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Souvenirs of ShahJahan…Delhi and Agra in Instagrams

Taj Majal Agra India

I guess it’s not really fair to call this post ‘India in Instagrams’ as we only had a few days in New Delhi, ostensibly to “watch” our teenage daughters in a soccer tournament. While we did make it to the late afternoon games, the truth is it was an opportunity to dip our toes into the wonder that is India. Resplendent with color, in particular white, pink and green, it provided me with a jolt of energy after months here in the very beige desert. We managed to tack on a quick day trip to Agra for the Taj Mahal, because in the end, we needed to see that pearly resplendent monument itself, but I think we would all agree that it was not necessarily the highlight of our trip.

White marble was unquestionably one of the storylines throughout our days, from the incredible carved Mughal flowers in the walls of the Taj Mahal…

Mughal Flowers marble Taj mahal

…to the ongoing and surprising details at the nearby Red Fort in Agra – which is not at all just red! It seems apropos just after Valentines Day to mention one of the world’s greatest love stories – that of Shah Jahan building the Taj Mahal, over 22 years no less, as a tomb for his beloved wife. He was eventually deposed by his own son, but lived out his days confined to the Fort, with a perfect view of his masterpiece. Because Agra is not at all built up, some of the best views are from a distance, like those from the Red Fort and from the terrace of the Oberoi Hotel (more on that later).

Marble square Red Fort Agra

There were modern-day inspirations to be found everywhere, including this simplified arabesque floor pattern which I am planning to use as a model for a bathroom renovation back in Brooklyn.

Marble mosaic floor Red Fort Agra India

And speaking of marble and bathrooms, I must stop and mention one of my favorite places on the whole tour – the ladies washroom at The Imperial Hotel in New Delhi. This colonial era Art Deco masterpiece is on that list of historic hotels I have been carrying around with me and I was privileged to stay there this trip. The art collection and thousands of engravings that line the halls are worthy of a post of their own. But the ground floor loo with its bank of freestanding back-to-back sinks and mirrors takes the cake!

Imperial Hotel New Delhi Ladies Washroom Bathroom marble

We have all been told that pink is the navy blue of India and it is true. We could not stop snapping photos of the glorious pink saris everywhere, from the Sikh Temple in Delhi…

pink is the navy blue of india lady in sari

…to more subtly in Agra at the Red Fort.

Red Fort Agra Sari

Back in Delhi, we visited Humayun’s tomb which served as a model for the main building of the Taj Mahal. It was peaceful and relatively deserted, in great contrast to the aforementioned monument and therefore magical.

Humayan's Tomb New Delhi

In fact, other than the breathtaking moment when you first enter and the de rigueur perfect photo of the Taj, we often preferred the other sites for their mystery and mood.

Ladies at Humayan's Tomb New Delhi India

No trip to India is complete without shopping – and lots of it – so it is no surprise that green – the color of currency – was one of the other main hues of our visit. We hit many of the major markets including Khan market, Sundar Nagar and Santushi, along with a bicycle rickshaw ride through the streets of Old Delhi. I bought everything from Indian cottons – lots of scarves and kurtis at Anokhi and Fabindia – to carved wooden legs (custom ottomans anyone?) in the back alleys. I desperately wanted the stack of bracelets below, but you can imagine the price tag, so I contented myself with armloads of silver and a particularly delicate gold and raw sapphire necklace.  But all of that shopping was merely a distraction as I had come to India searching for one thing – Indian miniature paintings. At Sundar Nagar market, which sells bits and bobs of ‘antiques’ as well as all the lovely modern inlay furniture so popular today, I picked up a few fairly fine reproduction miniatures. In general these tend to be copies of famous original paintings done on old paper so as to give them a nice patina.

bracelets and indian miniature

In fact I had thought I might be content with my repros until we stopped in at the highlight of the visit, the home of Rohit Kaicker, also known as Gallery 29 Sunder Nagar. In all the rooms filled with spectacular artwork, this turn of the century painting of Shah Jahan himself on a background of malachite, surrounded by a border of Mughal flowers (remember the ones carved in marble at the Taj in the photo above?) screamed to come home with me from the very moment I walked in. I cannot recommend Rohit’s home gallery highly enough as prices are reasonable, his knowledge encyclopedic and seeing his home itself is worth the visit, although I guarantee you won’t leave empty-handed. I’m actually thinking Indian miniature paintings might deserve a post of their very own so let me know if that would interest you.

