Tuesday, January 31, 2023. A beautiful sunny day yesterday in New York with temps in the mid-50s. You could venture out with only a sweater to avoid the cold (which isn’t that cold as you can imagine).
We get letters. This one from our friend Peter Gregory, a lifetime New Yorker, the son of most interesting parents who had emigrated from Russia, escaping its revolution, dividing their time here and part of the year in the South of France, with exceptions such as this message explains:
“I read Arlene Dahl’s chapter about dinner with Sir Charles and Lady Mendl with great interest. I was too young to remember most of that period in Beverly Hills but we went there as children from the outbreak of the war in 1941 to the early 1950s. Lady Mendl was there — as were my parents — because there was a huge colony of European expatriates who found Beverly Hills to be the nearest thing in America to the South of France.
“Every June the group boarded the train and left New York for Los Angeles. As you can imagine, the mixture of European Cafe Society and movie stars was perfect. I remember being taught to swim in our pool by Johnny Weissmuller! (ed.note: Weissmuller was an American Olympic swimmer and water polo player who ended up in Hollywood portraying the first Tarzan in the movies, and very famous to all Americans, especially the young.)
“We had a house on Sunset Boulevard with a large victory garden in the front. Once Europe opened up again in the early 1950s, the group folded their tents and went back to the South of France from whence they came. The Group included Elsa Maxwell, the van Zuylens, the Hakims, Johnny Galliher, the Pecci-Blunts, Cole Porter, Marlene Dietrich, Jacha Heifetz and Arturo Lopez and his protégé, Alexis de Rede.
Lady Mendl was a pal of my parents and I am pretty sure that I remember them saying that they went to her last party in Versailles before the Nazis invaded France. We had a wonderful English nanny who always got very excited when ‘Sir Charles’ came to the house. Lady Mendl was very much the center of Euro life in Beverly Hills. It was an amazing period in time.”
Another comment from a reader about Lady Mendl referring to a photograph we ran of her living room in the Beverly Hills house:
“I enjoyed the article ‘When stars collide’ but in seeing the living room of Lady Mendl, Elsie de Wolfe, I cannot understand her philosophy of furniture arrangement. Here is this massive living room with a large rug on the floor, but with nothing but 2 legs of a stool on it. All the furniture is pushed up against the wall as if to either create dance space (but on a rug?) or to vacuum?
“There are two small settees crammed up in separate corners. Why she did not use this space to create smaller conversational groupings I cannot figure out. And I have seen this in other rooms of the period as well even into the ’60s. I guess there’s no one living that can explain it.”
Again, is there a interior decorator/designer out there who might have an explanation?!
And while we’re on the subject of interiors: Last week Ann Pyne and McMillen Inc. interior designers held an exhibition dubbed 300 Years of Candlesticks and Candelabras.
The invitation explained that it was an exhibition whose variety and splendor, high seriousness and whimsy, and historic merit, thanks to the generous participation and contributions of friends and colleagues.
That included Alexander Antiques, Barry Friedman Ltd., H Blairman & Sons, Clinton Howell Antiques, Hyde Park Antiques, James Robinson Inc., David Rago and Suzanne Perrault, Russell E Steele, Ann Pyne and with “special thanks” to Hirschl and Adler Galleries, Maison Gerard, and S.J. Shrubsole.
On the final day I went down to McMillen to photograph the subject. Now, I personally have no curiosity about candles and candelabra. That is not to say I don’t appreciate design or the candelabras, although I did come to appreciate that up until the last decade of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the world was entirely candlelit. I got that from this exhibition because the “utility” of the candlestick was required everywhere and by everyone. There was nothing convenient in creating light before the flicking of the switch. Think about it …
Looking at them en masse of the exhibit, and just imagining their lighting power and lack thereof, I could only think how totally different life was before the lightbulb, and how it had to affect everything about life; Everything! Naturally you also see the evidence of different social classes and the effect the candlelight had on the individual. Here are some of our favorites from the exhibition …
More decor. One night a few weeks ago, JH and I were dining at Sette Mezzo when our friend Oriente Manià brought over a sketchbook just as we were devouring our tartufo. Naturally curious, JH started flipping through it only to realize the sketchbook belonged to Oriente’s brother Franco. And that was our introduction to the artist Franco Manià.
We soon learned we were not alone as for the first 50 years of Franco’s life, only his family and close friends had seen his art. Franco grew up with limited access to education, and that came with a predetermined future working in the shipyards of Trieste as did his father and all fathers in the boy’s world. Art, as an occupation was never an option.
Nevertheless, his love for painting drove him to create from an early age; and so he taught himself. He sketched with watercolor the surreal visions of the horizons he gazed upon daily. But then, in 1973 Manià started using oil-based paint — a gift from his biggest supporter and only brother: Oriente. Oriente traveled to work in Milan and London in the early ’70s but kept encouraging Manià over the phone to continue with his craft, emphasizing that the world hadn’t seen anything like Manià’s art.
And then, as fate would have it, Manià met Agnes Gund — president emerita of the MoMA — on holiday in the ’90s. Reserved by nature, it was his sister Daniela who insisted Gund see the scope of Manià’s talent. Daniela’s home could easily be mistaken for a gallery with the way she proudly displays her brother’s art no matter the scale.
When Gund came to explore Manià’s works on his sister Daniela’s walls, that was the inception of her support for Manià which has led to three exhibitions here in Manhattan. Drawing further interest from a larger audience encouraged Manià to show locally as well, with a few exhibitions in his native Italy.
And on Thursday, February 2nd at GALLERY 71 at 974 Lexington Avenue @ 71st Street — just up the street from Sette Mezzo (of course) — Agnes Gund and Oriente Mania are hosting an opening cocktail reception for Franco’s newest exhibition, FRANCO MANIA Retrospective.
Manià no longer travels for his health. Although, he does not fret; he is often transported by his work. And you will be too. Stop by and see for yourself. No RSVP necessary.
The exhibition runs through February 28th, 2023.