I loved Heidi's post last week about her lifelong obsession with Interior Design. It made me think about my journey into this field. My career background used to be firmly entrenched in art history….and then I had four children and our home became my outlet for experimentation in interior decorating, collecting and display…..and mess eradication and attempted organisation. Last year, 12 years after I'd kissed goodbye to tertiary study and teaching Art Theory at the UTAS Art School, I had a brief foray back there to complete a unit on 'Contemporary Art for Collectors'. Part of our assessment centred on finding something unexpected at home and using it as a springboard to put together our own idiosyncratic 'dream collection' of art and objects…..this was how mine ended up.
'Say hello to my Le Creuset French Oven:
I use this pot every day in the course of fulfilling my domestic duties. It sits on top of my cooker, ever ready to help me whip up a nourishing meal for my family, that my children will eat rather than throw. As you can see from the patina encrusted onto the enamel, over the years it has assisted with myriad meals - from the bland: repetitive before school breakfast porridge to the extraordinary: complicated and labour intensive cassoulet with duck confit and homemade pork sausage to the downright disappointing: I once attempted broccoli soufflé a la Nigella, four times and on each try it failed to rise and I was reduced to floods. My husband ended up declaring a moratorium on the soufflé.
I bought my pot back in 2002 (the year the Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City, the Queen Mother died and ‘A Beautiful Mind’ won the Oscar for Best Picture) as a souvenir of a trip to France in a quincaillerie, those Aladdin’s Caves which stock everything from hardware to kitchenalia and everything in between. I had to fast talk my husband into it’s purchase as he knew that it would be difficult to pack and heavy to lug all the way home to Hobart yet he conceded. Since then, I have subsequently acquired three additional Le Creuset French Ovens of various sizes all bought in downtown Hobart.
I love the memory that the first meal that I ever cooked in this pot was on a canal boat in Burgundy. On days when I’m not frantically rushing to make dinner, accompanied by the maelstrom of whatever else is going down in my kitchen, and allow myself a moment to mentally float away from the banality of everyday domestic drudgery, just looking at this pot transports me to that magical place that for me is France. Summed up best by the novelist Nancy Mitford who wrote ‘The day one sets foot in France, you can take it from me, PURE happiness begins….every minute of the day here is bliss & when I wake up in the morning, I feel as excited as if it were my birthday’. I know exactly what she’s talking about.
Le Creuset have been producing enameled cast iron pots in their foundry at Fresnoy le Grand in France since 1925 and they have been using the same hand crafted techniques in their manufacture ever since. The ‘cocotte’ or French Oven was one of the first cast iron items produced by the company and it is still the most popular being sold in more than 60 countries around the world today. Le Creuset pour molten materials, including pig iron, between two sand moulds, to form the pot, which are then broken once cooled. This means that no two pots are ever exactly the same.
Le Creuset’s signature colour is ‘Volcanic’ aka orange. I left those ones on the shelf and actively chose the blue. That blue even became a colour in the Le Creuset palette is thanks to the English cookery writer Elizabeth David:
She who in the grey days post WWII when the British public were half starved after strict rationing and downright bad food captured their imaginations and appetites with descriptions of the mouth watering food of the Mediterranean. It was Elizabeth David who suggested to Le Creuset that they should spray their enamel pots the same blue as the blue on the Gauloises cigarette packet:
And they did.
Le Creuset French Ovens are on display in a museum in what is arguably the most famous kitchen in the world….and it’s not in either France or Britain. It’s in the USA, at the Smithsonian in Washington DC and it was the actual kitchen that was in the home of best selling cook book author and cooking show host, The French Chef herself, Julia Child who donated her kitchen to the museum, while she was still alive. Her own Le Creuset French Oven still sits on the cooker. See for yourself:
Julia Child's actual kitchen on display at the Smithsonian
My Le Creuset pot anchors me firmly in the domestic, in the intimate domain which is my home, in the realm of the everyday which for me is carried out in Hobart. Yet it is so much more, as it’s imbued with magical escapist connotations.
When I was describing the connection between our blue Le Creuset pots and an iconic French cigarette packet, my 13 year old daughter had no idea what I was talking about (phew). She said that that particular shade of blue reminded her of Van Gogh’s stellar work ‘The Starry Night’ that rhythmic symphony of swirling broken blue brushstrokes. She’s right, isn’t she:
Van Gogh 'The Strarry Night' 1889 MOMA NY
So, surely there’s no better place to kickstart my dream collection than with Le Creuset blue, which is so very evocative of the South of France, as you can see ….Van Gogh in St Remy de Provence, Derain in Collioure:
Andre Derain, ‘Boats at Collioure’ 1905 Kunstmuseum, Dusseldorf
and Monet in Antibes:
Claude Monet, ‘Antibes seen from La Salis’ 1888 Toledo Museum of Art Ohio
As Monet himself wrote ‘It’s so beautiful here, so clear, so luminous! One swims in blue air….It’s so clear, so pure of pink and blue…..’.
