28 February 2010

Event Inspiration: Van Gogh & The Empress of Japan

I adore designing weddings, dinners, parties, fundraisers, celebrations of all kinds. They are exciting; they are ephemeral, they are meant to evoke a strong emotional response. They start quickly and end quickly, and usually without a plumber or electrician anywhere in sight! Done, next!

at a regal 18" tall, this Empress doll is made from fine Japanese papers
with gold trim and carved lacquered wood head and hands;
her headdress is shaped metal wire hung with glass beads; ca. 1885

For an event yesterday working with the fabulous Lisa Tomasi of Pear & Pepper Fine Catering and Events at a hip, cavernous photography studio out on Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, I decided to feature one of my favorite vintage finds: the Empress of Japan, Meiji Era (about 1885). She is lovely, made in the countryside in Japan (when Emperor and Empress dolls were all the rage at the end of the Shogun era), of humbler materials than the exquisite dolls made in the cities from fine silks and ivory. (If she had been a city Empress I was told by an appraiser, she would be worth $15,000! she's not)

I tried to evoke a sense of warmth and glamour
in this corner of the photographer's studio to
draw people together

we chose a showstopper large succulent in pretty aqua planter
for texture and "greenth" factor

hot soup shooters and chicken salad endive were
perfect for the chilly day..note the vintage
Blenko bowls we used

the Empress drew quite a crowd to the table and lots
of admiring questions; Japanese papers were used
along with lanterns, succulents and fresh flowers; Asian
prints were fixed to the stainless steel wall

we used gorgeous Japanese paper to wrap around these
boxes and used ranunculus, tulips & greenery

She found herself, not standing out, nor next to her equally impressive husband the Emperor (he stayed behind in my attic), but blending into the scene, comfortably presiding over a table where hot soup shooters were being served to guests as an unusual and delicious appetizer. She looks quite content, doesn't she?

Almond Blossoms, Vincent Van Gogh 1990
painted when he was at the asylum outside Arles, France

Which started me thinking about Vincent Van Gogh's Japoniasme. As a painter in France in the 1880's (overlapping the Meiji Era in Japan), he loved the Japanese woodcuts with their odd perspectives, flatness and simple lines. His paintings of that time reflect his love of Japanese simplicity and purity of design and intention.

"I envy the Japanese artists for the incredible neat clarity which all their works have. It is never boring and you never get the impression that they work in a hurry. It is as simple as breathing; they draw a figure with a couple of strokes with such an unfailing easiness as if it were as easy as buttoning one's waist-coat." Van Gogh

Bridge in the Rain, Vincent Van Gogh, 1887
Van Gogh copied Japanese woodblock prints
(ukiyo-e which means"pictures of a floating world")
which he found in the gallery next door to where he
lived in Paris

Portrait of Pere Tanguy, 1888, by Vincent Van Gogh in Paris
depicts the seller of his art supplies in front
of Van Gogh's collection of Japanese prints

Which started me thinking about what I would do if I owned a Van Gogh painting: where would I put it? what furnishings would enhance it best. I decided a smaller version of this reclaimed wood sideboard from Restoration Hardware would be in perfect juxtapositon to the delicate and colorful Van Gogh. It's simple and straightforward lines remind me of the very modest life he lived in France, surrounded by rough and handhewn pieces just like this one.

rough-hewn, solid planks sideboard from reclaimed wood

although, I do like this one too, an antique Mongolian
cabinet, 1890, with delicate painting would also
be a lovely complement to a Van Gogh painting
from Horchow

Which started me thinking about Van Gogh himself. If he had lived long enough to see how fantastically popular and valuable his paintings were to become, he might have used one of these vintage 1900 French aluminum suitcases to take his brother and benefactor Theo to St. Petersburg, Russia to see the beautiful city and its art. Can't you just see the two of them, happily boarding the train for the long trip, jauntily dressed with aluminum suitcases in hand?

fabulous French designed and made aluminum suitcases from
1900 with fantasic details, quality and undeniable cache
you can see them here

Gare du Nord, Paris, ca. 1900


in 2010, it's:

Kit Golson Design

for elegant, sustainable and pragmatic

Chic Provence Interior Design


  1. Wow! Kit, you are a master! quelle beaute! I love that you used turquoises and golds and silver and only the queen is red and gold. VRAIMENT FABULEUX! My first ever decorating job I got from a couple who were at a party decorated by me(the only one I ever did professionally) and I am still decorating 19 years later... Bravo Kit! et merci

  2. Hi Jeanne-Aelia thanks so much..you have a wonderful eye so I'm not surprised you are decorating for 19 years, so that's high praise! Have a wonderful day



  3. What a stunning table - you have inspired me for we are hosting our annual ski coaches dinner and I am planning on using ski trail maps for the table place settings - I adore van Gogh's Almond Blossoms.

  4. Thanks pve! I love the idea of ski trail maps, those can be so cool...I love maps of all kinds... we once lined a table with a huge map of Paris with great success..


  5. What a lovely party! The colors are so fresh and vibrant and just perfect for the slowly emerging spring. And your little empress is just fabulous...I love her hat! And so great to see some Van Gogh love; I recently finished an honors degree in Art History and your post made me miss sitting in a darkened lecture hall taking in beautiful pieces of visual history. I've often wondered what wonderful things we might have seen had Van Gogh lived longer. I love your image of he and Theo boarding the train suitcases in hand!

  6. HI Hope!

    thanks so much for the visit and sweet comments...I appreciate it so much, you Little French Mouse you!

    have a great day!


  7. Hi Kit. Thanks for answering the question"What would Bunny Williams do?" on your comment! That turquoise "Almond Blossom" reminds me of Kendall Wilkinson's Decorator showcase bedroom (with orange). Awesome aluminum suitcase. Merci, Trish

  8. Hi Trish, merci! I loved your post about Grey...I love the gold against the gray too on the clock face...that suitcase hardly looks over 100 years old, it has such a modern sensibility..

    Thanks so much for visiting and commenting


  9. Beautiful table . The japanese doll is a masterpiece. Merci for the inspiration, Kit

  10. Hi Kit,
    Thanks for your compliments!!!
    Trés Charmant your blog!!
    I will come soon to see you!!!
    A presto
    Kisses :)
    Daniela "DREAM SHABBY CHIC" Milano

  11. I love the theme and the excellent use of color and decorative details... beautiful!

  12. Bonjour Melanie, merci pour la visite! elle est magnifique, aussi son mari1 he will make his appearance with her soon, no doubt..

    thanks so much for visiting me!


  13. Daniela! thanks for visiting all the way from Italy this morning..I love your "spring is coming" post today!



  14. ... Hola Kit .. Estoy encantado con el diseño de Japón ¡¡¡... Muy ... muy agradable .. Berta

  15. Hi Kit!

    It was great to meet you on Sunday at the fabulous Treasure Island event. I love your blog and your work! Hope to see you again at a future event.

  16. Hi Berta! so happy to see you here..muchas muchas gracias para the visit!!

    I will see you soon, toile de juoy!



  17. Hi Crystal, thanks so much for stopping by!

    all the best,


  18. Absolutely stunning -- one of the most visually pleasing posts I've seen in a while. Especially that close-up of the gorgeous plant accompanied by the candles: magic.
    I think I need to do an Asian-themed get-together out on the terrace this spring/summer...
    Thanks for the inspiration (yet again).

  19. Hey Michael, how have you been! Thanks for visiting, and let me know when that will be on the terrace this summer...:) thanks for your very kind remarks



  20. My favorite Van Gogh! It is my desktop on my laptop. Lovely images.


I would love to hear what you think! merci!


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