Vermeer and the Camera Obscura


The new Vogue Living magazine has a photo spread on Dutch Interiors. It shows how you can reproduce the atmosphere of a Vermeer painting. Vermeer, the artist who painted the hauntingly beautiful "Girl with the Pearl Earring" which inspired a book and movie of the same title, was not enormously prolific. His entire portfolio consists of just 30 some paintings, yet he remains one of the world's most famous artist. All of Vermeer's paintings were created in what is believed to be the same room and it is just this room that Vogue Living tries to recreate, as seen below. While I looked at this feature story, I was reminded of a book I read several years ago, a book that forever changed the way I looked at art, at Vermeer, and at all the Great Masters in general.

Vogue Living attempts to recreate a Vermeer painting.

Secret Knowledge, written by the great British artist David Hockney, espouses a theory that the art of the Great Masters was done with the help of a lens, a camera obscura. Lenses, which have long been rumored to have somehow been used by the Great Masters, are extensively examined in this book. To help illustrate his theory, Hockney developed a wall of art, where he hung art works from the beginning of time up until and through today. The middle section of this wall of art, which is pictured on the cover of his book, is the era of the Great Masters such as Vermeer and Caravaggio. The wall of art helps to put into perspective the phenomenal realism with which the Great Masters painted. The changes in artistic expression from the Renaissance period to how the masters painted is staggering. How was this done? What precipitated the changes? How did artists suddenly and profoundly begin to paint in a style that was so realistic the art truly looked like photographs?

Hockney spent years developing his theory and was met was great resistance when his book was first published. He postulates that these great works of art are truly tracings of images projected by a lens, or a camera obscura, that produced what amounted to a modern photograph.

Another researcher who studied the artist Vermeer exclusively and his use of the camera obscura is Philip Steadman. You can read a synopsis of his theory here. Steadman recreates the room in which Vermeer painted his masterpieces and proves, without a doubt to many art researchers, that Vermeer's paintings, which although are undoubtedly masterworks, nevertheless, are actually tracings of photographs produced by the camera obscura.

In the years since Hockney's book was first published, his theory has met with less and less scepticism. His book is fascinating and easy to read with pages upon pages of illustrations that show how Hockney reached his conclusions. If you haven't read it and you appreciate the art of the Great Masters, please consider giving the book a try. You will be fascinated, but be forewarned, you won't look at this body of art in the same way again.

Steadman's book on Vermeer and his use of the Camera Obscura.

A page from Hockney's book which juxtaposes the changes in which faces were painted during the Renaissance and later by the Great Masters. The bottom two faces look more like photographs than paintings.

Here in a page from Hockney's book, he reproduces how a Great Master may have used the camera obscura. The book is filled with other examples of how Hockney tries to prove his theory.

An example of the camera obscura and how it works.

Two Musts - Elle Decor & Vogue Living


The November issue of Elle Decor is out and it is especially beautiful this month. I would suggest you run over to your favorite bookstore today and pick it up. And this month, don't wait for your subscription copy to arrive. My copy is already a mess, totally trashed out from schlepping it around with me. The cover shot is from the Boston Black Bay street apartment of designer Frank Roop and his wife Sharon. Photos from this living room and study are worth the price of the issue alone. Also featured are the design team of Sills and Huniford with an art filled NYC apartment. But wait, I haven't even gotten to the good stuff yet:

Blogger favorite Steve Gambrel shows off his latest, above, a glorious NYC apartment located in a 1895 building. Two standouts are pictured here: the custom Troy rug and the yellow Clarence House silk drapes. Do NOT miss the custom brass art lights which become sculptures in Gambrel's hands. And another not to be missed, the master bedroom closet. Any man would die for a closet this gorgeous. Gambrel's success here shows how he takes something utilitarian and turns it into art.

But my favorite story in the Elle Decor, possibly of the year, is Alex Papachristidis' Manhattan apartment. A riot of color, pattern, art and exotic "Grand Tour souvenirs" - the home is cluttered perfection. Fortunys, ikats, and antique suzanis coexist as if they were taupe and cream linens instead of vibrant reds, pinks, yellows, and greens. There are enough up-to-the minute trend alerts here that it's obvious the space will be outdated next year. But still, I'd spend a year here, living quite happily.

Vogue Living is special, too, this time around. In what has become a publishing trend, magazines come out with quarterly "design issues" and it appears that Vogue has Oprah and In Style beat by a mile. The articles are typically Vogue thought-provoking pieces, and story after story is filled with fresh ideas to ponder. There' s a great take on design books, an interesting pictorial on Vermeer decor, and an excerpt from Polly Devlin's new book: A Year in the Life of an English Meadow. The features are particularly enjoyable: an English castle, an Arabian tent, and a peek into Jennifer Garner's french styled garden. My favorites? Kathryn Ireland's new home. Having just published her first book, Classic Country (highly recommended!), she moved into a "cluster of 1920s stable buildings" in Ojai. I adore her style - casual, warm, and cozy, totally without any hint of pretension anywhere. But, saving the best for last:

The star of this issue is Carolina Herrera, Jr. and her husband's Spanish estancia, pictured above. If this shot of their bedroom doesn't send you out rushing to see more, we definitely have different perspectives! That's ok, I guess, but how can you not love a room with a balcony overlooking a view such as this, the Pierre Frey Le Coq toile, an antique dressing table, the beamed ceiling and terra cotta floor along with a fireplace thrown in just for pure romance? Heaven!

