BIOGRAPHY OF TONY DUQUETTE

“An American Design Icon”

 

 

Tony Duquette was a native of Los Angeles, California and an internationally acclaimed artist and designer.  Duquette grew up between Los Angeles, California where he wintered with his family and Three Rivers, Michigan where the family lived during the rest of the year.  Considered an American design icon, as a student, Duquette was awarded scholarships at both the prestigious Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and the Yale School of the Theatre.  After graduating from Chouinard he began working in promotional advertising, creating special environments for the latest seasonal fashions.  He also began to free lance for well-known designers such as the legendary William Haines, James Pendleton and Adrian.  In the early 1940’s Duquette’s parents and siblings moved permanently to Los Angeles where Tony had been living since 1935.  It was during this time that Duquette was discovered by Lady Elsie de Wolfe Mendl, the international arbiter of taste.  Through the patronage of Sir Charles and Lady Mendl, Duquette was able to establish himself as one of the leading designers in Los Angeles, where he worked increasingly for the film Industry, creating beautiful costumes and settings for many Metro Goldwyn Mayer productions under the auspices of the great producer, Arthur Freed and the celebrated director, Vincente Minnelli.  Seemingly at the height of his success designing costumes and settings for the movies, interiors for Mary Pickford and Buddy Rogers, jewelry and special furnishings for Lady Mendl, as well as numerous nightclubs and public places, Duquette entered the army. He served in the United States Army during the Second World War for four years and received an honorable discharge.  After the liberation of Paris, he accompanied Sir Charles and Lady Mendl on their return trip to Europe and was introduced to their many friends on the continent. 

Upon his return from Europe in 1947, Duquette continued his works for private clients and for the theatre and motion pictures.  In 1949 Duquette married the beautiful and talented artist Elizabeth Johnstone at a private ceremony at “Pickfair” with Mary Pickford attending as matron of honor and Buddy Rogers standing as Tony’s best man.  The reception that followed was attended by the who’s who of Hollywood including Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, Fred Astaire, Vincente Minnelli, Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper, Oscar Levant, Vernon Duke, and Marion Davies.  The young couple, whose particular talents complimented each other’s, collaborated on many design commissions together and were sought out as an attractive addition to the Hollywood social scene.

Tony Duquette presented his first exhibition at the Mitch Liesen Gallery in Los Angeles and shortly thereafter was asked to present his works at the Pavilion de Marsan of the Louvre Museum, Paris.  This was an unprecedented exhibition as Duquette was the first American artist to have been so honored with a one man showing at the Louvre.  Returning from a year in France, where he received design commissions from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the Alsatian industrialist Commandant Paul-Louis Weiller, Duquette was honored with a one-man showing of his works at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  This was one of many one-man museum exhibitions in which Duquette’s works would be exhibited, including exhibitions at the M.H. de Young Museum and Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, The California Museum of Science and Industry and Municipal Art Gallery in Los Angeles, The El Paso Museum of Art, The Santa Barbara Art Museum, The Museum of the City of New York, as well as one man exhibitions in Dallas, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Phoenix, Arizona.

In 1956, with his wife Elizabeth, who he affectionately called “Beegle” (a nickname derived from the industry of the bee and the soaring poetry of the eagle), he opened a salon in the converted silent film studios of actress Norma Talmadge.  The Tony Duquette Studios have since become legendary as the setting where the Duquettes entertained their celebrated and talented friends such as Arthur Rubenstein, Aldus Huxley, Jascha Heifitz and Greta Garbo.

