Stephen James Napier Tennant, born 21 April 1906, was a British artist, poet and socialite known for his decadent lifestyle and vivid illustrations. At his peak he was called "the brightest" of the Bright Young People, a nickname given by the tabloid press to a group of Bohemian young aristocrats and socialites in 1920s London. Stephen Tennant's biography "Serious Pleasures" by Philip Hoare, contains the most in-depth look at his life.
“Stephen Tennant was one of the most extraordinary figures of the 20th century. His home, Wilsford Manor, where he spent his later years in ‘decorative reclusion’, achieved nationwide fame when its contents were auctioned in 1987, a few months after Tennant’s death at the age of eighty. The newspapers of the time were full of tales of his eccentricity and wasted life, lying half-asleep among his bibelots, jewels and polar bear skins.
But there was a great deal more to the brightest of the Bright Young Things than gold-dust in his hair and make-up. Philip Hoare charts the course of Tennant’s life from cosseted childhood and artistic precocity into the full swing of the 1920’s, when his friendship with Rex Whistler and Cecil Beaton provided vital stimulus for their careers. After the charity pagents, parties and frivolity, Tennant became romantically involved with Siegfried Sassoon, an affair that was to prove cataclysmic for them both.
In the 1930s he travelled extensively, cultivated literary friendships with E. M. Forster and Virginia Woolf and visited his heroine, Willa Cather, in America. Wilsford was host in its heyday to the Mitfords, the Sitwells, and the Bloomsbury set, whilst after the war Truman Capote, Greta Garbo and Christopher Isherwood all made the pilgrimage to the bedside of this ever more mysterious figure. Perhaps most fascinating are the latter years, when not even royalty could be assured of admittance to Tennant’s Sleeping Beauty palace.
The Author has had access to the extensive collection of Stephen Tennant’s papers and correspondence, and has been able to draw upon Beaton’s private diaries and other previously unpublished material which sheds new light on the love-affair with Sassoon. He had conducted interviews with Tennant’s surviving friends and had a memorable meeting with the subject himself.”