Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Jill Krementz covers Rosamond Bernier’s 95th Birthday

Rosamond Bernier photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Jill Krementz on June 2, 1982.
Behind her: Mars and Venus United by Love,
Paolo Veronese (Paolo Caliari)
(Italian, Verona 1528–1588 Venice)
Date: 1570s

Over the years, Rosamond Bernier gave more than 200 lectures at The Met that would sell out a year ahead of time. Decked out in the most beautiful evening gowns and jewels, Ms. Bernier would talk without notes about the various artists while projecting slides on the wall behind her.

Philippe de Montebello, who was the museum's director at the time, confessed: "There are so many important friends of the museum who are furious that they cannot get seats, that this past spring we convinced Madame Bernier to give each lecture twice."
A Celebration of Rosamond Bernier's 95th Birthday and the publication of her book, Some of My Lives on October 7th, 2011

I've never met anyone who doesn't cherish Rosamond Bernier. That would include me.

Olivier Bernier hosted a party to celebrate his stepmother's 95th birthday, which coincided with the publication of her magical memoir, Some of My Lives. One might assume that the birthday girl was the oldest one in the room, but she wasn't. Composer Elliot Carter beat her by seven years.

Some of my Lives, Bernier's own literary scrapbook.
Rosamond Bernier's childhood was filled with riding lessons on a pony named Teddy and schoolwork with a French governess, who was imported to teach her at home until Rosamond was ten years old. She was then shipped off, to her dismay, to an English boarding school, the Shelborne School for Girls. Then it was off to Sarah Lawrence, where Professor Jacques Barzun was her don.

Bernier was brought up "in a bath of music." She studied the harp for several years, graduating to study with the number-one harp teacher in America, a Frenchman from the Basque Country, Carlos Salzedo—a compatriot of Ravel's.

Her friends would later include Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy, and Ned Rorem.

We're not even getting started! Suffice it to say, Rosamond Bernier has lived a glamorous and full life, hobnobbing with the likes of Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, Jerome Robbins, Henry Moore, Georges Braque, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, David Hockney, Coco Chanel, and Karl Lagerfield. Philip Johnson hosted her wedding to John Russell.

No slouch either when it came to writers, Rosamond's friends have included Malcolm Lowry, Jane and Paul Bowles, Stephen Spender, and Janet Flanner.

Some of My Lives is a literary memoir about a life lived by a wise and
wondrous woman.
John Russell, the eminent art critic for The New York Times, was the love of Rosamond's life.

They got married in 1974 at Philip Johnson's Glass House in Connecticut. Aaron Copland gave the bride away. Stephen Spender came from London for the wedding. Leonard Bernstein, Virgil Thomson, and Andy Warhol, with his dachshund, were in attendance and later, Richard Avedon took their wedding picture.
Rosamond had met Aaron Copland during the summer holidays after her sophomore year at Sarah Lawrence. Back then he called her "Peggy" or "Peggeley." They remained close friends until the composer's death.

From her chapter about Aaron Copland:

Aaron took me to my first New York glamorous evening party, given by the Kirk Askews. Kirk was a fashionable art dealer; Constance was a well-known hostess and an occasional patron of Aaron's.

There I met such people as Salvador Dalí and his formidable wife, Gala; Pavel Tchelitchew, who painted Mrs. Askew's portrait with her mink coat as background; and Alice B. Toklas and other celebrities of the time.

Aaron himself cared nothing about 'society' or 'celebrities'--his friends were usually young musicians, writers, and artists.
Stephen Spender photographed by Jill Krementz at Columbia University on March 30, 1973.

From the chapter about her wedding:

Stephen Spender flew in from London, bringing me a notebook in which he had handwritten my favorite poems.

Incidentally, it was the hottest day of the century. Stephen heroically ignored suggestions that he take off his jacket. 'She hasn't seen it yet,' he explained. He had bought a new suit for the wedding. Photographs record the festive scene, with some two hundred guests wandering over the immaculate lawn and spilling into the new Sculpture Gallery--such shots as Lenny walking arm in arm with Virgil Thomson, Andy Warhol feeding his little dog a cocktail sausage, Louise Nevelson with her usual triple layer of eyelashes, Leo Castelli chatting with John Ashbery, Helen Frankenthaler sitting on the grass with her shoes off, Philip giving the first toast, the bride and groom looking blissfully happy.

In fact, May 24, 1975, was the happiest day of my life.

I lost John on August 23, 2008.

They were wonderful years. I am grateful for every one of them.
Jerry Robbins photographed by Jill Krementz in East Hampton, July 10, 1993.

