Thursday, August 14, 2014

I Want to be Alone


A few months ago, I finally got around to reading Cecil Beaton's autobiographical Memoirs of the 40s. At the risk of offending any Beaton devotees, I confess that the book got on my nerves. Specifically, it was Beaton's chronicle of his obsessive love affair with Greta Garbo that I found to be most tiresome, if for no other reason than Beaton kept up the Garbo mania for more or less the entire book.

In Beaton's diaries, Garbo is portrayed as an enigmatic figure, a quality for which she was and still is well known.  And, if Beaton's reminiscences of Garbo are to be believed, she could also be quite manipulative too.  Not knowing very much about Garbo other than her famous movie line, "I want to be alone", and her penchant for privacy, I can't say if Beaton's portrait of Garbo is faithful to the woman or not.  More research on my part is needed.

However, long before I read Beaton's book, I was familiar with Garbo's reputation for having very good taste.  I had heard that her Manhattan apartment was beautifully decorated, which was confirmed over the weekend when I found photos of her apartment in the April 1992 issue of Architectural Digest.  The glitz and glamour of Hollywood seemed left far behind, and in its place was an elegance and refinement that was thoroughly Continental.  Garbo surrounded herself with French and Swedish furniture, Chinese porcelain, and, most notably, a fabulous collection of paintings, which included works by Renoir, Bonnard, Delaunay, and Jawlensky.

For all of the home's elegance, though, warmth and comfort did not appear to be lacking.  It seems that Garbo had innate talent when it came to decorating, furnishing her home with her blue-chip pieces in a way that was neither showy nor pretentious.  The result was an apartment that looked both very personal and incredibly inviting.



The apartment's entry hall boasted brown flocked wallpaper, whose Victorian demeanor was tempered by that modern-looking geometric patterned rug.  It was Garbo herself who designed the rug, which was one of many that she designed in conjunction with V'Soske.


Renoir's Léontine et Coco (1909) was hung above the living room's fireplace, on which Chinese porcelain was displayed.



The two photos above show just some of Garbo's collection of paintings, which included works by Bonnard and Jawlensky.


Yet another Renoir, this one titled, Enfant Assis en Robe Bleu (1889)


A painting by Jean Atlan, Composition,  and a painted chest in the master bedroom.


Garbo's closet.  The rug was designed by Garbo.


Paneling from a Swedish armoire, which Garbo disassembled and used in various guises in her bedroom.

All photos from Architectural Digest, April 1992, photos of apartment by Fritz von der Schulenburg; photo at top part of the MGM Collection.

16 comments:

  1. Hello Jennifer, I got the same vibe from that book, that those reminiscences were in poor taste, and moreover smacked of a "protest too much" quality. Great photos of Garbo's apartment, by the way.
    --Jim

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    1. Jim, You are quite right about the "protest too much" quality to this book. I can't imagine that we are the only ones who feel this way.

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  2. These spaces are beautiful. Perhaps Garbo's true talent was as an artist as the design level of the rugs displays. Her paintings and fine antiques collections are top notch. I think I noted more than a touch of Fortuny and those books.......
    Thanks, Mary

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  3. Whatever the actual extent of their relationship, it seems clear that Beaton was under Garbo's spell, for better or worse.
    As for Garbo's apartment, didn't Billy Baldwin advise her at some point?

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  4. Truly a gem to add to your collection is the slipcased hard bound catalog from her auction of the same year...which this spread was part of the lure. The view to the Inner Sanctum where this Sphinx of Privacy dwelled cocooned, was all the more fantastical when the artwork, Fortuny and furnishings were the reveal. Sadly, few see this any longer as the epitome of Style...though her Modernist touches with carpets and Art is really the way a true connoisseur would live even I today's world. Pinks, blues and greens...her favorite colors. I loved the sorry of how she had a little curtain covering the Renoir over the fireplace so that as you were invited into the rooms over the years (beginning from the elevator entry should one had the privilege) the reveal of treasures was the gift...for the occasional plumber or superintendent of building, well...the curtain was closed.

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    1. It seems that I must add the auction catalog to my library. I'm intrigued. And thank you for recounting the story about the curtain covering the Renoir. I think that my feelings would have been hurt had I visited her apartment only to find the Renoir curtain closed!

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  5. Jennifer,
    You are funny! I own a copy of that book- and I can't even read it- I only started collecting Beaton books because so many of my mentors had them in their libraries- I think I should sell my small collection-
    As for Mr. Beaton, perhaps he was more in love with her taste (like a muse) than the woman herself?
    Those paintings and FFF can be awfully seductive, especially back then- when they had more meaning- and more status!
    Dean

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    1. Dean, If you start to read Beaton's diaries, do let me know what you think. I think that they can be maddening at times.

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  6. Anonymous7:09 PM

    Thank you so very much. I remember the AD article, but failed to keep a copy. Impeccable taste at the Campanile!

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    1. I don't think that I realized that the name of the building was the Campanile. Thank you for letting me know.

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  7. Although Garbo enjoyed decorating on her own, Miss G, as he called her, was notably a Billy Baldwin client. Undoubtedly, Beaton had helped as well. And nutritionalist Gayelord Hauser (some think also lover) at least tried to give decorating advice as well.

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    1. John, She must have had advice and help from a number of people. I have also been told that the husband of fashion designer Valentina helped as well.

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  8. See also the Greta Garbo's Sale, Sotheby's, New York, November 15, 1990

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    1. Thank you, Roberto. I shall do so.

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  9. I THANK YOU for these wonderful entries that you illuminate us with, indeed.
    I have been vexed about all these intrusions into Grarbo's privacy (not your intrusion!) just two years after she died.....Did she omit to strictly prohibit her niece (I believe the major beneficiary and executor of her property) to show this to the world? It is well-known that she very rarely invited people into her apartment, and unless I am wrong she would not have been known as a "hostess"....The apartment is lovely, though I am afraid that for a woman like Garbo there is more than a hint of the undefinable "haute-bourgeoisie" in it all.....it was also very tiny in comparison to the apartments of the very wealthy in those days (especially across the street!)----but maybe I am wrong. As well, it grates me that you can see that whole panel of books, so uniformly in leather, which clearly, traditionally, was a feast of classical literature. Those "libraries" were "de rigueur" in any old money house, so perhaps we can excuse her---but I have read repeatedly that she did not read AT ALL........She also was known to watch the most "low-brow" of television, including her soaps, which she watched religiously. She definitely, it appears, was NOT a highly cultivated person.
    As for the book (I have been meaning to read it too) people are greatly surprised that Cecil would have fallen in love with her. Of course, it was platonic. I myself, as a gay man in college, "fell in love" with a beautiful girl that I would not have hesitated to marry.
    As you know, she much later broke the relationship, and never went back talked to him again (by the way, lest it be seen otherwise, I am a GREAT fan of Ms. Garbo).
    THANK YOU, again, for these magnificent moments from the past, and I have wondered if you have contemplated opening a page on Facebook---which would simply be a taste to invite people to this great website of yours,
    My best wishes.
    RAY

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    1. Dear Ray, Garbo certainly seemed like a person of great contrasts. But I think that what is most striking is how she lived her life according to her own set of rules. She seemed to do what she wanted to without worrying about what others thought. Although now that I write that, I wonder if she was very clever and lived in an idiosyncratic way so as to draw attention to herself rather than deflect it. What do you think?

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