Saturday, August 21, 2010

At the Music Hall: “Burlington Bertie from Bow”

I'm Burlington Bertie I rise at ten thirty
and saunter along like a toff
I walk down the Strand with my gloves on my hand
Then I walk down again with them off
I'm all airs and graces, correct easy paces
Without food so long, I've forgot where my face is
I'm Bert, Bert, I haven't a shirt
But my people are well off you know.
Nearly everyone knows me from Smith to Lord Rosebr'y,
I'm Burlington Bertie from Bow.

In 1900, Harry Norris wrote a song about an aristocratic gentleman named “Burlington Bertie” whose life is devoted to the pursuit of idle happiness. The song was performed in the music halls by his wife, Vesta Tilley—dressed in male clothes. The song was quite popular and inspired a parody by William Hargreaves which was performed by his wife, Ella Shields—similarly in male attire.

The popularity of the parody, “Burlington Bertie from Bow,” far surpassed the original song. In this version, Bertie is a young man from the poverty-stricken London section of Bow who fancies that he is quite the proper gentleman, “living on plates of fresh air.” The irony of Bertie’s praise of the lifestyle of the idle rich contrasted against his apparent poverty, made the song a comedic success which has endured to today.

A favorite of my own Bertie (because he knows his own name), it’s a song that’s frequently sung around my house. Much more artistically and famously, Julie Andrews performed “Burlington Bertie from Bow” as Gertrude Lawrence in Star! A clip of Miss Andrews’ performance from Star! is below.

Where to Shop: Burlington Arcade, London

The arcade as it looked in 1819, courtesy Burlington Arcade
Opened in 1819, the Burlington Arcade was England’s first public shopping gallery. Nearly two-hundred years later, Burlington Arcade is considered one of the most exceptional shopping areas in the world—celebrated for its posh shops and beautiful architecture. The arcade is the longest covered shopping street in England, running behind Bond Street from Piccadilly through to Burlington Gardens

The arcade today, courtesy Burlington Arcade
Still guarded by the Burlington Arcade Beadles in traditional uniform, Burlington Arcade continues its tradition of offering the finest of merchandise. Jewelry, silver, antiques, art and the finest of clothing are among the many exceptional items you’ll find beneath the arcade’s covered walkways. Popular with celebrities and the Mayfair elite, Burlington Arcade offers an unexpected bit of luxury and quiet from the bustle of the London streets. If you find yourself in London, window-shopping in this exquisite arcade will be an enriching experience.

Term for the Day: Casters

A caster is a wheel which is attached to the legs of a piece of furniture. Victorian furniture often featured casters so that the pieces could be easily moved without damaging the legs or scratching the floor. Larger pieces of furniture such as carts or trolleys which were employed in the serving of food often sported casters so that the servant’s job would be easier.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 24

As the gentle tendrils of blackness untangled from Julian’s eyes—like the threads of the train of a black gown, dragged across cobblestones—Julian braced himself for the inevitable damp chill that would roll over him from feet to head. That usual hideous clamminess that wrenched him out of the only slumber he knew.

This time, however, there was no chill. Instead, he felt a warmth—soft, yet firm—that seemed to envelope his whole body. Where his throat would be raw, he felt the dimpled smoothness of fabric over muscle and bone.

Julian vision became clear again and he leaned into the warmth for a moment, glad to feel something strong around himself. Suddenly, he became aware that his chin was resting on something. His ear brushed against another ear and he smelled bay rum.

His chin was on a shoulder.

“What are you doing?” Julian pushed himself away from Mr. Halifax.

“I was embracing you.” Robert smiled. “In an attempt to calm you down.”

“Don’t do that again!” Julian trembled.

“An embrace is harmless enough. I’ve put my arms around my own brother. It’s a gentle gesture. And, it did serve to bring you back to me.”

“Back to you?” Julian sputtered.

The knocking at the door persisted.

“Someone’s here.” Julian said nervously.

“I know.” Robert nodded, reaching up to smooth Julian’s hair. Julian moved his head away and hurried to the mirror on the wardrobe.

