Tag Archives: Edmund Davis

Dulac in Kensington


Edmund Dulac invitation p52 - Copy (2)

This post starts with someone we’ve encountered before: the art collector and patron Edmund Davis.

Edmund Dulac The musical soiree p53 - Copy - Copy

As we learned in the post about a room decorated for Davis by Charles Conder this picture shows Davis and his wife in 18th century dress, dancing at a musical soiree in their house in Lansdowne Road. But there are others in the picture: the Davis’s niece, Clare Atwood is sitting on the sofa dressed as a clergyman or scholar. Behind her stand the artists Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. We assume the dog has come as himself although the Davises had attended other costume parties in animal guise. (A pair of poodles if you recall). In the chairs on the left are Elsa Dulac and  Davis’s sister-in-law Mrs Halford. We don’t know who the comedy soldiers are, or the lady at the harpsichord but the gentleman in the right corner at the front who is looking out of the picture is the artist who painted it. The year is 1912.

As we saw in the other post about Conder, costume balls were very popular at this time. We’ve seen other examples of dressing up en masse in the pre-War period – see the many posts on the Chelsea Pageant – and I’ve suggested in the past it amounted to a kind of obsession. Edmund Dulac seems to have had a bit of a gift for it. Here he is on horseback in a tableau vivant.

Tableau vivant 1913

Dulac and his wife were living nearby in Ladbroke Road at number 72, a house owned by Davis who had created studios there and  in several other houses in the area where other artists lived. Dulac was born and educated in France but had come to London in 1905 and lived and worked in Britain for the rest of his life.

72 Ladbroke Road 1968 KS612

You can see the tall windows suitable for studio use in this 1968 picture. An estate agent’s picture of the rear in 1988 shows the large garden.

72 Ladbroke Road 1988 garden

I’ve spent a lot of blog time this year hovering around a series of artists and illustrators, some of whom like Charles Conder were closely associated with Kensington or Chelsea,and some like Hugh Thomson whose connection was much looser, in the subject matter or collaborator. Many of them were artists I had never heard of before. But Dulac, like Arthur Rackham, who appeared in a post about this time last year is someone whose reputation has lingered into modern times. He was another of those artists/ illustrators whose work was published in large format paperbacks in the 1970s  – Rackham himself, Sidney Sime, Harry Clarke, Aubrey Beardsley, Heath Robinson – most of whom had some element of the fantastic about them which fitted in with the boom in fantasy literature of the time (and with fantastical prog rock album covers, but let’s draw a veil over those.)

By 1912 Dulac was known for his illustrations to the Arabian Nights as well as books of his like My Days with the Fairies (1910) . This is an illustration from Sleeping Beauty and other fairy tales (1910).

Edmund Dulac from Sleeping Beauty and others p62 - Copy

Dulac’s pictures are exotic and glamorous, exactly right for his subject matter, fairy tales and folklore.

His faeries are colourful and benign (unlike those of say Rackham).

My days with the fairies - she smiled at him very graciously

His treatment of stories like the Little Mermaid contain just the the right amount of grotesque elements.

The Little Mermaid from Hans Anderson

He even tackles one of Hugh Thomson’s favourite subjects, young women lounging around. (See the post on the Admirable Crichton )

Sleeping Beauty - they overran the house without loss of time

After his early success with the Arabian Nights he often depicted European stories such Bluebeard’s Castle and Beauty and the Beast in an “Arabian” setting.

there in a row hung the bodies of seven dead women

In October 1916 Dulac watched a Zeppelin being shot down above west London. This is possibly the same incident that Herbert Hoover and his family saw from the nearby roof of the Red House (link) although Dulac was alarmed rather than excited by the event and Elsa was badly shaken. There were more heavy raids the following year with aircraft visible over Holland Park which unnerved them both. Edmund Davis arranged for them to live on an estate in Surrey where there were others escaping from the bombing.

They were back in London in 1918. The era of the big illustrated book seemed to have gone so Dulac diversified into costume and theatre design and commissioned work. In 1919 they moved across the road (almost literally ) to the slightly larger 117 Ladbroke Road

117 Ladbroke Road 1988

The Dulacs lived on the upper floors.(The artist Glyn Philpott lived on the lower floors).Oddly, in 1988 the building was still organised into two separate residences.

