Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Philip De Laszlo's Studio

De Laszlo painting a portrait of Princess Marina, Duchess of York, in the studio behind his house.

When Philip de Laszlo died in 1937 he left his house at 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue in London to the Catholic Church which transformed it, together with the two adjacent houses at 5 and 7, into the Holy Cross Convent.  These have recently been developed into flats called De Laszlo House though only number 3 has anything to do with the painter who in his time was regarded as the successor to John Singer Sargent.

But de Laszlo's studio, where he painted, was not part of his house; it stood in his garden and could be entered from the rear of his house or from Maresfield Gardens.  The Catholics turned the studio into a temporary church.  Now St Thomas More, a purpose-built monstrosity farther along Maresfield Gardens, is their place of worship.

The studio still stands, however, and is identified as De Laszlo Hall.

De Laszlo's house on the corner of Fitzjohn's Avenue and
Maresfield Gardens. His studio is the white building
in the distance. 

The Maresfield Gardens side of de Laszlo's house.

The studio is the white building on the left.

Philip de Laszlo's studio.
The door into De Laszlo Hall.

De Laszlo painting a mannequin from Lady Duff Gordon's fashion house. 

You can view a 1928 silent film of de Laszlo in his studio painting a fashion model. 

A short step from the back of the house to the studio.
But where there was a garden there is none now.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The De Laszlo House, Fitzjohn's Avenue, London

View down the length of Fitzjohn's Avenue.
The De Laszlo House is at the bottom.
In a blog post last summer called Upstairs Downstairs I wrote about the history of the house at 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue in London. From 1921 to his death in 1937 it was the home and studio of the society portrait painter Philip de Laszlo. In his time number 3 was called Hyme House but recently it has been developed along with the two neighbouring houses, 5 and 7, and all three have been dubbed De Laszlo House to give them a cachet and added value, though De Laszlo owned only 3 and had nothing to do with 5 and 7.

Now I have been contacted by Caroline Ries of St Paul, Minnesota, who tells me she lived in the houses as a student in the 1970s when all three had been taken over by nuns. At first Caroline was thrilled to come across her old residence online but said, 'I was shocked to see the ultra modern interior replacing the historic character of the house'.

To illustrate her dismay at what the developers have done, Caroline has sent me the brochure for the Holy Cross Convent as it was in the late 1930s along with her own photographs of the houses taken in the 1970s, 'in black and white which doesn't do them justice', she says, but which clearly depict how a once beautiful example of Arts and Crafts architecture has been turned into what the developers call 'a masterpiece of artful design'
- and where the price of a three bedroom flat is around £4,000,000.

Cover page of the Holy Cross Convent brochure from the late 1930s.  Philip de Laszlo lived in number 3 on the left, but after his death all three houses, 3, 5 and 7, were taken over by the Catholic Church and turned into a convent.  

Brochure illustration of the entrance hall at number 3, the one house owned by De Laszlo.

Caroline recalls the entrance hall at 3 Fitzjohn's Avenue. 'Parlour and dining room to the left on the Maresfield Gardens side.  The back door to the garden was to the right of the window, behind the staircase. The panelled door next to the fireplace opened to the room used as a chapel. Visible through the open doorway is a free-standing partition of frosted glass panels. They were probably not original but served to separate the second dining room from the hallway to the adjacent house, number 5.'

The following are also taken from the Holy Cross Convent brochure.

Dining room at number 3.

The lounge.

A single bedroom.

Brochure view of number 3 from the garden.

Caroline Ries took these photographs when she took a room at the convent during her student days in London in the 1970s.

The French doors leading from the dining room at number 3 to the garden.

View of the garden from the back door of number 3.

Looking across from the garden of number 3 to the rear of numbers 5 and 7
showing their Arts and Crafts architectural features.

'I was thrilled to see your blog on 3 Fitzjohn's Ave.', Caroline wrote to me.  'I lived there as a student from 1971-1977. In fact, I still have a very old brochure advertising Holy Cross Convent as a student residence which shows photographs of the house and gardens. The brochure appears to have been made in the late 1930s or early 40s.'

