At this year’s Masterpiece there are 127 stands in the vast marquee with its canvas printed in the style of the original 17th century Royal Hospital building. “Masterpiece is a world class fair bringing together exceptional works encompassing all periods and cultures,” summarises Clare Jameson, Director of Potterton Books, an exhibitor at the fair. Potterton Books are international specialists in books on art, culture, design and the decorative arts. She adds, “It is a convivial meeting place for collectors and connoisseurs. We have seen a growing interest in requests for assembling book collections and personal libraries.”
A standout among the standout paintings is a portrait by Nelson Shanks of Diana, Princess of Wales, for sale by Philip Mould. Artist and publisher Anne Davey Orr critiques the work, “Because the brushwork is not overworked and has a fleeting quality to it, I suspect that this may have originated as a sketch or study for a larger portrait. Shanks’ technique, unlike that of his more formal portraits, has an instancy about it that conveys Diana’s fleeting, somber mood and her innate shyness.”
The paradox. His architecture is so legible yet he defies classification. His work is half a century old yet timeless. His influence is widespread although he wasn’t especially prolific. His oeuvre is so Italian but he still inspired a generation of Irish architects. His personal rhetoric has universal relevance. Born in 1906, Carlo Scarpa lived, studied and worked in and around Venice all his life. Two of his projects in Verona, though, demonstrate his true brilliance. One, an augmentation of a bank. The other, a reawakening of a castle museum. Both reveal his sensitivity towards materials and textures as well as his ability to create memorable forms and spaces. It’s time to place him in the pantheon.
Of Banca Popolare, Carlo’s 1970s block is contextual in massing if not design. Or at least not detail. He was clearly unafraid of decoration. At a 1973 lecture, Carlo argued, “Why gilding? Gilding is not done in order to waste or squander money. For that matter, we wear rings of gold, not iron. Gold shines also in the dark, even in pitch darkness, if there is the slightest ray of light… So you go for precious metal, for what is rightly called tinsel. But if the form is good, if the objective results are developed in such a way that there is nothing to object to critically, this works to the advantage of the end result.” The gilding on Banca Popolare is subtly applied to just the base and capitals of the clerestory columns.
Stepping back into Piazza Nogara, taking in the full breadth of the building, it becomes apparent that Carlo is really presenting a reinvention of the palazzo façade. Looking beyond the vitrine windows and Frank Lloyd Wright style oeils de boeuf, the elevational plane is classically divided into a base, middle and clerestory. The bold proportions and monumental scale may channel Charles Rennie Mackintosh but little wonder Anne Davey Orr, former Publisher and Editor of Ulster Architect, remarks, “I’m sure Carlo Scarpa was influenced by his 16th century Venetian predecessor Andrea Palladio.” Banca Popolare is both emphatic and empathetic. And more contextual than it would first seem.
One motif that Carlo made his own is what could be called a “strings course” – parallel stepped lines, when sectioned forming ziggurats. It pops up everywhere in a multiplicity of forms: coffer, cornice, cutaway, parapet, plinth, porch. At Banca, he employs the motif as a giant T shaped corbel, aesthetically, if not functionally, supporting the vitrine windows.
“Thus his first major project was the castle at Verona,” explains conservation architect John O’Connell who is busy working in Beijing, London, Paris and Ireland. “It was very badly bombed by the Allies! He applied his very severe and practical approach whereby ‘The past is the past and if it has disappeared can now be rebuilt’. All or most museums of the western world have been inspired by his work but in particular this project. Carlo was the master of the whole museum world post World War II. He’d a very rigorous approach towards presentation and conservation employing simple and very high quality interventions.” Carlo’s new building elements assimilated in the architecture of Castelvecchio may have mellowed with age, but they still represent a revolution in the perception and display of artworks. His use of polished concrete for interiors is a forerunner to the early 21st century popularity of this material.
King Vittorio Emanuele III opened the 14th century castle turned museum in 1926. But it wasn’t until half a century later that the building’s potential was truly realised. While other Modernists jettisoned the past, Carlo’s work from the postwar era to the late 1970s venerated and transformed it. And Castelvecchio was no exception. He maintained the structure’s original integrity whilst developing an unfolding sequence of spaces and voids and vistas and objects, ceaselessly theatrical, masterful, virtuosic, populated with asymmetric incident. There’s an endless play between past and present, architecture and art.
