A film examining the debutante experience of
1939 through the eyes of a colourful collection of debs and debs' delights,
including the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, the Duke of Wellington, and the
Duchess of Northumberland. While Europe was steeling itself in the face of
fascist aggression, the upper-class marriage market was in full swing, and here
the participants talk vividly about the parties, ballgowns and broken hearts.
In the United Kingdom, the presentation of
débutantes to the Sovereign at court marked the start of the British social
season. Applications for young women to be presented at court were required to
be made by ladies who themselves had been presented to the Sovereign; the young
woman's mother, for example, or someone known to the family. A mother-in-law
who herself had been presented might, for example, present her new
The presentation of debutantes at court was
also a way for young girls of marriageable age to be presented to suitable
bachelors and their families in the hopes of finding a suitable husband.
Bachelors, in turn, used the court presentation as a chance to find a suitable
wife. Those who wanted to be presented at court were required to apply for
permission to do so; if the application was accepted, they would be sent a
royal summons from the Lord Chamberlain to attend the Presentation on a certain
day. According to Debrett's, the proceedings on that day always started at
10am. As well as débutantes, older women and married women who had not
previously been presented could be presented at Court.
On the day of the court presentation the
débutante and her sponsor would be announced, the debutante would curtsy to the
Sovereign, and then she would leave without turning her back.
The court dress has traditionally been a white
evening dress, but shades of ivory and pink were acceptable. The white dress
featured short sleeves and white gloves, a veil attached to the hair with three
white ostrich feathers, and a train, which the débutante would hold on her arm
until she was ready to be presented. Débutantes would also wear pearls but many
would also wear jewellery that belonged to the family.
After the débutantes were presented to the
monarch, they would attend the social season. The season consisted of events
such as afternoon tea parties, polo matches, races at Royal Ascot, and balls.
Many débutantes would also have their own "coming-out party" or,
alternatively, a party shared with a sister or other member of family.
The last débutantes were presented at Court in
1958 after Queen Elizabeth II abolished the ceremony. Attempts were made to
keep the tradition going by organising a series of parties for young girls who
might otherwise have been presented at Court in their first season (to which
suitable young men were also invited) by Peter Townend. However, the
withdrawal of royal patronage made these occasions increasingly insignificant,
and scarcely distinguishable from any other part of the social season.
However, the expression
"débutante" or "deb" for short continues to be used,
especially in the press, to refer to young girls of marriageable age who
participate in a semi-public upper class social scene. The
expression "deb's delight" is applied to good looking unmarried young
men from similar backgrounds.
Clooney Downton Abbey Text Santa special (video)
Friday 19 December at 8pm on ITV
ITV’s annual charity appeal Text Santa is
back to put the Fun into Fundraising with this jam-packed three-hour show. It’s
the time of year to help those near.
Christmas at Downton and Lord Robert Crawley (Hugh Bonneville) seems to be
facing financial ruin once again. He’s beginning to wonder if his family may be
better off without him but divine intervention in the form of a very special
heavenly body gives him a view of what life would really be like without his
Presenting duos Ant and Dec, Phillip
Schofield and Christine Bleakley, and Paddy McGuinness and Alesha Dixon will
each host an hour of this all-star cast and present their own special segments.
Throughout the evening, the amazing work of
the six UK
based charities supported by Text Santa will be highlighted by well-known
faces. This year’s charities are Teenage Cancer Trust, Guide Dogs, Marie Curie
Cancer Care, Alzheimer’s Society, WellChild and Together for Short Lives.
Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles were
patrons of the arts. Their 'hotel' at Place des Etats-Unis was restored in
modern style in 1926 by Jean-Michel Franck, and was a focus for a large circle.
Man Ray's film Les Mystères du Château de Dé (1929), which centers around Villa
Noailles in Hyères. He also financed Jean Cocteau's film Le Sang d'un Poète
(1930) and Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalì's L'Âge d'Or (1930). Charles and his
wife appeared in Les Mystères du Château de Dé as well as Le Sang d'un Poète.
In 1929 or 1930, Charles made possible the
career of Dali by purchasing in advance a large work for 29,000 francs, thus
enabling Dali and Gala to return from Paris
to Port Lligat and devote themselves to his art.
The de Noailles had an extensive correspondence
with Francis Poulenc and commissioned him on two occasions. He received 25000
Francs for Aubade, which he wrote for one of their balls at Place des
États-Unis where it premiered on 18 June 1929. Le Bal Masqué, inspired by Max
Jacob's Le Laboratoire Central, was written for a private celebration on 20
April 1932 at the municipal theatre in Hyères.Max Jacob's Le Laboratoire
Central, was written for a private celebration on 20 April 1932 at the municipal
theatre in Hyères.
