23 May 2011

Stephen Tennant: The Rose of Apollo is Gloomed With Fatal Snow

"Stephen Tennant was a work-in-progress. Born in 1906 as the youngest son of the newly ennobled Baron Glenconner, his life was an expectation of privilege. Yet he subverted that all by becoming, in the words of Jacob Epstein, the most beautiful person, male or female, of his generation. Gold dust in his hair, vaseline on his eyelids, a leather coat copied from his brother's First World War flying jacket (with the addition of a chinchilla fur collar), he outraged staid society by dressing as a beggar in rags, and arriving with the greatest war poet, and protestor, Siegfried Sassoon on his arm.

But that dream ended, and Stephen, as the world became serious, retreated to the Arts and Crafts manor built for his mother by Detmar Blow, deep in a Wiltshire valley. There, overtaken by the vulgarity of the modern world, he recreated his beloved South of France, the imaginary territory of his never-to-be-completed masterpiece, Lascar: A Story of the Maritime Boulevards. And just as he forever re-wrote that manuscript, in ever-changing ink colours, and illustrated it with the tough tars and tarts of his fantasties, so Wilsford Manor was refurbished in his image.

Twenty two tons of silver sand were spread on the lush English lawns to evoke his Marseilles dream, Chinese fan palms planted, and tropical birds and lizards let loose in the grounds. In the winter, they took refuge in the house, accompanying Stephen as he turned the bath taps on his collection of shells, since they looked better that way. Meanwhile Cecil Beaton brought David Bailey and David Hockney, Kenneth Anger and Derek Jarman came to call, all rapt in Stephen's stories of Greta Garbo or the Ballets Russe, of the Sitwells and Rex Whistler, of dear Morgan Forster and Virginia's peculiarities, of Lawrence of Arabia and his beloved Willa Cather. And there Stephen lived on, in exquisite, decorative reclusion, reliving his past glories and imagining his future ones, such as this long-awaited exposition of his beauty and his art in London's salubrious East End."

An extensive selection of Stephen Tennant manuscript poems, letters, doodles, drawings & paintings are available from £20, framed drawings from £60.

Hendrick's Lectures Accompanying the Exhibition

More information and tickets from http://www.thelasttuesdaysociety.org

1 comment:

Prepwit said...

From my own Wiltshire valley, I echo Ian Dury: 'What a waste!'