Elsie and her Bibelots
March 10th, 2009
Above is a much published photo c 1890 of Elsie de Wolfe in her Turkish Room at 49 Irving Place, NYC. This is the essential before shot; before she became a decorator; before the new century. It was the ending of the Victorian Age and she was at the end of her acting career. She was going to have to do something. In this before picture, she had not yet decorated 49 Irving Place, which helped to jump start her path (nothing new is what she said of decorating; woman have always done it). In the before photo she is in her late 30’s and living the Sapphic life and by 1905 at 40– she had received her first commission and off she went– and that, as they say, was that.
Elsie, I’m almost overwhelmed with a lack of words to describe this image. Elsie, the gilt! Never again will this be done so well. Is this your in-town home at 10 Avenue d’Iena or is it Villa Trianon, Versailles?
“Throughout this period, the decorator became identified with conspicuous connoisseurship through the adoption of extravagant bibelots, particularly crystal obelisks and miniature jade and crystal animals. Her embrace of these, rather than Giacometti sculptures and Neo-Romantic paintings, further served to distance her from the interiors du jour of her contemporaries.
These treasures–including a small 18th-century gold-and-diamond coach and a magnificent crystal ship in full sail–were frequently used as centerpieces on her dining table”(257, Sparke).
What a sorceress, Lady Mendl was. That face, that glitter, that odd “nurse” in the background.
Everyone should have a dour french maid lurking in the background.
What I love about Elsie, especially as she lay languidly across that pile o’pillows is that she looks like someone who thinks herself beautiful. And she isn’t. But she is.
p.s. I thought you were going to update this more regularly. Like daily almost.
You’re right Anonymous, she wasn’t beautiful, but it is something she new about herself, which she said was the driving force behind wanting to make what was around her beautiful.
PS The days do go quickly when you spend them lounging on stacks of cushions.