A Beautiful Book: The Illustrated Cottage

November 24, 2007 at 9:23 pm (Art, books)

illustrated.jpg The Illustrated Cottage is by Niña Williams, with Photographs by Keith Scott Morgan and Murals and Illustrations by Barb Fisher and Laura Chappell.

Well, you’ll say, this is quite the collaborative effort, n’est-ce pas? Mais, bien sûr, is it ever! Williams has made her cottage dwelling into an hommage to Provence, that storied region of France beloved by so many. The odd thing – or, one of the odd things about this project – is that at the time that it was conceived and launched, Niña Williams had never been to Provence. So, the decoration of this house is meant to embody a sort of Provence of the mind.

(One mystifying aspect of this book had to do with the actual location of the “Illustrated Cottage.” I had to turn to a review source in order to find out that it’s in Denver.)

The murals are not simply scenes of the region; rather, with the assistance of trompe l’oeil artists Barb Fisher and Laura Chappell, Williams has fashioned a narrative, replete with various characters who have their own stories. We begin with a mural of the beautiful young Severine, in a dreamy contemplative mood. Then we see her out for a stroll with her her lover Robert. Other murals depict Maurice, an elderly gentleman, and his robust wife Celeste. Delphine is the French-American cousin. Nina herself appears toward the end of the tale, as does Ariane, the younger sister modeled on Williams’s own daughter.

In the introduction, Williams offers the following explanation:

“I planned the decoration from several points of view: house as autobiography; house as fairy tale; and house as French fantasy. Here I should state vehemently that the cottage is far from being a purist statement on French and Provençal design. Although some elements are French, the furnishings throughout are an extremely eclectic, personal gathering of art, antiques, and objects from all over the world assembled to suggest a story set in Provence.”

She adds that her design concepts were greatly influenced by the work of Swedish artist Carl Larsson:

julaftonen_av_carl_larsson_1904.jpg midvinterblot.jpg britaandi_selfportrait.jpg varen_1907_av_carl_larsson.jpg

It is very difficult to convey the riches of this idiosyncratic little volume without the accompanying visuals. In addition to the murals, there are photographs of the furnishings and accent pieces. The photography, like the cottage itself, is superb. The trompe l’oeil is so cunningly done, it is downright disorienting; there are times when it’s difficult to distinguish the real from the imaginary. I think that was part of the plan. If so, it succeeds brilliantly!

Escaping Criticism by Pere Borrell del Caso (1874) is a frequently seen example of trompe l’oeil painting:


For more examples of art that tricks the eye, see Wikipedia.

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