Friday, May 28, 2010

Palm Beach Social Diary

A montage of baroque 300-year-old Portuguese tile murals at Villa dei Fiori adds a surprisingly eclectic dimension to one of Addison Mizner, Howard Major and Maurice Fatio’s more traditional architectural designs.
Looking for Lost Palm Beach
by Augustus Mayhew


With Palm Beach's Mediterranean Revival style most often equated with Spanish and Italian motifs, Villa dei Fiori, a Midtown estate built first in 1921 for Jell-O scion O. Frank Woodward, appears to have broken the mold when its courtyard unexplainably became the setting for what is believed to be a myriad of ornate 18th-century Portuguese azulejos tile murals.

On Friday afternoon I called Steven Rose, a sculptor and retired dentist, who lives at Villa dei Fiori with his wife, Dale Coudert, a former banker who heads up the Palm Beach-based Coudert Institute. Several months ago, I happened a glance at the villa’s courtyard tiles when I was writing a story about Palm Beach’s historicus fragmentus, a local register of partially designated Palm Beach landmarks which included Villa dei Fiori’s front entrance. And while I have been putting together a feature on the island’s assortment of Spanish and Italian Renaissance tiles, I thought I should take second look at the courtyard murals.
As designed by architect Howard Major, Villa dei Fiori’s wrought-iron gate opens into a 1930's-styled walled courtyard addition enhanced by a small brick entrance pavilion, trellised pergola, detached loggia, now an enclosed tea house, central patio and the facade of the original Addison Mizner-designed main house. It was during this modification when the Portuguese murals were installed along the courtyard’s south and west walls and within the loggia.
"Can you come over right now?" said Mr. Rose, who was in the process of closing the Palm Beach house for the annual summer leave to Aspen.

I was captivated just moments after stepping into the courtyard, its paperbark melaleuca trees, palms, hibiscus and gnarls of bougainvillea seemingly untouched for 80 years, making for the now lost look at Old Palm Beach. While I had planned on Villa dei Fiori for a segment of a more comprehensive look at Palm Beach’s 600 years of grout, I hope you will indulge my fascination, as the Hispano-Italian chapter will have to wait.
Originally intended as artworks to welcome visitors, this Rococo-styled mural depicting a well-mannered gentleman caller with an offering to a fashionably-attired lady friend is located on the entrance pavilion’s east wall. "I don’t know if Howard Major might have imported the tiles or whether Major appropriated them from one of Mizner’s collections," said Mr. Rose, who has lived at the Seminole Avenue house since he and his first wife, the late artist Annette Krauss Rose, inherited it from her family who had owned the house since 1947.
Mural detail, entrance pavilion. Blue-and-white Delft tiles are believed to have been introduced into Portugal from Holland during the mid-17th century, their design influenced by the Oriental blue-and-white porcelains. Later, Portuguese-made blue-and-white figurative tiles became popular, supplanting the taste for repetitive geometric and abstract patterns found predominately in the Dutch imports.
Bougainvillea sprays frame a view of the courtyard’s central patio looking towards one of the statuary alcoves with the main house to the right and the enclosed teahouse beyond.
With melaleuca trees looming in the background, a view from the courtyard looking towards the entrance pavilion and pergola.
"An art historian friend gave us a copy of this wonderful book documenting our murals with those sharing similar genres and styles found in Portugal," said Mr. Rose, "but it is in Italian."

No worry I assured him, as I studied enough Italian in Florence to mangle my Spanish.

Also, I mentioned to him that Addison Mizner acquired accessories not only from his travels but also New York auctions. The architect’s book collection at The Society of Four Arts King Library includes a mid-1920's Parke-Bernet auction catalog listing numerous period Portuguese murals.
The book offers many photographs showing 18th-century Portuguese murals similar to those found at Villa dei Fiori. Above, a garden view of Colegio Manuel Bernardes.
Azulejo panels often depict nobles and elegantly-dressed ladies engaging in chivalrous acts in pastoral settings. They can usually be found at entrances, patios and parks, although in Portugal, they seem to be everywhere.
Below each of the pergola’s figurative murals, there are rows of small flower tiles lining the courtyard’s 10-foot-high walls.
Often inspired by Flemish paintings or Watteau landscapes, this evocative vignette portrays the carefree serenity found in village life.
Although most of the murals have some missing chips and hairline cracks, considering they are less than a block from the ocean and have survived 80 years of hurricanes and tropical storms, they have held up amazingly well.
The sound of music fills the air.
An accomplished bronze sculptor, Steve Rose’s artwork provides the courtyard with a contemporary perspective.
Facing towards the ocean, this more elaborate composition forms the centerpiece of the courtyard’s west wall. Full-sized statues stand in each of the alcoves flanking the loggia. "I believe they are original to the house," said Mr. Rose.
"Transforming the loggia into a teahouse created more living-entertainment space for us," said Mr. Rose. The teahouse often becomes an apt setting for the Coudert Institute’s roundtable discussions.
Azulejos murals line the teahouse’s three walls. Above, an original Mizner Industries lamp and stand sits atop a desk.
A large music room mural adds to the teahouse’s fantastic vibes. "We have three pianos in this room," said Mr. Rose.
The teahouse's southwest corner panel behind a keyboard.
The original Addison Mizner designed house was built for O. Frank Woodward (1884-1952), of the Jell-O Woodwards. Mizner’s floor plan was similar to the one he used for the Alfred Kay’s house, Audita, and the Winn’s house on El Bravo, according to Don Curl, author of Mizner’s Florida. Mr. Woodward made headlines in 1929 when he kidnapped his two children from his then wife in France, resulting in him being on the deep pocket end of the subsequent divorce. His sister, Eleanore Woodward, married Dr. John Vietor and built Southwood, a magnificent Marion Sims Wyeth house at 174 Via del Lago. In 1952, Mr. Woodward either jumped or fell out of a hotel window in Rochester, leaving a reported $15 million estate for his wives, children and attorneys to scramble over.
The main house’s entrance hall features the original octagonal brown tiles with black inserts manufactured by the Las Manos kilns at Mizner’s Bunker Road factory in West Palm Beach.
The main house’s dining room is floored with Mizner brown and Mizner blue tiles also manufactured at Mizner Industries in West Palm Beach. 
At leisure, Steve Rose seated in the teahouse where many of his first wife’s paintings are on exhibit. During the 1950s, Annette Krauss Rose was chair of the Palm Beach Art League. Mrs. Rose was instrumental in establishing an open-air art fair on the island that permitted local artists to show their work around Memorial Fountain. Imagine.
For more on Steven Rose’s artwork and Dale Coudert’s Coudert Institute:

www.stevenhrosebronzes.com and www.coudertinstitute.com
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.


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