Elsie de Wolfe

Elsie de Wolfe (also known as Lady Mendl ["Lady Mendl" was frequently used by the press during her married life. "Elsie de Wolfe" is the name that appears as author of her published books; modern biographers usually use this form of the name. "Lady Elsie de Wolfe Mendl" is mentioned by The Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, volume 20, Gale Group, 2000. "Ella Anderson de Wolfe" is given by the Encyclopedia Britannica as her name "in full," adding "married name 'Lady Mendl'" [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9029624] ] ) (December 20, 1865? ["LADY MENDL DIES IN FRANCE AT 84," July 13, 1950, p. 25. (Birth, death dates: with regard to her date of birth, the Times says she "rarely discussed her childhood" and "differences of opinion existed... one source said she was born on Dec. 20, 1865 on West Twenty-Second Street, a daughter of Stephen de Wolfe, a physician of Wolfville, N. S., and Georgiana (Copeland) de Wolfe of Aberdeen, Scotland.")] [Flanner, Janet (1938) "Handsprings Across the Sea," "The New Yorker," 1938-01-15, as posted online [http://www.newyorker.com/printables/archive/040927fr_archive01] ; re birth date, "Her passport gives the date of her birth as 1870, because a passport has to give some date and Lady Mendl enjoys a joke. The 1920-21 American Who's Who gave data which would make her now seventy-two years old; unprinted authorities say she is seventy-six; some grandmothers who went to school with her claim that she is eighty-two." (Doing the math, these would place her year of birth at about 1866, 1862, or 1856, respectively)] – July 12, 1950) was a pioneering professional interior decorator in the United States, nominal author of the influential 1913 book "The House in Good Taste," [Ghostwritten by Ruby Ross Wood: Abercrombie, Stanley (1999), "100 Years That Changed Our World," "Interior Design" 12/1/1999, as presented online [http://biennale.designstudio.hu/?m=11&almenu_id=9&nyelv=magyar&oldal_id=134&menu=m2] ("In 1913... Elsie de Wolfe publishes her book The House in Good Taste, based on previously published articles ghostwritten for her by Ruby Ross Wood. In 1914, Ruby Ross Wood and Rayne Adams write The Honest House.] and a prominent figure in New York, Paris, and London society. During her married life, the press usually referred to her as Lady Mendl.

Career

She is often credited with inventing the profession of interior decoration, though this is an exaggeration. In the 18th century, interior decoration was the purview of upholsterers (who sold fabrics and furniture) and architects (who employed a variety of craftsmen and artisans to complete interior design schemes for clients), while in the 19th century, the skills of designers such as Candace Wheeler and design firms such as Herter Brothers were well known. De Wolfe did however reap an enormous amount of publicity and doubtless was the field's most famed practitioner in the early 1900s, a period that also saw an increase of interest in interior design in the popular press. Among her clients were Anne Vanderbilt, Anne Morgan, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Adelaide and Henry Clay Frick [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1026/is_3_168/ai_n15661727] . She transformed the design of wealthy homes from the dark Victorian style into designs featuring light, fresh colors and a reliance on 18th-century French furniture and reproductions. [Flanner, Janet (1938) "Handsprings Across the Sea," "The New Yorker," 1938-01-15, as posted online [http://www.newyorker.com/printables/archive/040927fr_archive01] : "Twenty years after [1904] she had made a million and an international name by inventing the new fashionable profession of interior decorating.] [Webster, Katherine (2001) "A Decorator’s Life: Elsie De Wolfe 1865 - 1950", Canadian Interior Design website [http://www.canadianinteriordesign.com/kwi/Page_2/Elsie_De_Wolfe.htm] ( "the first lady of interior decoration," "without question the first woman to create an occupation as designer")] [Webster, Katherine (2001) "A Decorator’s Life: Elsie de Wolfe 1865 - 1950", Canadian Interior Design website [http://www.canadianinteriordesign.com/kwi/Page_2/Elsie_De_Wolfe.htm] ] [cite book
last = Sparke
first = Penny
coauthors = Mitchell Owens, Elsie De Wolfe
year = 2005
title = Elsie De Wolfe: The Birth of Modern Interior Decoration
publisher = Acanthus Press
location =
id = ISBN 0-926494-27-9
: "Considered the mother of interior decoration" is from a synopsis of this book, attributed to "Book News, Inc., Portland, OR," at bookseller's website [http://www.campusi.com/isbn_0926494279.htm] .
] [Cummings, Mary (2004), "The Interior Realm of the Hamptons." [http://www.hamptons.com/hamptons_article_arts_417.htm] ("Stretching things...")] .