Marie-Laure de Noailles, Vicomtesse de
Noailles (31 October 1902 – 29 January 1970) was one of the 20th century's most
daring and influential patrons of the arts, noted for her associations with
Salvador Dalí, Balthus, Jean Cocteau, Ned Rorem, Man Ray, Luis Buñuel, Francis
Poulenc, Wolfgang Paalen, Jean Hugo, Jean-Michel Frank and others as well as
her tempestuous life and eccentric personality. She and her husband financed
Ray's film Les Mystères du Château de Dé (1929), Poulenc's Aubade (1929),
Buñuel and Dalí's film L'Âge d'Or (1930), and Cocteau's The Blood of a Poet
She was born Marie-Laure Henriette Anne
Bischoffsheim, the only child of Marie-Thérèse de Chevigné, a French
aristocrat, and Maurice Bischoffsheim, a Paris banker of German Jewish and
American Quaker descent. One of her great-great-great-grandfathers was the
Marquis de Sade, and her maternal grandmother, Laure de Sade, Countess de
Chevigné, inspired at least one character in Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost
Time. Her nephew Philippe Lannes de Montebello was the director of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
City. Her stepfather was the French playwright Francis
de Croisset, and her former sister-in-law, Jacqueline de Croisset, became the
third wife of actor Yul Brynner.
After a brief romance with the artist Jean
Cocteau, Marie-Laure Bischoffsheim married, in 1923, Charles, Vicomte de
Noailles (26 September 1891 – 28 April 1981), a son of François Joseph Eugène
Napoléon de Noailles, grandson of Antonin-Just-Léon-Marie de Noailles and
younger brother of the 6th Duc de Mouchy (father of Philippe François Armand
Marie de Noailles), himself a cadet of the French ducal house of Noailles. The
couple had two daughters:
Laure Madeleine Thérèse Marie de Noailles,
later Madame Bertrand de La Haye Jousselin (1924–1979);
Nathalie Valentine Marie de Noailles,
former wife of Alessandro Perrone (1927–2004).
Marie-Laure de Noailles and her husband
moved to the fabled hôtel particulier at 11 Place des États-Unis in Paris, which was built by
her grandfather Bischoffsheim. Its interiors, which were redecorated in the
1920s by French minimalist designer Jean-Michel Frank, vanished in the 1980s,
due to a subsequent owner's redecoration and remodelling. In 1936 she acquired
Wolfgang Paalen´s object Chaise envahie de Lierre in André Breton´s Galerie
Gradiva and decorated her bathroom with it. Today the interiors have been
renovated by Philippe Starck and house the Musée Baccarat and the headquarters
of Baccarat, the crystal company.
In the 1920s, the Noailles built the Villa
Noailles near Hyères. She had an affair with the young Igor Markevitch. In the
1950s she had a long-term affair with the surrealist painter Óscar Domínguez.
In 1923, they signed a contract with the
architect Robert Mallet-Stevens to build a summer villa in the hills above the
city of Hyères.
Construction took three years, and eventually also included a triangular Cubist
garden designed by Gabriel Guevrekian.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the couple
were important patrons of modern art, particularly surrealism; they supported
film projects by Man Ray, Salvador Dalí, and Luis Buñuel; and commissioned
paintings, photographs and sculptures by Balthus, Giacometti, Constantin
Brâncuși, Miró, and Dora Maar. Villa Noailles features prominently in Man Ray's film Les Mystères du
Château de Dé.
In 1940 the villa was occupied by the
Italian Army and turned into a hospital. From 1947 until 1970, the villa was
the summer residence of Marie-Laure. She died in 1970, and the house was
purchased by the city of Hyères
in 1973. Charles de Noailles died in 1981.
The villa is now used as an arts center and
for special exhibits.
James Lord was a guest there in the
mid-fifties. In his book Picasso and Dora: a memoir he writes: "...an
undistinguished cubist extravaganza of reinforced concrete set atop a high
hill, within the ancient walls of a Saracen fortress. It had been designed in
the late twenties by a fashionable architect named Mallet-Stevens, contained
something like fifty rooms and was surrounded by a large garden." He
recalls the room, where Marie-Laure tried to seduce him: "...a large salon
at Saint-Bernard which had no windows but was lighted from above by a bizarre
cubist skylight which occupied almost all the ceiling, adding to the sense of
existing outside time in a stranded ocean liner." The beauty of the
location did not help, however, the "redoutable viscountess" in
conquering his chastity.
designed by Gabriel Guevrekian.
permanente: Charles et Marie-Laure de Noailles, une vie de mécènes
consiste à redonner au public les clefs pour appréhender la « petite maison
intéressante à habiter » de Charles et Marie-Laure de Noailles et (re)découvrir
l’extraordinaire mécénat qu’ils ont mené de 1923 à 1970. L’exposition aborde
tous les aspects de cette expérience et explore les liens entre les différents
domaines de la création qu’ils ont pu aborder.
prend place dans la partie initiale de la villa : dans les salons, les salles à
manger, les chambres d’ami du rez-de-jardin, les chambres de Monsieur et de
Madame, la chambre d’ami du dernier étage (environ 250m2 au total). Elle fera
le lien par sa scénographie avec la création contemporaine.
est directeur de la villa Noailles (centre d’art) et fondateur du Festival
International de Mode et de Photographie à Hyères. Il est membre de
l’association des directeurs de centres d’art.
Commissaire d’exposition indépendante, historienne d’art, spécialisée dans les
arts décoratifs de l’entre-deux-guerres. Elle co-réalise plusieurs expositions
du cycle Documents, à la villa Noailles en 2006 et 2009 et a collaboré à
plusieurs publications sur l’histoire du mobilier métallique.
