A capably written, well-illustrated life of a doyen of American interior design.
Although the subtitle is a tad too grand, as subtitles often are, Lewis, himself an interior designer, does a good job of showing how influential Van Day Truex (1904–79) once was as both a merchant and arbiter of taste. Lewis treats Truex’s life as a somewhat unlikely American success story: born on the frontier, the son of a crusty employee of then-local dry-goods merchant J.C. Penney, Truex was shunned by his own family for his effeminate manner but encouraged by well-meaning relatives and teachers (and even Penney) to develop his artistic talents. This meant moving to New York, where Truex quickly distinguished himself as a student of the aesthete Frank Alvah Parsons. After winning a scholarship to study in Paris, Truex soon moved comfortably in a circle that included expatriate intellectuals, members of the nobility, and artists from all over the world. Truex took Parsons’s command “to produce art work in which one has an idea to sell” seriously, and he enjoyed considerable success as a commercial artist, reaching the pinnacle of his career as the chief designer for Tiffany & Co. In one of the many telling anecdotes here, Lewis relates how Truex settled a heated discussion among executives over how the company’s playing cards should look by producing a pen and quietly sketching a repeated line of hearts, clubs, spades, and diamonds, leaving room in the center for a personalized monogram; the design remains on Tiffany cards half a century later. It helps, Lewis admits, that Truex enjoyed the support of Tiffany president Walter Hoving, who signed off on almost everything Truex did—including commissioning Andy Warhol to design a line of Christmas cards.
A handsome production, one that just might touch off a Truex revival.