In her autobiography, de Wolfe calls herself a "rebel in an ugly world." Speaking of herself in the third person, she says that her mother said often that she was ugly, but "just what ugly was she did not know... Now she was to know." Arriving home from school, she found that her parents had redecorated the drawing-room::She ran [in] ... and looked at the walls, which had been papered in a [William Morris| [William] Morris] design of gray palm-leaves and splotches of bright red and green on a background of dull tan. Something terrible that cut like a knife came up inside her. She threw herself on the floor, kicking with stiffened legs, as she beat her hands on the carpet.... she cried out, over and over: "It's so ugly! It's so ugly." [cite book
last = De Wolfe
first = Elsie
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 1935
title = After All
publisher = Harper and Brothers
location = New York and London
; (Reaction to Morris wallpaper, p. 2-3)
]
Hutton Wilkinson, president of the Elsie de Wolfe Foundation, notes that of course many things that De Wolfe hated, such as "pickle and plum Morris furniture," are prized by museums and designers; he believes that “De Wolfe simply didn’t like Victorian—the high style of her sad childhood—and chose to banish it from her design vocabulary." [Wilkinson, Hutton (2004) note in cite book
last = de Wolfe
first = Elsie
authorlink = Elsie de Wolfe
editor = Hutton Wilkinson
year = 2004
origyear = 1913
title = The House in Good Taste
publisher = Rizzoli
location =
id = ISBN 0-8478-2631-7
, p. 225
]

De Wolfe began her professional career in theatre, making her debut as an actress in Sardou's "Thermidor" in 1891, playing the rôle of Fabienne with Forbes-Robertson. [New International EncyclopediaFact|date=April 2008] In 1894 she joined the Empire Stock Company under Charles Frohman. In 1901 she brought out "The Way of the World" under her own management at the Victoria Theatre, and later she toured the United States with this play. [New International EncyclopediaFact|date=April 2008] On stage, she was neither a total failure nor a great success; one critic called her “the leading exponent of . . . the peculiar art of wearing good clothes well.” [Franklin, Ruth (2004) "A Life in Good Taste: The fashions and follies of Elsie de Wolfe." The New Yorker, Sept. 27, 2004. [http://www.newyorker.com/critics/atlarge/?040927crat_atlarge] ] She became interested in interior decorating as a result of staging plays, and in 1903 she left the stage to launch a career as a decorator. ["Elsie de Wolfe to Wed Sir Charles Mendl; Their Wedding Set for Tomorrow in Paris," The New York Times, March 9, 1926, p. 1: early career as actress, "most widely known women in New York social life."]

In 1905, Stanford White, the architect for The Colony Club and a longtime friend, helped de Wolfe secure the commission for its interior design. The building, located at 120 Madison Avenue (near 30th Street), became the premier women's social club. (It is now occupied by the American Academy of Dramatic Arts) The success of this endeavor was a turning point and launched her on a financially successful career. [Gray, Christopher (2003), "Streetscapes/Former Colony Club at 120 Madison Avenue; Stanford White Design, Elsie de Wolfe Interior," The New York Times, September 28, 2003 [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE5D6143DF93BA1575AC0A9659C8B63&sec=&pagewanted=print] ] [Flanner, Janet (1938) "Handsprings Across the Sea," "The New Yorker," 1938-01-15, as posted online [http://www.newyorker.com/printables/archive/040927fr_archive01] : "Twenty years after [1904] she had made a million...]