Boudin-Lestienne. Historien d’art, chargé de mission à la villa Noailles, il
est commissaire des expositions du cycle Documents, présentées à la villa
Noailles depuis 2003.
Éditeur, critique, commissaire d’exposition, ancien directeur de la Galerie
Marion Meyer à Paris, il enseigne l’Histoire du livre et de l’édition à
l’Université du Havre et à Paris X. Critique littéraire d’Artpress et de la
Revue des Deux Mondes, il a publié une monographie sur l’artiste Michel Aubry,
Salle d’armes (Marion Meyer Éditions), un essai, Sexe ! Le trouble du héros
(Moutons électriques éditeurs) et il prépare actuellement la publication de la
correspondance de René Crevel aux Editions du Seuil.
Confiée à David
Dubois, la scénographie tient compte de la contrainte de refaire « l’histoire
en son lieu même ». Le projet s’oriente vers une exploitation du lieu la plus
discrète et la plus respectueuse possible de la cohérence originale des
espaces. Les volumes et les installations d’origine doivent rester lisibles et
ne pas entrer en conflit avec des interventions contemporaines qui revendiquent
leur identité propre. Accueillant la création sous toutes ses formes, la villa
Noailles devient ainsi un exemple de réutilisation du patrimoine architectural,
non seulement dans son ouverture aux artistes contemporains, mais aussi dans le
rapport à son propre passé.
confiée à Frédéric Teschner, doit accompagner cette scénographie en essayant de
produire le minimum de repères possible. Certaines « références » aux usages
des propriétaires sont réactivées comme des introductions à la culture du lieu.
Ainsi est envisagée, en partenariat avec Sèvres - Cité de la céramique, la
création de vases par différents designers pour accueillir les bouquets de
fleurs. Cette idée renvoie à l’une des raisons d’être du bâtiment, implanté
dans un jardin bouquetier, fierté des Noailles.
paysagers du lieu, imaginés avec Christophe Ponceau, prolongent cette démarche.
Designer, il est
diplômé de l’Ensci-les Ateliers (2003) et présente pour la première fois son
travail à la villa Noailles en 2004 (Débuts). Il réalise depuis de nombreuses
scénographies à la villa et une commande pour l’une des chambres de résidence
(2007/2008). Il est représenté et édité par la galerie kreo, édité par FR66 et
auto-produit certaines de ses créations. Il est enseignant à l’ESAD (Reims).
Certaines de ses pièces appartiennent aux collections permanentes du Mudam
Teschner, identité graphique du projet et édition
l’ENSAD de Paris, il collabore avec des architectes, des designers, de jeunes
chorégraphes, des galeries (In Situ, kreo) et le Théâtre de Gennevilliers. À
partir de 2003, il conçoit les identités visuelles de plusieurs expositions
pour le Centre Pompidou, le Mémorial de la Shoah, le MAC/VAL, le Musée d’art
moderne de la Ville de Paris. Il travaille également avec des centres d’art
(villa Noailles, Cneai, DCA, Association de centres d’art contemporain) ou des
institutions du ministère de la Culture et de la Communication telles le CNAP
(Centre national des arts plastiques) ou la DAP (Direction des arts
plastiques). Il enseigne le design graphique à l’ESAD d’Amiens et à l’EHAD
Christophe Ponceau, aménagements des
(École Boulle et Architecte DPLG), il collabore avec le paysagiste Gilles
Clément à partir de 1997 et commence une activité de scénographe. Il réalise la
partie végétale de l’exposition Le Jardin planétaire (Grande Halle de la
Villette, Paris) en 2000 et est en charge de la programmation d’interventions
contemporaines du Parc de la Ferté-Vidame depuis 2006.
The British Warm was a woollen overcoat
that takes its fabric and styling from the great coats worn by officers during
the First World War. Taupe coloured, the coat is double-breasted with peak
lapels and slightly shaped. It falls just above the knee, sports leather
buttons, and often, has epaulettes (although we find that these are best
omitted for non-military wear).
The most characteristic aspect of the
British warm is the fabric itself: a heavy, slightly fleecy melton cloth,
distinctive in its colouring. The name comes from Melton Mowbray, a town in Leicestershire, England, where this thick, tightly
woven, napped cloth was first woven for riding and hunting garments. Patrick
has secured a reserve of this cloth from one of Britain’s oldest mills. Woven to a
reassuringly warm 32oz, it is unusual to find a piece that conforms so closely
to the original spec. Today, the British Warm is a perennial classic that works
equally well worn over a suit in the city or dressed down for a more casual
look at the weekend. The military overtones ensure that it looks distinct, much
as one would expect of a piece of clothing that is still worn on Parades today.
During the First World War, Crombie
temporarily switched its production to British military uniforms.
The Crombie company records note that
during the war, the British government had to coerce many important manufacturers
into accepting military contracts due to the very small margin of profit,
compared to the much more lucrative private export opportunities still
available. Crombie, however, voluntarily undertook large government contracts
throughout the war – despite the low profit – in order to keep its personnel
Such became the extent of Crombie's
production that ultimately one tenth of all greatcoats worn by British soldiers
and officers were made from Crombie cloth. The term "British Warm"
was coined at this time to describe this Crombie coat. The name remains
synonymous with Crombie to this day.