A chapter is devoted to RB's close friend, Jerome Robbins.

In 1985, John and I were in Leningrad in one of those once-grand hotels. Our salon was peopled with large pieces of somewhat worn furniture, with the unexpected addition of a bulky Frigidaire--empty and unconnected.

There was also a small, fancy telephone, left over from some other era. We presumed its function was purely decorative. One time, to our astonishment, it rang. It was Channel 13 calling from New York to ask me to interview Jerome Robbins for their 'Great Performance--Dance in America' series.

Jerry and I had been friends for many years. He had often given us tickets for his ballet performances. He had come to my lectures at the Metropolitan Museum. But our conversations were more apt to roam on such general subjects as movies, or trading recipes for exotic sherbets--he was an excellent cook.
Janet Flanner, photographed by Jill Krementz on
January 21, 1975.
Janet Flanner (Genet) was a close friend and rates an entire chapter in Some of My Lives.

I can still see Janet Flanner as I first caught sight of her in the late 1940s, when I was a young woman in Paris on my first job and she had been for almost a quarter of a century the acclaimed author of the "Letter from Paris" in The New Yorker.

She had arrived in Paris from her native Indiana in 1922, at the age of thirty. Like hundreds, if not thousands, of other American would-be writers at that time, she couldn't wait to make the most of the freer air, the richer culture, and the smaller expenses that Paris had to offer.

Before long, her letters back home struck her friend Jane Grant as just what was needed for the new magazine of which her husband, Harold Ross, was editor. Its name was The New Yorker. And in October 1925 it carried the first "Letter from Paris," for which Janet was paid forty dollars. Like all the letters that were to follow, it was signed "Genet"--the nom de plume that Ross had chosen for Janet.

I did not of course know at the time of our first meeting that Janet was to go go on writing for The New Yorker until she was in her eighties.
Janet Flanner with her lifelong partner, Natalia Murray.
My husband Kurt Vonnegut and I enjoyed several meals with Janet and Natalia at their apartment over the years. Kurt, a fellow Hoosier, told me that when Janet Flanner died, the funeral home in Indianapolis had some reservations given her homosexuality.
For Janet, though not frail, was small--delicately chunky, one might say. With good reason, she was proud of her elegant little feet. (She wore size four and a half.) When custom-made shoes were a luxury but not a financial catastrophe, she had all her shoes made by a famous 'bottier.' In her chosen mannish style, she was always very well dressed. Every year, she had one suit made by a top couture house--Chanel, it might be, or Molyneux. She loved bright silk scarves and usually had one--knotted with seemingly casual care--round her throat. In later years, the red ribbon of the Légion d'Honneur made a bright accent on her every lapel.
Paul Bowles photographed in his house in Tangier by Jill Krementz in 1997.

Aaron Copland introduced me to Paul and Janie Bowles in 1937. Lew and I were newlyweds; so were the Bowleses.

Since Janie was a lesbian and Paul a homosexual, their marriage was not exactly a mirror image of ours. She called Paul, most inappropriately, Fluffy or Bubbles.

The staff consisted of one copper-colored youth, whose usual uniform was a wisp of chiffon draped around his neck.
Paul's room was on the upper floor, where all around there was silence, except for the sound of waves lapping at the rocks. He slept with great balls of wax in his ears and a black mask.

Paul was short, compact, very blond. At that time he was known as a composer to a small group that included Virgil Thomson. Writing and 'The Sheltering Sky' came later. He wore a truss, an object of great shame. It was to be ignored.
Ned Rorem photographed by Jill Krementz in his Manhattan dining room on January 27, 2008.

From a chapter called "Some of John's Musical Friends":

Now a salute to our friend Ned Rorem, who lived in Paris during the decades I was there--the 1950s and 1960s.

He was the prized composer in residence at Marie-Laure de Noailles's handsome townhouse, a gathering place for the most interesting people of Paris: painters, poets, composers, assorted eccentrics.

Over the years, Ned has composed some of the most ravishing songs of our times. And he has published diaries that are acute and poignant testimonies of a rich and civilized life.
The display of books: "Help yourself and maybe send a small contribution to a favorite charity."
The beautiful bouquets by master florist Ronaldo Maia.
Olivier Bernier arrives with his stepmother Rosamond on his arm. Ms. Bernier's outfit: "I bought it in the open air market in Jerusalem. It was just hanging there. I've only worn it once before." And the medals? Rosamond's answer, "If not now, when?"