“Well, then, shouldn’t we open the door?” Julian panted.

“When you’re prepared.” Robert said.

Julian straightened his cravat and studied his reflection in the glass. A button on his waistcoat was loose. Briefly, Julian debated whether he should pluck it free or let it hang. His pale visage stared back at him. What time was it? What day?

“Yes, yes, open the door.” Julian said, running his finger through his chestnut hair.

Robert did as instructed and as he did, the room filled with the smell of anxious roses—a scent Julian knew well.

A woman in a pink lace gown entered. She wore a wide-brimmed bonnet draped with a rose-colored veil, dotted by chenille.

“I’m sorry to intrude.” The woman rasped—her voice crackling with age.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” Robert bowed his head. “I am Robert Halifax.”

“Charmed, Sir.” The woman responded. “I am…”

“Robert, this is Miss Rittenhouse.” Julian said, turning around. “She was my nanny.”

“You remember me, Lord Fallbridge.” The woman lifted the veil from her face—a pinched countenance quilted with the lines of time and worry.

“How could I forget you?” Julian answered stiffly.

“I saw you in the passage below earlier, Lord Fallbridge.” Miss Rittenhouse continued.

“Of course, you did.” Julian nodded. “I suppose you’re on this ship purely by chance.”

“I am, Sir.” She nodded. “Oh, but I haven’t seen you in so long—not since Lady Barbara was a wee girl.”

“She is no longer a girl.” Julian answered clearly.

“No, Sir. I suspect not.” Miss Rittenhouse blushed.

“And, you really expect me to believe that chance has placed you on the Hyperion at the very same time that I’m taking a voyage to find my sister?” Julian responded flatly.

“It is quite the coincidence, Your Lordship. You see, I’m on my way to America to work in the home of a distant cousin. Fane Rittenhouse, you see, is my second cousin. He and his wife, Carling--they need a governess to look after their young son, Rowan, and their little girl, Afton. They’ve an older girl—Ulrika—she’s nigh on twenty years of age now, I think. Rowan’s still just a boy. A sweet and precocious lad such as you were. Afton, I’m told, is quite sickly. The American Rittenhouses have done quite well for themselves in the gem trade and in sugar cane.”

“The Rittenhouse family of Marionneaux?” Robert asked.

“You know them?” Julian raised his eyebrows.

“I know of them. My brother has written me about them. They own the plantation next to that of my brother’s employer, Mr. Cage.” Robert said.

“Your brother?” Julian squinted, unaware that Robert had spoken of his family to Punch.

“Yes,” Robert nodded, “I’ll tell you more about it later.”

“Well, then, we’re all connected. Isn’t this an interesting bit of coincidence?” Julian muttered.

“Sir, I hope you don’t mind my visiting.” Miss Rittenhouse continued. “It’s just that I had heard of Lady Barbara’s…journey.”

“What do you know about it?” Julian asked.

“Only that she left Fallbridge Hall. You know how people talk.”

“Yes, I know.” Julian mumbled.

The three of them stood awkwardly in the cabin before Miss Rittenhouse broke the silence.

“Lord Fallbridge, I always did my best to look after you, and, later, after Lady Barbara.” Miss Rittenhouse began, “and I think I did as fair a job as anyone could.”

“Did you?” Julian narrowed his eyes.

“We were chums you and I. Remember? We had our little games…”

“And secrets.” Julian whispered.

“Yes.” The nanny blushed. “I thought you might like to know that I thought I saw Lady Barbara on the docks before we set sail.”

“How could you have?” Julian asked, faintly recalling that he had sensed his sister’s presence himself.

“I don’t know, Sir.” Nanny Rittenhouse responded. “It’s just what I thought I saw.”

Julian leaned against the wardrobe. “Thank you for telling me. I wish you a good voyage.”

Miss Rittenhouse looked at Robert who smiled.

“I think his Lordship is weary.” Robert said gently.

“I shall take my leave, then.” The nanny said, drawing the veil over her face again. The motion caused the scent of roses to rise again in the room.

“Farewell.” Julian nodded.

Robert showed the woman to the door as Julian sat on the bed.