Elsa never really recovered from her nervous condition exacerbated by the war years and in 1923 she and Dulac separated. Apparently not one to let the grass grow under his feet it was not long before Dulac was joined by a young woman who was already a frequent visitor, Helen de Beauclerk . She shared his interest in astrology, Jungian psychoanalysis , meditation and fringe philosophies  like those of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.

The Dulacs had the upper two floors which included a large studio and a verandah.

Dulac and Helen Beauclerk at Ladbroke Road

You can see that Helen looked quite like a typical Dulac character. The picture below shows her in 18th century dress in one of his illustrations to her novel, The Green Lacquer Pavilion.

The Green Lacquer Pavilion frontispiece 1925

This was appropriate of course, but here she is in a folk tale illustration.

Fortunata and the Hen - A fairy grland

Possibly he liked to paint a certain kind of woman. This earlier image shows a woman just like Helen, before he even met her.

The Princess of Deryabar - Stories from the Arabian Nights

In later life he worked on designs for stamps and medals and adopted other styles for certain projects like Treasure Island (1927) and A Fairy Garland (1929)

The King and Puss in Boots - A fairy garland

Here he is in 1937 with his great friend W B Yeats who shared many of his interests. He died in 1953.

Dulac and Yeats 1937

Dulac is another example of an artist who is perhaps not as well thought of as he might be because he is associated with book illustration. One of my continuing interests on this blog is to look at artists like him whose work is preserved in library books rather than in galleries.


This post was conceived as a companion piece to the posts about Conder, but who knows where it will lead. I’ve drawn heavily on Colin White’s excellent book on Dulac for biographical detail and pictures, but also used one of those 1970s picture books published by Coronet in 1975. An expert on printing could probably write an interesting post about the difference in printed colours between then and now, but I’m not such an expert so I’ll simply note that it is interesting how these things change. I’m looking forward to handling an original illustrated book by Dulac.

Edmund Dulac by Colin White. Studio Vista 1976.

Dulac edited by David Larkin. Coronet/Hodder and Stoughton  1975

Both out of print but still available through online retailers.

A room decorated by Conder

1982. An estate agent’s brochure announces the sale of a large property in North Kensington just off Holland Park Avenue. The brochure speaks of a room with “polished satinwood panels painted in the style of Charles Conder”.  The artist seemed of less interest to the writer of the brochure than the fact that the club had been used in the filming of the TV series Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (which we were all glued at the time but of which I now recall nothing) The asking price, if you’re interested was £650,000. (The picture below is more of a side view.)

Chestertons 1982 p01

The Knights of St Columba were selling their London club house. The Knights were a Catholic fraternal organisation for men. A KSC brochure from 1971 describes the facilities for members. Many bedrooms, a chapel, rooms for conferences and meetings, a bar

KSC Club 1971 p4-5 - Copy

The brochure is fairly clear that one of the rooms was called the Conder room – presumably because the paintings in it were by Conder.

KSC Club 1971 p6-7 - Copy

That section of wooden paneling in the centre of the picture is what you should be looking at, although it’s impossible to make out much detail.

Why the estate agents were cautious in their assessment is not clear. We are quite sure that Conder did decorate a room for the then owner of the house, a wealthy art collector and patron named Edmund Davis who was born in Australia and made a fortune in mining in southern Africa.

You can see an invitation to a fancy dress ball at the house in my previous post on Conder.  Davis had commissioned the architect F W Marshall to create an arts and crafts house at 11-13 Lansdowne Road in 1896. The house was covered by the Architectural Review in 1914.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 plate IX - Copy

The rooms are cool and austere in these pictures which look as if they belong to a palace rather than a large Victorian town house.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 p39 - Copy (3)

Even the roof has an exotic look, like a hidden temple.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 p39 - Copy (2)

Below is the Conder room. You can make out a few more of Conder’s pictures and get a better sense of the size of the space.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 plate X Conder room

Another angle on the room  matches the picture from the 1971 brochure although the comparison does not favour the later version.

Arch Review Vol 35 1914 p39 - Conder room

This is described as a recess in the Conder room in the 1914 article.

