Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mastery of Design: An Enamel, Pearl and Diamond Bracelet, 1875

Enamel, Pearls and Diamonds
French, 1875
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Today’s sparkly thing is a bracelet of translucent and plique-à-jour enamel in gold openwork, set with pearls and rose-cut diamonds.

It is the work of the renowned Parisian jeweler Frédéric Boucheron (1830-1902) and one of his team of fine designers and craftsmen--Charles Riffault. Riffault revived the technique of translucent or un-backed cloisonne enameling. Boucheron had exclusive rights to Riffault’s process and the firm who exhibited the technique at the International Exhiibtions of1867 and 1878.

Painting of the Day: The Misers, 1548-1551

The Misers
A Follower of Marinus can Reymerswaele
c. 1550
Acquired by Queen Anne
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Historians believe that Queen Anne (the second daughter of King James II) added this handsome and strange painting to the Royal Collection. The scene was painted between 1548 and 1551 by an unknown student artist who is believed to have been a follower of Marinus van Reymerswaele (c. 1490/95-c. 1567). Painted on board, the painting also mimics a 1440 work by Jan van Eyck which depicted a banker in conference with his client. While this painting by van Eyck is believed lost, it is credited as having launched a genre of works which showed businessmen in Fifteenth Century dress engaged in money matters. Of the sixty variations of the scene, most of them are composed in a style which hints at a strong Dutch influence. Most of these compositions can trace their stylistic roots to the works of van Eyck. Still, others are clearly inspired by the paintings of van Reymerswaele and, also, another Dutch master Quinten Massys.

Let’s take a closer look at this piece which is entitled, “The Misers.” This follower of van Reymerswael has taken great pains to show the nature of the men. Their faces are masks of avarice and greed and their claw-like hands nod at the common conception of those involved in the changing of money. The scene is meant to be amusing and the visages of the men purposefully lean toward caricature. Despite the piles of coins in front of them, we’re reminded that this wealth will not aid them for long. The brevity of life is suggested by the candle which burns near them—it is almost spent, just as their lives are. 

What I find most interesting about this work is that the ledger on the table has been inscribed in French, indicating that this piece was likely a copy by a student—commissioned by a French patron who much admired the original by van Reymerswaele.

History's Runway: A Silk and Velvet Sack-Back Gown and Petticoat, 1774-1890

Sack-Back Gown
Made in Scotland, 1774-1775
Altered between 1880 and 1890
The Victoria & Albert Museum

As we know, a sack-back gown, the predominant style of women’s fashions of the Eighteenth Century, is created from a single piece of fabric pleated and stitched at the back of the neck, creating an open front. The style evolved from a sort of loose negligee which was worn privately. By the 1770s, the fashion had become a more formal type of dress meant to be worn in public at important events, the opera, the theatre and at stylish dinner parties.

What sets this sack-back apart is the use of velvet. At the time, these gowns were made of woven fabrics which were printed after the weaving process. Here, the textile of silk has been combined with velvet—a technique unique to France--which created a fabric with vertical bands of ivory and pink silk alternating with stripes of floral chiné velvet. Records with the dress report that the textile cost a shocking 36 shillings a yard. The gown and petticoat are constructed of about 17 yards. Today, the fabric alone would have cost approximately £2,200—over $3400 U.S. 

While the fabric was imported from France, the gown itself was constructed in Scotland. The original garment was made between 1774 and 1775. Alterations were made to the gown between 1880 and 1890 when it was used as a costume for fancy dress parties. The ensemble was, for many years, part of the Castle Howard Costume Collection before being sold by Sotheby’s to the V&A. 

Sculpture of the Day: The Sense of Smell, c. 1752

The Sense of Smell
Derby Porcelain Factory

Modeled by Agostino Carlini (1713-1790) for the Derby Porcelain Factory between 1752 and 1755, this figure group of soft-paste porcelain is gilded and painted with enamels. The group comes from a series which depicted the senses. This one represents the sense of smell and depicts a woman holding a nosegay. She looks away from a curiously-bald child on a stool. The child is reaching for a flower to add to those already clipped. 

Precious Time: Queen Victoria's Rock Crystal, Diamond and Ruby Clock, 1900

Michael Perchin
c. 1900
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Images Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Created by Fabergé workmaster Mikhail Evlampievich Perkhin (1860-1903) around 1900, this desk clock of carved rock crystal is mounted with gold, silver-gilt, enamel, rose diamonds and rubies.  It was p
resented to Queen Victoria by Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, her granddaughter,  in 1900.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection

Her Majesty had a fondness for her Tsarina granddaughter.  According to the Royal Collection, "On receipt of the news of the death of Tsar Alexander III, on 1 November 1894, the Queen wrote of the new Tsar and Tsarina in her journal:

‘What a terrible load of responsibility & anxiety has been laid upon the poor Children! I had hoped and trusted they would have many years of comparative quiet & happiness before ascending this thorny throne.'"
The Queen was thrilled with this gift from the young Tsarina and appreciated its unusual, noting its difference from the majority of Fabergé’s clocks in her collection.  The others are in the form of gold strut clocks, enameled in a wide variety of colors and set with gemstones in gold. 

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
This clock, however, is crafted predominantly of rock crystal which has been engraved with trophies incorporating torches and a quiver as well as musical attributes. The rock crystal lobed panels are divided by four mounted gold arrows set with rubies and diamonds. 

White enamel forms the dial which is  surrounded by a bezel of green enamelled laurel with diamond-set ribbon ties. 

Upon the death of Queen Victoria, the clock was given to the future King George V who kept it on his desk until his own death.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection

Figure of the Day: Fanny Kemble, 1840

Fanny Kemble
Staffordshire, 1840
The Victoria & Albert Museum

As I’ve mentioned before, the earliest Staffordshire earthenware flatbacks depicted Queen Victoria. The popularity of these Royal portraits gave rise to portraits of notable public figures, often celebrated entertainers and actors.

This Staffordshire flatback depicts the actress Fanny Kemble and is based on an 1829 engraving by Richard J. Lane, after a drawing by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Frances “Fanny” Anne Kemble (1809-1893) was the daughter of the famed actors Maria and Charles Kemble and one of the long acting dynasty which had dominated the British stage since the late Eighteenth Century. 

Fanny made her debut on stage at the age of nineteen as “Juliet” at the Covent Garden Theatre. She found fame both in England and in the U.S. where she was married to a Philadelphia businessman.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Pendant in the Form of a Non-Working Watch, 18th Century

Eighteenth Century
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

This circular pendant is designed to look like a watch. Made by a now unknown Eighteenth-Century jeweler, the bezel is bordered by rubies spaced with white enamel spheres which simulate pearls. The obverse shows a false clock face set of gold and enamel behind glass. The reverse is adorned with a foliate pattern of green and gilt enamel. From the Collection of Lady Carnarvon, the pendant was given to the Royal Collection, I’d say, sometime in the 1930s.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II