As the door clicked shut, Julian shook his head.

“I’m not a fool, Mr. Halifax.” Julian sighed. “I can’t be expected to believe that this is all just a trick of fate.”

“You’re right to be incredulous.” Robert agreed. “I get the sense that you don’t care much for that woman.” He remembered Punch’s angry reaction to the nanny. “May I ask why?”

“The Duchess must never know. Her Grace must never know.” Julian mumbled.

“Pardon me?” Robert asked.

Julian looked up. “Robert, you know more than you’re telling me.” Julian pulled his watch from the pocket of his waistcoat, as he did, the button which had been hanging came loose and clattered to the floor. The noise startled Julian.

“Isn’t it funny how everything unravels?” Julian smiled. He looked at his watch. “It’s now nearly evening. The last I recall, we were having breakfast. Where have I been?”

“With me—mostly.” Robert answered uncomfortably.

“Why don’t I recall it?” Julian asked.

Robert thought of Punch’s pleading cry to not tell Julian about his presence.

“Robert,” Julian said firmly. “What is the matter with me?”

“Lord Fallbridge,” Robert began, but paused nervously.

“Tell me, please…” Julian begged.

“Julian, dear boy, you’re correct. There is something you don’t know…”

Did you miss Chapters 1-23? If so, you can read them here. A new chapter of Punch’s Cousin will be posted on Monday, August 23. Thanks for reading!

Goal for the Day: Buttons and Bows

Okay, maybe just buttons. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a couple of shirts hanging in your laundry room which are missing buttons. There are two in mine—waiting for me. They’ve been waiting for a week. They’re perfectly good shirts and the extra buttons are right on the inside front. I just don’t like sewing them on, so I’ve put it off. Today would be a good day for all of us to take care of those little things that we’ve procrastinated. Let’s sew on those buttons, let’s file the stack of bills. Let’s just take a few minutes to get rid of some of those little projects that are just waiting for us. You’ll find you’ll rest better without those little nagging worries. And, getting more rest means a more beautiful life.

Object of the Day: An Antique Victorian Sewing Table

Standing proudly on turned legs which are intersected by decorative slats, this piece of furniture with its inlays of chestnut and gilt carvings does not, at first, appear to be something as commonplace as a sewing table. However, on closer inspection, the table’s deep casket implies that it is, in fact, a cabinet. Lifting the top of the table reveals a maze of compartments covered by padded blue silk panels.

The center panel lifts to open a deep recess where a lady’s sewing projects would have been kept. With cubbies for buttons, thread, needles and scissors, this table would have housed everything needed for any mending project. When not in use, a lady would need to merely close the table to hide away her work beneath its gleaming ebonized cover. As always with Victorian objects, even the most utilitarian pieces were made as attractive as possible.

The mending of garments was necessary during a time when most people only owned a few outfits. Most ladies and their maids were adept at sewing to create new clothing, drapery and other fabric items needed in the house. A table such as this one would have been an integral part of any home.

Not being very good with a needle and thread, I use this as an attractive end-table. However, every so often, I open it up just to look at the cleverly fitted compartments. Both inside and out, it is, truly, a work of art.

Friday, August 20, 2010

“Mr. Punch” in the Arts: The Drawings of George Cruikshank

Image courtesy of "Through Wooden Eyes"
An illustrator and caricaturist known for his collaborations with Charles Dickens and his sociopolitical cartoons, George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was referred to as “the modern Hogarth.” His caricatures were famous and notorious. In fact, he was once bribed to not draw any more scandalous cartoons of the royal family.

Initially, his friendship with Dickens was productive. Cruikshank illustrated Sketches by Boz (1836), The Mudfog Papers (1837–38) and Oliver Twist (1838). However, the relationship soon turned to animosity when Cruikshank publically claimed to have been the creator of Oliver Twist.

As part of his quest to document the society of the time, Cruikshank often illustrated Mr. Punch and his wife, Judy, during public puppet shows. The results are charming illustrations such as this one depicting Mr. Punch up to his usual antics.

Though not without his share of controversy, Cruikshank did his part in documenting the lifestyle of his day.

