Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ruhlmann Revisited

In my last post I considered Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, a designer working almost 100 years ago in Paris, France. Contemporary copies of his work are available in the United States, underscoring the endurance of his design and style.
He has floated with me all week, and there are a few more images relating to Monsieur Ruhlmann that I'd like to share.
I don't believe it's easy to pick up a piece of Jacques-Emile at your local Adelaide thrift shop. This is a shame, as I have spent a fair bit of time looking and have consoled myself with naive Australian landscape paintings and cut glass compote dishes instead.
Nonetheless, some fortunate people have managed to come by the odd stick - European Fine Art Auctioneers are probably a better hunting ground - and one such collector has installed his early 20th Century furniture and objects in a French castle.
The romantic Chateau de Gourdon in Provence is a place you can visit (and stay, if you fancy one of the Gites) and where, incongruously enough, you can immerse yourself in both a 1620 French castle and Modernist Art.

I read about Gourdon in the British edition of House and Garden (November 2007), which I used to supply most of these photographs. The current owner of the property sounds as eccentric and glamorous as his castle; young, energetic and charming, apparently, and based in Milan. His father inherited Gourdon from a Miss Norris, an American who bought the place in the 1920s.
Do you recognise Ruhlmann's Colonnettes dressing table in the bedroom above? It is Macasser ebony with a plate glass top. See my last post for the copy Pollaro are making in the States today.

The bedroom above is furnished with pieces by Francis Jourdain.

In the dining room, a strong Mallet-Stevens lacquered dining table is balanced by delicate Eckart Muthesius glass furniture.

A Ruhlmann black lacquered sofa underpins The Archer, by Adriaan Joh van't Hoff, inspired by the 1926 Olympics. [Who says sport isn't political? Go Tibet, I say.]

On the whole, the juxtaposition of seventeenth and twentieth centuries works, although some of the more avant garde pieces are a little confronting.

As an end note, it recently struck me just how much Smallbone is currently referencing Ruhlmann's essence. Note the tapered chair legs and the cross banding on the cupboard doors. Their walnut and silver kitchens, too, echo his use of dark woods, graceful detailing and curves.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann

Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann was unboubtedly the star of the Exposition Internationale Des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderns, held in Paris in 1925, and from which the term Art Deco was born.

Which, as history marched on and Art Deco became more renowned as being the mother of the Modernist movement, is somewhat ironic. Ruhlmann had his roots in Art Nouveau, and was profoundly dedicated to quality, craftsmanship and the exclusivity of his so-called precious pieces. Modernism, influenced by the sometimes ambiguous principles of the Bauhaus movement, ultimately became dominated by a breed of designer dedicated to the production of mass produced, machine made items.

Ruhlmann, in an interview in 1920, stated: 'Only the very rich can pay for what is new and they alone can make it fashionable. Fashions don't start among the common people. Along with satisfying a desire for change, fashion's real purpose is to display wealth.'

Consequently, Ruhlmann created outstanding pieces of furniture with spectacular attention to detail, partucularly in his use of unusual woods. His favourite woods were Macassar ebony, Brazilian rosewood, and amboyna burl. He used the grain of the wood to echo and support the gentle lines of the furniture design. He liked to contrast the wood grain with small, delicate detail. For example, an ivory drawer pull or metal banding.

Ruhlmann made his money by running his deceased father's painting and contracting business, and lost his money by selling his exquisite furniture at a price lower than the cost to him to produce it.

There is an oriental influence in some of his designs; note the circular plate in the buffet below, a recurring theme in his work.

His interior schemes - he started an interiors business in 1919 with colleauge Pierre Laurent -are elegant, pared down, masculine spaces punctuated by sinuous, restrained curves. He specified gracious lighting, powerful prints and decorative mirrors.

Following his 1919 launch as an interior designer and fine furniture designer, Ruhlmann quickly became fashionable: architects, couturiers, manufacturers, parfumeurs...they all clamoured for an exclusive Ruhlmann piece.

Unfortunately, Ruhlmann's reign last only until his death in 1933. After he learned of his fatal illness, he planned for the finishing of the remaining commissions in his workshops and arranged for the dissolution of the company when all remaining work had been completed.

Contemporary American furniture manufacturer Pollaro is reproducing Ruhlmann designs for purchase today.
These exquisite pieces are faithful copies of the originals. Their website is fascinating and I have taken all these images from it.