Gerald Clery Murphy and Sara Sherman Wiborg
were wealthy, expatriate Americans who moved to the French Riviera in the early
20th century and who, with their generous hospitality and flair for parties,
created a vibrant social circle, particularly in the 1920s, that included a
great number of artists and writers of the Lost Generation. Gerald had a brief
but significant career as a painter.
Gerald Clery Murphy (March 25, 1888 –
October 17, 1964) was born in Boston
to the family that owned the Mark Cross Company, sellers of fine leather goods.
He was of an Irish American background.
Gerald was an aesthete from his childhood
onwards. He was never comfortable in the boardrooms and clubs for which his
father was grooming him. He failed the entrance exams at Yale three times
before matriculating, although he performed respectably there. He joined DKE
and the Skull and Bones society :237 He befriended a young freshman named Cole
Porter (Yale class of 1913) and brought him into DKE. Murphy also introduced
Porter to his friends, propelling him into writing music for Yale musicals.
Sara Sherman Wiborg (November 7, 1883 –
October 10, 1975) was born in Cincinnati,
Ohio, into the wealthy Wiborg
family. Her father, manufacturing chemist and owner of his own printing ink and
varnish company Frank Bestow Wiborg, was a self-made millionaire by the age of
40, and her mother was a member of the noted Sherman family, daughter of Hoyt Sherman, and
niece to Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman. Raised in Cincinnati,
her family moved to Germany
for several years when she was a teenager, so her father could concentrate on
the European expansion of his company. The Wiborg family was easily accepted
into the high society community of 20th-century Europe.
While in Europe, Sara and her sisters Hoytie
and Olga sang together at high-class assemblies. Upon returning to the United
States, the Wiborgs spent most of their time in New York City and, later, East
Hampton, where they built the 30-room mansion "The Dunes" on 600 acres just west of
the Maidstone Club in 1912. It was the largest estate in East
Hampton up to that time. WiborgBeach in East
Hampton is named for the family.
In East Hampton Sara Wiborg and Gerald
Murphy met when they were both adolescents. Gerald was five years younger than
Sara, and for many years they were more familiar companions than romantically
attached; they became engaged in 1915, when Sara was 32 years old. Sara's
parents did not approve of their daughter marrying someone "in
trade," and Gerald's parents were not much happier with the prospect,
seemingly because his father found it difficult to approve anything that Gerald
After marrying they lived at 50 West 11th Street
in New York City,
where they had three children. In 1921 they moved to Paris
to escape the strictures of New York
and their families' mutual dissatisfaction with their marriage. In Paris Gerald
took up painting, and they began to make the acquaintances for which they
became famous. Eventually they moved to the French Riviera, where they became
the center of a large circle of artists and writers of later fame, especially
Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Fernand
Léger, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Archibald MacLeish, John O'Hara, Cole
Porter, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley.
Prior to their arrival on the French
Riviera, the region was experiencing a period when the fashionable only
wintered there, abandoning the region during the high summer months. However,
the activities of the Murphys fueled the same renaissance in arts and letters
as did the excitement of Paris, especially among
the cafés of Montparnasse. In 1923 the Murphys
convinced the Hotel du Cap to stay open for the summer so that they might
entertain their friends, sparking a new era for the French Riviera as a summer
haven. The Murphys eventually purchased a villa in Cap d'Antibes and named it
they resided there for many years. When the Murphys arrived on the Riviera, lying on the
beach merely to enjoy the sun was not a common activity. Occasionally, someone
would go swimming, but the joys of being at the beach just for sun were still
unknown at the time. The Murphys, with their long forays and picnics at La
Garoupe, introduced sunbathing on the beach as a fashionable activity.
They had three children, Baoth, Patrick,
and Honoria. In 1929, Patrick was diagnosed with tuberculosis. They took him to
Switzerland, and then returned
to the U.S. in 1934, where
Gerald stayed in Manhattan
to run Mark Cross, serving as president of the company from 1934 to 1956; he
never painted again. Sara settled in Saranac Lake, New York to nurse Patrick,
and Baoth and Honoria were put in boarding schools. In 1935, Baoth died
unexpectedly of meningitis as a complication of measles, and Patrick succumbed
to TB in 1937. Archibald MacLeish based the main characters in his play J.B. on
Gerald and Sara Murphy.
Later they lived at "The Dunes",
once the largest house in East Hampton. By
1941, the house proved impossible to rent, sell or even maintain; the Murphys
had it demolished, and they themselves moved to the renovated dairy barn.
Gerald died October 17, 1964 inEast
Hampton, two days after his friend Cole Porter. Sara died on
October 10, 1975 inArlington, Virginia.
Nicole and Dick Diver of Tender Is the
Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald are widely recognized as based on the Murphys,
based on the marked physical similarities, although many of their friends, as
well as the Murphys themselves, saw as much or more of Zelda and Scott
Fitzgerald's relationship and personalities in the couple than the Murphys.
Ernest Hemingway's couple in Garden of Eden is not explicitly based on this
pair, but given the similarities of the setting (Nice) and of the type of
social group portrayed, there is clearly some basis for such an assumption.
Interestingly, guests of the Murphys would often swim at Eden Roc, an event
emulated in Hemingway's narrative.
