Oscar Wilde’s epigram about simple pleasures being the last refuge of the complex, made me think, the first time I heard it, about Eugenia Huici. A woman gifted with radiant looks and indecipherable charm, the spouse of Tomás Errázuriz, scion of a powerful family of Chilean politicians and wealthy landowners. She was destined to be famous for being herself, a far cry from the shallowness of our culture of celebrities. In 1880, her young husband’s passion for painting and the presence of her brother-in-law as Chilean Consul in Paris, landed the couple in the City of Light where charm and some artistic disposition were sufficient passports for an entry in society, nicely accelerated if a degree of wealth was also involved. She could have just ranked as another sophisticated salonnière, were it not for her subtle undercurrent of radical taste and rare understanding and appreciation of the art being produced at the fin-de-siècle.
During a vacation in Venice, she befriended and was painted by John Singer Sargent. Her budding friendship grew after she moved for a six-year period to London where here brother-in-law shared a painter’s studio with the master only a few doors down from her home in Chelsea. By then, she had already warmed up in Paris to a refined circle of artists, musicians and designers where the virtue of admiration circulated in both directions. It was surrounded by Picasso, Boldini, Cocteau among others, that she perfected her unerring taste for clean lines and proportions in decoration and her passion for cubism. Soon, her remarks on how rooms should be furnished, what elements of style were essential and which were those to be eradicated as distasteful carried a freshness and novelty that made her popular. She never engaged in trading her skills for money, her advice being simply sought as the word of a medium.
Her most iconic legacy was a place in Biarritz, La Mimoseraie, a villa which welcomed Picasso -he painted some murals- , Christian Bérard, – as the designer of a door -and literary celebrities like her friends Jean Cocteau and Blaise Cendrars. Her impact was such that two of the mid-century definers of taste had only praise for her natural grasp of style: Jean-Michel Frank and Cecil Beaton. The first as a personal disciple and devoted admirer and the second as a man who moved on the defining edges of modernity. The pages they both dedicated to her describe a personality of such aesthetic proportions that it is surprising she remained in the shadow and was only acknowledged by the happy few.
Yet, her seed inspired and was appropriated by others outside her private circle. In spite of dazzling friendships and countless admirers, she remained loyal to her privacy and values. Her uncluttered surroundings were a projection of her inner life, growing as years passed more austere and simpler. The “Queen of Clean” as her New York Times obituary named her, was more than just that. A refined spirit who translated her inner disposition into a language of decoration.