Piero Malacrida de Saint-August

Marchese Piero Luigi Carlo Maria Malacrida de Saint-August (1889–22 April 1983)[1] (also known as Pier or Peter Malacrida) was an Italian aristocrat, playboy and London-based interior designer. He and his first wife, the poet Nadja Malacrida, were prominent socialites in London in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Piero Malacrida is best known for his interiors at Eltham Palace. Following the death of Nadja in 1934, Malacrida withdrew from public life, although he later remarried.

The Dining Room at Eltham Palace by Malacrida: Black marble and ebonised panels with geometric marquetry inlays.

Personal lifeEdit

 
Malacrida's first wife, Nadja. A wedding photo, published in The Sketch, 13 December 1922

Malacrida was a former cavalry officer who had studied Engineering at the University of Leeds.[2] On 6 December 1922, he married an Englishwoman, Louisa Nadia Green, at St Bartholomew-the-Great. She was a niece of Lord Cowdray, usually known by her pen name of Nadja. She was a prominent socialite and literary celebrity in 1920s London.[3][4] Known not only for her looks, charm and intelligence; she was also a BBC radio broadcaster, an aviatrix, racing driver, poet and set designer. She is best known today as a World War I poet.[5]

The couple lived in a large and luxurious flat in Grosvenor Street and a country house at East Molesey, where they entertained many of the leading literary and artistic figures of the day.[6] As a result of their numerous accomplishments and connections the couple acquired a certain glamour and were frequently mentioned in society gossip columns and the court pages of the London newspapers.[3] In addition, Malacrida himself frequently wrote articles on design for international publications such as Vogue. All this brought him to the attention of wealthy clients and patrons.[3]

The marriage is reported to have been happy; when apart, they wrote each other daily.[6] Each pursued their own hobbies independently while sharing many common interests and collaborating on some of their written works; however, both professed to not being natural authors.[6]

EthosEdit

 
A temple-like bathroom at Eltham Palace

Writing in the late 1920s, Malacrida rejected the then current concepts of interior design; he specifically criticised what he described as the "cottagey-inglenook-pickled oak school" and also the "walnutty Queen-Annish style" then currently in vogue, describing them as "locked in the past."[3] The former style was later to be described by the architectural historian, Osbert Lancaster, as Stockbroker Tudor.[7] Malacrida, though, was not beyond drawing upon medieval and Gothic motifs as was obvious in his design for a staircase hall in Upper Brook Street, London. There, bare stone walls were adorned with medieval wooden figures and Venetian bucentaur lanterns while the room itself is covered by a trompe l’oeuil ceiling depicting leaves against a sky.[8]

Malacida's early works mostly drew on classicism for inspiration, often designing circular or semi-circular columned rooms in the manner of temples. Such was the bathroom he designed in 1932 for Samuel Courtauld, in a house - now a Grade II* listed building[9] - at 12 North Audley Street, Westminster, which not only had columns, but also painted feature panels by Rex Whistler.[10][11] Another bathroom design, "in the Pompeian style", with walls of red marble,[12] commissioned in 1922 by Samuel Courtauld was for a suite, now known as the "Lady Islington suite", in Home House, Portman Square.[13] The Audley Street work and an article by Malacrida in a 1928 edition of Vogue show his designs to be very much in the style that Osbert Lancaster was to describe as Curzon Street Baroque. The Vogue article shows the ecclesiastical niches and prie-dieux, large feature paintings and trompe-l'œil which were the hallmarks of that style.[14][15]

By the early 1930s, Malacrida's work had become a pared back, streamlined form of Art Deco which never quite fully embraced Modernism. Malacrida is best known for his interiors in the 1930s rebuilding of Eltham Palace for Stephen Courtauld and his wife Virginia, Stephen was the brother of Malacrida's earlier client, Samuel Courtauld.[16]

Withdrawal from public lifeEdit

Piero Malacrida de Saint-August has been described as mysterious.[17] This is because he arrived suddenly on the London high society social scene in the early 1920 and his work and social activities, along with those of his even better known wife, were almost instantly and incessantly reported in the press.[3] Then, almost as suddenly as he appeared, he disappeared.[3]

His departure from public life was precipitated by the death of his wife in an unexplained motor accident in 1934. Driving alone, she was returning to London from a weekend in the country when her car left the road and plunged down an embankment, she died instantly from a broken neck.[3] A love of speed was a mutual passion the couple had shared; they had owned a series of fast cars including Hispano-Suiza, Mercedes and Isotta Fraschini.[6] Following his bereavement, Malacrida immediately left London for a month, eventually returning only to complete his work at Eltham Palace.