Calvin Tomkins's biography of Gerald and
Sara Murphy Living Well Is the Best Revenge was published in 1971, and Amanda
Vaill documented their lives in the 1995 book Everybody Was So Young. Both
accounts are balanced and kind, unlike some of their portrayals in the memoirs
and fictitious works by their many friends, including Fitzgerald and Hemingway.
In 1982, Honoria Murphy Donnelly, the
Murphys' daughter, with Richard N. Billings, wrote Sara & Gerald: Villa America and
On July 12, 2007, a play by Crispin Whittell entitled Villa
based entirely on the relationships between Sara and Gerald Murphy and their
friends had its world premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival with Jennifer
Mudge playing Sara Murphy.
At Comte Étienne de Beaumont's automotive
May 24, 1998
What a Swell Party It Was
A new study of Gerald and Sara Murphy examines
their life with the Lost Generation and their later disappointments.
Gerald and Sara Murphy: A Lost Generation
By Amanda Vaill.
Illustrated. 470 pp. Boston:
50 years after meeting Gerald and Sara Murphy, a still dazzled Donald Ogden
Stewart wrote: ''Once upon a time there was a prince and a princess: that's
exactly how a description of the Murphys should begin. They were both rich; he
was handsome; she was beautiful; they had three golden children. They loved
each other, they enjoyed their own company, and they had the gift of making
life enchantingly pleasurable for those who were fortunate enough to be their
Gerald and Sara Murphy were, to many of
their contemporaries, the beautiful couple of the 1920's, and they left their
mark on many works of art about the period: F. Scott Fitzgerald's ''Tender Is
the Night,'' Ernest Hemingway's ''Snows of Kilimanjaro,'' Philip Barry's ''Holiday,'' Archibald MacLeish's ''J.B.,'' John Dos
Passos' ''Big Money'' and Pablo Picasso's ''Woman in White,'' among others. Yet
the Murphys' life together was no fairy tale; in the end it came very close to
tragedy. Amanda Vaill, a skillful and compassionate writer, gives us their
story in a marvelously readable biography, ''Everybody Was So Young.'' It is
not the first telling of the tale, but it is the most important -- more
comprehensive than Calvin Tomkins's ''Living Well Is the Best Revenge'' (1971)
and more graceful than the telling by Honoria Murphy Donnelly, the Murphys'
daughter, and Richard N. Billings, ''Sara & Gerald: Villa America and
Sara Sherman Wiborg and Gerald Clery Murphy
became friends as adolescents in the hothouse social world of New York in the first decade of the 20th
century. Gerald's father was proprietor of the Mark Cross Company, purveyor (as
it still is) of luxury leather goods. Sara's father was an exceedingly rich
industrialist, and Sara spent much of her youth at their 30-room East Hampton,
N.Y., mansion, The Dunes, or traveling around Europe with her parents and
sisters, celebrating the coronation of George V in London, hobnobbing with the
English aristocracy, and generally, Vaill writes, ''living life as one of the
matched pieces of her mother's luggage.'' She performed the role with a natural
grace but chafed in it, finding an unexpected outlet for her feelings in a
budding friendship with Gerald Murphy, an awkward prep-school boy five years
Sara was attracted by Gerald's reflective
nature, quiet sense of humor and habit of questioning convention. An esthete
from his earliest years, he was uncomfortable in the boardrooms and clubrooms
for which he was being groomed. The grooming process was not proceeding smoothly:
he flunked the Yale entrance exams three times, although he eventually
matriculated there and performed respectably, creating what he later called
''the likeness of popularity and success.''
Gerald and Sara did not become engaged
until 1915, when Sara was 32 years old, over the hill in those days. Although
Gerald was perfectly well off and eligible, her parents could hardly bring
themselves to countenance their daughter marrying someone ''in trade.'' The
senior Murphys also greeted the news gloomily, not so much because they had
objections to Sara as because they seemed incapable of approving anything
Gerald did: he had been, his father said, a ''great disappointment'' to him;
Gerald's vision of life was ''unsound and warped.''
Considering their cold and withholding
families and what Sara called ''the heavy hand of chaperonage'' that had always
weighed firmly upon them, it is no surprise that the young Murphys looked upon
their marriage not as a tie but as the beginning of glorious freedom. ''Think
of a relationship that not only does not bind, but actually so lets loose the
imagination!'' Gerald wrote. The Murphys cherished a Tolstoyan ideal of husband
and wife working and living side by side. But this way of life was hard to
bring to fruition within their parents' sphere of influence. And so in 1921,
after Gerald had served in the Army's air units during World War I and had
spent a stint learning landscape architecture at Harvard, the Murphys sailed
for Paris with their three small children -- Honoria, Baoth and Patrick --
drawn there by the favorable exchange rate, the distance from their families
and the galvanizing new artistic life of the French capital. The belle epoque
was over, and the Murphys enthusiastically entered the modern age, which they were
Too much, perhaps, has been written about Paris in the 20's, and
certainly more than enough about the Murphys and their circle; nevertheless,
Vaill's version is elegantly written and well worth perusing. Joyce, Miro,
Picasso, Man Ray, Stravinsky, Hemingway, Beckett, Brancusi, Leger, Balanchine,
Fitzgerald, Isadora Duncan: everyone, it seemed, was in Paris, and the Murphys -- generous, stylish
and hospitable -- knew and entertained them all. ''The Murphys were among the
first Americans I ever met,'' Stravinsky said, ''and they gave me the most
agreeable impression of the United
Their Paris apartment was modern and
unconventional, but it was at the Villa America, their house at Cap d'Antibes
on the Riviera, that the Murphys came into their own and made their indelible
impression on their contemporaries; it was there that they seemed most to
embody the period and its esthetic. Until their day the Cote d'Azur had
been strictly a winter resort, practically deserted during the hot summer months.
