Saturday, August 20, 2011
Stephen Tennant illustrates The White Wallet
Stephen Tennant is one of those figures of the literary and artistic world who pop up now and again, whose own achievements are enjoyable enough but not great in their own right but whose life is so intricately intertwined with the truly great that they appear more important than perhaps they actually are.
Tennant's mother was a cousin of Lord Alfred Douglas. Tennant was the lover, for four years, of Siegfried Sassoon. In his home at Wilsford Manor Tennant entertained the brightest and best of his generation including Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster and most of the 'Bright Young Things' of the 1920s where they were all photographed by a young Cecil Beaton as they cavorted around in fancy dress. After the war Tennant went into a long, slow decline becoming increasingly reclusive and spending his time completely redecorating the interior of Wilsford. I recently had a copy of the Sotheby's catalogue from the 1980s of the sale of the house and contents after Tennant's death and there are some fantastic photos of the interiors decked out in silver or fishnet or pink...
Tennant himself was a good artist and a better illustrator/designer but his output was not really large enough to feel that he ever reached his potential. This book above is a poetry anthology edited by Tennant's Mother, Pamela Grey and published by J. M. Dent in 1928. Tennant provided the jacket design, the title page and some decorations (below) but what grabbed me most about the book - as if you couldn't guess) was the design of the patterned paper on the boards. There's nothing in the book to say who designed the paper but I would be surprised if it was Tennant himself.