Friday, January 10, 2014

The Art Set: Making Magic in Los Angeles

Family photos of the Duquette/Wilkinson clan.
The Art Set: Making Magic in Los Angeles
by Charlie Scheips

I had my Christmas early in New York throwing a little dinner for friends a couple days before at my apartment. I didn’t do a tree for the first time in years but managed to give my place the Christmas spirit with some wreaths, lights and poinsettias.

Joining Thomas Graf and me were interior decorator Laura Montalban, Venus Over Manhattan gallery director Anna Furney, and chandelier designer extraordinaire Bob Russell and master printmaker Maurice Payne. I served them smoked trout with a horseradish sauce; Virginia ham with a grits soufflé and sautéed okra, a trous normande (apple sherbet with calvados) salad and stilton with port and finished with a English Toffee pudding for dessert. A Trous Normande is said to make a “hole” in your stomach to allow you continue on eating. Whenever I serve it the decibel level goes up significantly.
My table set for Christmas dinner on East End Avenue.
Laura Montalban, Bob Russell, and Tom opening their Christmas crackers.
Tom Graf, Anna Furney, and Maurice Payne.
Anna Furney and Maurice Payne.
On Christmas Day I headed out to Los Angeles to stay with David Hockney at his beautiful house in the Hollywood Hills. I lived at the house for the first year or so when I worked as Hockney’s assistant in the mid 1980s.

Hockney bought the house from actor Anthony Perkins and his wife, photographer Berry Berenson, in the late 1970s, and over the decades the house and gardens have been transformed into a Hockneyesque paradise. The paddle tennis court became his studio where more than three decades of work in variety of medium has been created — from paintings and drawings, photocollages, and the sets and costumes for several of the operas he designed sets and costumes for.
David Hockney in Hollywood.
After a relaxing Christmas dinner with friends we took Boxing Day off and just relaxed at the house. On December 27 I began sitting for a portrait. It is for a new series he began after returning to Los Angeles this past summer — after almost a decade living primarily in Yorkshire.

While “on location” in Yorkshire Hockney devoted most of his time to capturing the landscape of his youth in watercolor, oil, charcoal and finally multi-camera films. They were all brought together in a blockbuster traveling exhibition called David Hockney: A Bigger Picture that originated at London’s Royal Academy in January 2012 and subsequently traveled to the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain and finally the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany. Currently, another show which surveys the painter’s prolific output since the early 1990s entitled David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition, curated by his longtime manager Gregory Evans is on view at the de Young Museum in San Francisco through January 20th. This weekend I will accompany him to San Francisco to see the show before it closes.
Hockney at the de Young Museum in San Francisco with "Self-portrait with Charlie."
Hockney started painting the new series of portraits this summer just as the finishing touches were being made on the de Young exhibition. A few of the early portraits of this new series are on view in San Francisco including a portrait of Larry Gagosian.
He is using a new acrylic paint produced by Golden that is slower drying than the traditional acrylic paint used in his now iconic paintings of the 1960s and 1970s. He’s already painted a couple dozen portraits and plans to continue, he says, “until I get bored.” I am sure it will be the next “big” show in what is now a legacy of over a half century of David Hockney exhibitions.

David Hockney, Larry Gagosian
28-29 September, 2013
Acrylic on canvas
In the week since painting my portrait he has painted his longtime dealer Peter Goulds of LA Louver Gallery in Venice, CA and is currently painting the LA County Museum’s Senior Curator Stephanie Barron as I write this. Other sitters have included friends such as: writer Martin Gayford, artist John Baldessari, Joan Quinn, Chloe McHugh, Dr. Leon Banks, Bing McGilvray Bob Pynoos, Doug Roberts, the artist’s younger brother John Hockney, masseur David Stoltz, and several of Hockney’s staff including Gregory Evans, Jean-Pierre Goncalves de Lima, Jonathan Wilkinson, Jonathan Mills, and George Snyder.

A couple days before New Year's
interior decorator and designer Hutton Wilkinson and his wife Ruth invited a group of us over to dinner at Dawnridge — the amazing compound of buildings, gardens and pavilions originally created by the legendary Tony Duquette.

I’ve known Hutton and Ruth for years and he has been extremely helpful to me recently with a book I will publish later this year on Elsie de Wolfe and the international set in Paris in the years just before the onset of World War II.
Driving in an Audi convertible on the way to Dawnridge.
Elsie de Wolfe, known during her lifetime also as Lady Mendl thanks to her 1926 marriage to Paris based British diplomat Sir Charles Mendl, fled just before the Nazis occupied Paris. After a brief stay in New York, she settled in Beverly Hills — first in a rented house on San Ysidro Drive, and a year later she bought what she called “the ugliest house in Beverly Hills” on Benedict Canyon Drive. She transformed it into her last great décor, and she called it “After All” — which was also was the title of her 1935 memoir.

