Art, opera, literature, writing, history of dress, interiors, travel, Paris . . . and more. By Susie Ralph.

Category: Art

An artist’s fantasy: the frescoed house of Vlaho Bukovac.

                DSC00943  DSC00941 DSC00946 DSC00947 DSC00948 DSC00951 DSC00949 DSC00950 DSC00954 DSC00956 DSC00957 DSC00967 DSC00970Tucked away up a narrow flight of steps in the small seaside resort of Cavtat, is the home of one of Croatia’s most celebrated artists. I knew nothing of Vlaho Bukovac before visiting the home in which he grew up. What enchantment lay within the old stone house which Bukovac inherited from his Italian grandfather! Stepping from the heat of the garden into the cool interior, we were greeted by a diminutive young woman with a gentle, old-fashioned manner. Her enthusiasm for the artist and his works was quiet but fervent.

Bukovac’s frescoes cover the walls of the house: exotic animals, fish and birds fill painted panels on the lower section of the walls, with family portraits and washes of ochre and umber above. All were revealed beneath a layer of paint when the house underwent restoration after the Croatian War of Independence. The worn, rubbed away quality of these works which Bukovac painted as a teenager recalls ancient Pompeiian frescoes, but they have a charming naïve quality: a slightly odd rhinoceros stands guard at the top of the first flight of stairs,

DSC00918an anteater flicks out its long tongue and a gracefully rendered swan opens its wings.


But the room which took my breath away is entirely blue – a heavenly lavender blue. Between painted columns wreathed in foliage, faintly sketched classical statues emerge as if from a mist. Arabesques of leaves and yellow flowers are strewn across the ceiling and a central garland encloses a a white-clad female figure. This is a room to sit and dream in!


The top floor of the house contains Bukovac’s studio and a selection of his paintings – portraits, landscapes and studies in a variety of different styles. After a successful period in Paris, studying at the École des Beaux Arts under Alexandre Cabanel and exhibiting at the Paris Salon, he returned to Croatia and became the leader of a new modern movement known as the “Colourful Zagreb School”. His portraits, especially those of his sisters and his children, display a great sensitivity. The academic style of Cabanel, which he adopted in Paris, is the least pleasing, having none of the spontaneous charm of his other less mannered works or lively half-finished sketches.

Shortly after visiting Bukovac’s house I came across this very beautiful painting of two women, in the collection of the museum at the Franciscan monastery in Dubrovnik. Very pleased to have discovered this largely unsung artist!DSC01240

The amazing Rhea Thierstein

Ice ship designed by Rhea Thierstein, photography Tim Walker

Many of photographer Tim Walker’s sets are made by designer Rhea Thierstein. Had to share this beautiful image and draw attention to her amazing work.


The Object and the Experience: What makes a memorable exhibition?

One of the first exhibitions I visited, as a young fashion student, was Fashion: an Anthology by Cecil Beaton, V&A, 1971-72. This was the first serious exhibition to be mounted in London on the subject of fashion and it made a lasting impression on me. Today the stakes are much higher and we have grown used to the idea of both the blockbuster exhibition and the study of dress as a legitimate academic pursuit. The more exhibitions I visit, the more susceptible I become to the influence of the environment in which they are presented.

Recently I saw four exhibitions in Paris:




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Sacred and Profane: the decadent decorative taste of Gabriele D’Annunzio



Recently a string of coincidences led me to visit Il Vittorale, the estate of poet, aesthete and political activist Gabriele D’Annunzio. On hearing that I was going to Lake Garda, my brother lent me a guide book to Il Vittoriale, which he himself had chanced on. Knowing my decorative tastes and interests he thought I would appreciate it. I did. The following week Radio 4 broadcast an episode of The Pike, a new biography by Lucy Hughes-Hallett of the “Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War.” The next coincidence came during the last of a lecture series which I had been attending. It was on the theme of Decadence and Dr Allan Phillipson† explored D’Annunzio’s relationship with “The Divine Marchesa,” Luisa Casati.

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