Homage to King Gustav. A 19th Century French neoclassical dining table with a faux-marbre top is encircled by a handsome series of Gustavian chairs. An unpainted 18th-century Swedish commode stands beside the peeled pine-trunk column, ornamented with a painted Italian mirror. The handcrafted carpet is Chinese.
Step into the dreamy Gustavian country house of artist Ira Yeager, and it’s like tripping into the 18th century. Yeager greets guests wearing a handsome cutaway crimson nipped-waist jacket made in 1776 for a French nobleman. He reposes on a languorous down-filled Provencal chaise, dines on elegant French porcelain plates and displays his French silver teapot on a superb French marquetry desk. Yeager happily admits that he is obsessed with 18th-century France. So much so that he paints lively scenes and portraits inspired by that fabled century, and he surrounds himself with 18th-century French antique cabinets and gueridons, portraits and objects (shipped from France by his dear friend, antiques dealer Lillian Williams).
“I admire and appreciate everything French and 18th-century Swedish,” says Yeager, who studied painting in Paris while in his 20s. “The 18th century was a golden era in France and Sweden – the blossoming of design, courtly life, fashion, art, music and culture. I’m curious about what it all means. I paint characters of that period and collect the antiques so that I can understand that century and come face-to-face with the philosophy and daily life.” On his colorful gestural canvases, Yeager paints into existence the romantic European world he wishes to inhabit. With equal Francophile intensity, in his pavilion Yeager builds and decorates the 18th-century Europe in which he wishes to dwell. He signs some paintings “von Yager 1785” in the manner of Swedish court painters of the time of King Gustav III.
Blanc de blanc. Gilded French Porcelains, a vintage European map, an old French provincial brass shoe and Calla lilies from his garden paint the artist’s monochromatic mise-en-scéne.
After leaving his San Francisco studio to live and paint in the Wine Country 10 years ago, Yeager came upon a neglected walnut orchard in a remote valley north of Calistoga where he decided to build a country Swedish cottage in the Gustavian taste. The neoclassical style, which flowered in Stockholm in the late 18th century, was directly inspired by the 18th-century architecture and decor fashionable in France at the time of Louis XVI, a hero of Yeager’s. To realize Yeager’s dream, his friend, Calistoga architect Richard Horwath, limned a charming board-and-batten structure with a soaring ceiling and stripped-pine support columns. The pale gray Gustavian folly surrounded by five acres of flourishing walnut trees encrusted with pale green lichen makes a dramatic bucolic scene, with deer nibbling tender grass shoots and doves nesting among the gnarled oaks.
French fleas and floors. Ira Yeager’s collection of 18th-century French jackets, jodhpurs, tricorns and ball gowns is a colorful counterpoint to faded Indian and Persian rugs, Paris flea-market 19th-century French chairs, a Gustavian blue painted cabinet and a beguiling Yeager painting of a masked French aristocrat. The faux-marbre floor is an artful confection of painted and glaze green stencil on plain plywood.
“The Napa Valley is a wonderful place for an artist,” said Yeager. “It’s relaxed and incredibly beautiful through the seasons. I can disappear for days and throw myself into my paintings, or I can head down Highway 29 to The French Laundry or the Swanson Vineyards’ Salon, and be very social. I might drive over to the St. Helena Olive Oil Co. to buy the best olive oil in the world. Here, everything is possible in the best of all possible worlds, as Voltaire said.”
The passionate collector. Yeager created a desk-scape of a Meissen porcelain cabbage, an 18th-century French teapot and a French porcelain lemon on a finely crafted French desk.
Country idyll (left). Yeager’s bravura painting of a deer, inspired by the denizens of his Calistoga country property, dominates a corner of his Gustavian folly. An elegant antique French armoire, painted with country motifs, is accompanied by a French hay-barn ladder and a decorative chaffeuse, a French chair positioned with a low seat, designed to pull close to the fireplace. The antique striped rug is Swedish.
Light and repose (right) . An antique Provencal meridienne upholstered in traditional French printed cotton accompanies a 19th-century French painted table, a painted English tole tray and a pair of Yeager’s oil paintings, including a dog dressed in noble 18th-century French garb.