Indian Miniature Painting Shahjahan Taj Majal Rohit New Delhi Mughal Flowers

And for one more glimpse of amazing Mughal flowers I must share the living room off the terrace at the Oberoi Hotel in Agra. Anyone else would be sharing the view of the Taj from the window, but then I am not anybody else. I wanted to move right in here and stay, or at least try this in a project. Any takers out there?

Oberoi Hotel Agra Taj Majal Mughal Flowers

I must give a final shout out to Fiona Caulfield‘s Love India, billed as a ‘Handbook for the Luxury Vagabond’. This book was our bible, albeit a carefully annotated one by our dear friend Lisa who used to live in Delhi. Other cities in India appear in the series and I am tempted to buy them and dream. Be sure to notice the accent color 😉

Love India Guide Fiona Caulfield

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Artist Spotlight and a Giveaway…Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print

UKIYO-E

I’ve been down and out with a bit of a stomach bug the last few days but luckily I’ve had Frederick Harris’s book Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print which has been eminently digestible. Harris was a fifty year plus veteran of life in Japan, having come there after serving in the Korean War and staying on to pursue his artistic ambitions. I was lucky enough to know him through the Tokyo American Club before he passed away in 2010.

Ukiyo-e, traditional Japanese prints, have existed since before the 17th century but truly flowered during the Edo period (1603-1868). They were mass-produced and created for mass-consumption by the common man – in effect the postcards and the Instagrams of the day. A four-part team of artist, carver, printer and publisher worked together to produce these images of ‘the floating world’ – impermanent places of pleasure. Geisha and courtesans, kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers, were all common subjects, along with landscape series, flora and fauna and the more unusual shunga (erotic prints) and Yokohama-e (prints with foreigners). Illustrated with only the choicest selections, Harris’s book arranges them by subject rather than chronology or artist, breaking down what can be a very confusing area of work, and highlighting the key issues and players.

He neatly spells out the three great H’s of Japanese scenic prints, Hokusai, Hiroshige and Hasui, spanning a 100 year period. I was not that familiar with Hokusai’s waterfall series which while not as famous as his Mount Fuji series, Harris believed to be his masterpieces. “They are the most contemporary of all his compositions, embracing abstract qualities that do not appear in world art until the twentieth century.” I think he has a point there! Harris highlights the dynamism of what is – in theory – a landscape print by Hiroshige by wondering where the viewer would actually have to be standing to view this Boy’s Day carp streamer. And in Hasui’s shin hanga print, designed to appeal to a Western customer, with its romantic and nostalgic views of Japan, we see a level of craftsmanship and emotional content not seen before. To really appreciate the details, be sure to click and enlarge the images.

Hokusai Hiroshige Hasui

(1) Katsushika HOKUSAI, Kirifuri Waterfall at Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province, c. 1832, (2) Utagawa HIROSHIGE, Sudo bridge and Surugadai, from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 1856-58, (3) Kawase HASUI, Snow at Mukojima 1931

Harris is sure to include a chapter on ukiyo-e books, an area that is both dear to my heart and often overlooked. From simple but powerful sumi ink illustrations by the ‘father” of ukiyo-e, Hishikawa Moronobu, in the 1650s to delicate asymmetrical compositions from Watanabe Seitei influenced by European paintings after the turn of the 20th century, Harris’s book is full of numerous rare images from the author’s collection.

(1) Hishikawa MORONOBU, Lovers on the Veranda, c.1650, (2) Watanabe SEITEI, Seitei Kacho Gofu (Seitei's Bird and Flower Album) 1916

(1) Hishikawa MORONOBU, Lovers on the Veranda, c.1650, (2) Watanabe SEITEI, Seitei Kacho Gofu (Seitei’s Bird and Flower Album) 1916

The final chapter is on Yokohama-e, prints about foreigners in Japan and the way in which Japanese artists imagined and portrayed them. Other than the Dutch, who were kept at far arms length, Japan was effectively closed to foreigners from the 1630s until the mid 19th century, until Commodore Perry and the Treaty of Kanagawa forced the opening of the country to outsiders. By far the most interesting image for me in this chapter is Utagawa Yoshitora’s Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji from 1870. Normally a triptych (three sheet print image) I have cropped it to two for a bit of comparison. In it we see a few Western women, in quite accurate dress for 1870, watching the launch of an exciting technical invention new to Japan – the hot air balloon.