Question of the Week: What's Your Favorite Film?

Bette Davis as Charlotte Vale: Warner Brothers
I’m partial to films made before 1969. I’m a sucker for Davis, Crawford, Swanson, Cotten, Fontaine, De Havilland, Leigh, Taylor and Clift. But, that’s just me.

Whether you’re a classic film nut or the first in line to see the latest releases, I’d like to hear about your favorite films. What picture could you watch over-and-over again? What movie means the most to you?

I can’t wait to read your comments!

Decorating Tip: Cord Covers

I hate electrical cords! Nothing is more unsettling in a room than the sight of a tangle of exposed wires. Of course we need them, but do we have to see them? Most of the time, a cord can be tucked away behind a piece of furniture. Sometimes, however, you’re stuck with a situation where a wire just sticks out.

For example, this week, I recommended picture lights. If you use the variety of lights that have cords, you’re faced with the dilemma of a wire trailing out the bottom of the painting like a tail. This is not the most attractive thing in the world, unless it’s a painting of a mouse and the wire completes the ensemble.

The best solution I’ve found is fabric cord covers. They come in a variety of sizes and a wide range of colors. Some of them even snap or zip on one side so you can get the cover over the cord without having to unplug the fixture. These also work well to cover cords and chains on hanging light fixtures and chandeliers. Just pick the color that best blends into your room, and your cord problem disappears!

Friday is for Family: The Art of Patience

We spend our entire day trying to be patient. We’re patient with our coworkers, we’re tolerant of the people in shops, we endure the craziness of the others on the road. When we get home, sometimes we’ve reached our limit and we snap at the people we most love—our family. I think, in many ways, our first loyalty should be to our families. Patience is an art that needs to be practiced in order to master it. Before you react to your child’s whining, your spouse’s nagging, or, even your dog’s barking, take a deep breath and remember who you’re talking to. If you could keep from shouting at the insolent teller at the bank, you certainly can keep your cool with your family. Let the minor irritations pass right through you. Your energy is better spent on the big things, and, most importantly taking care of your family and yourself.

Antique Image of the Day: Queen Victoria’s Mourning Ring

Image courtesy of The Royal Collection
Upon the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria went into a period of mourning which lasted the rest of her life. As was the custom of the time, she commissioned a mourning ring to wear so that an image of her husband would always be with her. What makes this ring unusual is that the image is actually a micro-photograph of Albert, set behind crystal. Usually, the images were painted. The gold bezel is surrounded by black enamel on the shanks of the ring. The cypher linking the initials 'V' and 'A' is set in white enamel into the shanks on either side of the ring. Victoria wore this memorial ring throughout her many years of mourning.

Punch's Cousin Chapter 23

I don’t understand.” Robert rubbed his narrow chin. “Your mother is not on this ship. She is at Fallbridge Hall.”

“Pauline? The Duchess of Fallbridge?” Laughter spilled from Julian’s mouth as Punch became wildly amused. “That one? She’s Julian’s mother! Not mine.”

“Punch, earlier you referred to your father being Sir Collin Molliner. You and Julian share more than a body, it seems you believe that you share a father.” Robert said in an even tone of voice so as not to upset Punch.

“That’s right. Molliner is my father for he’s the one what got me in the first place.” Punch said. “But, it were the other one who’s my mother.”

“Who?” Robert asked.

“Nanny, of course.” Punch winked. “The old cow.”

“Julian’s former Nanny is on this ship?” Robert leaned forward.

“Course she is. I smelled her, I did. Smelled of roses that one—rotting roses. By the time I’m done with her, she’ll smell of the sea. She wants to see me, she does. Well, to be fair, she wants to see Julian. But, it’ll be me that she sees. Julian wouldn’t open the door when she came. See, I will.” Punch continued.

“Why do you hate this woman so? Especially since you refer to her as your mother…”

“She’s the one what made me come up. She’s the one what made me be in two places at once. I was just a puppet…once. But, no. That bloomin’ sow lets little boys get eaten. So, now the sea will eat her! I’ll show her what it’s like to be eaten. She’s the naughty one, she is.”