During the 1960’s and 70’s the Duquettes continued to travel extensively, working in Austria, Ireland and France as well as New York, Dallas, San Francisco, South America and the Orient.  Duquette created elegant interiors for Doris Duke, Norton Simon and J. Paul Getty, a castle in Ireland for Elizabeth Arden and a penthouse in the Hawaiian Islands.  His interiors for commercial and public spaces are well known, notably the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Sheraton Universal Hotel, and sculptures and tapestries for the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Chicago as well as the Los Angeles Music Center and the University of California at Los Angeles.  Other design triumphs in films and theatre include “Yolanda and the Thief”, “Lovely to Look At”, “Kismet” and “The Ziegfeld Follies” for MGM, as well as “Jest of Cards”, "Beauty and the Beast” and “Dance Concertants” for the San Francisco Ballet.  Operas for which Duquette has designed both costumes and settings include “Der Rosenkavalier”, “The Magic Flute” and “Salome”.  His designs for the original Broadway production of “Camelot” won Duquette the coveted “Tony Award” for “Best Costume”.

His monumental work of environmental art “Our Lady Queen of the Angels”, which was created as a gift to the people of Los Angeles in honor of that city’s bicentennial, was seen by hundreds of thousands of visitors over a three year period, at the California State Museum of Science and Industry at Exposition Park.

In 1979 the Duquettes formed the Anthony and Elizabeth Duquette Foundation for the Living Arts, a non-profit public foundation whose purpose is to present museum quality exhibitions of artistic, scientific and educational value to the public.  Past exhibitions have been presented by the foundation at California’s historic Mission San Fernando and through the Los Angeles Unified School District including “Designs for the Theatre”, “The Art of the Found Object” and “The Fabric Mosaic Tapestry”.  The foundation has sponsored exhibitions and lectures on the decorative arts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Texas in conjunction with museums and other foundations and on the university level through the U.C.L.A. extension series.  A second “Celebrational Environment” was presented in San Francisco honoring Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of that city.  To house the exhibition Tony Duquette purchased an abandoned synagogue which he restored and renamed “The Duquette Pavilion of Saint Francis”. These “Celebrational Environments”, which were hailed as an invention of an art form, consisted of monumental 28 feet tall metal sculptures and giant (20 X 20 foot) jewel studded fabric mosaic tapestries.  These works, along with the collections of a lifetime and other original works of art, were destroyed in a tragic fire, which completely destroyed the Duquette Pavilion in 1989.

Following the fire in San Francisco, the Duquettes put all their efforts into creating a modern Shangri-la at his 150-acre ranch in the Malibu Mountains of California.  Christened “Sortilegium”, which is Latin for “enchantment”, Duquette expended all of his efforts to create a living work of art.  After many years of creative efforts this work was also destroyed, this time by the Green Meadows (Malibu) Fire of 1993.  Fortunately the work in progress had been extensively chronicled on television and by national and international magazines before its complete destruction.

After 46 years of marriage and artistic collaboration with Tony, Elizabeth died from Parkinson’s disease in Los Angeles.  Up until his death at the age of 85, Tony Duquette continued creating magical interiors, extraordinary one of a kind jewelry and works of art.  For his 80th birthday he created a new “Celebrational Environment” entitled “The Phoenix Rising from His Flames”, which was presented at U.C.L.A. at the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center in Los Angeles.  Final projects, which he completed with the assistance of his business partner and design collaborator of 30 years, Hutton Wilkinson included interiors for an 18th century Parisian apartment located on the historic Place de Palais Bourbon in Paris and creative interiors for the historic 12th century Palazzo Brandolini on the Grand Canal in Venice. 

On September 9, 1999 at 3:40pm and after a lifetime of honors and acclaim, Tony Duquette succumbed to complications after suffering a heart attack at U.C.L.A. Medical Center in Los Angeles.  He was 85 years old.  As per his wishes his design business continues under the direction of his business partner Hutton Wilkinson, President and Artistic Director for Tony Duquette Studios, Inc.

Duquette’s extraordinary house in Beverly Hills, “DAWNRIDGE”, continues as the headquarters for the design organization and will serve unchanged as an inspiration for the creative works to follow.  Hutton Wilkinson continues to present collections of fine jewelry and home furnishings inspired by designs which he and Tony Duquette created together over their thirty years of artistic collaboration.  These creations are currently available through select Saks Fifth Avenue stores including, New York and Palm Beach.

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