Interior designer Emilio Terry blended classical and baroque to create what he called ‘Louis XIX style’. Fine art, furniture and objets d’art assembled by the Cuban-born artist are to be offered in An Exceptional Collection in Paris on September 15
The artist, architect and interior and landscape designer Emilio Terry came from a rich and well-connected Cuban family but spent his adult life in France. Between the wars, Terry was part of the Parisian modernist scene and was friendly with Salvador Dalí (who painted his portrait), Jean-Michel Frank, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Cocteau and Christian Bérard, among others. He carried out important schemes for patrons of Surrealism and Modernism, including Carlos de Beistegui in his Parisian townhouse, and after the war at the Château de Groussay.
In the post-war years, Terry developed a rich architectural and decorative style, which was at once classical and baroque. He called this ‘Louis XIX’. One of his last creations was a hôtel particulier — the French equivalent of a grand townhouse — which is among his most beautiful and complete works. The contents are to be sold at Christie’s Paris on 15 September.
Terry’s style is clearly recognisable from the entrance into a rounded hallway. Terry created a gigantic circular vestibule between 1964 and 1966 especially for the plaster cast of the famous Génie de la Danse by Carpeaux, the model for the figures on the main frontage of the Palais Garnier opera house.
Terry’s perfect sense of proportion references the architecture of the Old Masters of the late 18th century, notably Claude-Nicolas Ledoux and Étienne-Louis Boullée. He was one of the first visitors to the exhibition that rediscovered these great architects, which was held at the National Library of France in the autumn of 1965 while he was working on the design and decoration of this magnificent home.
Terry had already followed this concise, rigorous style in many memorable residences, including the Hôtel Beistegui, on the rue de Constantine in Paris, the Hôtel de Chanaleilles, the Hôtel Nahmias in Boulogne-Billancourt and a huge villa on the Riviera. The strength and the irresistible upward movement of Carpeaux's masterpiece was clearly an inspiration for Terry, who decided to create a huge semicircular niche for the model within a basic rectangular space.
The owner of the hôtel particulier was a longtime friend of Terry's, and the best craftsmen that could be found were employed to carry out his ideas. Their technical expertise is noticeable throughout the apartment, for example in the panelling of the dining room, and in the grand salon where a cornice was added — an essential ornamention in any decoration by Terry.
The furniture and the objets d’art were chosen in this spirit of admiration for the 18th century, with the addition of some interesting and more contemporary works. Hung against the Persian tapestries that adorn the walls of some of the rooms are charming works by Christian Bérard, one of the most famous designers of the late 1930s. He was 'the enchanter', a great friend of the house, and the organizer of parties at which people wore costumes he had created.
As soon as visitors entered this exceptional hôtel particulier, which embodies so much of Terry's gift for proportion, decoration and furnishings, they were charmed. It is truly a work of the most refined art of interior design and decoration.