Round Top, Texas


Round Top, Texas - population 77, except for the first two weeks in April and October each year. This is home to one of the largest antiques fairs in the United States. Started 40 years ago by Emma Lee Turney, the festival has grown from one location into a festival that overflows to all the tiny towns that surround Round Top. During the festival, large temporary, makeshift tent cities spring up where thousands upon thousands of dealers sell their wares. Once, the Round Top Antique Festival meant Americana and Texana antiques. Today, French, Swedish, and English antiques have overtaken the prominence that Americana and Texana once enjoyed. Now highbrow antiques share space with the very lowbrow: vintage, bric a brac, and just plain junk are plentiful in areas where the rent for stalls is cheap. If you love antiques and love to have a good time - Round Top is something to experience at least once in a lifetime. Situated between Austin, San Antonio and Houston, Round Top is a few hours drive through gorgeous countryside. The spring show is an especially nice time to go because the Texas wildflowers are in full bloom and the fields are a vibrant shade of blue from the bluebonnets. Until Round Top has been experienced, it's hard to explain the vastness of it all, and yet, despite it's size, it's still just down home Texas at its core. Web site of the Round Top Register is a good place to start if you plan to come next spring.

Round Top is a charming, tiny town halfway between Houston and Austin. Usually it's a sleepy, quiet place.

Round Top, before the invasion, nice and quiet.

The Big Red Barn. And no, that woman is not in my party!

Country Home Magazine always has a booth up front.

and Mary Emmerling always comes to sign books.

White ironstone is everywhere. I love ironstone and collect it.

Garden antiques and furniture were popular this year.

Trend alert: Silver domes.

My idea of heaven: English ironstone, Staffordshire, transferware and Mason.

I collect Mason ironstone and just had to buy a few pieces for my collection.

And two transferware plates. Notice the vendor excitedly adding up my purchases in the back.

Leaving the Big Red Barn, we head to a different area of vendors. Stuff is everywhere, overflowing.

A pumpkin patch of antique vases.

This tent city advertised itself as European Antiques, one tent of many.

Swedish sofa and French chair. At this point I am wondering why I wasted two hours in the Big Red Barn.

French settee. Painted antiques are much more in demand now than those with typical fruitwood finishes.

A Swedish tall clock. I want one of these, but pass this up.

Another booth with more painted French antiques.

This booth was huge and specialized in European antique linens.

A petite French woman owned this booth filled with both Swedish and French antiques. She has stores in L.A. and Dallas.

A yard full of muslin covered furniture.

Further along, we come to Marburger Farms. Relatively new to the Round Top festival, this tent city has grown from one tent to six huge ones.

A booth at Marburger Farms. Known for a more European look than that at Round Top, Marburger Farms has become a huge presence at the festival. It takes at least two days to cover it properly. I tried to do it two hours and only made it to one tent.

Of course this sign lured me in here.

Trend alert: large clock face.

Antique books by the yard. Had to pass these by, no more room for books that only look good, but won't read.

This statute was a standout at Marburger Farms.

Trend alert: Faux deer heads and intaglios.

This booth was one of my favorites. African and Eastern goodies. Kelly Wearstler has dozens of these Chinese calligraphy brushes in her home. I have one now.

More African goodies.

Ethiopian crosses. George Cameron Nash showroom sells these at quite a markup.

The best was outside behind the booth. A stack of zebra rugs which I could not say no to.

Now, this is a gorgeous chandelier: wood, gilded column and crystals. Too pricey, but a one of a kind piece I hated to leave behind. At this point I'm really regretting the money I spent at the Big Red Barn. Note to self: skip the Big Red Barn altogether next time.

This sofa reminded me of my new one.

Display of antique bottles.

I love French settees. If I had the space, I would have a settee in every room.

This dealer became incensed when I politely asked if something was a reproduction. Sorry, I still don't believe him. His prices were too cheap. All I could think of was how disappointed in me House of Beauty would be!

Hollywood Regency: there is virtually none here at Round Top and there is no mid century modern that I saw except for the junk from grandma's attic type.

Leaving Marburger Farms, tent cities pop up all along the way to Warrenton, Texas.

Only in Texas: A suburban with a longhorn rack on it's hood. Edit: Liberty Post asked me whether I saw the Junk Gypsies, a trio of vintage-styled glam ladies who set up shop in Warrenton during Round Top. This suburban actually belongs to them. Thanks Liberty for the reminder. Check out the Junk Gypsies' web site for all kinds of wild merchandise: chandeliers, t shirts, pillows and coffee mugs are a small offering.

Warrenton, Texas: fields and fields of vendors everywhere. Lured by the low rental rates, thousands of people sell mostly bric a brac and vintage goods in Warrenton. You couldn't see it all even if you spent days looking.

Going home: Wait, one last stop! The Lone Ranger sells Swedish antiques out in the open in Warrenton. He informed me that he had sold a truckload that morning to top Houston interior designers who had beat me there. I couldn't say no to a gray Swedish clock that is now living on my landing. Imagine how I felt when I got home and discovered the insides had been replaced by a battery operated chime. Ebay anyone?