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

Category: Miscellaneous

Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix , Carlotta Bonnecaze and the phenomenon of serendipity.


Little Mermaids’ Home float design by Carlotta Bonnecaze

Float design by Carlotta Bonnecaze

Dumb society by Carlotta Bonnecaze

A string of coincidences has led me to discover the extraordinary work of Carlotta Bonnecaze, a designer of  Carnival costumes and floats in 19th century New Orleans. Last weekend I made a very brief trip to Paris to attend the seminar Corps à Corps avec la Mode  I have been invited to present my research on  Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix to the Histoire de Mode society next March, which is an exciting prospect! While in Paris I took the opportunity to visit the great-granddaughters of Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix  and was shown photographs of the designer, her daughter and granddaughters, on a visit to New Orleans, during the First World War. Margaine-Lacroix’s daughter was married to a French-American  from New Orleans whose antecedents had the surname Bonnecaze. As I am visiting New Orleans in a week’s time I thought I would do an online search for the Bonnecaze family –  and discovered Carlotta.

According to Tulane University she was the first woman and first Creole to design for the Mardi Gras and worked exclusively for the Krewe of Proteus, from 1885 -1897. They make available online their archive of her work,%20Carlotta/mode/exact

The great authority on Carnival, Henri Schindler, devotes a chapter to her extraordinary, fantastical designs in his book:  Mardi Gras Treasures: Costume Designs of the Golden Age  Schindler relates that despite searching for twenty years in an effort to discover information about her, “the life of  Carlotta Bonnecaze remains shrouded in mystery.”

I may never discover whether the mysterious Carlotta was an antecedent of my friends in Paris, but I am thrilled to have discovered her work. She displays an extraordinarily inventive and at times surreal imagination.

Another brilliant female designer whose name slipped into obscurity for almost a century until, according to Schindler, the New Orleans author and historian Charles L. Dufour identified her in his 1981 book: Krewe of Proteus : the first hundred years.

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

Azure, indigo, ultramarine . . . beautiful blues

It doesn’t have to be beautiful – to be beautiful . . .

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All photos © Susie Ralph



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.

Lilac windfall . . .


Today the wind blew down a branch laden with lavish clusters of lilac  blossom. It will not last long once picked but for a few days I can enjoy its beauty and its scent indoors.

Lilac, according to the great gardener Christopher Lloyd, is best enjoyed in someone else’s garden. I am fortunate to have obliging neighbours!

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. . . and on a lilac theme – some fabulous  vintage jewellery found on pinterest.




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