Jeremiah Goodman Bio

When Jeremiah Goodman paints a portrait of a room, it’s easy to imagine its owner—Sir John Gielgud‚ Greta Garbo, Diana Vreeland—moving through it, pausing to adjust a bibelot on a side table or to pick up a newspaper tossed on a sofa.

“A portrait of a room,” says Jeremiah should express the personality of the person who lives there—whose character has shaped it.”

Jeremiah’s paintings of interiors belong to a genre that had its heyday before the advent of photography. It remains valid today, however, when practiced by an artist who has the skill to imbue his subject matter with an inner vitality the camera cannot express. Jeremiah can evoke a brocade-upholstered chair or a Baroque mirror with a few calligraphic brushstrokes that both describe and animate. He conjures up space by combining a deceptively casual perspective with plays of light and shadow that delineate form while creating atmosphere. Most important, he paints what he knows.

A youthful 93-year-old, Jeremiah was born in Niagara Falls, New York, one of five children. “I was very lucky,” he says, “because my parents made sacrifices to allow me to study at Lafayette High School in Buffalo, which, at the height of the Depression, had no fewer than five art teachers, all first-class. Moving to New York City, he studied at the Franklin School of Professional Art, taking additional lessons at Parsons, and soon came to the attention of Joseph B. Platt, a leading decorator of the period who had created sets for Broadway and who came to national prominence with the interiors he designed for films such as “Gone With The Wind”. Platt helped Jeremiah launch his career, but, rather than becoming a Hollywood set designer, the young man decided to remain in New York, achieving success as an advertising and editorial illustrator.

From 1952 on, Jeremiah’s characteristically unstudied yet stylish renderings of everything from fashion accessories to furniture became a familiar feature of Lord & Taylor’s print advertisements. He also contributed to publications like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and for some fifteen years he created monthly covers for Interior Design Magazine. This, in turn, garnered commissions from top decorators such as Mario Buatta and Dorothy Draper, from industrial designers like Raymond Loewy and from leading architects, including Philip Johnson, I. M. Pei and even Buckminster Fuller‚ the inventor of the geodesic dome.

Alongside this commercial activity, Jeremiah was making more personal portraits of interiors—paintings that depicted the homes of friends and acquaintances. Given his background, it is not surprising that these have included some of the greats of the design world, such as Carolina Herrera, Diana Vreeland and Elsa Peretti. Others, from Garbo to Mary Martin and Hermione Gingold, have a show business pedigree.

“John Gielgud encouraged me to do these room portraits,” says Jeremiah. “I met him in 1948. Before then I had painted interiors for my own pleasure, but he invited me to England, where I went in 1949, and he began to introduce me to his friends. It was all very Brideshead Revisited in those days. I found myself traveling in the company of people like Cecil Beaton and Ivor Novello, a great star at the time who went nowhere without an entourage. I was invited to stay at glorious country houses, and, being young and brash and American, and not knowing the rules, I probably overstayed my welcome at most of them. But I had a marvelous time, and I met wonderful people who were incredibly kind and generous. William Bankier Henderson, for example— who’d been aide-de-camp to Lord Wavell, the viceroy of India—simply loaned me his house in Little Chatfield with all his servants.”

Back in New York, in the upper reaches of the fashion and decorating worlds, Jeremiah continued to encounter the kind of innovative individuals who set styles in a variety of arenas, and he continued to make portraits of their homes.

Although Jeremiah sometimes works on canvas, in oil or acrylic, the majority of his interior portraits are painted on illustration board in a combination of transparent watercolor and opaque gouache, a medium of which he has masterly command. His earliest interiors are more literal and less atmospheric than later examples, but they already display a mature sense of graphic economy, each swag and chandelier set down with the minimum of fuss.

Jeremiah’s interior portraits are wonderfully loose and evocative of period, yet at the same time they are so full of particularized information—from the texture of fabrics to the meticulous rendering of paintings hanging on the walls—that they form a unique record of the work of many of the classic decorators of the past half century. These decorators, in turn, have always understood that they were dealing with an artist of singular talents. Simply put, Jeremiah’s work comprises the best record of America’s greatest interiors.