Jeremiah Goodman has rendered the rooms of everyone from Cecil Beaton to Elsa Schiaparelli to Diana Vreeland in lushly colored portraits, capturing not just decor but the essence of the owner. Born in 1922 in Niagara Falls, he launched his career as an illustrator in his 20s (after a brief spin in set design), when he began designing adverts for Lord & Taylor. “I did as much as seven pages a week,” he says. “That’s what I called my ‘movie star’ salary.” In the 50s he became the cover artist for Interior Design
magazine, and went on to illustrate for Harper’s Bazaar
. Always willing to do, as he puts it, “anything to make a buck,” he's embarked upon countless creative projects in his life, from furniture design to packaging, even a “john seat.” Yet much of his prolific output has never been seen beyond its initial publication in magazines. Recognizing this, journalist and entrepreneur Dean Rhys Morgan
approached Goodman three years ago with a view to producing limited-run giclée prints of his works. Today, we share a selection of these resurrected images, and Goodman divulges some choice anecdotes.You’ve had so many commissions––which one worked the best?
I suppose Hermione Gingold, who was a friend. She was a British actress, and had a part in Gigi
. She was very much like me, in that if she saw something in a garbage can that she liked, she’d take it, and repaint it. It didn’t have to come from Cartier. Which was the most difficult?
It was for a man called James Amster, who had a lot of money from his family and was also a decorator. I was to paint his drawing room one Saturday, and he was very concerned because he was going to have Lady Mangold for lunch at that time. I said, "I don’t have to do the room you’re having lunch in, I can do your bedroom and get out in time so that you can get dressed for this luncheon." And he said [laughs], “My dear boy, I do not dress in my bedroom! I dress in my dressing room!” Why focus on interiors?
Very simply, I wanted to be a set designer more than anything! My first job that I thought of as a job was for Joseph B Platt, who did Gone With the Wind
. But I never worked on these movies. I worked in New York City as a designer, and when the time came for me to actually have the opportunity to do a movie, they gave me one that, well, I didn’t want to do. I hear it was a jungle movie?
The only opportunity I had to show my style was a kerosene lamp and a tent… It was hardly a thing to show what I could do. So your interest wasn’t just in sets, but in furniture, decoration…all things indoors-oriented.
I think, in truth, partly because I grew up during the depression. You think of things that will put you in another world, and you pray that it will happen. When I was in eighth grade, the class assignment was to say what career you would like to do. So I wrote that I wanted to be a “freelance artist.” I was 12 years old—and the teacher humiliated me in front of the class. She said, “Don’t be ridiculous! There’s no such thing as a traveling freelance artist. You should think about being a teacher, an art teacher.”You were never tempted to get a full time job?
I did have one job… during my first year at art school, in a studio that made displays for shop windows. And I’ll always remember the two people. They were partners: Sue Williams and Dana Cole. Cole, the man, hated me. Just hated me. They had this order of doing mannequin hands, and he had me paint all the fingernails on them, day after day. And then he fired me. And I’ll always remember what he said: “From the first day you came to work for us, I wanted to slap you in the face.”Can you name one person that has inspired you?
Every now and then someone comes into your life who has faith in you. Bruce Weber is one of those people. He said to me, “You can do anything.” I met Bruce because he wanted me to paint a collection of paintings of his dogs—Golden Retrievers—as a birthday present for his partner. He’s since commissioned me to do many things, most recently, illustrations to accompany his pictures in French Vogue