From 1923 the Murphys almost single-handedly made it fashionable, inviting
exotics like the Fitzgeralds, the Picassos, Hemingway and his first and second
wives and Fernand Leger to their little beach of La Garoupe.
Gerald, who, in the words of a friend,
''always became a native of wherever he was,'' adopted a casual wardrobe that
in subsequent years would become what amounted to a Cap d'Antibes uniform:
striped sailor jersey, espadrilles and knitted fisherman's cap. Sara was very
much the striking beauty that Fitzgerald would bring to life as Nicole Diver in
''Tender Is the Night,'' her face ''hard and lovely and pitiful,'' her bathing
suit ''pulled off her shoulders,'' her characteristic rope of pearls setting
off her deep tan. Around them they created a perpetual aura of luxury,
celebration and fun. ''Sara est tres festin,'' Picasso remarked approvingly, as
he watched her setting the picnic cloth with flowers and ivy.
Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald became
particular friends of the Murphys. ''We four communicate by our presence rather
than by any means,'' Gerald told them. ''Currents race between us regardless.''
But it was never a friendship between equals: the Fitzgeralds were younger and
far less stable, and the very qualities that attracted them to the Murphys --
the older couple's inherited wealth and their unthinking generosity, their
glamour and their air of settled contentment with each another and with their
children-- made Fitzgerald envious and defensive.
In spite of the talent and intelligence the
Murphys prized, F. Scott Fitzgerald was without a doubt one of the foremost
boors of 20th-century American letters. Even the tolerant Gerald admitted that
Scott ''really had the most appalling sense of humor, sophomoric and -- well,
trashy.'' Murphy himself was all too often the butt of Fitzgerald's drunken
venom. Yet never once did he grudge Fitzgerald affection, praise, financial and
moral support. It was Murphy who bailed Fitzgerald out in 1939 and kept his
daughter in Vassar; he and Sara were among the few to show up at Fitzgerald's
funeral the following year. Fitzgerald, however, proved himself an unreliable
friend, fostering, as did Hemingway, the image of Gerald Murphy as a spoiled
But Murphy, modest about his gifts as he
was, was no dilettante. He had unexpectedly taken up painting soon after his
arrival in Paris,
after seeing an exhibition of work by Picasso, Derain, Gris and Braque. ''There
was a shock of recognition which put me into an entirely new orbit,'' he later
wrote. ''If that's painting,'' he told Sara, ''that's the kind of painting that
I would like to do.'' He began to study with the futurist artist Natalia
Goncharova and, along with Sara, to help paint scenery for Diaghilev's Ballets
Murphy was an infinitely slow and
meticulous painter with a small output in his brief career. His surviving works
formed the nucleus of a Museum
of Modern Art exhibition
in 1974 that John Russell, then a New York Times art critic, called ''a
distinct contribution to the history of modern American painting.'' These
works, striking and contemporary, show him to have been a sort of pop artist
before Pop Art; they garnered considerable attention at the Salon des
Independants of the 1920's and had a marked influence upon the better-known
Stuart Davis, among others. Art in America
magazine, reviewing the posthumous 1974 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art,
judged him to be ''an astonishingly original, witty and prophetic painter.''
The Murphys' seemingly charmed life ended
abruptly, and forever, in 1929 when tuberculosis was diagnosed in their
youngest son, Patrick. Gerald put away his paintbrushes, never, so far as
anyone knows, to touch them again, and for the next seven years he and Sara
poured all their energies into their son. They spent much of that time at a
Swiss sanitarium, where they gallantly tried to keep life and hope going by
creating the festive atmosphere that was their specialty.
Then in 1935, to everyone's shock, their
elder son, Baoth, who had always been vigorous and healthy, suddenly developed
meningitis and died. A year later Patrick lost his long battle at the age of
16. ''Life itself has stepped in now and blundered, scarred and destroyed,''
Gerald wrote to Fitzgerald. ''In my heart I dreaded the moment when our youth
and invention would be attacked in our only vulnerable spot -- the children.''
Fitzgerald responded, ''The golden bowl is broken indeed, but it was golden.''
In 1937 the Murphys returned to New York for good. From
this period, their marriage underwent a shift. It seems probable (although
Vaill is very discreet, perhaps too much so) that Gerald's primary orientation
was homosexual; but Sara had always been the most important thing in his life,
their marriage paramount. Now, differences that had always existed between the
two became more clearly defined, and to a certain extent they distanced
themselves from one another. ''You are surprised anew periodically that 'warm
human relationship' should be so necessary to you and less to me,'' Gerald
wrote to Sara. ''Yet nothing is more natural under the circumstances. You
believe in it (as you do in life), you are capable of it, you command it. I am
less of a believer (I don't admire human animals as much).''
