Few places capture the imagination quite like Newport, summer residence of America’s most famous dynasties and symbol of the country’s mythical Golden Age. Edith Wharton drew on her experiences as a resident of the Rhode Island panhandle to write her devastating chronicles of late 19th century high society, and a new book reveals that much of the pageantry documented by Wharton still takes place to this day. A summer in Newport offers a glimpse of what happens beyond those well-trimmed croquet lawns: a season of balls and gala dinners, swimming, sailing and many other ball sports; picnics and recitals; strange and eccentric customs and a world watched over by many rare breed dogs.
Baya Simons visited the authors in the city a few weeks before the book was published. Yet just as she discovered a place of immense privilege and social protocol, she also found a world of ghostly mausoleums, local schisms, and costly upkeeps requiring astronomical bills. Many of its most notable addresses are now run by the Preservation Society of Newport, an organization that has helped shroud the area in a profitable haze of nostalgia and ward off upstarts. But the community is still struggling to preserve its customs in the face of inevitable cultural change. Is this such a bad thing?
Baya’s story is a gripping read, a hauntingly romantic elegy for a culture quickly eclipsed by “progress” but in which some families still summer in homes – “always sitting around the same imitation Louis XIV tables and eating with the same custom Tiffany cutlery, overlooked by the same John Singer Sargent portraits – as their great ancestors once did”.
Painter Louise Giovanelli may not be a billionaire heiress, but the Monmouth-raised artist has always built a distinctive body of work based on her attention to the wonders of the past. Louis Wise, who met her in Manchester while preparing for her new exhibition, describes how she draws on the traditions of the Old Masters to create her technically virtuoso oils. As an art student in Manchester, Giovanelli often felt like an outsider: while her peers studied concepts, she studied canon and tried to learn and recreate the technique. It lends illuminating depth and humor to his canvases, which will be seen next month at the White Cube, Bermondsey. As Susan May, Global Artistic Director of White Cube tells us, “She is able to skillfully reference the historical tropes of Renaissance art and 17th century Dutch painting through a decidedly contemporary lens.
Equally skilled in reference, and perhaps just as obsessive, Fiona Golfar embarked on her own study of the masters to achieve the perfect blonde. Blonde hair has changed a lot over the decades. You want dirty blonde from the Noughties Sienna? Outdated roots like Dua Lipa? Billie Eilish’s platinum mane? Fiona talks to the experts about which blonde is the right one at the moment (for what it’s worth, I don’t think anyone has done it as well as Kurt Cobain).
Another conundrum: what to wear to the office now that the temperatures are warmer? Aylin Bayhan and Andrea Urbez captured summer in the city in clean silhouettes and a refreshing palette. I can literally imagine myself wearing all the looks they presented, because filming took place right here in the FT office at Bracken House.
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