The young Tony Duquette became the last of a long line of Elsie de Wolfe’s decorating protégés in the remodeling of the house on Benedict Canyon during the war years. The Michigan born Duquette came to Southern California where he studied at the Chouinard Art Institute (later merged into what is now known as the California Institute of the Arts or CAL Arts). In 1942 when he was already creating displays for local departments store J.W. Robinson and Bullocks, de Wolfe commissioned him to create an ornate and whimsical secretary desk for her. Delivered to the newly remodeled “After All, “ she dubbed it her “ divine meuble” (French for furniture) in a telegram to Duquette.
David Hockney giving his San Francisco catalog to Hutton while Gregory Evans looks on.
David Hockney, Gregory Evans, and Hutton Wilkinson in one of the drawing rooms at Dawnridge.
After the war, Elsie de Wolfe — with Tony Duquette and his wife Beegle in tow — returned to her beloved France and restored her fabled house in Versailles called the Villa Trianon where she died in 1950 in her mid 80s (her real age remains elusive to this day).

After de Wolfe’s death, Tony Duquette became the President of the Elsie de Wolfe Foundation which, in addition to keeping the legacy of the "first lady of interior decoration,” also for many years sponsored young aspiring American decorators to spend a year in Paris.
Too much is never enough at Dawnridge.
Elsie de Wolfe commissioned this "divine meuble" at the dawn of Tony Duquette's career.
Hutton and Ruth Wilkinson's new house on the grounds of Dawnridge.
David Hockney takes in the new house with Hutton and friends.
Even a beautifully decorated Christmas tree seems almost lost in the splendor of Dawnridge.
Hutton show David Hockney his Ventian murals installed in the new house at Dawnridge.
A view to the pool overlooking the gardens of Dawnridge.
In 1949, Duquette and his artist wife Elizabeth Beegle Duquette (they met as students at Chouinard) bought the property on Dawnridge Drive in Beverly Hills that became known to their many friends as Dawnridge in 1949. For the next two decades, choosing to remain living in their studio on Fountain Avenue in West Hollywood, they rented out the house to a host of Hollywood figures including Zsa Zsa Gabor, Marlon Brando, Glynnis Johns and agent Sue Mengers.

In 1956 Duquette purchased what had been a silent film studio built for early film star Norma Talmadge on the northern end of Robertson Boulevard. The Tony Duquette Studio was site for some of Hollywood’s most elaborate private soirees in the three decades of its existence. By the time I lived here in the mid 1980s, art dealer Margo Leavin had just opened the space as a gallery which closed just this past year (see earlier Art Set).
Tony Duquette as a young man. A poster from Tony Duquette's show at the Louvre in 1951.
Hutton became Tony Duquette’s protégé as a young man, and now is president of both the Elsie de Wolfe Foundation and Tony Duquette Inc. ( In 2007 Hutton and New York magazine’s Wendy Goodman published a major monograph on Duquette that is essential reading for anyone interested in this fascinating and multi-talented man’s career and life. While Hutton carries on the flame of Duquette he is also a frenetically busy designer and decorator in his own right as well has involved in several philanthropic causes including serving on the board of trustees of Save Venice. (

Hutton and Ruth’s houseguests Randall Felkel and J. Mitchell Crosby visiting from Charleston joined us for dinner as did Bettina Zilka visiting from New York. After a gold lamé jacketed waiter handed us drinks and nibbles Hutton took us on a nighttime tour of the houses, pavilions and grounds that make up Dawnridge.
A nighttime tour of Dawnridge ...
Hutton showing his guests the koi pond at the bottom of Dawnridge.
With the clap of his hands Hutton summoned his school of koi.
The House sits midway down a towering valley so that one can look up at soaring hills above and down to the carp filled pond at the bottom of the property. All of the gardens are dramatically lit giving one the sense that you are in an enchanted place in another world. Hutton led us up and down steps and stars and pathways, ending at the new house of his own extraordinary design that he has just finished at the rear of the property. I particularly loved the swimming pool placed directly in front of the new house that sits right at the edge of a cliff looking down into the garden.

After the whirlwind tour, we were served the most delicious dinner of tamale pie, chilli relleno casserole, salad and a dessert of crisp apple pie and vanilla ice cream.
Dinner at Dawnridge.
One of the dining rooms at Dawnridge set for our dinner. Can you see the reef through the coral?
Ruth Wilkinson and David Hockney at table.
Delicious chili relleno casserole, tamale pie salad, guacamole and green beans.
A couple days later, I went back for breakfast at Dawnridge, and snapped some more shots in the daylight.

The property is a masterpiece of Tony Duquette’s vast and exotic imagination, and I hope it will always be preserved. David Hockney was so impressed by it but wondered how Hutton managed keep it so spic and span. “There must be an awful lot of dusting going on up there,” he said. Or perhaps it's just invisible “fairy” dust that only adds to this magical place in the City of Angels.
Dawnridge in daylight ...