Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Indian gems, I love them. Exquisite Moghul craftsmanship. Beauty on display.

Dazzling ‘Jewels of the Maharajahs’ exhibit, a blockbuster show, continues at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, until February 24. 

It’s one of the most exciting—and inspiring—jewelry shows and one of the most comprehensive and surprising. I hope you’ll see it…or visit again. Blockbuster diamonds, indeed.

I Love Indian Jewels

I travel in India often, and on each trip I visit my jeweler friends and look at a lot of jewelry. I like seeing their new designs, as well as traditional Indian jewelry crafted to wear at lavish weddings and celebrations. Jewelry is an essential part of tradition and parties in India.

Jaipur, for example, has some of the world’s best diamond and precious stone cutters. Delhi has old-school jewelers and centuries-old Indian designs. I’ve watched diamond-cutters at work. Their skills and discipline are passed down through generations and the cut stones are exuberant and exquisite, bringing out the beauty from a rough piece of mined gemstone to a sparkling work of art.

I was excited to see this new exhibit at the Legion of Honor museum showing the most lavish jewelry, along with jewel-encrusted weapons, and historic film showing the opulence of maharajahs and their entourage. There’s excellent photography showing the super-size diamonds and emeralds and regalia of power on the richest Indian royals.

There are even the diamonds of the last Maharajah of Indore. Legendary, indeed.

‘East Meets West, Jewels of the Maharajahs from the Al Thani Collection’ includes one hundred and fifty precious objects from the collection formed by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani. It features stunning pieces from the rule of the Mughals in the seventeenth century to those reflecting the influence of India on jewelers today.

Each section of the show allows participants to observe spectacular Indian jewels and precious objects firsthand while exploring themes of influence and exchange between India and the West. Objects on display also provide visitors with an intriguing cross-cultural look at jewelry and gender.

Maharajahs posed and strutted and wore the most stunning diamonds and pearls and emeralds, including turban adornments, diamond shoe buckles, diamond belts, rings, bracelets, and medallions, along with tunics and robes woven with gold thread and studded with gems. Their wives (they had several) the Maharanis, were beautifully garbed, of course, and their hair adornments, necklaces, rings and amulets and saris and sandals were exquisite. But the Maharajahs held power and had to project wealth and control. In the case of jewelry, it’s good to be King.

Who Were the Maharajahs?

The Mughals, a dynasty with roots in Central Asia, ruled India from 1526 until the establishment of British control, from 1858 to 1947. Throughout this time, India was known for its exquisite production of jeweled arts and precious gemstones. Under successive Mughal emperors and maharajahs, Indian jewelry and works of art developed different styles, influenced by the disparate cultures and monarchal traditions of the time. 

The objects in this exhibition highlight Indian jewelry traditions including pieces worn on ceremonial occasions; weapons such as swords and daggers; and precious works of art made of gold or jade for display or use.

Unlike the European courts where women wore the most splendid jewelry, in India the male rulers, the Mughal emperors, the maharajas, nizams, and sultans, wore the most significant pieces in dazzling amounts on ceremonial occasions.

The Indian male rulers wore jewelry in great profusion signifying their high rank in society.

“The spectacular jewelry worn by the rulers of India offers a captivating look into the expectations of both high culture and society across a large swath of history.” 
“Audiences will find this aspect of the exhibit relevant to how we perceive gender today, where equality, fluidity, and choice are important topics of conversation.”
—Martin Chapman, Curator in Charge of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco  

Magnificent Diamonds

The final gallery showcases Indian and European jewelry from the twentieth century to the modern day. 

European jewelry houses such as Cartier created some of the most spectacular pieces for the maharajas, who supplied stones from their own treasuries. The results are a hybrid, employing Western jewelry techniques but executed in traditional Indian forms.

The Patiala necklaces, for instance, represent some of the most extravagant commissions given by a maharaja to a European jewelry house. The necklace that was made to cover the breast of the maharaja contained more than three thousand gemstones, which had included the 234.65-carat De Beers diamond, the largest-ever-commissioned necklace made by Cartier at the time.

European Influence on Indian Designs — and the Popularity of Indian Traditional Designs on European Jewelry Designs

With the arrival of the British Raj in the nineteenth century came the influence of European styles and craftsmanship on Indian jewelry. Gold was replaced by silver and platinum for diamond-set pieces. Conversely, in the early twentieth century, India became the most prevalent influence on Western jewelry, in both its style and the use of brilliantly colored and carved gemstones. 

Indian jewelry inspired great European jewelry houses such as Cartier to make pieces in the Indian style, using carved and brilliantly colored gemstones. This exhibition showcases famous gemstones such as the Arcot II diamond (formerly belonging to the British Crown Jewels), the vibrantly pink Agra diamond, and other treasures such as a jade dagger owned by Emperor Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal.

Legion of Honor

‘East Meets West, Jewels of the Maharajahs from the Al Thani Collection’ is organized by Martin Chapman, Curator in Charge of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco with Amin Jaffer, Senior Curator of the Al Thani Collection.

