Ever since Claude Monet was made artist-in-residence at London’s Savoy hotel in 1899, painting a series of iconic views of the River Thames from his top-floor room, hotels and art have enjoyed a fruitful relationship. St. Regis in particular has a glorious tradition of working closely with artists, notably in the murals that adorn the walls of each St. Regis hotel bar. This custom dates back to 1932, when Maxfield Parrish’s celebrated Old King Cole was installed at The St. Regis New York, depicting – legend has it – the hotel’s founder, John Jacob Astor IV. Today, all St. Regis hotels and resorts feature eye-catching works, often by local artists, ranging from Andrew Morrow’s Love and War at The St. Regis San Francisco to Bedri Baykam’s Bosphorus Breeze at The St. Regis Istanbul.
Now St. Regis has teamed up with fashion and lifestyle illustrator Maya Beus, whose sketches and watercolors have previously been commissioned by the likes of Vogue and Oscar de la Renta, on a three-month project exploring the role of the butler. For Beus, who is based near Split in Croatia, the project, entitled Butler Stories, involved intense three-day drawing assignments at three St. Regis hotels – Florence, Rome and Istanbul – meeting the staff, getting a feel for each property and doing quick-fire sketches that she later transformed into delicate watercolors.
“Normally I work from photographs so it was a new experience for me to sit in a hotel lobby or a bar trying to capture a moment and tell a story,” says Beus, who featured among the world’s leading up-and-coming illustrators in Taschen’s publication, Illustration Now! Fashion.
A butler lays the table of the exquisite Royal Suite
of The St. Regis Rome beneath a Murano chandelier
The St. Regis Rome’s magnificent Belle Epoque staircase,
one of Beus’s favorite spaces. “I never used the elevator while I stayed
there,” she says. ‘‘Why would you when you can walk
down those incredible stairs?”
“It was great to be able to pick my viewpoint, focus on what I thought was interesting and then sketch an outline. I sat for a long time watching people work – waiters, receptionists, butlers. It was a kind of theater; the staff move around these amazing spaces almost like dancers.”
Beus has traveled widely in the course of her work for major fashion houses and luxury brands, but this was her first stay in Istanbul, where she describes being “mesmerized” by the beauty of the architecture of the new St. Regis hotel. “The lobby is one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve ever seen,” she says. “The main chandelier is like a sculpture – the color changes during the day depending on the light. It’s really magical.”
Part of the brief for Butler Stories was to create original artworks depicting the hotels’ most impressive spaces, but Beus’s illustrations also offer a glimpse of a more intimate aspect of hotel life: snapshots of the daily routine, such as the serving of afternoon tea, the “sabrage” ritual (opening champagne bottles with a sabre), and “family traditions”, which might involve arranging a surprise treat for a guest’s birthday.
The most challenging aspect, Beus reveals, was getting her subjects to relax. “I would watch people working and then try to capture a particular moment. It was vital for them to feel comfortable. In a drawing you can really see when someone’s position is stiff and unnatural.”
As the title, Butler Stories, suggests, the project required Beus to shadow St. Regis butlers as they went about their work. “What I realized after talking to them,” she adds, “was that to be a great butler you really have to like people. It’s not enough simply to look elegant – it has to make you happy to make other people happy. That’s a very special quality.”
“I sat for a long time watching the waiters, receptionists and
butlers at work,' says Beus, 'It was a kind of theater – the staff move
around these amazing spaces almost like dancers”
The home of The St. Regis Florence is a beautiful 15th century
palazzo designed by legendary Florentine architect Brunelleschi