Most frequently, references to and photographs of the work of Tony Duquette, the multi-talented artist, designer, and decorator who passed away in 1999, have appeared in books and articles focusing on fantasy and the baroque in the applied arts. In addition, because his work was overwhelmingly concentrated on the West Coast, many Americans curious about Duquette have found it difficult to access information regarding this legendary figure. Until now, that is, for authors Wendy Goodman and Hutton Wilkinson and publisher Abrams have just issued one of the most beautiful and engaging design books ever. This generously-sized book (364 pages in length) is full of spectacular photographs, reproduced documents, and personal remembrances that combine to inspire, fascinate, and invite the reader to return to both the text and visuals again and again.
"Tony Duquette" is organized into eight chapters. The first four flow chronologically, covering his childhood and youth; the early social and professional connections that paved the path to prominence; the role of the beautiful Elizabeth "Beegle" Duquette as wife, muse, and collaborator; and the year (1950-1951) that the couple spent in Paris. The second quartet of chapters focuses on Duquette's work. First comes a look at his contributions to film and the stage and then his interior designs for others. Chapter Seven, the most visually spectacular in the book and perhaps most recognizable, showcases the exotic living environments that Duquette created for himself and Elizabeth. These sites, three in southern California and one in San Francicso, showcase his signature love of a highly layered look that drew inspiration from foreign cultures and employed spectacular antiques and many faux finishes. Where the acreage was available, Duquette's residences also included multiple "dream houses" which most resemble a fantasist's interpretation of Balinese temples. Chapter Eight, titled "The Do-it-Yourself de Medici," looks at Duquette as artisan, working with both mundane and precious materials to create fabulous jewels, accessories, and pieces of furniture, among other things.
Quite possibly Duquette's love of the exotic, of over-the-top decorating, and of formal entertaining will appeal to just a fraction of design aficionados and seem irrelevant in a modern world that moves at a faster pace, has a more fluid social structure, and has abandoned many of the social niceties so important to Duquette. Still, I am betting that a sense of wonder and fantasy is hard-wired into most of us, as our enthusiastic reaction to fantastical Christmas window displays, theatrical sets, and movie special effects suggests. And if this is not enough to draw you to this beautiful book, then glimpses of the three main environments in which Duquette operated--old Hollywood, San Francisco, and a Paris just recovering from the ravages of World War II-- should alone justify picking it up. Do I have any reservations about "Tony Duquette"? Just one. The text whetted my taste for more details and insights, and I would have loved to have seen a historian join the authors' team to expand in particular the contextual descriptions of the mid-20th century social and artistic scene in both America and France.