As an aside, I think its worthwhile that I personally believe there will be very few "actual" pieces of art. I'm assuming most of the modern art pieces are originals by anonymous studio artists who copied other more famous artists. The more classic pieces (some in the classical style) are probably copies of original works of art (portraits, landscapes, etc.), but I'm unsure whether they are studio copies or just plain old fine art copies. We probably will never know.
So, sit back, put on your art-thinking caps, and work your hardest to recognize some of these pieces.
The Oriental Phase (ca. 1928)
Mame's chinoiserie (Eastern influenced European style) phase is the first we (the audience and Patrick) witness. I've always been slightly underwhelmed by Mame's style in this element. For one, it is not as cohesive as her later design changes, but it is still quite fantastic. There's several really nice elements- the ice Buddha, the screens, that incredible Japanese print- that would be so nice to identify, but I'm unable to do so.
I've always been fascinated by that black-lacquered wood desk behind her. That particular style of furniture was popular for centuries as Europe's fascination with the East came and went, so it is quite possible that the desk is a "real" antique desk. I'd love to know if that desk appeared in any other Warner Brothers films (though I almost want to rewatch The Letter and see if the desk appears there as the setting is East Asian). I've included a picture of a 18th century lacquer-wood desk for your comparison.
Mame's Blue Period (ca. 1930)
Mame's Blue Period is my favorite design scheme for the apartment just because it is so sophisticated that I would personally use this style. It's a mix of classical design motifs (columns, crown molding, etc.) mixed with modern art (pseudo Picassos, etc.) all in the same color scheme. It's brilliant! In our first scene with Mame in her new apartment, she is also dressed in the same fashion: a classic blue fur coat with a modernist hat- you've got to love the design brilliance!
There was a time when I thought the central painting in the apartment was an actual Picasso painting. I have since decided against it because I could find no proof of it and I am now under the impression that it is a very clever studio-imitation of a Cubist painting. You really can't blame me though, observe the Picasso's guitar collage below that inspired me to see the similarities.
by Pablo Picasso (1913)
During the heartbreaking Christmas scene, part of Patrick's decorations are his additions to the decor. He paints a clearly fake Picasso to cheer Mame up. In the Christmas spirit, it's a blue period/Cubist Santa Claus. Mame wittingly calls it part of his "Black and Blue period." It's a sweet moment that is often overlooked in the emotional context to follow.
The Genteel Mourning Stage
I'm not going to spend a long time in Mame's genteel mourning phase. While the apartment is decorated in a beautiful neo-rococo style, the film spends only a brief moment in this set, so I'll follow suit. I do want to note though, that in this scene, I am fairly sure that the flower painting is a real painting of fine art merit. During the 17th and 18th century, the Dutch painted scores of floral still lifes, so I wouldn't be surprised if that painting was picked up in a Hollywood antique shop. Of course, we never get a good, clear look at the painting and its impossible to identify at that distance. C'est la vie!
A Bouquet of Flowers in a Crystal Vase
by Nicolaes van Veerendael (1662)
The Classic Literary Phase
If there is one painting that I want to identify, it is the painting seen in black and white below. I have a color still of the painting, but it lacks the quality of the publicity still below. In case you forget, the painting pictures a young man holding a pipe in a brilliant blue coat. The painting hangs in the corner under the stairs which makes it central in the design of the set. I've included Gainsborough's Blue Boy underneath, because that's my only color comparison of that shade of blue. In the publicity still and in the film, Mame mirrors the painting. She wears a similarly sheer coat (but much more daring), with a pipe-like cigarette holder. Absolutely marvelous!
|The shade of blue in the painting reminds me|
of that mid-18th century blue in Gainsborough's
famed Blue Boy (below)
|An early 19th century portrait hangs in Mame's hallway|
That empire bust reminds me of Gilbert Stuart's portrait
of first lady Dolly Madison
With similar certainty, I believe the early 18th century painting in the upstairs hallway is a movie prop and I would bet that it appears on other sets in Warner's period films. I'll have to keep an eye out. The costume and posture is correct, but it lacks the grace and elegance (as well as the smooth finish) of a real aristocratic portrait of the time.
I always felt like this style works excellently in the film because, like Mame in the blue period, her outfits match the design of Beekman Place (in both color and style). We see Mame in three outfits while the apartment is decorated in this beautifully traditional style. In her second outfit (my personal favorite), she matches half the decor of her house- her staid books, her painting of fowl, her Shakespeare bust, just to name a few. Of note, I think it is possible that the chickens painting that is behind Mame is also a "real" painting. Like the Dutch floral pieces, there's a strange amount of 17th century Dutch paintings of animals.
That Shakespeare bust actually appears twice on the set. I don't know if its the same bust in two locations or just two identical busts. I think the Shakespeare bust is the only piece that I'm able to identify. I believe it is a 19th century bronze cast of an Emile Guillemin bust of William Shakespeare. So kudos to me.
If there is another set of paintings that bother me, it is the pair of portraits on Mame's famous stairs. They look like a matching pair of the 18th century portraits and I want, with every fiber of my being, to identify them as a real set of historical portraits. But, despite all my searching, I was unable to do so. I included two Godfrey Kneller portraits below. They are not a pair, but they share similar color schemes. Of note, the portrait of the man is Sir Charles Montagu, Earl of Halifax and the woman is Lady Anne Churchill. They are both dated from the early 18th century.
I've included a couple more pieces below with very brief descriptions. If anything, they provide brief descriptions about the actual pieces that make up the iconic look of Mame's literary Beekman Place. The classical sculptures are most likely copies of actual busts. I'd love to be able to identify them. Similarly, I'd love to be able to identify the origin of the Federal eagle that frames the fireplace.
|The classical busts could be dated anytime from Greco-Roman|
times to the present. (See the famous bust of Cicero below)
|A federal eagle is perched above Mame's traditional fireplace|
A real early 19th century, gilded federal eagle from New England
|This looks like a studio-commissioned portrait. I'd love to find|
the original film it was in.
The Exotic Modernism
The paintings, on the other hand, are clearly inspired by real modern artists of the time. Framing the doors, are two tall cubist paintings that look just fantastic. In the hall near the stairs is a very small painting that for some reason reminds me of Joan Miro. In fact, there are cubist paintings all over the set. If my screen was clearer, I would be interested to see if the designers used the same paintings for Mame's Blue Period and her Modernist period because I could see that happening.
|That gorgeous modernist painting reminds me of some|
of Joan Miro's work such as Blue II
|Mame's modernist mobile|
A real Calder mobile: Lone Yellow (1961)
The Golden Years: The Indian Phase
We only get a very brief glimpse of Mame's graceful, golden Indian phase. I'm not very knowledgeable at all about non-Western art, so I have trouble identifying pieces and styles. But from a level of simple visual appreciation, I love that mural that runs along the golden stairs. With its shining pagoda, and golden coloring, it is absolutely beautiful and brings the room into full Eastern resplendence.
I know that most of my posts are more cohesive and more fact-based and I apologize that I wasn't able to provide my usual caliber of information. This post is just as much for my working use as for the public's benefit. If you are able to provide any additional information about the set or the pieces adorning it, please comment with that information. I also promise that my following posts will be much briefer, much more to the point, and much better all around. Just allow me to satisfy my urge to write about Auntie Mame and I'll get right back on track.