Truly a Renaissance man, Tony Duquette contributed significantly to multiple fields and artistic endeavors. Whether in advertising, theater, costumes, set design, nightclubs, motion pictures, fashion, interiors or tapestries, Duquette’s enormous creativity shone like a beacon.
Originally from Three Rivers, Michigan, Duquette became familiar with the West Coast through winter trips with his family to Los Angeles. Duquette moved to the “City of Angels” in 1935, and the rest of his family followed a few years later. A graduate of Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts), he began working in advertising, creating backgrounds for the latest seasonal fashions as well as freelancing for designers such as William Haines, James Pendleton and Adrian. He established himself as one of the leading designers in Los Angeles when he was discovered by Elsie de Wolfe and her husband Sir Charles Mendl, who introduced him to many luminaries, resulting in commissions. Increasingly, he worked for films, including MGM Studios under the auspices of Arthur Freed and Vincente Minnelli.
After a stint in the Army during WWII, Tony Duquette returned to Europe with de Wolfe and Mendl and was introduced to their friends on the continent, which led to design commissions for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and an Alsatian industrialist. Upon his return he had his first one-man show at the Mitch Liesen Gallery in Los Angeles, and shortly thereafter was asked to do a show at the Pavillion de Marsan– the museum of decorative arts at the Louvre–the first American artist to be asked to do so. He had many other one-man showings, including at the M. H. de Young Museum and Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, the California Museum of Science and Industry and Municipal Art Gallery in Los Angeles, the El Paso Museum of Art, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, as well as one-man exhibitions in Dallas, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Phoenix. In 1956, he and his wife Elizabeth, a painter, opened a salon at the location of the studios of former silent film star, Norma Talmage, where they entertained friends Arthur Rubenstein, Greta Garbo, Aldous Huxley and Jascha Heifitz.
During the 1970s Duquette created interiors for Doris Duke, Norton Simon, and J. Paul Getty, and a castle for Elizabeth Arden in Ireland. One of his more famous commissions during this era was for the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu, for which he designed custom tiger-patterned carpets, light fixtures, fabric-mosaic tapestries and molded and lighted leaf furniture. Elizabeth painted many of the hotel’s native Hawaiian themed paintings.
“Sea Anemone” light fixture for the motor court of Hilton Hawaiian Village .
Tony Duquette also designed tapestries and sculptures for the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Chicago, the Los Angeles Music Center and the University of California at Los Angeles, as well as sets and costumes for many operas, including The Magic Flute and Salome; in 1961 he won a Tony Award for Best Costume Design for the Broadway production of Camelot.
His environmental work “Our Lady Queen of the Angels” was a multi-sensorial exhibit seen by hundreds of thousands of visitors to the California Museum of Science and Industry. The exhibit included an experience of “ethnic angels,” an 18 foot Madonna enhanced by special lighting effects which changed the Madonna’s facial color “to represent the four races” stressing ‘the brotherhood of man’, and a poetic narration by Ray Bradbury, spoken by Charlton Heston.
The Duquettes left a lasting legacy. In 1979, they formed the Anthony and Elizabeth Duquette Foundation for the Living Arts, a non-profit public foundation whose purpose is to present museum-quality exhibitions of artistic, scientific, and educational value to the public and to purchase, promote and preserve Duquette’s own works.
Duquette at his ranch in Malibu, CA