"Jackson Pollock" (Arts Club of Washington Vice President Bill Carmichael) wore paint-splattered overalls and greeted guests of the Arts Club's Bal Boheme, at the door of the James Monroe House. "Vincent van Gogh" (Bill Woods, a trustee of the Arts Club endowment), smiled benignly at those entering, with his reddish-blond goatee, canvas smock, straw hat and bandaged ear.
An unidentified woman, black hair pulled achingly tight by a strand of pearls, swept by saying that she was "a marquesa, perhaps by Goya."
The theme of Saturday night's Bal was "Pictures at an Exhibition," but it might just as well have been "A Trip Down Memory Lane." For the talk at this Bal -- the first one since 1967 -- was of Bals past, of a Washington social life that once whirled inside long-since demolished hotel ballrooms. But, like the Willard Hotel, which saw its share of Bals Boheme, this tradition dating from 1924 has returned.
*Many in the crowd of about 150 were veterans of earlier Bals, but a few rookies were sprinkled here and there. Four faces had glitter on them -- three were the friends of Adi Baat-Aada, while the fourth at 26 is the club's youngest member. Baat-Aada and her friends came as "A Moving Canvas." Artist Unknown.
"I hope it's going to go through a renaissance," said Baat-Aada of the Arts Club.
The club's oldest member, 83-year-old Henry Lea Mason, assembled an historical booklet for the Bal that listed some of its previous themes: "Carnival in Cairo" in 1929; "Paris au Printemps" in 1939.
This time, Renoir's subjects were especially popular. Ralph and Margaret Chidley came dressed as the couple in "La Loge." And so did another couple. Bob Best, resplendent in baroque blue silk garb, explained that he was Gainsborough's " 'Blue Boy' as a senior citizen."
In the tented back garden, Nelson and Dorothy Wurz danced to Benny Goodman's "Stompin' at the Savoy." Nelson Wurz, dressed as the Aga Khan, also looked a lot like Johnny Carson's "Carnac the Magnificent." Dan Glick, a fan of Winslow Homer ("Rustic Courtship"), stood with his wife Gail ("Looking Over the Cliffs"). This was the Glicks' first Bal.
A small crowd gathered to reminisce over the last Bal in 1967 at the then Sheraton Park Hotel. That night reached its climax when the late Washington artist Theodora Kane "came in on a white horse," said Conrad Haglund. Haglund thought she might have been portraying Queen Elizabeth I. Others thought she had been Lady Godiva.
Toward the middle of the evening, Bal Chairman Rose Cowen and Arts Club President Tom Ward spoke briefly, urging costumed guests to take part in the costume parade. Painters and subjects lined up to walk into a giant picture frame on a small stage, forming a tableau from which they could be judged for best costume. (Carmichael/"Pollock" won.) From there, guests emerged, wandering back into the garden for a late buffet dinner.
The marquesa swept by again, on her way to the garden. She had been painted, she said, not by Goya, but by Vela'zquez.