“Mr. Punch, I wish to speak to Lord Fallbridge.” Robert said nervously.

“I already told you this isn’t no bleedin’ parlor trick,” Punch sighed. “Julian’ll be back when it’s time for him to be back. Not before.”

“Have some more sandwiches,” Robert said, handing another plate to Punch in the hopes that he could be distracted.

“Don’t mind if I do.” Punch said.

“At least he’s eating.” Robert thought. He took a deep breath. How could he make Punch subside and Julian reappear? Punch was of no use to Robert. He watched Julian eat to feed the puppet’s hunger. And what was this nonsense about his nanny. Could she really be on the ship?

They sat in silence for several minutes while Punch ate his sandwiches. Robert hoped that Julian might resurface if Punch was kept very calm.

The quiet in the room was shattered by a knocking on the door.

“Roses…” Punch hissed.

“Lord Fallbridge, I must see you…” A woman’s voice whispered through the door. “It’s a matter of the utmost urgency.”

“Let her in,” Punch grinned.

Robert sat still.

“Let her in, you!” Punch demanded.

Robert shook his head as the woman knocked on the door again. “Mr. Punch, I can’t. Not while you’re here. I’m sorry. However, I’ll only open the door if it’s Julian who’s in the room with me.”

“Lord Fallbridge?” The woman whispered again.

Robert stared at Punch whose eyes widened in anger. Suddenly, the doctor had an idea. Perhaps it was the only way to rid themselves of Punch—if only for a moment.

“I’m sorry to do this to you, Punch.” Robert said as he walked toward Julian’s body and Punch’s face. “I don’t mean to shock you.” Robert extended his arms.

Punch stepped back—suddenly not so tough—“What are you going to do?”

The woman knocked on the cabin door again—this time more frantically. “Sir, I know you’re in there. I hear you.”

“You’ll choke me!” Punch howled at Robert. “You’ll split my head!”

Robert took Julian’s arms and stared into Punch’s eyes.

“Unhand me! Julian don’t like to be touched!” Punch wriggled.

“Stop squirming, Punch, old chap.” Robert smiled. “You’ll only make this more difficult.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-22? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Write a Letter

When was the last time you actually took out a piece of paper and wrote a letter with a pen? When was the last time you received a handwritten letter? While email and text messages are very convenient, there’s something about a handwritten note or letter that makes it all the more special. The words are transformed from simple communication, to something infinitely more artful, and certainly more sentimental.

If you can, take a few minutes today to write a letter to someone special. It doesn’t even have to be a letter that you mail. You can just write to someone else in your house. It’s just one more way to bring some art and clarity into our lives.

Object of the Day: Antique Papier Mache Writing Slope

This was the laptop of its day. Most likely, if you’re reading this blog, you remember the days before email and text messages. I think today’s teens can’t fathom the idea of having to sit down and write a letter. Most of the them can’t even read cursive--from what I understand. Letter writing is a lost art, and one that people took very seriously.

Writing slopes such as this one were an important part of life. Easily portable, the writing slope opened to reveal a surface on which you could write a letter. Below that surface is a compartment in which you can store paper, envelopes and other correspondence. A series of compartments above the sloped writing surface housed the pen, nibs and ink wells. The writing slope could be taken on a journey or used in the home.

This particular writing slope which dates to about 1850 is constructed from papier mache and inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The top, sides and inside are further decorated with hand-painted geometric designs and flowers in bold colors and gold. To me, this writing slope seems almost like an altar to the art of communication. I often wonder about the words and emotions it once housed. What a pity it can’t tell its story.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gem of the Week: The Blue Diamond

Blue Diamond "Ballerina" Ring from Israel Rose
In my online novel, Punch’s Cousin, Lord Fallbridge describes the magnificent blue diamond that his father, Sir Collin Molliner, found in India. Julian wears a ring which bears a stone polished from the cuttings of “The Molliner Blue.” While Julian’s stone is fiction, the existence of blue diamonds is not.