De Wolfe's 1926 marriage to diplomat Sir Charles Mendl was page-one news in the New York Times. The Times said that "the intended marriage comes as a great surprise to her friends," perhaps because since 1892 she had been living openly in what many observers accepted as a lesbian relationship; as the Times put it "When in New York she makes her home with Miss [Elisabeth Marbury|Elizabeth [sic] Marbury] at 13 Sutton Place." Elisabeth (Bessy) Marbury, like de Wolfe, was also a career pioneer; she was one of the first theatrical agents, and her clients included Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. During their years together, Marbury, the daughter of a prosperous New York lawyer, was initially the main support of the couple. Dave Von Drehle speaks of "the willowy De Wolfe and the masculine Marbury... cutting a wide path through Manhattan society. Gossips called them "the Bachelors." ["Elsie de Wolfe to Wed Sir Charles Mendl; Their Wedding Set for Tomorrow in Paris," The New York Times, March 9, 1926, p. 1: early career as actress, "most widely known women in New York social life."] [cite book
last = Aldrich,
first = Robert
authorlink =
coauthors = Garry Wotherspoon
year = 2002
title = Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History
publisher = Routledge
location = New York
id = ISBN 0-415-15983-0
p. 494 ("famous lesbian relationship... openly received...")
] [cite book
last = Bunyan
first = Patrick
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 2002
title = All Around the Town
publisher = Fordham Univ Press
location =
id = ISBN 0-8232-1941-0
p. 204 ("Miss Marbury... was the lesbian lover of Elsie De Wolfe...")
] [cite book
last = Von Drehle
first = Dave
authorlink =
coauthors =
year = 2003
title = Triangle: The Fire That Changed America
publisher = Atlantic Monthly Press
location =
id = ISBN 0-87113-874-3
"willowy Dewolfe and the masculine Marbury..." p. 72
] [Curtis, Charlotte (1982), "A Decorative Collaboration." The New York Times [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9907EFDF163BF933A15755C0A964948260&sec=&pagewanted=all] . ("Miss Marbury was born to a fortune she herself enhanced. Her attachment to Miss de Wolfe lasted more than 40 years, during which time Miss Marbury paid more than half of their shared household expenses.")]

In 1926 the New York Times described de Wolfe as "one of the most widely known women in New York social life," and in 1935 as "prominent in Paris society." She was immortalized in popular songs of the day. In Irving Berlin's "Harlem On My Mind" the singer professes to prefer the "low-down" Harlem ambience to her "high-falutin' flat that Lady Mendl designed." One of the color schemes she popularized was the inspiration for the Cole Porter song "That Black and White Baby of Mine" (whose lyrics include the lines "All she thinks black and white/She even drinks black and white").Fact|date=May 2008

Her morning exercises were famous. In her 1935 autobiography, de Wolfe wrote that her daily regimen at age seventy included yoga, standing on her head, and walking on her hands. Shortly after her marriage she scandalized French diplomatic society when she attended a fancy-dress ball dressed as a Moulin Rouge dancer and made her entrance turning handsprings. A guest chided her: "Elsie, it is wonderful to be able to turn handsprings at your age. But, after all, you are, you are Charlie's wife, and do you think it is in perfect taste for the wife of a diplomat to perform acrobatics in a ballroom?" A Cole Porter lyric observed that "When you hear that Lady Mendl, standing up/Now turns a handspring landing up-/On her toes/Anything goes!" [cite book
last = De Wolfe
first = Elsie
authorlink = Elsie De Wolfe
coauthors =
year = 1935
title = After All
publisher = Harper and Brothers
location = New York
id =
, p. 256: "I have a regular exercise routine... founded on the Yogi method... introduced to me by Ann Vanderbilt and her daughter, Princess Murat... I stand on my head... I can turn cart wheels. Or I walk upside-down on my hands." Costume-ball incident, p. 258. Photographs of her sitting in a twisted Yoga position and standing on her head, between pp. 142-3
] [Porter lyric: "Irving Berlin: A Hundred Years," Columbia CGK 40039, track 8: "Harlem On My Mind," sung by Ethel Waters: 1:44] ["Musicals! 15 Hit Songs from Classic Musical Shows," Angel CDC 0777 7 54835 2 9, track 8, "Anything Goes," 4:35]