Historical and aesthetic clarity is achieved through the coexistence of overlaying fragments of construction, selective excavation and creative demolition. This approach reaches a climax in the setting of the statue of Cangrande I Delia Scala. Frank Lloyd Wright’s “destruction of the room as a box” is taken to its ultimate conclusion. Who else but Carlo Scarpa would envisage “construction of the void as a gallery”? Demolishing the end bay of the Napoleonic wing in the courtyard, he dissolves corners to position the statue on a cantilevered platform. This complex spatial organisation thrillingly delivers visibility above and below ramparts and across and around boardwalks. Such movement – there is nothing static about Cangrande on his horse. The outer Roman tiles on the roof above are pared back to expose an underlay of green copper. Implied delamination of existing solid form leads to a richly layered materiality throughout the building.
“Stones at the top of the building can continue upwards a little, and I would like them to vibrate in the light of the sky,” Carlo lectured. “Then the sky can enter in so many ways and I would almost obtain a ‘quivering of form’, like the Ancients. And so, with a sunset grey or red, whatever it will be, I will feel their light penetrating within. In this case, the reference is to Andrea Palladio who laid his stones at a distance of two and a half or three centimetres with gaps remaining. This is what I discovered one day and what caused me to explain, ‘Good Lord, how beautiful, how expressive it is, what meaning it gives!’” An exaggeration of this effect is the medieval butterfly parapet of Castelvecchio which carves the sunrise grey or blue over Verona.
John recalls, “He enjoyed a small but very high status practice and would have met all the ‘Stars’ from Le Corbusier to Louis Kahn.” Early on in his career John met Louis, describing him as charming, self effacing, very humble. “Carlo was Professor of Architecture in Venice. This role allowed him to think everything out first, to distil ideas through academia. There is a distinct geometry to his work. He was the successor to Josef Hoffmann.”
Pantheon placement continuing, “Carlo’s pupil Gae Aulenti was a superb architect. Her greatest work is the Quai D’Orsay in Paris. Some say she was appointed because her views on life were in line with the then President Mitterrand. It is excellent – well conceived and executed. The National Art Museum project in Barcelona is commanding but weak in parts. Not her fault as the building is a late 19th century bombastic structure and the collections are mixed or of varied quality! A must, and to be seen.”
How would John O’Connell sum up Carlo Scarpa? “He sought and I believe achieved a way of detailing and using modern materials so that they conveyed the value and spiritual quality one finds in Italy with the sense of craftmanship so vital and valued in the heroic architecture of Europe from Ancient Greek times to the pre industrial world.” International architect Alfred Cochrane, currently hot in demand from Beirut to Rome, is another admirer: “Carlo Scarpa! A genius! A god in the Seventies architecture firmament.” Pantheon placement complete.
Anne Davey Orr, Artist + Publisher: “I have been witness to a number of interiors which you have designed in the past. However, none of them expressed this eclectic taste, this creative marrying of objects or these transformational powers so successfully as Lavender’s Blue itself does. In a kind of way it is a pied á terre of curiosities in which the curiosities, including you, spin off and enhance one another.”
Caroline Clifton Mogg, Writer: “London is a city of secret gardens, a place where plain faced streets give little away of what lies there, and where few individual facades give any clues as to the streets behind their all-embracing walls. Protected and hidden by their house the best gardens are a fusion of inside and outside… Whatever secret a garden may reveal, it will always surprise and delight those who discover it for the first time.”
Inês Graça, Attitude Interior Design Interiors Editor: “What does one see upon entering this inner world? Broad temporal and spatial references and the thoughtful organisation of a passionate collection. Those of culture are present because of the elegance and knowledge that makes itself apparent. Singularity and extravagance define Lavender’s Blue: a hidden refuge inspired by Irish country houses named after 18th century lavender fields. A little piece of secret London that invites guests to be part of an immersive and unique experience. Fue maravilloso.”
John Curran, UK’s First Shigeru Ban Client: “I knew it would be interesting, but had no idea that it would be among the most engaging private interiors I have seen photographed. We pride ourselves as collectors of things we love, but you put us to shame. Having discussed John Soane at our coffee, I will somewhat shyly draw the comparison with the museum, knowing that I am not the first to do so. I have great appreciation for objects that attract the owner and that give a window into the person. Your home very much does that.”
