Thursday, May 5, 2011

bad taste

Supposedly, this is the head of an elephant shot by George Eastman when on safari in Africa in the later 1920s - it looks oddly artificial to me, and I don't just mean that glassy baleful eye ... I know the tusks of the beast were specially made (the original elephant only had one, and that particular piece of ivory is on display beneath this huge mounted object).   It looms over the house's central room.

It's not the only trophy in the house - far from it.   There are severed hooves, and - I regret to say - big cat skins.   GE enjoyed his shooting - and I don't just mean with still and movie cameras.   He seems to have been a paradox of a man - a huge philanthropist (he left his estate - what he hadn't already given away - to the University of Rochester.   He didn't have children: indeed, as the wording of a biographical display puts it, "because he was carefully diffident about his personal life, the question of his bachelorhood remains a mystery").  He put a huge amount of money into supplying dental clinics for the poor - something that Mussolini greatly admired him for, giving him a signed photograph.   He was very liberal on race issues, employing an African-American to run his vacation retreat-estate in NC.

And yet, he had horrible taste.   He was, I guess, a businessman par excellence; someone who wanted to make photo-taking easy and commercial, too - not consolidate its tentative position as an art form.   He read, to be sure (indeed, he had so many books he had his own librarian, and he made notes about what he read on the file cards) - lots of Dickens; a complete bound Mrs Humphry Ward.   He had beautiful gardens (the sun was out today, so one could really appreciate the magnolia and the grape hyacinths).  But - oh, the furniture; the brass statuettes; the lumpy sofas - it was the epitome of the worst that good money could buy in the early years of this century.

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