Yoshitora Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji

Utagawa YOSHITORA, Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy Training Ground at Tsukiji, 1870

Besides being fascinated by this era in Japanese history and the cross-fertilization happening, I have also had the luck to have seen and held two of the three panels of this print in my hands. Take a few moments to really examine and compare these photos and see if you can find the fascinating major differences, besides some of the obvious coloring in the dresses, between them.

Yoshitoa Trial Balloon Launch at the Naval Academy

These images give you a real sense of the complexity of learning about and collecting ukiyo-e as many of the most popular prints went through multiple printings and sometimes continue to be printed today. Harris makes excellent points about getting educated and using your eye and common sense when buying. Remember, if it is in absolute perfect condition and a bargain, most likely it’s a modern-day reprint.

So? What did you spot? Did you notice how all the flags on the balloons were changed from Japanese flags to American flags? According to Wikipedia, the Japanese officially decreed the Nisshōki or Hinomaru (sun flag) as the national emblem in 1870, although it was already accepted as the de facto flag of Japan. The print itself is from 1870, which makes the timing quite interesting. In all the other examples of this print in museum collections around the world, the flags are American as in my example. Harris’s example is courtesy of the Mita Arts Gallery, a very respected ukiyo-e gallery in Japan. I may have to write to them and see if they have more information. What else?  The seals and stamps are quite different – if anyone’s Japanese is good enough to shed some light on them it would be very appreciated. Other small details include the stairs and walkway in the lawn in the background and the gazebo shape in the trees. I’m sure my eagle-eyed readers will spot many more!

Now on to the good part – the GIVEAWAY!! Tuttle Publishing has kindly offered 2 copies of Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print for me to offer to my readers. They will send them anywhere in the world, so everyone can enter. All you need to do is comment on this post, ideally after visiting Tuttle Publishing online and taking a look at their outstanding offerings in Art, Architecture & Design, with a real focus on Asia, and telling me what other books you’d like to see me discuss (and possibly have available for future giveaways :-))

The giveaway closes a week from tomorrow on Friday, September 19 at midnight EST. Winners will be announced the following week.

Related Posts:
Hanga 101…a Quick Primer on Japanese Prints
An Artistic Reflection…The 1860 Japanese Envoy to America and Yokohama-e
Artist Spotlight…Van Gogh: The Adventure of Becoming an Artist
Artist Spotlight…Dancers, Degas and the Demi-Monde in Yokohama
Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism
Battledores and Badminton…A History Of Hanetsuki Through Ukiyo-e
Artist Spotlight…58th CWAJ Print Show

Eastern Dreams…Serdar Gülgün’s Istanbul Jewel

I don’t know what is different about this arrival and re-entry to the US, but somehow I can’t wrap my head around being here. Only seven hours of jet lag should be better than the usual thirteen, but it hasn’t been and that’s the least of my troubles. Perhaps its the pressing and unfinished business commitments back in Doha, or perhaps its the breakdown and subsequent immediate ticketing of my car as I entered the five boroughs? Maybe the tearing of my new (and very cute) dress by a careless woman on the subway or the breaking of a molar while eating some pretzels!?! Whatever it may be, my inconveniences, while actually quite small, have kept me from fully entering the mix here. On that note, I picked up the summer issue of Town & Country and was immediately transported back east by the opulent Turkish fantasy created by Serdar Gülgün in his Istanbul home, Macar Feyzullah Pasha – a home with a name like that should in itself prepare you for what is about to come! I’ve been making it a habit lately, being entranced by these extraordinary renovations and recreations, this one being a hunting pavilion built for an exiled Hungarian pasha in the 1850s. Lovingly restored by Gülgün, an interior designer, author and Ottoman art expert, the house features myriads of finds from decades of exploring Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. The massive antique Oushak sets the tone for the carpets to come while the light filtering in from all sides makes the space glow like a jewel box. Be sure to click the photos for large detailed versions.

T & C Istanbul entry

Proving yet again that there is nowhere that doesn’t benefit from a dose of blue and white porcelain, this entry vignette with its antique red Chinese tables, porcelain ginger jars, inlaid mirror and Islamic ceramic medallions from the Grand Bazaar is the kind of mix that references centuries of trade routes.

