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Revisiting an old friend – The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals

I was in the Wallace Collection a couple of weeks ago having a look at the delightful Manolo Blahnik exhibition.  The shoes are dotted throughout the exhibition which means there is a kind of treasure hunt to find them.  One of them was placed in front of this famous portrait.  Now, The Laughing Cavalier was ubiquitous when I was growing up.  It turned up on biscuit tins and calendars all the time.  Because it was so familiar, I was a bit sniffy when I saw it up on the wall, but I thought I might as well have a look as it was there in front of me.  I am glad I did, because it really does reward close attention.  Frans Hals could really paint fabric.

A bit of information about the painting first.  Of course, the sitter isn’t laughing and he isn’t a cavalier.  Apparently, the motifs on his sleeve suggest that this might have been a betrothal portrait, and he was probably a merchant of some description.  The Wallace Collection website states:

In this exuberant half-length portrait, a young man poses, arm rakishly akimbo, against a plain grey background. The painting is inscribed with the date (1624) and the sitter’s age (26). The work is unique in Hals’s male portraiture for the rich colour that is largely imparted by the sitter’s flamboyant costume: a doublet embroidered with fanciful motifs in white, gold and red thread, with a gilded rapier pommel visible at the crook of his elbow…

By the early nineteenth century, Hals’s reputation had fallen into relative obscurity. Despite this, the portrait became the object of a furious bidding battle between the 4th Marquess of Hertford and Baron James de Rothschild at a Paris auction in 1865. It was acquired by Lord Hertford for the princely sum of 51.000 francs (about £2,040), an event which proved to be a turning point in the artist’s critical reputation. At the Royal Academy exhibition of 1888, the painting was exhibited with the title ‘The Laughing Cavalier.’

What caught my eye was the fantastic painting of the sleeve, particularly the embroidery, and also the lace.

 

I love those buttons and the lace on his cuffs.  Also, look at the way the ruff is painted:

Look at the gorgeous way he has painted the black silk:

And finally, the lovely frill of lace in the lower left-hand corner of the frame:

I think this is just too gorgeous to walk past.  Here’s the Manolo Blahnik that went with it:

Now, I can see why they paired the picture with Blahnik’s interpretation of the riding boot, but I think it misses the point.  Although materials and craft employed here are exquisite, this portrait is not about restraint.  It is flamboyant and rejoicing in excess.  I think it’s been matched with the title.

Just glorious.  Next time I go to the Wallace, I will go and have another look.

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Dieter Rams and Ten Principles of Good Design applied to Quilting

 

There was a very good documentary on BBC 4 last night about Dieter Rams who was, for many years, the head of design at Braun.  I had an orange Braun hairdryer throughout my adolescence which I really loved, and was slap-bang in the middle of his tenure so he may well have had a hand in it (now going for well over £100 on ebay).

 

He is an industrial designer, still working, who has a very stripped back aesthetic.  His own home is pretty minimalist and, frankly would drive me bonkers:

 

but it does show that he is consistent in his values and lives with them.

He is well-known for having developed his ten principles of design, which I thought were worth thinking about in terms of designing quilts and other textile pieces.  This is not because I think we should slavishly follow Herr Rams, but because I think it is good practice to think about what we do with a set of prompts which might just jog our thinking.

There is a very good account of the ten principles on Vitsoe’swebsite: https://www.vitsoe.com/gb/about/good-design.  He is currently designing for them and they have a show room just around the corner from the Wallace Collection, which is currently probably my favourite museum.

The ten principles then:

  1. Good design is innovative.  This one is straightforward.  Even if we are working in a really traditional way there is scope for innovation.  EPP is a good example.  Naomi Clarke demonstrates fantastic innovation in what is a particularly traditional form.  If you slavishly copy a quilt you are a copier not a designer, obviously.
  2. Good design makes a produce useful.  Of course.  There is little point in designing a circular bed quilt unless you have hot feet, in which case it is brilliant design.
  3. Good design is aesthetic.  For Rams, this is a pared back, stripped back aesthetic.  Design is about purity and he avoids fussiness or decoration.  I expect he would admire Amish quilting which exemplifies this approach.  It is plain.  But he is a bit more accepting of design that isn’t product design having a few more frills.
  4. Good design makes a product understandable.  All those things you look at and think, ‘what’s that for?’ are not well-designed.  When you look at a quilt, it ought to be recognisable as something you could put on a bed or on a wall.
  5. Good design is unobtrusive.  The idea here is that nothing should shout out at you.  When you go into your kitchen your eyes should not immediately be drawn to the kettle or the toaster.  We are after visual calm.  This might be worth a note to self as I reach for the fuschia pink highlight.
  6. Good design is honest.  It does not try to be anything other than it is.  It does not try to fool you with features you don’t want.  This is hard for quilters, I think.  I don’t think we try to suggest that our quilts are anything other than quilts.  But, I think that it applies to cheap printed quilts you can buy ready made.  They exist, but they arennot as lovely as the real thing.
  7. Good design is long-lasting.  This is an easy one for quilters.  The standard form of three layers is timeless.  And, we still collect antique quilts which will fit into most interiors – even Herr Rams cool white house.
  8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail.  Yes, thinking about how we are going to finish a piece comes under this heading.  Choosing the quilting thread.  Designing the label.  All these things need to be designed in at some point.
  9. Good design is environmentally friendly.  Rams was talking about our impact on the environment as early as the 70s.  He is a bit of a champion and hero of environmentalists.  This one is tricky for quilters.  On the one hand, many of us recycle and repair.  On the other, the textile industry is a massive polluter and dehydrator.
  10. Good design is as little design as possible.  This is back to simplicity.  I have seen quilts where I have thought to myself, ‘Blimey, they’ve thrown everything at that’.  But this one doesn’t have that much to say to me.

Rams is also famous for his nostrum: buy less, buy better, which Vivienne Westwood also recommends.  I think this is probably true for quilters.  We should think about the impact of what we buy on the world.  Will we use that fat quarter?  Can we buy organic?  All those concerns.