I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many wonderful artists and artisans throughout my life. I would like to highlight one particular artist, Isabelle Rey, whose work carries on the proud tradition of world renowned interior illustrators.
Once upon a time, there were no cameras. If one wanted a portrait, one had to spend a fortune to commission a work by an artist. It was a symbol of status to have a commissioned portrait. The aristocracy also wanted to preserve their beautiful rooms for posterity. These lavish surroundings were ornate and wonderfully detailed. To capture these details, a portrait had to almost be photorealistic, before that term was even coined. Isabelle’s work reflects this tradition.
A “bible” for interior designers is An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration by Mario Praz. Out of print for years when it was reintroduced, I immediately bought it and loved looking at the amazing illustrations of all types of rooms. My interests in interiors was always huge, but having this marvelous book as a reference inspired me to look at the world of interior illustration. I first met Isabelle in Paris through a mutual friend. I thought her work was amazing; such detail, the pattern upon pattern of the rich fabrics trimmed with intricate passementerie; the gleam of a gilded chair reflected in a mirror; the miniature portraits on the walls in perfect scale to the room. One’s eye could wander endlessly. These were rooms done by the great masters of layers: Geoffrey Bennison, Vincent Fourcade, Renzo Mongiardino, and later Jacques Garcia. In one of these glorious rooms, I noticed a small dog. For those of you who know, I love design, gardens, and flowers, but my first love are my pups, so I asked Isabelle if she created dog portraits. She said that she had never specifically focused on dogs in her work, but she was happy to portray mine. Here are two portraits she completed of my dogs The first picture is Luna and the second is of Trollop. I am going to tell my dog story and show all of Isabelle’s dog portraits that she has done for me and others in another post…
Miss Luna above: And Trollop below:
Isabelle is a very select member to a long line of great interior illustrators. When she was young, she voraciously reproduced patterns and fragments of rooms in her house. She is intrinsically drawn to details and perfection. Throughout her career, her patrons have included designers Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé, Alberto Pinto, Oscar de la Renta, the “beau mode” of Paris society, and a fair share in the U.S. as well. She has been commissioned by Cartier in Paris, Bergdorf Goodman in the US, the Stephanie Hoppen Gallery in London, and her work has been exhibited at the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent in a one woman show. Her particular technique is precise and miniaturist. Isabelle has been crowned the heir apparent to the genre of painting brought to its zenith in the work of the great Alexandre Serebriakoff. I first heard about Serebriakoff when a dear friend gave me a specially printed edition of his work. I cherish it.
Interior Illustrations by Alexandre Serebriakoff (above)
Serebriakoff was dubbed “Europe’s Rembrandt” for his mid-20th century portraits. His vivid interiors brought his subjects to life with vivid colors and the finest details, down to unique wood grain patterns. Mario Praz described such work as “vibrant with expectation, still animated by human warmth, like a bed only recently abandoned by the man who slept in it.”
Following in the steps of Serbriakoff, Isabelle’s work is filled with remarkable detail, and her attention to natural light and shadow is astounding. For so long, such interior illustrations were a closely held resource, almost a secret amongst those “in the know.” Those who had the wherewithal to have their interiors painted were members of a special club. Isabelle is a French woman who has helped keep the tradition alive. Here are some of her interior works.
The extraordinary eye and the hand to paint the amazing detail is a trademark of Isabelle’s work ( above and below)
Isabelle currently resides in the south of France, where she collects vintage pieces of paper, along with other odds and end,s and creates ephemeral art. While she continues to produce beautiful interior portraits, she is an artist that can paint anything from pets, to children or gardens. Her eye is like a microscope in search of every astounding detail.
The following illustrations are works that Isabelle completed for me depicting some of my rooms in Weatherstone and New York. Next up will be the Chinoiserie Room at Chisolm House and, hopefully, a beginning collection of exotic birds which so fascinate me.
The big room at Weatherstone
The master bedroom at Weatherstone
A work in progress—the unfinished painting of my New York City living room—you can just barely see the perspective lines for the intricate ceiling in the room.
In this age of Instagram and instant digital photos, high-precision portraits are more rare and valuable than ever. Artists such as Isabelle should be celebrated for bringing fairy-tale interiors to life. She is an heiress, expert, and champion of this style, and I feel that anything that we can do to support such great talent is really important. They keep an age-old tradition alive that is forever timeless. -cr
Isabelle Rey can be contacted directly via email@example.com or phone, 00 33 6 20 79 43 14 . Isabelle’s work is also available on Etsy.