Absolutely sublime dressing table. I would be happy to see myself growing old in that mirror!

Exquisite cabinets. Note the metal cross-banding and tassel handles.

These armchairs are a perflect blend of comfort and elegance.

This inlaid side table with drawers speaks of Ruhlmann's obsession with eighteenth century furniture design and craftsmanship.

Whilst it is necessary to distinguish between the kind of snobbery that seeks to exclude and control, we must never allow egalitarian principles to outlaw excellence. Society needs many kinds of tall poppies in order to show the majority ways in which to strive for higher objectives.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Black Narcissus

I watched this superb film recently. Black Narcissus (1947) comes from The Archers' stable, the production team formed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. They made many other wonderful movies: The Red Shoes, A Canterbury Tale, A Matter Of Life And Death, Gone To Earth...and many more.

Black Narcissus tells a simple story of Sister Clodagh and four other nuns, who attempt to establish a new convent in the old palace of Mopu in Darjeeling. As a former harem the palace is steeped in sensuality, as a convent it is beset by the constant winds and high altitude.

The film is shot in marvelous technicolour by Jack Cardiff. The lighting is brilliant; it is as though black and white has been hand coloured. The photography of the religious elements is subdued and subtle whilst the mad, wild sexuality of the ex-Sister Ruth is violently vibrant.

Sister Ruth is horribly crazed. The moment when she loses all grip of reality is rather frightening, such is the tenacity with which we hold on to Sister Clodagh's (below, with Mr Dean) desire to be good. Deborah Kerr is exquisitely, frigidly, tormented in her role as Mother Superior. David Farrer, a rather charming - if louche - agent, is perfect as her foil and devilish conscience.

Establishing the convent in such a hostile environment proves impossible. The nuns want to change the way the Himalayan people live; they believe they are doing good. Instead of responding to the mountains and the environment, the nuns attempt to tame it. The power of the place torments them and denudes them of their faith and good judgement.

With today's eyes, yes, of course, we can find fault: nearly all the indigenous parts are played by white actors wearing make-up, it was made in a studio and the intensity of the mood is, at first, overwhelming.
But if you give yourself up to it, if you allow it to speak to you and to tell you it's tale, you will be prompted to think of love, duty, desire, madness, beauty, place, colonialism and memory. It's a very fine film.

And by the way, there are some very funny scenes involving Mr Dean's sculptured physique astride a very small Himalayan pony.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Autumn Scruminess

Recently, when we were at the shack, we spotted a neighbour's peach tree groaning with fruit. The house had the slight air of temporary abandonment, and we took this as a good indication that if we didn't remove some peaches then the local bird population would.

Using my hat, The Absolute Gent braved the fence and (fortunately zero) onlookers and rescued a collection of small, hard peaches from the trees' gnarled branches.

They were disappointing table fruits. I cooked a handful on the stove in sugared water, which were delicious with cream. The rest came home with us and nestled in my glass compote stand, waiting for inspiration.

Today is a wild and stormy day; that wonderful Autumn weather when it's not really very cold, but it's fun to walk in the wind and get a bit wet when the showers arrive. It's a small relief for our drought worn gardens and paddocks.
And it's the perfect day to eat Peach Cobbler:
100 grammes unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup self raising flour
3/4 cup milk
3 cups sliced fresh peaches
1/2 cup brown sugar
Warm your oven up to 170 C. Wash and slice your peaches. I took the skins off, but it was jolly time consuming, so I probably wouldn't bother next time. The slices may be as thick or as thin as you like.
Melt the butter until nutty brown, but avoid burning it. Pour this onto the bottom of a baking dish. I used a lasagna dish (without the lasagna).
Mix the white sugar, flour and milk together. You may like to add ground cinnamon or nutmeg to this stage; I didn't, because I don't care for either. Scoop the wickedly lickable mix on to the butter. Don't worry if it isn't entirely evenly spread. If you have to lick the bowl it's only to be expected.
Randomly plop the peaches on top and scatter with the brown sugar.
The cobbler will be cooked in about 40 minutes or so. You will find a hedonistic buttery cake like substance hugging your sweet little peaches when done.
Eat with dollops of whipped cream or a good vanilla ice cream.