I’ve spent a little while getting us to this point partly because the research was interesting in itself but also because I wanted to ground Conder’s pictures in historical reality. Now we have now reached what I thought of as the substance of this post and we can have a look at several of Conder’s watercolours painted on silk. Fortunately the Studio magazine had published an appreciation of Conder’s paintings in 1905 by Martin Wood. The photographs are monochrome but they still give a strong sense of Conder’s artistic vision

001 p201 - Copy

Wood says: “the eye is engaged, the intelligence is aroused, but only to a point; a story is told, a drama is enacted in them which is never finished. There is a purpose about the actions of the figures which evades us, an anecdote in each of the panels that escapes us and this elusiveness gives us rest – the restfulness which is to be demanded of perfect decoration.”  You have to leave the ordinary world of buildings and rooms behind and follow the logic of the costume parties he attended to enter into Conder’s imaginary places which are part ancient Greece, part 18th century France.

002 pp202-03 - Copy (4)

The pictures are all set out of doors in some landscaped open place, part garden, part temple, part theatre,  where clothed and naked people disport themselves in a carefree fashion, sitting, posing or engaged in enigmatic actions.

005 pp208-09 - Copy (3)

I’ve looked around for a passage from the fantastic literature of the early 20th century to complement Conder’s pictures and I’ve picked out a piece from an anthology of the stories of Lord Dunsany who was most famous as a dramatist but who also wrote curious short stories set in an invented world. They were reprinted in the post-Tolkien fantasy boom of the 1970s and fitted in well with the interest in fin de siecle decadent art and literature. Dunsany was highly influenced by Belasco’s play the Darling of the Gods, an oriental fantasy which we last encountered in a post about another of our favourite London artists, Yoshio Markino, although Conder’s images are far from Markino’s urban fantasies.

002 pp202-03 - Copy (2)

The two artists do share a certain indistinctness which adds to the unworldly tone. Some of Conder’s pictures were painted using the grisaille technique, a kind of monochrome water colour, so we don’t lose that much from seeing the pictures in black and white.

004 pp206-07 - Copy (3)

So I came down through the wood to the bank of the Yann and found, as had been prophesied, the ship Bird of the River about to loose her cable.
The captain sat cross-legged on the white deck with his scimitar lying beside him in its jewelled scabbard, and the sailors toiled to spread the nimble sails to bring the ship into the central stream of Yann, and all the while sang ancient soothing songs. And the winds of the evening descending cool from the snowfields of some mountainous abode of distant gods came suddenly, like glad tidings to an anxious city, into the wing-like sails.

From Idle days on the Yann, a story which is more middle eastern / oriental than classical but it remains one of my favourites one Dunsany’s. The narrator is a man from London who enters the land of dreams via a shop in Go-by Street, just off the Strand. Conder’s pictures also seem like entrances to another world.

004 pp206-07 - Copy

The pleasure seekers have come indoors and put their clothes on as the day grows chilly.

005 pp208-09 - Copy

Like Dunsany’s dreamer you can come back into the world and perhaps find many years have passed. Here is the house in a Planning photograph from the 1990s when presumably it had been restored to its constituent parts. I can’t tell you what became of the Conder pictures. Perhaps someone knows.

Lansdowne Road 9-13 planning photo 1990s possibly

Edmund Davis was a well known figure in the art world in his lifetime, and a friend of far more famous artists than Conder – Frank Brangwyn (who also painted wall panels at Lansdowne Road for him), Charles Ricketts, Edmund Dulac (who lived in one of Davis’s properties in Ladbroke Road). He was knighted in 1927. At his country house Chilham Castle he had old masters and many works by August Rodin. (There was an enclosed swimming pool surrounded by Rodin sculptures). There was a significant art theft there in 1938, a year before Davis’s death. Oddly, it was hard to find out a great deal of information about him. In an excellent article in Apollo  in 1980 Simon Reynolds wrote: “his name is forgotten in every field of endeavor”  His wife Mary who also worked in water colours on silk influenced by Conder died three years after him.

As the two of them have played a bigger role in this post than I anticipated here is a picture by Edmund Dulac depicting them dancing at a musical soiree.

Edmund Dulac The musical soiree p53 - Copy - Copy

This picture is the end of this post but the starting point for another one in the near future.


I’m finishing this off just after the two minutes silence for Remembrance Day. It’s a good moment to remind anyone who is interested about our local WW1 website at http://www.kcworldwar1.org.uk .

On a less serious note for those of you who like such things the London History Festival is back again, starting next week. See our website for details.

And on an even less serious note I have been reading Catie Disabato’s recent novel the Ghost Network which is a Pynchonesque narrative about a disappearing pop star and the Chicago transport network. If anyone else is reading it I draw your attention to page 130. (Near the bottom of the page – how did she know?)

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