Old Masters – New Ideas
I have just finished reading Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Goldfinch, an almost 800 page tome that has been waiting for me on my nightstand for far too long. While the story is utterly enthralling, I was almost more mesmerized by the book's cover depicting the precious painting by Carl Fabritius that plays such an important part in the story. I knew little of this 17th century painter – a pupil of Rembrandt as it turns out – so I did some googling.
Several hours and a glass of red wine later, I have a new Pinterest board filled with images of room settings and interiors by an incongruous assortment of old masters, and I can barely contain my excitement. I've never quite looked at these works before from a pure color and pattern angle. Maybe it's the hot and humid weather of these past few months, but all of a sudden I am yearning for richly layered rooms with brocades and tapestries, patterned velvets and luscious damasks, thick woolens and complex jacquards. The works of Pieter de Hooch – another Dutch Golden Age painter – prove to be especially inspiring as he specialized in quiet domestic scenes that offer an intimate glimpse at 17th century life.
Another Pieter de Hooch work shows the amazing gold-embossed leather wall covering that was all the rage among the upper classes of its time. While that may not exactly be a viable – or affordable – decorating option these days, the look can be achieved by an abundant use of damasks and cut velvets in burnished metallics and rich golden tones.
I effortlessly travel in time from the mid 17th century to the late 19th century and explore the masterful work of John Singer Sargent, who delighted in depicting the lush cloths of his era, be it fashion of interior fabrics. I was not surprised to learn that Sargent assembled a large personal collection of textiles over the years. He liked to seek them out on his travels, and used them as souvenirs and decorations in his home and as well as props in his art.
Sargent's The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit is arguably one of his more memorable works – with the possible exception of Madame X. It's been described as unsettling, and decidedly unusual. I definitely agree with the latter; not just because of its odd composition and unnerving vibe, but the spare interior that feels decades ahead of its time. The Gustavian color palette and oversized Japanese vases are simply gorgeous.
An American contemporary of Sargent, William McGregor Paxton, painted The Housemaid, which gives us an up-close look at the fashionable decorative artifacts of its day. I can certainly identify with the thought that there are always more interesting things to do than cleaning.
Last but not least, I want to share with you this work by Pieter Christoffel Wonder, depicting the staircase in his own London residence. I had never heard of this 19th century Dutch painter, but happened upon this very work in an Utrecht museum this past summer and was struck by its pretty tonal palette, classic woodwork detailing, and intriguing mix of patterns and designs.
I urge you all to look through art books, visit museums and browse the web for your own personal favorites among the old masters. Calico will be here to turn your newfound decorating schemes into reality. Go forth and explore!
Find further inspiration by exploring Calico's paisley fabric section!