When we think of diamonds, we tend to think of the wonderful icy colorless variety. However, diamonds naturally come in a range of colors—almost any imaginable color, in fact. Red diamonds are the rarest and dearest of all the colors. The value of “fancy color” diamonds depends on the intensity of the color, and as with white diamonds, the amount of inclusions (noticeable coal) in the stone.

Blue diamonds are highly prized for their mysterious beauty and depth of color. A blue diamond’s hue can range from a bright aquamarine color to a dusty blue-violet. Some often exhibit fluorescent characteristics. The color comes from deposits of boron during the compression process. Blue diamonds account for .1% of gem-quality diamonds.

Of course, the most famous blue diamond is the legendary Hope Diamond. This original 113 carat diamond was purchased in India by French merchant traveller Jean Baptiste Tavernier who described the stone as a “beautiful violet.” In 1668, Tavernier sold the stone to King Louis XIV of France who, later, had the stone re-cut. “The Blue Diamond of the Crown” or “The French Blue” was just over 68 carats after it was re-cut. The stone—along with many of the Crown Jewels of France—was stolen during the French Revolution and its resulting looting and riots.

The Hope Diamond, courtesy The Smithsonian Institute
In 1812, the “French Blue” resurfaced in the collection of London diamond merchant, Daniel Eliason. From then on, it was sold and resold many times (most notably to the family of Henry Phillip Hope), finally ending up in the collection of Pierre Cartier in 1910. Cartier sold the stone to American socialite Mrs. Evelyn Walsh who wore the stone until her death in 1947. Walsh’s entire collection of jewelry was purchased by Harry Winston who donated the diamond to The Smithsonian in 1958. The Hope Diamond remains on display in the Smithsonian today.

Whether it’s as large as the “Hope” or just a shimmering chip, the beauty of a natural blue diamond cannot be denied. Their very creation is proof that our world is capable of producing the most beautiful things.

Everyone Should Know Madame Tussaud

Marie Tussaud: Madame Tussauds
Born Anna Marie Grosholtz in France, 1761, the name “Marie Tussaud” immediately puts you in mind of the worldwide wax museums which bear her name. When Marie was a child, her father was killed in the Seven Years’ War. Marie’s mother took her to Switzerland where she worked as a maid for Dr. Philippe Curtius. The young girl was fascinated by Dr. Curtius who used wax to model anatomical figures. She began calling him, “Uncle.” When the doctor started to do portraits of people in wax, he allowed Marie to assist him.

Soon, Dr. Curtius’ wax figures had become famous, and he moved to Paris to open a Cabinet de Cire (a wax museum). Marie and her mother moved with the doctor. The exhibition opened in 1770---drawing huge crowds of spectators. Some of the figures from that exhibition still survive and are on display at the London location of Madame Tussaud’s Museum. In 1776, Curtius’ exhibition was moved the Palais Royale, and, in 1782, Curtius opened a second, more shocking location which would be the first version of “The Chamber of Horrors.”

Some of the original figures: Madame Tussauds
All the while, Curtius, taught and encouraged Marie the art of wax modelling. In 1778, she created her first figure—Jean Jacques Rousseau. She would go on to create many more historical figures. For nine years, beginning in 1780, Marie taught sculpting to the children of King Louis XVI who was so enamoured of her work that she was invited to live with the Royal Family at Versailles until the French Revolution of 1789.

Because of her association with the King, Marie was arrested during the Revolution. Her head was shaved and she was slated to go to the guillotine. At the last moment, her life was spared due to her association with Dr. Curtius. She was then employed to make death masks from the heads of those who lost their lives at the guillotine. Marie would search through piles of decapitated heads to find the best examples.

The Self Portrait: Madame Tussauds
When Dr. Curtius died in 1794, he willed his exhibition of waxworks to Marie. The following year, she married François Tussaud with whom she had two children, Joseph and François. 1802 saw the Tussaud family move to England where Marie traveled with her ever-growing collection of waxworks. In 1835, Marie Tussaud opened her first permanent exhibition in London on Baker Street. Her own self-portrait in wax, created in 1842, still stands at the entrance to the London museum. She died in 1850.

