4/30/09

The Magic of Madeleine Castaing

A young and stylish Madeleine Castaing. Her nickname in France was "The Magician."
Photo: © Christina Vervitsioti-Missoffe *

An email surprise recently landed in the Topsy Turvy inbox with a resounding, "ding!" I do forget to turn the Mac's volume down sometimes, and when I hear it alerting me to an incoming email after I'm in bed at night, well, sometimes it's a little tempting to get up and take a look.

You may recall that photographer/cinematographer, Christopher Flach, completed a documentary over a year ago about the legendary French decorator and antique shop owner, Madeleine Castaing. He dropped us a note to let us know that the film is available through his website, so we talked a bit about how the project came to be:

Christopher Flach

CF: "I traveled to Paris frequently and often times would walk past her shop on à l'angle des rues Bonaparte et Jacob. Then one day I went into the shop and it was like walking into what one reads about in the newspapers or magazines ... it was the magic of Madeleine Castaing. I knew that I had to document this world. For me she was like Coco Chanel, simply timeless. Madeleine truly was an artist."

Antique shop of Madeleine Castaing in Paris (7th arr.) at the corner of rue Bonaparte et Jacob. Juin 1960. © Roger-Viollet. Photo by Francis Hammond for The New York Times.

"I directed and produced the film, and it stars Castaing at her best, thanks to vintage 16 mm footage kindly provided by Lord Cholmondeley of Houghton Hall, near Norfolk."



The film weaves the vintage footage with contemporary interviews of those who knew her, including ... French interior designer Jacques Grange ...


French writer, photographer and painter, Francois-Marie Banier ...

and Barbara and René Stoeltie, who have collaborated on numerous interior design books and articles, with Barbara as writer and René as photographer ...

Barbara Stoeltie, who, in the film, reportedly shares extensive recollections about Castaing.

René Stoeltie

... along with Stephen Sills, of Stephen Sills Associates (in my mind, a genius, who would be on my top 10 designer list – if I had one) ...



At only 34 mins. long, the film is described as being more about mood and atmosphere, inspired by Madeleine Castaing's love of Honoré de Balzac. The film portrays her Paris shop and her magnificent directoire manor house in Lèves, just outside Chartres.

By happy chance, a new book is just out, featuring Castaing's beloved Maison de Lèves, as well as two residences of Yves Saint Laurent, the renaissance chateau of Hubert de Givenchy, and much more. French Interiors: The Art of Elegance, by Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery, from Flammarion, is getting rave reviews, and, judging by these photos via the telegraph, looks like a must-have!

Lèves, with shutters in Castaing's favourite blue. Photo: © Christina Vervitsioti-Missoffe*

The writer Maurice Sachs described a visit to Maison de Lèves in the 1920's as "a dwelling full of whimsicality, invention, and audacity."**


French doors in the dining-room open onto luxuriously landscaped gardens. The carpet of leaves and berries was designed by Castaing. Photo © Christina Vervitsioti-Missoffe*

After looking at these photos, Castaing's love of nature becomes obvious.


In a bedroom, a swan-necked iron bed is hung with muslin. The walls are covered with Rayure Fleurie, one of several Castaing designs for fabric and carpets that are still available.
These rooms, ingeniously, have a wide-open feel – like you are outside in the garden – yet at the same time, they impart a sense of being cocooned in luxury. Photo © Christina Vervitsioti-Missoffe.*

A blue-silk 'indiscret' (circular sofa) from the Napolean III era and miles of leopard carpet in the circular salon. Photo © Christina Vervitsioti-Missoffe.*

The vestibule with muslin curtains tied high in the directoire style.
Photo © Christina Vervitsioti-Missoffe.*

A long view of the salon. Photo by Rene Stoeltie, via An Aesthete's Lament.

Another view of the salon, by Rene Stoeltie, via An Aesthete's Lament.

Castaing has become a cult figure, in spite of, or because she created "rave-review rooms with undistinguished objects, often of dodgy condition," and for "creating rooms that her followers describe as closer to art than decoration." **

"She used colors and patterns that make you wince when you hear them in the same sentence" ... "But when you see this house in person, you realize how perfect her taste was." Esther Brodsky, a client from NY. **

In a Topsy Turvy interview with French designer Bruno de Caumont last year, he talked about a similar fascination with the designs of Madeleine Castaing, and how his own work has been affected.

For those fluent in French and/or up for a challenge, Jean-Noël Liaut wrote a biography last year called, Madeleine Castaing: From Montparnasse to Saint-Germain-des-Prés (published by Payot). It is described as lavishly illustrated, if that is any incentive.

Portrait of Madeleine Castaing by Chaim Soutine, who was a close friend.
The painting is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


For a double-dose of artistic inspiration, I'd like to watch Chris Flach's film and then open up Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery's book.* Then ... just maybe ... I'll venture into the realm of Honoré de Balzac. I found some of his stories online translated into English and after reading a few paragraphs it became obvious to me that it is going to require some serious concentration just to keep up with the train of thought through those long meandering run-on sentences from which I can see right away Balzac's influence on the writing style of the great Jack Kerouac who sometimes wrote sentences that filled a whole page ...
............................................................................................................................................................................
*From French Interiors: The Art of Elegance by Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery (Paris: Flammarion, 2009)
**nytimes
Photos not credited provided by Chris Flach
............................................................................................................................................................................

5 comments:

An Aesthete's Lament said...

One can never have enough Castaing! What a lovely way to greet the day!

little augury said...

what a wonderful offering . thank you- again, new information and intimate look at the film's provenance. I am doing something on MC very soon and I will definitely be mentioning your interview and a link. GT

Topsy Turvy said...

Aesthete - I agree!

Little Augury - Thanks! I will look for your post.

–Lana

victoria thorne said...

She was incomparable...it is sweet to see her here! Thank you.

Ann said...

That was such an interesting post about 'The Magician'. The rooms are real elegant and her love and use of those blue shades are really remarkable.