Brushes With Fame
Besides illustrating this magazine's covers for 15 years, Jeremiah Goodman has painted just about every celebrity interior worth knowing
Julie V. Iovine -- Interior Design, 3/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Jeremiah Goodman demonstrates how he uses watercolors to paint Baron Jay de Laval's terrace in Acapulco, Mexico. Photography: Eric Laignel.
Goodman depicted the eccentric decorator and set designer Tony Duquette's Venetian-style Los Angeles living room as a palatial vision.
A watercolor and pencil drawing of fashion designer Bill Blass's New York bedroom captures Biedermeier furniture and Napoléonic art.
At home in New York, Goodman relaxes with a copy of Jeremiah: A Romantic Vision. Photography: Eric Laignel.
His studio is chock-full of artists' tools.
A friendship with jewelry designer Elsa Peretti led to this portrait of the fireplace at her house in Italy's Porto Ercole.
Goodman sometimes disguised artworks for stylistic reasons. However, it's hard to miss the Henry Moore sculpture at Gianni Agnelli's office in Paris.
Goodman recorded Billy Baldwin's Gustav Klimt–inspired ballroom for the centennial celebration at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Art collectors in Sydney, Australia, owned this town house.
An Australian mall's food court contained this American-themed diner.
Playwright Edward Albee displays Oceanic art in his New York loft.
Photographer Bruce Weber commissioned this painting of his Adirondack cabin, complete with antler chandelier, as a present for his companion, Nan Bush.
Goodman's monograph features his creative output over 70-plus years; the cover shows him at age 18.
Event designer Robert Isabell brought Goodman in to record a formal dinner promoting a Giorgio Armani perfume in New York.
There's a Portuguese word that captures the secret longing one sometimes feels when poring over pictures of other people's houses. Whether they're sumptuously appointed or austerely au courant hardly matters. All are fodder for fantasy. Saudade: That concept has never been lost on Jeremiah Goodman, who has spent the past six decades portraying the inner life of interiors.
Friend and playwright Edward Albee writes in the foreword to Goodman's recently published monograph, Jeremiah: A Romantic Vision, that fine artists always ambitiously aim to "get beyond the facts to the reasoning behind them." While the bold, impressionistic strokes of his gutsy watercolors and gouaches don't register the details of the curios on Ronald and Nancy Reagan's mantelpiece in Los Angeles, or the names of the books on Elsa Peretti's cocktail table in Spain, or the condition of a Louis XV commode in a baron's foyer in Mexico, Goodman's illustrations do accomplish something altogether more magical. They capture the spirit of a room as distilled by its inhabitants.
A chipper fellow who lives comfortably amid art, books, and candles in a New York apartment with glamour views of the Queensboro Bridge, Goodman is still in top form at age 84. Recently, he showed his work at the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut. When the splashy Jeremiah came out, Bergdorf Goodman mounted another exhibition and hosted the book party.
Goodman perpetuates, without copying, the tradition distinguished European illustrators, among them Alexandre Serebriakoff, who painted keepsake portraits of Parisian aristocrats' houses in the 1940's, and Mario Praz, the artist, critic, and author of the benchmark An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration: From Pompeii to Art Nouveau. In Goodman's rendition, we're conscious of a charcoal-washed sobriety in Bill Blass's bedroom—with yellow daubed here and there like accents on one of his minimalist fashion designs. We likewise perceive the unmistakably restless energy in the blur of strokes used to show the messy bed, the book-strewn floor, and a majestic dog or three relaxing in Bruce Weber's tent bedroom in Montana.
Born in less exalted circumstances, Goodman is the son of a butcher in Niagara Falls, New York, who enjoyed encouraging his five children to converse about culture over dinner. When young Jeremiah hurt his hand, his parents gave him a box of crayons to help him pass the time. And he was off, first to art school in Buffalo, then to New York's Parsons School of Design.
It had been seeing the film The Broadway Melody as a child that first got him dreaming of set design in Hollywood. But six dreadful weeks apprenticing with Joseph Platt, who did the interior sets for Gone With the Wind, made Goodman wonder whether to rethink that plan. Next, an underwhelming offer to work on a jungle set for 20th Century Fox dashed his hopes for good. As he puts it, "How was I going to show off my style by hanging a lantern in a hut?" After the Second World War, he started working for Lord & Taylor, illustrating print advertisements that established the department store's signature look of carefree elegance.
Since he makes friends easily, those in a position to help delighted in doing so. Shakespearean actor John Gielgud provided the artist with an entrée in London. "Before he got rich," Goodman adds, with characteristic good humor. Thanks to the composer Richard Rodgers, Goodman illustrated a popular 1964 book, My Favorite Things, written by Rodgers's wife, Dorothy. Illustrations for Harper's Bazaar and Vogue introduced Goodman to other members of the cosmopolitan set, and soon he was sketching Billy Baldwin's parlor and Elsa Peretti's boudoir.
From roughly 1952 to 1967, he was the cover artist for this magazine, earning $50 to $75 a pop. Whether the subject was keyed to an event, for instance a conference in New Orleans, or simply themed to the season, the editors gave him complete creative latitude, he recalls. One of his favorite covers is from December 1967: an abstract, lime-green evocation of holiday spirit that shows a branch hung with gargantuan glass ornaments, lording it over a plaid armchair. Doing those covers was a "fantastic experience," he remembers. "It always is, you know, when people put their faith in you." In 1987, he was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame.
"Basically, I did everything I could to turn a buck," he says, sitting in his mirrored living room, his own canvases propped in a corner for ready reference. "My boss at Lord & Taylor once told me there wasn't anything you can't do. That was the best advice anyone ever gave me." And he laughs at the memory—because the guy was talking specifically about painting a few polar bears on an ice floe.