T & C Istanbul entry detail blue and white porcelain

Like the Lebanese houses I have written about before, the rooms open directly off of the central entry. Here the dining room is laid with a vintage suzani for a tablecloth.

T & C Istanbul dining room

The second floor is laid out in the form of a Byzantine cross, giving 360 degree views all around. The layering continues, but my eye is drawn to the pair of slipper chairs upholstered in a myriad of fabrics and ringed with bullion fringe, much like the ones I always love in Muriel Brandolini’s projects. I also spy a massive inlaid armoire (one of a pair actually!) in a study that contains Gülgün’s collection of antique embroideries and textiles. Can you imagine? While soaking up the rest of the details – carpets, calligraphies and accessories – be sure to note the delicate domed ceiling.

T & C Istanbul upstairs

A detail shot of the back study reveals that color combination I am loving lately, with lavender, yellow, light blue and grey/beige playing off with wood tones and mirrors. This makes my bedroom updates feel tame by comparison. And that Iznik pitcher has me swooning and simultaneously hoping in my earthquake sensitive way that it is sticky tacked to the pedestal.

T & C Istanbul LR detail

The global mix is evident again here in a series of bedroom chambers hung with Chinese ancestor portraits.

T & C Istanbul bedroom

The Belvedere is a private guesthouse house that sits above the main house with incredible views out over the city. An unexpected and bold color combination works in the light suffused space.

T & C Istanbul Belvedere

On my must buy list now is Gülgün’s and Laziz Hamani’s book, The Grand BazaarI haven’t been to Istanbul since my honeymoon, and it is only a four and a half hour flight from Doha, so I am thinking it needs to be revisited this fall.

The Grand Bazaar via Assouline

For more details and photos, see the entire article by Whitney Robinson, photographed so beautifully by James Merrell over at Town & Country. For a video walk through and interview with Gülgün (in French), take a look at Maisons d’architectes. And I’m off to pick up my car from the mechanic and allow myself to get absorbed back into my America life…at least for a while.

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Inlay Series
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Sleeping in a Cloud…Dreamy Gray Bedrooms

Funnily enough, as I was packing paperwork for our trip back to the US this summer, I stumbled across an old folder with some of my long-term gray bedroom inspiration images. In light of my last post, I can’t resist sharing them, although they are actually the old-fashioned version of actual tear sheets and in most cases I have no information on designer or publication. If you know any of the details, please drop me a comment and I will be sure to credit it.

Familiar players appear in this tight shot reflected back in a gorgeous Venetian mirror, including it, lovely white linens, stripey gray silk taffeta and European style bed. I’m not sure I would ever get up if this was my bed.

CCF08062014_00001

This is one of the earliest images, torn from The Washington Post Magazine and dated Oct. 4, 1992. It is on very faded paper, but I promise you it is gray, as is that standout Belgian cabinet. Just noticed now that there is even a blanc de Chine figure on the ledge.

CCF08062014_00002

I always had a hankering for a bit of architectural wall detail, which has been created here with the simple use of different color gray paints. There is some ticking stripe here too – in the bed hangings for instance – although it is hard to tell in the beautiful bright light of the photo.

gray Bedroom country swedish

In this very well-known bedroom by Mary McDonald from the November 2001 issue of House & Garden, photographed by Melanie Acevedo, simple molding has been painted out in white to create architectural interest. In the end, I have never had a space that would have been suited by this kind of detail, but I always love it. Note the Bagues sconces over the fireplace and the bits of ticking stripe amid all the stark gray and white. The natural floor covering warms things up, which is something I should consider.

Mary McDonald gray bedroom

Other images, saved the more modern way on my computer include this divine one by Alex Papachristidi in a 2006 Elle Decor. Yards and yards of gray silk taffeta tempered by the contrasting glow of the gleaming antique commode and gilt-wood mirrors.

Alex Papachristidis ED 11-06 pc Simon Upton

Another influential Papachristidis image is from the living room of the same apartment (and the one the cover of his book The Age of Elegance), in particular the grid of black and white images above the daybed.

Alex Papachristidis

A corner in Suzanne Rheinstein’s NYC apartment is another favorite, with its Bagues sconces and Gustavian settee covered in what looks to be a very fine stripe. The whole apartment is subtle and full of gray and can be seen in Elle Decor.

pied-a-terre-new-york-ed1110-rheinstein-05-lgn

Do you keep tear sheets? I still like them better than Pinterest somehow – more tactile, more real.

