By Dean Rhys Morgan Author of Jeremiah, A Collection of Interiors, to be published by Powerhouse Books, October 2018
Jeremiah Goodman spent the greater part of his life painting one subject almost exclusively: empty rooms. These interiors, devoid of habitation, were his consuming passion for more than half a century. But what his work captures goes far beyond stately furnishings. “Anyone with enough schooling can draw or paint an interior and give us a sense of what it looks like” said playwright Edward Albee of Goodman’s work. “But it takes a really fine artist to go beyond that and give us the beauty of the room”.
Goodman is such an artist. Born in Niagara Falls, New York in 1922, Jeremiah began drawing at an early age, when he was given a box of crayons as a four-year-old to keep him occupied while convalescing after an injury. His artistic talents were encouraged and supported by his parents, who sent the fledgling artist to Lafayette High School in Buffalo, which offered an outstanding art curriculum. After graduation, he received a scholarship to the Franklin School of Professional Art in New `York City. Thoroughly committed he spent five days a week at the Franklin School and Saturdays at The Parsons School, where he studied the fundamentals of painting.
Fresh from art school Jeremiah got his first break assisting Joseph Platt, who had created the décor for “Gone with The Wind”. Whilst the experience put Goodman off set design he soon found his metier in an equally glamorous setting.
From 1952 on, Jeremiah’s characteristically unstudied yet stylish sketches of everything from fashion accessories to furniture helped establish the breezy chic of the Lord & Taylor department store. He was also a regular contributor to House & Garden, The New York Times Magazine and Interior Design Magazine, whose covers he created every month for 15 years.
But it was his brilliance for imagining interiors in bold, calligraphic strokes that piqued the interest of A list décor doyens like Billy Baldwin and Kalef Alaton. Private clients came fast on their heels. Over the following decades, Goodman’s elegant illustrations captured the inner sanctums of an esteemed list of international taste makers and socialites, from Diana Vreeland, Pauline de Rothschild, Edith Head and James Galanos to the Duchess of Windsor and Cecil Beaton.
Jeremiah lived and worked in a sky scraper overlooking the Queensboro bridge filled with a harmonious collage of furniture and objects chosen and assembled with a unique sense of style. An inveterate connoisseur and shopper, for Goodman, collecting was a form of autobiography, a record of the places he had been and the people he meet along the way. He never bought anything for its value, his treasures run the gamut from the Empire candlesticks (lot 17) picked up in Naples, to the Minton inkwell (lot 18) discovered in Palm Beach. In fact, certain pieces seemed to have simply gravitated towards him. For example, a pair of Louis XVI style chairs (lot 7), which he first saw in Paris in the 50’s, later turned up in the shop of a dealer he knew.
Likewise, a pair of Louis XVI style caned back chairs (lot 78) he first encountered at “Little Chelfield” in Wiltshire, the home of his friend Billy Henderson. They later came up for sale several years later in New York. To say nothing of a pair of giltwood sconces (lot 51) he bought while studying at Parsons, for which he paid almost nothing because part of the carving was missing. A few months later he discovered the missing part while looking at a peach basket in a junk shop.
What do these objects have in common? Nothing, expect Jeremiah himself and fascination he felt for them.