Her legend lives on, however. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museums are still worldwide attractions with locations in Amsterdam, Hong Kong), Las Vegas, Shanghai, Berlin, Washington D.C., New York City, and Hollywood. Today, the museums utilize the latest technology in addition to Marie Tussaud’s method of wax sculpting to create incredibly life-like figures. The museums also offer state-of-the-art attractions ranging from holograms to robotics. Though now owned by Merlin Entertainment, Madame Tussaud’s museums operate under the same spirit as did “The Baker Street Bazaar,” only, now, they are able to entertain and educate millions more people.

Decorating Tip: Picture Lights

In much the way that a painter uses the contrast of light and dark to model a subject and make certain features more prominent than others, we can use light in our interior decorating to give importance to the structure of the room. One way to subtly add warmth and elegance to a room is with the addition of picture lights.

These long, tubular, lights either screw into the wall above the picture or into the back of the frame itself. By lighting a painting or picture separately, you’re automatically drawing attention to it. You’re also going to accentuate the colors and make the picture seem sharper. These low-wattage lights also provide gentle, interesting indirect lighting for the room. At once, the space will seem warmer, more elegant and more energetic.

Picture lights are inexpensive. You can find them online or at your local home improvement store. They can be purchased in a variety of colors and styles so you can pick the one that best suits the picture you’re highlighting and your decor.

Term for the Day: Chiaroscuro

The Cardsharps, 1594, by Caravaggio: Kimbell Art Museum

Chiaroscuro refers to the sharp between light and dark in a painting. This contrast defines the overall composition of the painting. The use of chiaroscuro allows the painters to utilize his medium to model shapes and figures that appear to be fully three-dimensional. This practice is especially helpful when rendering the human body. The Italian artist, Caravaggio, was a master of chiaroscuro. As you can see in this image from Fort Worth’s Kimbell Museum, Caravaggio uses this contrast to create almost sculptural figures.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 22

Julian pressed his lips together and shook his head quickly from side to side. He grunted at Arthur who continued to hold the spoon full of malodorous syrup near Julian’s mouth.

“It won’t be so bad, Sir.” Arthur hissed. “Just a quick couple of swallows and I’ll go and fetch you some chocolates from the dining hall. You like chocolates don’t you, Sir? All nice and sweet…”

“Don’t speak to me as if I were a child.” Julian said, turning abruptly to the wall.

Arthur grabbed Julian by the shoulder and turned him around. The sharpness of the motion frightened Julian and he lost his footing staggering toward the bed.

Julian caught himself on the narrow bed and sat down.

“That’s right, Sir.” Arthur grinned with his bile-yellow teeth. His eyes flashed. “You get some rest. If you don’t want chocolates, I’ve no doubt I can find something else to take the taste out of your mouth.”

The room spun around Julian’s head as Arthur approached. The deep wood of the cabin walls—ebony and maple—twirled into a gentle blackness which bled into Julian’s thoughts. His muscles went limp as the dark flooded into him, absorbing into every fiber of his soul like coffee into bread.

Suddenly, Julian’s body rose. “You won’t get me, Devil.”

“Lord Fallbridge?” Arthur said, stepping backward.

“No, you won’t. I know how you are. You’re one of them devils what eats little boys. I won’t be eaten.” Mr. Punch spoke through Julian.

“Sir?” Arthur said.

Punch made Julian’s arms grab the oil lamp from the table near the bed. He raised it above his head.

“I’ll take the taste from your mouth, footman.” Punch laughed. “All you’ll taste is blood.”

Arthur dropped the spoon which clattered to the floor, sending oily droplets of the fetid mixture to the floor.

The cabin door rattled as Robert Halifax opened it with his key.

“Here!” Robert said, startled. “What is this?”

“This man,” Punch said, “He’s trying to give us some medicine. Something he says you told him to do.”

“I did no such thing.” Robert growled.

“Musta done.” Punch narrowed Julian’s eyes.

“No.” Robert said firmly.

“But, you did, Sir.” Arthur pleaded. “In the passage. You did.”