In 1935, he published Finale. Self-portrait of Nadja Malacrida, this included a memoir of Nadja by Cecil Roberts, a close friend of the couple.[18][19] The book was a tribute to his late wife and contained letters the two had sent each other in the month before her death.[20] In the book he provided some details about his life prior to his marriage. He appears to have been an Italian army pilot during the First World War and says "Did I know Ljubljana, Leibach as it was known in the old days? I said I did, though I had never actually been there; but it was one of my flying objectives during the war, when I had a spell of bombing in the old Caproni." [21] After the war he was a newspaper correspondent. In the 18 months between first meeting Nadja and their engagement he was abroad a great deal: "Northcliffe, my Lord and Master, packed me off to Helsingfors, where I was to collect some news from Kronstadt, and chat with as many Russian princesses as I could possibly bag, in the picturesquee camouflage of the latest fugitives from Soviet Russia. Peasant dress and ropes of pearls do you remember? After that I actually managed to get into Russia, and then went on to Poland, and then, after three days in London, on again somewhere in the Balkans. Then back to Poland once more." After his return to London and second meeting with Nadja (an afternoon at Kew) he was obliged to travel again: "the next day I left for America, where I had to attend the Washington Conference, with a spectacular and grossly overpaid job for some American newspaper combine." [22]

On his own account the marriage was characterised by extravagant expenditure: "We bought a plane, though financially and otherwise we had no business to, and both flew a good deal, everywhere, together and separately. We had some fierce cars, and some quite nice houses we could not afford but somehow did." [23]

In 1940 Malacrida returned to Italy to fight for Mussolini in the war. He later retired to live in Ireland. [24]

Today, few of Malacrida's works survive. Those that do include Eltham Palace[18] and the bathrooms at North Audley Street[9] and Home House.[13]

Sometime in the early 1950s Malacrida remarried. His second wife, May (née Murphy) of Clonmel was a widow – her husband, Bernard Culhane, died on 29 December 1949 in a Dublin nursing home. Peter and May resided at Correen, a suburban villa, at 42 Ailesbury Road, Donnybrook, Dublin.[25] May Malacrida died on 11 September 1983 at 28 Shrewsbury Road, Dublin 4. The Irish Independent of 23 April 1983 has a short death notice – ‘peacefully in a Dublin nursing home in his 95th year. The Marchese Peter M., beloved husband of May, Shrewsbury Road, Dublin 4.’ He is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery.

In his will, he bequeathed a clock, once owned by Napoleon's mother, Letizia Ramolino, to the Irish State.[26] However, the wealth of his younger years was gone, he had sold his library of rare books in 1935 and his collection of fine French and European furniture and objets d’art in 1963. His Grant of Probate proved his wealth at Just £11,000.[27][28][29]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Eltham Palace". Patrickbaty.co.uk. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
  2. ^ World of Nadja Malacrida: A basic biography of NM.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Tinniswood, p164
  4. ^ Tinniswood uses her birth name of Louisa. However, from 1918 she used her pen name of Nadja. Her portrait famously painted by Ettore Tito, Nadja was born Louisa Nadia Green in 1896
  5. ^ Female War Poets, Nadja Malacrida
  6. ^ a b c d Roberts, p16
  7. ^ Lancaster 1939, p70
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ a b Historic England. "11 AND 12, NORTH AUDLEY STREET W1, City of Westminster (1225300)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  10. ^ "Plate 53: Interiors of the 1930s". British History Online. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  11. ^ The Architecture of the Estate: Modern Times.
  12. ^ "Junior Suites in Marylebone, London". Home House. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  13. ^ a b Viner, Brian (1 April 2002). "Dawn French: The French connection". The Independent. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  14. ^ Vogue, p99.
  15. ^ Lancaster 1939, p. 64.
  16. ^ Campbell Dixon, Anne (3 July 1999). "London: Hollywood meets the Tudors". The Telegraph. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
  17. ^ The Architecture of the Estate: Modern Times
  18. ^ a b Tinniswood, p169
  19. ^ de Hegedus, Adam (12 January 1936). "A Memorial in Letters". The Observer. p. 4.
  20. ^ Roberts, contents of Finale
  21. ^ Finale. Self-portrait of Nadja Malacrida p.156
  22. ^ Finale. Self-portrait of Nadja Malacrida p.32-33
  23. ^ p.34
  24. ^ Michael Harris 'Eltham Palace' 2011 (English Heritage Guidebooks)
  25. ^ "Correen, 42 Ailesbury Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4". Dublin's Great Estates. Retrieved 28 September 2019.
  26. ^ The Irish Times.
  27. ^ Catalogue of books from the library of the Marchese Malacrida. [vente, Londres, 21 novembre 1935 ; Puttick & Simpson.
  28. ^ Catalogue of French and Italian Period and Decorative Furniture in Kingwood, Tulipwood, Amboynawood and Gilt; Sheraton, Chippendale and Regency Furniture. English and Continental Porcelain, Waterford glass, Silver and Plated Ware, French Clocks, Ormolu Candelabra and Table Lights, Curios, Objects of Art and Vertu. Property of Marchese Malacrida. To be sold by Auction at "Correen", 42 Ailesbury Road, Dublin on Tuesday, 8th October, 1963. Publisher: James Adam, Dublin. Publication Date: 1963.
  29. ^ England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995, Probate date 27 January 1984, registration district Newcastle-upon-Tyne, page. 6006.

BibliographyEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Bradbury, O. "Introducing the Marchese Malacrida de Saint-August: Italian cavalry officer, journalist and interior decorator". C20: The Magazine of the Twentieth Century Society (Winter (2008–9)): 14–15.