The two larger ones are from France. The one with the red ribbon is the Legion of Honor in Arts and Letters. The green and white is the Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters. The little yellow one was given by the King of Spain and is the cross of Isabel La Catolica. This is the same Queen who funded Christopher Columbus.
Before the guests arrive, Olivier has a chance
to look at his stepmother's just-published book for the first time.
Rosamond shows Olivier the photograph
of himself.
Lucy Montes is from Colombia,
South America, and has been Rosamond's steadfast housekeeper for 35 years.
Virginia Rutledge put together the slide show for the party. "I came to work for Rosamond and John when I was a graduate art history student. Now I work as a lawyer in the art field."

When I complimented Ms. Rutledge on her pretty hair she replied, "it's stress gray."
The beautiful Rosa Mundi (as in Rosamond) roses from Ronaldo Maia graced every table top.
The earrings were a gift from Karl Lagerfield.
On the terrace awaiting the guests.

Olivier Bernier is a writer and lecturer. "I'm just back last night from Iran, where I was on a trip for a charitable organization called Khmer Studies, of which I'm vice president."
The guests begin arriving. Margarita Jimenez. "Mummy was Rosamond's sister." John Walsh, former head of the Getty.
Philanthropist Eugene Thaw. Mr. Thaw is well known in the international art world for his activities as an art dealer, collector, and author. Celebrated architect Hugh Hardy. I asked him if he had read Rosamond's book. "I read it in Rome at The Academy, where I've been writing my book. The manuscript has been accepted by Princeton Press. It's about what I do. After forty years I've taken 20 projects and written about them in context. I think my work is more about context than form giving. It's an old-fashioned range of stuff from the Harvey Theater to Radio City."
FSG's Jeff Seroy greeting his author.
Prince Amyn Aga Khan. Rosamond and her beaux: Prince Amyn Aga Khan, Ashton Hawkins, and Johnnie Moore.
Rosamond Bernier and Ashton Hawkins.
Archduke Géza von Habsburg and Elizabeth von Habsburg. A birthday kiss from the Archduke.
Greg Wazowicz works with Jeff Seroy
at FSG.
Philippe de Montebello greets the birthday girl. Jamie Bernstein is in the background.
Jamie Bernstein presents the birthday girl with a gift. Ms. Bernstein has produced "The Bernstein Beat," a family concert about her father modeled after his own groundbreaking Young People's Concerts. She has also written and narrated concerts about Mozart and Aaron Copland, among others.
The rubber chicken is from Jamie Bernstein.
Laurie Jones, Managing Editor of Vogue, and her husband, painter Fred Childs. Lea and Jeff Scherer. Mrs. Scherer is a textile artist. Mr. Scherer is an architect who designed John Russell's private library in the Manhattan condo.
Ashton Hawkins, Philippe de Montebello, and John Walsh.
Samuel Sachs, Jeanne Collins Elderfield, John Elderfield, and Eugene Thaw.
John Elderfield has recently curated MoMA's breathtaking de Kooning retrospective. Mr. Elderfield has also written the catalogue essay for Bob Dylan's current exhibition of paintings at Gagosian. Samuel Sachs used to be Director of The Frick Museum. Mr. Sachs, now the President of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, is well known in the international art world for his activities as an art dealer, collector, and author.
Robert Silvers, the editor of The New York Review of Books, with John Elderfield.
Elizabeth and Felix Rohatyn. Composer Elliott Carter, a two-time Pulitzer winner, will celebrate his 103rd birthday
in December.
Elliott Carter and Rosamond Bernier. When the composer greeted Rosamond, she replied, "Oh Elliott, you make me feel young!"
Composer Elliott Carter, Jill Walsh, and Rosamond Bernier.
View of The Chrysler Building from the Terrace.
Composer Ned Rorem. Mr. Carter is off and running with his friend and assistant, Virgil Blackwell. Mr. Blackwell told me that Mr. Carter is "still composing and still writing music. He just walks more slowly."
Michael Kimmelman, recently appointed architecture critic for The New York Times. He is one of Rosamond's closest friends. A gifted piano player, it was a real treat when he played two Schumann pieces at the memorial for John Russell.

