Magazine article The New Yorker

Last Lecture

Magazine article The New Yorker

Last Lecture

Article excerpt

Rosamond Bernier, the world's most glamorous lecturer on art and high culture, makes her farewell appearance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on March 13th, and end-of-era emotions are running high. Bernier, with her long gowns and her impeccable diction, managed to transform the slide lecture into something all her own--a performance, a star turn, a piece of theatre. Since 1971, when she gave a series of talks on four modern masters (Matisse, Picasso, Leger, and Max Ernst, all of whom she had known), she has played the Met nearly every year. She has talked about artists and writers, couturiers and impresarios, collectors and cities, and her two hundred and fifteen Met lectures have always been highly personal affairs. Formalist art critics, who can't bear what she does, have been obliged to admire her staying power. "You can really talk to anyone about anything if you're interested in it yourself," Bernier, who is ninety-one, said last week.

Her final lecture at the Met is about "my life in the French couture," she said. She arrived in Paris in 1946, a newly minted fashion editor for American Vogue. "Life there was very difficult," she recalled. "Very cold. The couture was just beginning again after the war, and it was revitalizing the French economy. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, no training at all." Before long, she was sending Vogue interviews with Picasso, Matisse, and Miro. "It was sheer recklessness," she said. Years later, Alexander Liberman, the magazine's art director at the time, remembered her as being "the way some people are who are timid, in that she could also be very daring."

Bernier lived in Paris for more than two decades. She left Vogue in 1950, and married a French journalist named Georges Bernier. Together they started L'OEil, a monthly, whose motto was "Tous les arts, tous les pays, tous les temps." When the Berniers divorced, in 1970, Rosamond returned to New York. After an uncharacteristic period of misery, she reinvented herself as a lecturer. Bernier has lectured at many museums, here and abroad, including (in French) the Centre Pompidou, the Grand Palais, and the Louvre. "The Society of the Four Arts, in Palm Beach, has had me back fifteen times," she said. …

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