The Mark Cross Company was on the verge of
bankruptcy and in 1934 Gerald took it over at last, spending the remainder of
his working years turning it back into a prosperous concern. As an elderly man
he lived the life he had fled as a youth, going to an office and lunching every
day at Schrafft's. He never spoke about his painting or about his dead sons.
Sara threw herself into volunteer work with children.
They entertained old friends and made new
ones, like Edmund Wilson, Dawn Powell and Calvin Tomkins, who wrote a long
article for The New Yorker about the Murphys, ''Living Well Is the Best
Revenge,'' later published in book form. (Gerald liked the article but not the
title: he had never wanted revenge on anyone, he said.) Gerald died in 1964,
Sara 11 years later.
Other writers, even old friends, did not
treat the Murphys as kindly as Tomkins did. Hemingway's posthumous memoir, ''A
Moveable Feast,'' called them rich ''bastards.'' Vaill quotes portions deleted
from the published book in which Hemingway nastily -- and unforgivably,
considering their generosity to him -- commented, ''They were bad luck to
people but they were worse luck to themselves and they lived to have all that
bad luck finally.'' Gerald reacted with his odd, characteristic blend of
sympathy and resigned detachment: ''What a strange kind of bitterness -- or
rather accusitoriness . . . . What shocking ethics! How well written, of
Brooke Allen is a writer and critic who
reviews frequently for The New Criterion and The Wall Street Journal
Making It New: The Art and Style of Sara
and Gerald Murphy Paperback – August 27, 2007
by Deborah Rothschild (Editor), Calvin
Paris in the 1920s—art, literature, the Lost Generation. The glitterati
who inhabited this legendary world—F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo
Picasso, Cole Porter, Man Ray, Dorothy Parker, and a host of others—were
members of an intimate circle centered around Sara and Gerald Murphy. Making It
New: The Art and Style of Sara and Gerald Murphy is a captivating and absorbing
collection of essays examining through images and text the Murphys' influence
on a remarkable constellation of artists. The book also explores Gerald
Murphy's abbreviated career as a painter, his artistic legacy, and the complex
nature of his motivation and vision. This beautifully illustrated volume
features essays by art historian Deborah Rothschild and such Murphy scholars as
Calvin Tomkins, Amanda Vaill, Linda Patterson Miller, Kenneth Silver; curators
Dorothy Kosinski and Kenneth Wayne; artist/writer Trevor Winkfield;
musicologist Olivia Mattis; and poet and author William Jay Smith.
Making It New: The Art and Style of Sara
& Gerald Murphy,” at the Williams College Museum of Art, in Williamstown,
Massachusetts, is an immensely satisfying show about fine, complicated people
who loved life in exemplary ways, in superb company, and suffered misfortune.
It is also an art show that centers on seven paintings by Gerald, all that
remain of the fourteen he is known to have made in the nineteen-twenties. (The
others were lost, owing largely to his own indifference.) In addition, there is
work by Picasso, Léger, Gris, and other modern masters whom the Murphys
befriended, supported, and, at times, inspired. Without it, tales of Gerald and
Sara, moderately wealthy and irrepressibly sociable Jazz Age American
expatriates in France,
would be mainly deluxe gossip, filtered through their friend F. Scott
Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is the Night,” in which they figure as the charismatic
Dick and Nicole Diver. Their story was vivified by Calvin Tomkins in his 1962
New Yorker Profile and later book, “Living Well Is the Best Revenge,” and by
Amanda Vaill in her 1998 biography, “Everybody Was So Young.” Tomkins and Vaill
are among the ten essayists in the show’s catalogue, who, led by the curator
Deborah Rothschild, neglect no aspect of Murphyana, including the long-veiled
sidelight of Gerald’s homosexuality. Usually, I’m unbeguiled by the rich and
glamorous, and I attended “Making It New” in a resisting mood. Then I looked.
Gerald’s paintings are a gold standard that
backs, with creative integrity, the paper money of the couple’s legend. He
started by assisting on sets for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, with quick
lessons from the painter Natalia Goncharova. His work consists of crisply
hard-edged, cunningly composed, subtly colored, semi-abstract pictures of
machinery, common objects, architectural fragments, and, in a disturbing final
image, a wasp battening on a pear. Numerous influences are plain, but Gerald
jumped ahead of his time with a laconic style that was prescient of big-scale
abstraction and of Pop art. (If one of the lost paintings, “Boatdeck”—a
sensation at the 1924 Salon des Indépendants, in Paris—had survived, it surely would be an
icon of modernism. Eighteen feet high by twelve wide, it billboarded
transatlantic cultural intercourse with a tremendous image of ocean-liner
structures.) “Watch” (1925), depicting clockwork, achieves a spankingly
representational translation of Cubism. “Razor” (1924), which monumentalizes a
safety razor, a fountain pen, and a matchbox, might enable future archeologists
to reimagine the essential theory and practice of modern art, should every
other example perish. It is by a man who wasn’t really an artist.
Gerald’s father owned Mark Cross, the
luxury-goods business; Sara’s was a printing magnate. Gerald’s family was Irish
Catholic, from Boston; Sara’s a union of
Norwegian and pedigreed American, from Illinois.