His quote on the back of Ms. Bernier's new book:

In Paris, she had Picasso's ear, and Matisse's, too. Back when blue laws shut Philadelphia down on Sundays, Stokowski came over to her house for dinner. Her long marriage to the art critic John Russell counts as one of the great love stories of our era. Rosamond Bernier, storyteller extraordinaire, friend and confidante to countless of the twentieth century's cultural icons, has written a remarkable memoir of a remarkable life. Intimate, winning, sunny, and smart, "Some of My Lives" has a voice not unlike the one in Diana Vreeland's autobiography—only here, all of it is true. — Michael Kimmelman
Throughout the evening, a large screen showed a slide show of Rosamond's extraordinary life.
Writers Patricia Volk and Joel Conarroe taking a "time out" to watch the slide show. Also watching the slide show: Lewis Cullman and Richard Oldenberg.
Roberta Smith and Holly Brubach. Ms. Smith is, along with Holland Carter, a chief art critic for The New York Times. Ms. Brubach is a writer. Tim McKenry, who runs The Rubin Museum. The Rubin, located at 150 West 17th Street, is dedicated to the art of the Himalayas and surrounding region.
Writer Jean Strouse, whose most recent book was the much-acclaimed biography of J.P. Morgan, Morgan: American Financier . Ms. Strauss is the Director of The Cullman Writing Center at The New York Public Library. Anthropologist Iris Love.
Inger Elliott. Lynn Nesbit, who was Ms. Bernier's agent for
the book.
Gallerist Paula Cooper. Stephen Pascal wrote a biography about
Leo Lerman.
Artist Julian Lethbridge. Lewis Cullman and his wife Louise
Hirschfeld Cullman.
Leslie Bachrach, a long-time friend of Rosamond's, wearing Chanel. Actress Blair Brown and Frank Doelger. Ms. Brown was featured in Fringe, the Fox series on TV, and was in one of the greatest sitcoms ever, The Days of Molly Dodd. Mr. Doelger is head of HBO in Europe, currently producing Game of Thrones.
Natalie Jimenez, another of Rosamond's
nieces, with her brother-in-law, Howard Naish. Mr. Naish teaches economics at Cal State, Fullerton.
Michael Boriskin is a pianist. He is the Artistic and Executive Director of Copland House in the Peekskills.
Peter Schlesinger and Eric Boman. Mr. Schlesinger is a ceramic sculptor and Mr. Boman is a photographer. The artist Jennifer Bartlett with Mr. Boman.
Grace Glueck, former art critic for The New York Times. Grace Glueck reminiscing over old times with her friend Bill Cunningham.
Robert Pounder, who teaches classics at Vassar College, with Francine du Plessix Gray. Francine's father, Alix Lieberman, lured Rosamond to Vogue.

Ms. Grey was quoted in the 1982 Town and Country: Everyone will tell you about Peggy's obvious genius as a lecturer, but even greater is her genius for friendship. She has been my friend since 1945, when she was a beautiful, glamorous divorcée, and I was at the inevitably boring and ungraceful age, 14. I would magically be taken out to a splendid lunch at a famous restaurant (I still remember the feel of the red velvet banquette under my Spence School bloomers) by this lovely and loving woman who genuinely cared about and understood my ideas and my problems, although there was nothing in it for her. She was the same with her stepson, Olivier Bernier, and became a much better friend and parent to him than his own father.
The New Yorker's Calvin Tomkins signs the guest book. Mr. Tomkins was recently honored by the Whitney Museum at its annual Gala.
Mr. Tomkins's quotation on the back of Bernier's book:

"Rosamond Bernier's new memoir moves with the unflagging brio, wit, and style of her public lectures and her private conversation. The effect is pure pleasure—a brilliant life, beautifully evoked."
Dodie Kazanjian and Tad in the elevator. Ms. Kazanjian has a piece in this month's Vogue on Larry Gagosian's stable of beautiful young women directors.
The guest book.
Robert Pounder with Alexandra Schlesinger. Rosamond's two nieces, Margarita and
Natalie Jimenez.
Master florist Ronaldo Maia with one of his many bouquets.
Photographer Mary Hilliard, Rui Lopes (Rosamond's former assistant for five years), and Virginia Rutledge. Ms. Hilliard was covering the event for the Berniers.
Artist Alex Katz. Ada, his wife (and muse), could not attend the party as she was home sick. John Russell esteemed the octogenarian Katz, both the work and the man describing him as the archetypal American and a champion verbalizer.

One day in 2007, our friend Alex Katz told us he would like to do a double portrait of John and me.

Of course we were delighted, but wondered if we were up to joining Alex's gallery of insouciant, unlined young people.

We showed up and posed, one after the other, in profile. Alex worked away swiftly, in silence. We were sorry that our moment of glory was over so soon.

Out of discretion, we asked no questions. Then, in June 2010, I learned courtesy of Alex, we were entering the Metropolitan Museum.
Alex Katz's portrait of Rosamond Bernier and John Russell, which is in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum.
Jasper Johns, who many would call the most important living artist of the 20th Century.

