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The best that money can buy

There may be many unattractive sides to wealth, but it can certainly purchase some jolly good buildings – as well, of course, as some awful ones.

There may be many unattractive sides to wealth, but it can certainly purchase some jolly good buildings – as well, of course, as some awful ones.

One such magnificent place is Two Temple Place in London. Designed by Late Victorian Gothic architect John Loughborough Pearson for the mega-rich William Waldorf Astor, it funcitioned mainly as an estate office. It is full of elaborate wood carving, stained glass, a ceremonial staircase and some extraordinary chandeliers. Unashamedly opulent, it manages to stay just the right side of kitsch and pastiche, perbaps because of its scale and extravagance. 

At the moment it is counterpointed with a very different aesthetic, as it is home to an exhibition called ‘Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion’. Most of the work is from the first half of the 20th Century, and while much of it is comfortably English, albeit far more Bohemian and austere, there are also some outrageous juxtapositions. The giant model of Mendelson and Chermayeff’s Bexhill Pavilion might as well be from another millennium, although it post-dates Two Temple Place by well under half a century. And Dali’s sofa of Mae West’s lips is deliberately uncomfortable.

This is a juxtaposition to treasure. Less comfortable are the magnificent drawings and sculptures of Eric Gill whose celebration of the female form would be more enjoyable if one did not know that he used his daughters, who he abused, as models. The contrast of house and works of arts is enlivening and an indication of changing approaches. But some of the dark sides of human nature sadly never change.

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