So, from the shameless covetousness of such big name works depicting France, my collection now crosses continents to the other side of the world and relocates to Tasmania because while I love France, this is where I call home. The artwork that already hangs on my walls is predominately scenes of the Tasmanian landscape rendered by contemporary, local artists. How could I not add work by John Glover. Especially as this work ‘Hobart Town Taken from the Garden Where I lived in 1832’ is the portrait of a house, down the road from my own, which 180 years after this depiction, I’ve actually set foot in.
John Glover, ‘Hobart Town Taken from the Garden Where I lived’ 1832 State Library of NSW Sydney
Patricia, who used to live there, gave me her recipe for quince fruit mince, which I made, in my Le Creuset pot, last year for Christmas. I’m interested in the portrayal of this fledgling urban environment, which was colonial Hobart Town, the almost still recognizable landmarks and how Glover, as a very recent English immigrant, has dealt with what must have been very strange and foreign scenery. He said himself that he hoped to encounter in Australia ‘a new and beautiful world – new landscapes, new trees, new flowers, new animals and birds’. And this is what he’s painting here.
I’ve already explained how sometimes my pot can be a portal into another world. I’m not the first person to long for getting away from the everyday. It reminds me of Marie Antoinette, that ill fated Queen of France who lived in the gilded cage that was Versaille, only to end up imprisoned, isolated from her children and decapitated on the guillotine:
Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, ‘Marie Antoinette’ 1779 Palace of Versailles
In the Hameau de la Reine at Versailles, she created one of the most intriguing escapes of all in a far flung corner of the chateau’s grounds. She fled the oppressive formality of court life, where she took her meals in front of the court, was put to bed in front of the court and even gave birth in front of the court (imagine!) to dress up as a milkmaid and play at being a peasant. The hamlet, was a rustic village complete with a barn, lighthouse, farmhouse and a dairy – think Wendy House fit for a queen:
Hameau de la Reine, 1783, designed Richard Mique, grounds of Versailles, France
Here, she could milk a cow, churn butter and afterwards drink milk from this Sevres ‘Nipple Cup known as the breast bowl’. It made her happy.
8 ‘Nipple cup known as the breast bowl’1788 Musee National de Ceramique Sevres
Now let me introduce Dora Carrington:
Dora Carrington 1917
A sometime lesbian who had a heterosexual marriage yet was totally and utterly in love with the homosexual writer Lytton Strachey. They set up a ménage a trois in 1924 at Ham Spray house in the Wiltshire countryside. Carrington was utterly content here, the furthest thing on her mind was escape, in fact she was agonized as to how she could keep this household made up of such disparate personalities, which hung together by a thread, together. To try and create the perfect domestic environment, she decorated their home with no other thought than to make Lytton happy and keep him amused.
Bedroom Ham Spray House c1924
Her paintbrush worked it’s magic on tiles, furniture, freizes and a trompe l’oeil bookcase featuring such titles as 'Deception' by Jane Austen and 'The Empty Room' by Virginia Woolf, they were Bloomsburies after all. Her paintings of flowers, friends and places hung on the walls:
Dora Carrington, ‘Flowers in a Two Handled Vase’ 1925 private collection UK
Carrington was so devoted to Lytton and their home life at Ham Spray that when he died of cancer she was utterly distraught. She couldn’t imagine her life without him and shot herself in the head with a rifle. She was 39.
So, I’m still thinking about the home and domesticity and moving on to look at the work of Tracy Emin. The home is an intimate space and within it’s walls perhaps the most private room of all is the bedroom. Here is Tracey Emin’s work ‘My Bed’. (Heidi and Faux Fuchsia look away now)!
Tracey Emin, ‘My Bed’ 1998 private collection, UK
Made, and I use the term loosely, in 1998 when Emin was living in council flat in Waterloo. This is her own bed – the detritus of stained sheets, used condoms, blood stained knickers and empty bottles of alcohol testimony to a weekend spent in it. I’m ashamed to admit that it makes me itch to clean it all up, put it in the washing machine and replace it with spotless vacuumed floors and clean sheets.
Finally, the last work is by contemporary Thai - Australian video artist Kawita Vatanajyankur. It really called my name. While this is a brightly coloured, manipulated representation of domesticity it captures the repetitive, thankless nature of the work and how, some days it feels to do it:
Kawita Vatanajyankur, ‘The Robes’ 2014
So, regardless of the fact that I’d love a palace on the Grand Canal in Venice a la Peggy Guggenheim or a row of purpose designed town houses in London like those of John Soane, I think that my dream collection would loose it’s reason for being, which, seeing it is based entirely on my own personal whim and fantasy can only be housed and displayed in my own home…..in Hobart. While the Sevres Nipple Cup can go into the cupboard with our Wedgwood dinner set, and Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’ can go into one of the upstairs bedrooms….well it did once reside in Charles Saatchi’s own home, the main problem is that I’d run out of wall space to display this amazing collection of paintings. So, I’ll steal the idea found in John Soane’s own home’s design for a picture gallery and have one made to custom fit our living room.
The Picture Gallery at Sir John Soane’s Museum London
Then I can curate the hang and the fold back walls and mix and match works as mood dictates – fancy coming over for a cup of milk?'
After the presentations, someone from the course did come over and tell me that he was worried about me!