Mr. Johns came down from Connecticut to honor his friend. Asked what he is up to, he replied: "Doing what I always do. Making sculptures and prints."
Jasper Johns and Alex Katz.
Betsy Baker and Charlie Stuckey, who described themselves as scholars.
Vogue's André Leon Talley.

Mr. Talley's quote is also on the back of Rosamond's new book, though I had to point it out to him:

Wonders never cease in the life of Rosamond Bernier. As the Paris-based European editor of Vogue, she saw the world through the chiffon trenches of haute couture. As the cofounding editor of L'OEIL, the most influential art magazine of her time, she befriended artists like Picasso, Miró, and Matisse (who suggested she wear a yellow scarf with her orange Balenciaga coat). "Some of My Lives" is a delicious mosaic of a life elegantly, enchantingly lived. —André Leon Talley
Anne Bass and André Leon Talley. Paula Cooper with Julian Lethbridge. Ms. Cooper represents him.
Michael Mahoney, described in Bernier's book as "the man who invented me."

My friend of many years Michael Mahoney, who had been a curator at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, was the newly appointed head of the art department of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Before taking over, he was traveling in Italy with his friend Dr. Raymond Bahor. I joined them in Venice.

While I was lying in the sun (I know better now) on the Lido, Raymond asked me to explain Cubism. I talked away. Later we were in Paris. 'Will you explain Surrealism?' Raymond asked, and I did my best. Michael said, 'If you can talk like that off the top of your head, you should be lecturing.' I ignored this.

Some time later, I was back in New York, Michael telephoned. 'We are all looking forward to your lectures.' 'What? What lectures?' I asked in alarm. He claimed he had written to me all about this. To this day I don't believe him. 'What about?' I asked. 'The background of Twentieth Century Art,' came the answer. 'How many?' 'Fourteen' came the answer.
Rosamond Bernier and Michael Mahoney, who could well be planning another lecture tour. Christo, environmental art master.
A birthday kiss from Christo.
Hamish Bowles, Vogue's European
Hamish Bowles and Rosamond Bernier.
André Leon Talley and Bill Katz. Mr. Katz is a design consultant who has worked with many people (including Diane von Furstenberg) on their houses. Katz divides his time between New York and
Santa Fe.
Artist Richard Hennessy.

"I've known Rosamond for 47 years. We met through our mutual friend
Aaron Copland."
Debo Gage, an art dealer from London, with
Michael Mahoney.
David Patrick Columbia, who is the editor
of New York Social Diary. I have just told him that I feel I have the evening "covered."
But DPC is unstoppable!
Duane Hampton. Mary Hilliard and Ms. Bernier.
Michael Mahoney and Olivier Bernier, who could easily be negotiating the terms for Rosamond's next lecture tour.
Hamish Bowles, Lynn Nesbit, André Leon Talley, and Iris Love.
Peter Eyre, whose distinguished career in the theatre includes work with the Old Vic, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the Royal National Theatre. Mr. Eyre will soon be appearing in the West End revival of Shaw's Pygmalion at the Garrick Theater. Michael Mahoney and his partner, Dr. Raymond Bahor. If you have been paying attention, you will recall that it was Dr. Bahor who posed the initial questions to Rosamond: "What is Cubism? (on the Lido) What is Surrealism? (in Paris.)"

Dr. Bahor is a retired scientist from NEA.
Reverend Susan Barnes and Michael Mahoney.
Reverend Barnes is based in Austin. She is formerly a curator and is a noted van Dyck expert.
Barbara Jakobson, collector and well-known patron of modernism.
The party is over and the Rosa Mundi roses are collected from the various tables. Virginia Rutledge gave me three to bring home with me.
Now it's time for Rosamond to start writing her next book.
John Russell, that most elegant and civilized writer, came, as he would say, from nowhere. He was born at the end of World War I, in January 1919. He never knew the identity of his father. He wrote in an unfinished memoir: 'For a long time I fantasized that my never-known and never-named father had died a gallant death in action in France. But I knew nothing about him than and have learned nothing about him since.'

John discovered and wrote about Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon (the subject of a book), Gilbert & George, David Hockney, Anthony Caro, R.B. Kitaj, Bridget Riley, Howard Hodgkin--all of whom made us welcome when John brought me to meet them years later.

Over his thirty years writing for the Times (1974-2004), he cast his net wide. Besides covering exhibitions, he tossed off articles on such subjects as the color green and the fact that 'wisteria' rhymes with 'hysteria.'

The book's dedication reads:

Every word is for John.
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.