'I was very disappointed to see that the interior of the three houses (Nos. 3, 5, and 7) were completely gutted. The woodwork was beautiful, and there were French doors leading from the dining room to the gardens. I am surprised there was no effort to restore the interior. The photos I saw online as individual flats are unrecognizable.'

'The original woodwork (that did not get painted over) was beautiful, as were the fireplaces. The main foyer was quite spare. I think the Swiss nuns tried to downplay the opulence of the place. A restoration would have been a better tribute to de Laszlo. After all, he painted the portraits of the Duchess of York and the young Princess Elizabeth in his studio there. I read there exists a film of De Laszlo entertaining the Duke and Duchess of York and Princess Elizabeth at Hyme House.'

'I lived in two different rooms as a student: one facing Fitzjohn's Ave., and my favorite facing the garden. I stripped the white paint off the fireplace in my room thinking it would reveal beautiful woodwork. It turned out to be marble.'

Online photographs of the the so-called De Laszlo House at 3, 5 and 7 Fitzjohn's Avenue show, as Caroline says, that the interior has been gutted, all the fireplaces removed, its Arts and Crafts detail stripped away both inside and along the rear facades.


Living room.

The only detail that survives is a bit of stucco cornicing here and there
and the exterior mouldings.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Postcards from Corfu: Kouloura

Madame Gennatas' Venetian manor house still stands at Kouloura today.
The following is adapted from The Durrells of Corfu by Michael Haag which again this Saturday, for the sixth week in a row, is The Times number one bestseller among paperback non-fiction titles.

On a beautiful spring day in 1936, Spiro drove Theodore Stephanides and Larry and Nancy Durrell from the Daffodil Yellow Villa at Kontokali north along the coast road, a difficult journey during rainy weather and impossible when it was stormy. Here the ridges of Mount Pantocrator drove straight into the sea, creating a succession of coves but allowing little workable land, only the olive trees clinging to the slopes of the mountain in steep steps of terraces.

Normally the journey was done by the daily caique which set out from Corfu Town for Kouloura across the narrow strait from Albania. In each direction the caique put in, when requested, at the little villages along this remote coast – exposed to the northern winter winds, parched in summer, a wilder Corfu, so different from the gentler, almost Italian lower half of the island. But today was fine, and as the big car bounced north along the broken road the afternoon sun struck obliquely through the olives, dappling the occasional colour-washed houses of ochre, of white, of mulberry, with light and shade.

Theodore had been invited to tea by Madame Gennatas and was asked to bring his new friends. The old widow lived in a fortified Venetian manor house at the port of Kouloura, the most beautiful of all the little coves along this coast, where a horseshoe jetty sheltered red and blue fishing boats, and where waving pale green eucalyptus and dark jets of cypress rose above the sound of water faintly lapping at a pebble beach. The immensely thick walls of the manor house, originally pierced by loopholes, was now opened up by several French windows, which let out onto a wide stone terrace overlooking the sea. Here the visitors were served afternoon tea and listened to Madame Gennatas recall the Corfu she had known when she was a girl – and how to this day the King of Greece always arrived aboard his yacht at Kouloura to visit her in summer.

It was dark by the time Theodore, Larry and Nancy departed, but the bright moonlight helped Spiro navigate the Dodge back to Kontakali. Along the way the talk was of the beauty of Kouloura and the dramatic landscape of the surrounding countryside. Nancy had long wanted to get away from the south of Corfu, away from the villas near town. ‘I felt we’d been living too near the crowds – too tame. I was terribly keen on being in the wildest place I could find – most untamed.’

Come morning, and Larry and Nancy decided to find some rooms in a peasant cottage up that way. Their thoughts were put into immediate effect by Spiro, who knew everyone: ‘Don’t you worries, Larry, I’ll soon fixes it.’ Ten days later, and against the wishes of his mother Louisa, who wanted him to remain at her villa in Kontokali, Larry was moving with Nancy into two rooms in a white-painted house overhanging the sea at Kalami, a sprinkling of four or five cottages round the headland to the south of Kouloura.

Aerial view of Kouloura, below, and Kalami beyond.  The White House,
home of Lawrence and Nancy Durrell, is the large house at the left-most
end of Kalami's crescent beach.