Related Posts on Color:
More Pale Grey From Abroad
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Gorgeous Green…Rooms Inspired by a Bamboo Forest
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Artist Spotlight…Inlay and the Orientalist Painters

Lawrence Alma-Tadema? The Drawing Room, Holland Park 1887

Lawrence Alma-Tadema? The Drawing Room, Holland Park 1887, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum (Bournemouth)

The Alma-Tadema painting from my last post is just one of many late 19th century works that feature an item of inlaid furniture. In that case, an inlaid Syrian chest figures prominently in a British home elaborately decorated in the style of the ‘the East’. Such furniture was also found in 19th century European paintings from a movement called Orientalism, which idealized views and scenes of the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey. Wildly popular at the time of their creation, these paintings fell out of favor, much like the Pre-Raphaelites, only to be re-appreciated at the end of the 20th century. Along the way they have stirred up much controversy about the patronizing nature of Orientalist views, but I am going to leave the politics aside and just share the decorative aspect of the paintings.

John Frederick Lewis’ Intercepted Correspondence from 1869 was a painting I looked at and perhaps should have included in my post on Iznik ceramics and the language of flowers. In it, a young woman is caught before her master with a bouquet from her lover. Much can be said about this work, but it is the elaborate mashrabiya, the dowel latticework covering the window openings and the small inlaid table on the bottom right side that catches my eye today. Over and over again, the key props in the work of the Orientalists are these types of screens, Iznik tiles, elaborate carpets and textiles, pipes, musical instruments and of course, inlaid furniture. In all of the paintings below, each one has the ubiquitous inlaid side table somewhere – be sure to spot them.

The 19th century painters aren’t the only ones to have a fascination with the east, for example 18th century Swiss-French painter Jean-Étienne Liotard visited Istanbul and painted numerous scenes like the one below, a formal precursor to these later works.

monsieur-levett-and-mademoiselle-helene-glavany-in-turkish-costumes-jean-etienne-liotard

But the advent of easier travel and discovery created an insatiable desire for the exotic and painters were happy to comply. Lewis spent ten years living in Cairo, which gives his work a very authentic feel.

'Interior of a School, Cairo', by John Frederick Lewis, watercolour. Museum no.68-1890, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Arthur Melville, a Scottish painter, also traveled in Persia, Egypt and Turkey from 1880–82.

Arthur Melville, An Arab Interior, 1881, courtesy National Galleries of Scotland.

Austro-French painter Rudolf Ernst traveled to the Middle East in 1885. I am particularly intrigued by the bench in this painting as it is so reminiscent of the ones I recently purchased here. To see Ernst reusing his inlaid props over and over again, click here.

Rudolf Ernst

In 1858 English painter Frederick Goodall spent eight months in Egypt, and he returned in 1870. He continued with Orientalist themes throughout his very successful career.

Copt Mother and Child', by Frederick Goodall, 1875, watercolour. Museum no. 517-1882, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

One of the most common scenes painted was the interior of the harem and Lewis wasn’t the only one to paint it. These are clearly a fantasy view of the harem as the male painters would never have actually been able to enter the female spaces.

Frederick_Goodall_-_A_New_Light_in_the_Harem 1884

French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme visited Egypt for the first time in 1856. He too became fascinated with orientalist themes.

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Pool in a Harem c. 1876

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Pool in a Harem c. 1876

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Orientalists and I only included paintings with inlaid furniture in them for the sake of brevity and cohesion. I’m sure I’ll be returning to the subject sometime in the not so distant future.

If these richly adorned spaces have caught your eye, you must take a look at Bill Willis’s work in the 1960s and 70s for Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge amongst others in Marrakech. There is a great piece in the The Wall Street Journal really worth perusing and exploring for anyone interested in design related to the Middle East and North Africa. The late Alberto Pinto has some amazing rooms (including this lavender one I am always going on about) in his portfolio and his hard to find book Orientalism. More recent fantasies include Veronica Webb’s Key West home in Architectural Digest and Howard Slatkin’s extraordinary Orientalist library in New York City.

And as for the actual painter of the Alma-Tadema painting at the very top of the post? I was utterly sure I was on to something and that his daughter Anna had painted it, so I dug deep and came up with this great post. It always feels good to be right! I also think I need to get the book she mentions, Artistic Circles: Design and Decoration in the Aesthetic Movement.

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