

These murals, nine in all, by "Tiepolo of the Ritz" Jose Maria Sert (Spanish, 1874–1945), were sold at Parke-Bernet in 1952, shortly before Harrison's death. They were acquired by Ruxton and Audrey Love whose collection was sold in 2004 by Christie's. (Lament not - Sert completed another commission for the Williams' Long Island residence which Mona ultimately took with her to Capri). In 1954, Beaton's "rock crystal goddess" married her secretary, Eddy von Bismarck, and added Countess to her well-selected adornments.

Such was Mona's verve even in the domain of real estate that the Palm Beach residence was bought lock, stock and barrel by Jayne and Charles Wrightsman.

The Williams in Palm Beach in their Maugham-decorated living room, depicted by Beaton

Only the Maugham-installed wallpaper stayed after the Wrightsmans became Francophiles and entrusted the room to Stephane Boudin of Jansen, followed by our man Henri Samuel. The exuberant reupholstery was a later Deming and Fourcade update. Supposedly, upon seeing further estimates from Denning and Fourcade, Charles Wrightsman thought it better to sell the house…

P.S. Apologies if my prose seems rambling or overdone or just poorly edited - in an attempt to re-enter blogging, time polishing must be sacrificed…

P.S.S. Thank you to The Swan… Here is the Maugham-Williams Palm Beach Paper installed in Pierre Berge's dining room

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When asked to select my all-time favorite American interior, one room has always sprung to mind first and foremost: Mr. and Mrs. John Gutfreund’s “winter garden” sitting room at 834 Fifth Avenue. In this lush oasis of fresh lettuce greens and delicate pinks, the hustle bustle of New York’s concrete streets outside those silk -festooned windows melts away.