They met at a party in East Hampton, in 1904,
when she was twenty-one and he sixteen. Friendship became romance after his
graduation from Yale, where he was popular but unhappy. She seems to have taken
in stride his confessed attraction to men, which he strove to suppress. They
married in 1915 and soon had a girl and two boys. Gerald volunteered for
military service not quite in time to fight in the First World War. He then
studied landscape architecture at Harvard. William James, Jr., the son of the
philosopher, painted Sara’s portrait—an astonishingly lovely and telling
picture, which is in the show. In June of 1921, the culturally ambitious
Murphys decamped for England.
By September, they were in Paris,
where they found old friends, notably Cole Porter, and plunged into circles of
the avant-garde, primarily that of the Russians around Diaghilev and
Stravinsky. Picasso, having married the ballerina Olga Khokhlova, was a
frequent presence. To celebrate the première of Stravinsky’s ballet “Les
Noces,” in 1923, Gerald and Sara threw a fabled all-night party on a barge on
the Seine. The same year, Gerald and Porter
collaborated on a riotously successful jazz ballet, “Within the Quota,” a
burlesque on American culture.
Porter and his wife, Linda, had introduced
the Murphys to Antibes,
a resort where, at the time, few people stayed in the summer. In 1923, they
bought a seaside chalet, dubbed Villa America, and helped to change that.
They hosted the Picassos and close to everybody else who counted in adventurous
art and literature. American visitors included Man Ray, Archibald MacLeish,
Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and, of most consequence, Scott and Zelda
Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. (For the atmospherics of Villa America,
consult the incandescent opening pages of “Tender Is the Night.”) Anecdotes
abound. Questions linger. Did Picasso bed Sara? That sturdy rumor is probably
untrue, though the artist was smitten, as were many other men. Sara’s features
are suggested in certain of his “neoclassical” paintings—“Woman Seated in an
Armchair” (1923) gives dazzling evidence in the show—but Picasso was on a
break, at the time, from being obsessed with particular women. His masterpiece
involving the Murphys, “The Pipes of Pan” (1923), was based on a photograph of
himself clowning on the beach with a stiffly posing Gerald.
Two things intrigue me in accounts of the
Murphys’ conduct. One is how effectively Gerald concealed his sexual
ambivalence. Even his sophisticated intimates Fitzgerald and Hemingway seem
uncertain, though Hemingway had occasion to deplore a shifty unreliability,
compounded of guilt and fear, at Gerald’s core. (His gradual disaffection
became outright cruelty in “A Moveable Feast,” where he sneered at “the
understanding rich.”) Also striking is the fact that Gerald and Sara collected
only American folk art. The abnegation bespeaks a will to remain participants
in, rather than patrons of, the creative life. Their expressive means included
decorative flair (white walls and black satin in the villa) and wit (Sara wore
her pearls to the beach because, she explained, they wanted sunning).
Rothschild writes that Gerald “meticulously planned, intellectualized, and
expended great effort in order to make each moment a beautiful event.”
The idyll disintegrated in 1929, owing to
financial setbacks and, most gravely, the onset of their younger son Patrick’s
fatal tuberculosis. Amid years of frantic efforts to save Patrick, their other
son, Baoth, died suddenly, of meningitis; both boys were gone by 1937. The
family had returned to America,
where Gerald took over Mark Cross, then on the brink of bankruptcy, and,
grudgingly, spent the rest of his working life preserving it. The hospitality
of their home in Snedens Landing, just up the Hudson
from New York City,
seems to have been a sweet but pale afterimage of their former salon. (Sara
instructed Calvin Tomkins in the right way to drink champagne—with eyes raised
to the trees above.) Gerald had all but closed an iron door on the memory of
his meteoric painting career when, in 1960, the DallasMuseum
for Contemporary Arts mounted a revival. He later remarked, “I’ve been
discovered. What does one wear?” The seven paintings and the odd minor work on
paper, seen together, really do project a career, which was strongest at the
start. The grotesquerie of “Wasp and Pear” (1929), with its hints of psychic
turmoil, may have been a gambit to check a slide into overly exquisite effects.
At any rate, it’s unlikely that Gerald, had he continued, would have improved.
What he used in his art, he used up.
The Murphys served Fitzgerald as symbols of
the great theme of the Lost Generation: romantic disappointment, given
intensity by the majesty of the dreams at stake. Gerald seemed to concur in a
letter to Fitzgerald in 1935, praising “Tender Is the Night.” (Sara hated the
book.) He wrote, “Only the invented part of our life—the unreal part—has had
any scheme, any beauty.” But this came amid the trauma of Baoth’s death. (“Life
itself has stepped in now and blundered, scarred, and destroyed.”) In fact,
Gerald and Sara lived well, with dignity, from start to finish. The most
revelatory and moving item in the show for me is a letter from Zelda
Fitzgerald, following Scott’s death, in 1940. She writes that Scott’s love of
the Murphys reflected a “devotion to those that he felt were contributing to
the aesthetic and spiritual purposes of life.” There is a world of excitement and
woe in that conflation of the aesthetic and the spiritual. It’s a madness,
which life will punish. ♦