Karla W, Heiress, “Lavender’s Blue is my absolute favourite; you have recreated a 1920s Parisian salon in present day London. The photographs are ravishing but you can only truly appreciate it in the flesh, especially by night. All the rooms are terribly, terribly smart in every sense. Every time I’m at yours I become obsessed with some fascinating detail I never noticed before. Lavender’s Blue is a rare evolutionary wonder. You’re like the sun, always coming up shining. How’s Zelda?”
William Thuiller, Art Dealer + Collector: “It’s quite lovely. I love the layered textures, colours, patterns and atmosphere… sort of Leighton House meets Soane Museum, if that’s not patronising! It’s completely alien to my usual taste, in that I would never have bought any individual item, but it works superbly as an ensemble against that rich blue on the walls.”
A phalanx of genteel residences, sphinx-like architectural sentinels, guards the east coast of Belfast Lough. Monuments to elaborately espaliered family trees, long forgotten aristocrats and plutocrats, sepia tinted sequins and foxtrots, Elysia lost to rampant suburbia. Sequestered by sequoias is Abbeydene House. The building was shorn of accretions when it was restored as part of a late 20th century redevelopment of the estate. Thus Abbeydene stands in mid Victorian sandstone glory amidst mildly colonial neighbours. The American style has some historic bearing: General Eisenhower lunched at the house in 1945 when it was owned by Mayor McCullough. Sir Crawford McCullough was the instigator of the five minute (since shortened to two minute) silence for fallen soldiers.
Lots of original features are retained at Abbeydene, restored and reinstated following its stint as a nursing home. The pair of enormous bow windows to the rear, perfect for watching ships cruise along Belfast Lough while breakfasting, have curved glass and elaborate pelmets. Egg and dart architraves, niches, arches, fireplaces and a carved staircase all add character. Five of the bedrooms are accessed off a spacious first floor sitting room lit by a tripartite window over the entrance portico. A further three are hidden under the eaves. Abbeydene is Merrythought Café meets country house.
“Architectural fashion is often a reaction to what went immediately before. There’s even a perceptible difference between Pugin the father and Pugin the son’s work. The second generation architect’s designs are more rationalised,” observes artist and architectural publisher Anne Davey Orr. “The use of concrete in the 20th century would issue in a much more open expression of materials and structure.” In between trying not to butcher quotations (it was a late night chat) it’s worth noting the penultimate decades of the last two centuries both stuck to something of a “more is more mantra”, a sort of turn of the century syndrome. Eclecticism gone wild. Competent chaos. Not without honour and slightly mad. Pont Street for the 1880s and 90s; postmodernism for the 1980s and 90s. Out went conformity and goodbye to context; in came variety and hello to contrast. Many a dazed and disorientated architectural historian has spent sleepless nights defining and redefining the late 19th century style or rather style hybrid. North German Revival? Queen Anne? Flemish Renaissance? Hans Town? Or simply Cadogan? Osbert Lancaster, never short of a catchy phrase, opted for Pont Street Dutch. John Betjeman shortened it to Pont Street which if nothing else is certainly geographically specific. He calls it the “new built red as hard as the morning gaslight” in his poem The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel. These days the arresting SW postcodes are as golden as they’re terracotta.
Equally contentious is who invented it? John James Stevenson claimed “Queen Anne” as his baby; the 21st century artists sounding George and Peto produced some of the most overblown examples in Harrington Gardens SW7 but the style was to become synonymous with the domineering work of Norman Shaw. Whoever dreamt up Pont Street, and in reality it was the usual hotchpotch of talent and self publicity, the style spelt the death knell, the writing on the rendered wall, of regular terraces, issuing in an asymmetric age of individualism. “Look at me, look at me, look at me!” screams each and every house as the roofline tipsily whooshes and swooshes along more Dutch gables than Keizersgracht. Against the navy blue canvas of a sun drenched winter’s morning, the red brick and terracotta dressed with whitish stone renders Pont Street a patriotic tricolour. If walls could speak: “We may look Dutch or German or kinda Belgian (although certainly not anaemic Italian) but We Are Proud To Be British!” Its strength of character allows 20th century blips such as the picture window spanning the penthouse of 41 Lennox Gardens to be immersed into the wider picture of Pont Street. The houses (age unconsciously) celebrate their birthdays. “1884” shouts 25 Lennox Gardens in two foot tall letters from its third floor. A few doors up 43 Lennox Gardens tells the world it’s a year younger.