In 1935, Paris experts named her the best-dressed woman in the world, noting that she wore what suited her best, regardless of fashion. ["PARIS EXPERTS PICK 20 'BEST DRESSED'; Ten American Women Among Those Considered Leaders in Smart Attire. Mrs. W. K. Vanderbilt One. Ina Claire, Constance Bennett, and Kay Francis Others—Duchess of Kent Among Americans." The New York Times, November 26, 1935, p. 27. Two days later, November 28th, p. 33, the Times reported that Lady Mendl, just arriving in Paris, said she did not agree and that Mrs. Reginald Fellowes (a.k.a. Daisy Fellowes) of Paris and London was the best-dressed woman anywhere. The Times reported Lady Mendl as "scoffing at the report that she spent $40,000 a year for clothes. She spends around $10,000 annually—certainly no more than $15,000—she declared." $10,000 in 1935 dollars is roughly equivalent to $138,000 in 2005 dollars [http://www.westegg.com/inflation/] ]

De Wolfe had embroidered taffeta pillows bearing the motto "Never complain, never explain." [Hadley, Albert (2004): Foreword to cite book
last = de Wolfe
first = Elsie
authorlink = Elsie de Wolfe
editor = Hutton Wilkinson
year = 2004
origyear = 1913
title = The House in Good Taste
publisher = Rizzoli
location =
id = ISBN 0-8478-2631-7
, p. xv
] On first seeing the Parthenon, De Wolfe exclaimed "It's beige—my color!" [Wilkinson, Hutton (2004), note in cite book
last = de Wolfe
first = Elsie
authorlink = Elsie de Wolfe
editor = Hutton Wilkinson
year = 2004
origyear = 1913
title = The House in Good Taste
publisher = Rizzoli
location =
id = ISBN 0-8478-2631-7
, p. 229 ("Beige, my color!")
] [Rich, B. Ruby (2001): "Frames of mind: Dykes take on decor heaven." The Advocate. Los Angeles: Aug 14, 2001., Iss. 843/4; p. 64 ("It's beige—my color!")] [Flanner, Janet (1938) "Handsprings Across the Sea," "The New Yorker," 1938-01-15, as posted online [http://www.newyorker.com/printables/archive/040927fr_archive01] ] At her house in France, the Villa Trianon, she had a dog cemetery in which every tombstone read "The one I loved the best." [Wilkinson, Hutton (2004) note in cite book
last = De Wolfe
first = Elsie
authorlink = Elsie de Wolfe
editor = Hutton Wilkinson
year = 2004
origyear = 1913
title = The House in Good Taste
publisher = Rizzoli
location =
id = ISBN 0-8478-2631-7
, p. 232 ("The one I loved the best")
]

"American Decades" opines that "she was probably the first woman to dye her hair blue, to perform handstands to impress her friends, and to cover eighteenth-century footstools in leopard-skin chintzes." ["Elsie de Wolfe." American Decades. Gale Research, 1998]

Books by Elsie de Wolfe

*cite book
last = de Wolfe
first = Elsie
authorlink = Elsie de Wolfe
coauthors =
year = 1913
title = The House in Good Taste
publisher = The Century Company
location = New York
id =

*cite book
last = de Wolfe
first = Elsie
authorlink = Elsie de Wolfe
editor = Hutton Wilkinson
year = 2004
origyear = 1913
title = The House in Good Taste
publisher = Rizzoli
location =
id = ISBN 0-8478-2631-7
(Reprint)
*cite book
last = de Wolfe
first = Elsie
authorlink = Elsie de Wolfe
coauthors =
year = 1934
title = Elsie de Wolfe's Recipes for Successful Dining
publisher = D. Appleton-Century Company
location = New York
id =

*cite book
last = de Wolfe
first = Elsie
authorlink = Elsie de Wolfe
coauthors =
year = 1935
title = After All
publisher = Harper and Brothers
location = New York
id =

ee also

* The Decoration of Houses a manual of interior design by Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman
* Anti-Victorianism
* Victorian decorative arts