East Meets West: Jewels of the Maharajahs from The Al Thani Collection
Legion of Honor Museum
San Francisco, California
November 3, 2018 - February 24, 2019

Photography courtesy The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Veere Grenney: London Interior Designer Spills His Secrets in His Elegant New Design Book

Rizzoli has just published ‘On Decorating Veere Grenney A Point of View’ which is by turns a chatty biography and an overview of his highly successful four-decade international decorating career.

Come with me for a close look at Veere’s handsome new book and learn some of his top design tips.

The vivid Foreword of the book was written by the great Hamish Bowles, a longtime friend and his neighbor in Tangier.

Chapters in Veere’s new book include ‘Made in England’, which recounts his early days as a London antique dealer and a Morocco resident. The second chapter, ‘How I Decorate’ offers vivid insight into how he formulates and crafts rooms for himself and his clients. He focuses on dining rooms, holiday houses, libraries, bedrooms, entertaining rooms and living rooms.

The third chapter, ‘Home at Last’ details his love of Morocco and its culture and vivid history, and his houses in Tangier. It’s clear that Tangier (where he has countless friends) gives him inspiration, a sense of adventure, and a powerful sense of location and his perfect environment.

“In time-honored fashion, Veere Grenney’s early life dealing in antiques lead to a distinguished career in interior design, a career honed by both an informed passion for beautiful old objects and by a lively engagement with late twentieth-century and early twenty-first century life, its comforts and innovations. Veere would look to the masters of the craft of design including David Hicks, Billy Baldwin, Nancy Lancaster, and the protean Cecil Beaton for whom decorating was one of his many aesthetic gifts.”—Hamish Bowles in the Foreword

I was very fortunate to visit Veere Grenney recently at his two houses in Tangier. One house was Maison Cooq, where he spent many years in a jungly garden high above the Straits of Gibraltar.

Veere’s other Tangier residence is his glamorous new villa, with its dramatic new garden, shady loggias, and the stunning terrace, which offers expansive views of the Mediterranean, the Spanish coast, and the dramatic Straits of Gibraltar and Cape Gibraltar.

Veere is a wonderful host, and at any time of the day in Tangier, friends drop by to spend time with him. He always has house guests. And at cocktail hour he has developed a fine tradition of friends stopping at his house to watch the sunset from his broad terrace. Gorgeous.

Veere now spends much of the year in Tangier, just a fast three hours south from London, his home for the last five decades.

As it happens, Veere and I have one key element in common. Yes, we’re both obsessed with decorating, and we both love to travel, and we both spent several years exploring Asia and India and Europe and remote regions of the world.

The good fortune we share is that we both grew up in New Zealand. New Zealand is beautiful and remote, so we both had idyllic childhoods and loved to read British and American Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and House & Garden, which fuelled and inspired out love of fashion, interiors, design and art and houses.

Veere grew up in Auckland and soon headed to London.

As he recounts in this biographical chapters of this book, he gained his foothold on the design world first as an antique dealer at Portobello Road. He was clearly gifted and has a great eye, and from that lively period, he went to work for Mary Fox Linton, a leading design firm in London.

The gregarious and worldly Grenney launched his own firm in 1985….but was soon lured away to work for Colefax and Fowler with Tom Parr. It was then the most English-of-English design firms and known for pared-down, elegant and refined rooms.

“My role at Colefax was to be the agent of modernism and change,” recalled Grenney. And he became the darling of design magazine editors, with every apartment and residence and project photographed and published in all the top magazines.

Eventually he relaunched his own firm, which now works on residences around the world.

Design Tips from Veere Grenney from his new Rizzoli book

1. “I use ‘Hicks Tricks’ all the time. I admire David Hicks and he reigns supreme. I always trim curtains. And subconsciously I’ve learned how to arrange furniture in a living room from Hicks and Billy Baldwin—a sofa and two elbow chairs and two more chairs on either side of them. Hicks was the master at arranging a space for six or eight people to chat and sit together. The end result does not look like a circle, but if you move the chairs a little it works like a conversation circle.”

2. “I think a huge amount of time should be spent on bedrooms, particularly the mattress and the linens. I like bedcovers and simple sheets and blankets, not duvets. Duvets don’t look ordered or elegant, they need to be tucked in and tidy, otherwise the bed always looks unmade.” 

3. “I also dislike pillows or cushions all over the bed. What do you do with them when you are getting into the bed? Throw them on the floor? A bed should look inviting and when it’s covered in pillows, it’s not.”

4. “In the city, fabric on the walls is great for acoustics and always makes a room feel cozier. We upholster the walls ‘blind’ without any braid or trim. When you enter you know that the room feels different, but it is not immediately clear why.”

5. “I’ve always had libraries in my own homes. There are always biographies and volumes of letters and diaries beside my bed. I love books on tables, on chairs and on ottomans and on tabletops. Libraries are places that feel home-like and secure. I don’t like to think of books as disposable things. I think of books as synonymous with civilization. The lovely thing about a library is the atmosphere that comes from so many books.


‘On Decorating Veere Grenney A Point of View’ was written with Ruth Guilding. Photography by David Oliver. Published by Rizzoli.

Images here used with kind permission.