While unsettling for minimalists or purists, a wander in wonder along the wonderful streets of SW1 and SW3, the blessed boulevards of the hallowed Cadogan Estate, throws up a maximalist and impure visual feast, an aesthetic eyeful, for the devil and angels are in the detail. At a glance, here are just some of the hyperactive highlights. Keyhole silhouette broken pediment copper dormers in Sloane Gardens. Double decker dormers in Culford Gardens. Witch’s hat copper turrets where Draycott Place meets Blacklands Terrace. Quoined porthole windows peering out of 54 to 58 Draycott Place. A neo Elizabethan fretwork loggia hugging 3 Cadogan Gardens. Pierless Brighton balconies clinging on to 85 to 87 Cadogan Gardens. A French château mansard atop 89 Cadogan Gardens. Twin Queen Anne fanlights surmounting the doorcase of 105 Cadogan Gardens. Stumpy Ionic pilasters with egg and dart capitals framing the porch of 60 Cadogan Square. A pair of ballsy busty bulbous oriel windows bursting out from 84 Cadogan Square. A crowd of Georgian, gothic, plate glass, lead paned, stained glass, dormer and gabled windows on the side elevation of 63 Cadogan Square. Oh, and a lonely half oriel window for good measure. Pont Street itself bisects Cadogan Place Gardens under the watchful eyes of Jumeirah Carlton Tower. But the great swathe of red is mostly found between Sloane Street and Lennox Gardens. The extremities of Pont Street dive back into stuccoland.
A morning of architectural investigation deserves an afternoon of pure indulgence. Historically, afternoon tea was the outcome of dinner hour slipping to after 7pm in the early 19th century. Hiccupping ladies at first surreptitiously downed tea and gobbled cakes in their boudoirs after midday. Certainly, trailblazing trendsetting taboo busting zeitgeisty gal-about-castle Duchess of Rutland was bolshily dispensing tea in her boudoir by 1842. By Pont Street times, both sexes were merrily letting rip into scones and clotted cream in the drawing room or on the lawn. Where better then to indulge than No.11 Cadogan Gardens, the hotel bought by the synonymous Estate in 2012? It’s a thoroughly sophisticated member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
A maze of lacquered cloistered sequestered panelled hallways and passageways leads into the consciously picturesque opalescent drawing room. Linen at the ready, afternoon tea awaits, designed to instil a divine inertia into the remainder of a blurred and stimulating day. Decked and bedecked, trellised and jardinièred, the terrace is tucked between the townhouses and the mews to the rear. A flashback in paradise, evanescent and alive with remote anticipation, it’s a place to dwell on the meaningfulness of life. Another surprising space, full of heavenly glamour, is the Versailles inspired mirrored hall. Oil paintings of aristos line the ascending staircase to the 54 bedrooms. Monochromatic photos of models Christie, Linda and Kate line the descending staircase to the basement. Souls of different ages, the universe in process of consummation. No.11 has a distinct and dynamic personality, warm and sensuous, functioning outward from within.
Over to the father of town planning Manning Robertson for some contrariness: “Definitions of architecture are as unsatisfactory as any other expositions of the aim and meaning of the arts; but if architecture is to be alive at all it must clearly involve the erection of buildings to suit the demands of the period, and the embellishment of those buildings according to the dictates of the materials in use, the treatment being a direct reflection of the outlook of the epoch, based of course upon past work, insofar as it is applicable. We cannot say that the 19th century, which produced principally a dead copying of the past, did not reflect itself truly; it was, on the contrary, amazingly accurate in illustrating that the worship of material prosperity is not consistent with a high level of art. Public attention was absorbed elsewhere; architecture had to look after itself; what more natural than that men living in such a period should turn round and, as a sop to the aesthetic, attempt to reconstruct periods long since dead? The Victorian era was an age of immense scientific achievements, but it was also unique as an age that produced no living and typical architecture, unless one calls an indiscriminate repetition of past styles ‘typical’.”