External links

*Flanner, Janet (1938) "Handsprings Across the Sea," "The New Yorker," 1938-01-15, as posted online [http://www.newyorker.com/printables/archive/040927fr_archive01] ; profile of de Wolfe
*
* [http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/DLDecArts.deWolfe House The house in good taste] (University of Wisconsin Digital Collections)
* [http://www.vintagedesigns.com/rev/dewolfe/ Elsie de Wolfe, The House in Good Taste] Reviewed by Sarah E. Mitchell
* [http://www.preserve2.org/gramercy/proposes/new/district/47_49irv.htm Elsie de Wolfe House]
* [http://www.acanthuspress.com/book_pages/elsie.html Elsie de Wolfe The Birth of Modern Interior Decoration] by Penny Sparke ISBN 0–926494–27–9
* [http://www.canadianinteriordesign.com/kwi/Page_2/Elsie_De_Wolfe.htm A Decorator’s Life Elsie De Wolfe 1865 - 1950]

References

Persondata
NAME= Wolfe, Elsie de
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Lady Mendl
SHORT DESCRIPTION=American interior decorator
DATE OF BIRTH=December 20, 1865
PLACE OF BIRTH=
DATE OF DEATH=July 13, 1950
PLACE OF DEATH=


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Elsie de Wolfe — Elsie de Wolfe, um 1880 Elsie de Wolfe (* 20. Dezember 1865 in New York als Ella Anderson de Wolfe; † 12. Juli 1950 in Versailles, Île de France), besser bekannt als Lady Mendl, war Amerikas erste professionelle Innenarchitektin …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Elsie De Wolfe — Ella, dite Elsie, Anderson de Wolfe, par son mariage Lady Mendl, est une actrice et décoratrice américaine née à New York le 20 décembre 1865 et morte à Versailles le 12 juillet 1950. Née dans une famille new yorkaise fortunée, éduquée par des… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Elsie de Wolfe — Nacimiento …   Wikipedia Español

  • Elsie de Wolfe — Ella, dite Elsie, Anderson de Wolfe, par son mariage Lady Mendl, est une actrice et décoratrice américaine née à New York le 20 décembre 1865 et morte à Versailles le 12 juillet 1950. Née dans une famille new yorkaise fortunée, éduquée par des… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Elsie — may refer to: NOTOC NounsPlaces* Elsie, Michigan, a village in Clinton County * Elsie, Nebraska, village in Perkins County * Elsie Inglis Memorial Hospital, was a hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland, founded in 1925 * Elsie Island, NunavutItems*Elsie …   Wikipedia

  • Wolfe (surname) — Wolfe is a surname. It might refer to: Alternate spellings include Wolf, Wolff, Wulf and Woolf. A * Alan Wolfe, political scientist and a sociologist * Allison Wolfe, singer * Ann Wolfe, boxer * Anne Wolfe, politician * Anthony Wolfe, footballer… …   Wikipedia

  • Wolfe — ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Ann Wolfe (* 1971), US amerikanische Boxerin Anthony Wolfe (* 1983), Fußballspieler aus Trinidad und Tobago Art Wolfe, US amerikanischer Naturfotograf Arthur Michael Wolfe (* 1939), US amerikanischer… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Wolfe — Wolfe, James Wolfe, Thomas Wolfe, Tom * * * (as used in expressions) Miller, Jonathan (Wolfe) Tone, (Theobald) Wolfe Wolfe, Elsie de Ella Anderson de Wolfe Wolfe, James Wolfe, Thomas (Clayton) Wolfe, Tom Thomas Kennerly Wolfe, Jr …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Wolfe — /woolf/, n. 1. Charles, 1791 1823, Irish poet. 2. James, 1727 59, English general. 3. Thomas (Clayton) /klayt n/, 1900 38, U.S. novelist. 4. Tom (Thomas Kennerly Wolfe, Jr.), born …   Universalium

  • Elsie — /el see/, n. a female given name, form of Elizabeth. * * * (as used in expressions) de Wolfe Elsie Franklin Rosalind Elsie Parsons Elsie Clews Elsie Worthington Clews * * * …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.