“Arthur, please leave. I’ll speak with you later.” Robert ordered the man.

Arthur skittered from the cabin like a rat caught in the scullery.

Alone with Julian, and Punch, Robert spoke gently.

“Trying to poison us?” Punch said, still holding the lamp above his head.

“No. I am not.” Robert said, kneeling down to study the unctuous mixture which had splattered on the floor. He put his index finger into its slickness and, then, smelled it. “I’ve no idea what this is.”

“I’m sure that you don’t.” Punch laughed sarcastically.

“Mr. Punch, do put the lamp down. I mean you no harm.” Robert said, taking a step toward the writing desk and sitting in its chair. He picked up a napkin from the tray and wiped his hand. “Let’s have some sandwiches. Shall we?”

Punch put the lamp down on the table by the bed. “You expect me to believe that you and that man aren’t thick? Trying to hurt us.”

“I have no intention of harming you or Julian. Or, anyone else.”

“Why, then, are you here? Why have you made us your mission? For all of your mystery and your tales of murderous whores, you’ve yet to say what has brought you to this ship. Have you come to mislead us? To mistreat us? Perhaps you, Doctor, are the murderous whore. Some ‘Elegant Ogre.’”

“I recognized you on deck. I knew of your sister and her plans. I wanted to help you.” Robert explained calmly.

“So you followed us on the ship?”

“No, Punch. I was making the journey already. My brother, Cecil, lives in New Orleans. His wife just bore him a son. They call him ‘Fuller.’ I am on my way to see my nephew. Our meeting was pure chance. I saw an opportunity to assist you, and I seized it.”

“Your brother.” Punch grumbled. “I suppose he’s a physician, too?”

“No. He’s a sculptor. He creates figures of wax. Effigies such that Madame Tussaud makes. You’ve been to the Baker Street Bazaar, haven’t you? You know the sort of sculptures I mean.”

Punch squinted at the doctor.

“Cecil creates these wax tableaus for an exhibition in New Orleans run by a man named Cage—some pompous oaf from a small town called Marionneaux.” Robert continued.

Punch sat Julian’s body on the bed.

“Hollow men of wax. Men with empty heads like mine once was.” Punch said softly. “My head’s been split, you know. The agony is something horrible.”

“Perhaps my brother can help you.” Robert responded in a gentle voice.

“Pass me one of them sandwiches, will you?” Punch asked.

Robert handed a plate to Punch. “Good. Lord Fallbridge needs his strength.”

“I’m doin’ it for me-self.” Punch said with a mouthful of chopped egg and dark bread.

“I don’t suppose you can send Lord Julian back to me, now?” Robert asked cautiously.

“This isn’t some parlor trick to be brought about at your will!” Punch spat.

“My apologies.” Robert nodded.

“’Sides, you need me right now. Julian isn’t in a way that he can be good to anyone.” Punch continued. “My master is weary. He needs for me to take up the fight.”

“Would you have harmed Arthur?” Robert asked.

“Wouldn’t he have deserved it?” Punch grinned.

“Perhaps.” Robert sighed.

“Presently, that odious valet isn’t our concern.” Punch said, still munching on sandwiches.

“What is?” Robert raised an eyebrow.

“That woman. She’s the one what wants silencing.”

“Which woman?” Mr. Halifax asked.

“The one what caused me to come about in the first place. I guess you could call her my mother.” Punch laughed. “She’s aboard this ship. And, I mean to ensure that her breast fills with the sea.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-21?  If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Love Life

“I wish it was Friday.” Many people say that. Why do we wish our lives away? Sure, we all suffer through the drudgery of each day—bills, cleaning, work, chores. Sometimes we feel that there’s very little for us to enjoy. But, that simply isn’t true. Each of us has the power to decide if we’re enjoying something or not. It all depends on your attitude. So, today, relish each moment. Look forward to the good things ahead and be grateful for what you have in the present. Something as simple as the smiles of your children to the wag of your dog’s tail can be enough to remind you to love life. I’m reminded of a poem by Henry Can Dyke which was read at Princess Diana’s funeral.

Time is..
Too Slow for those who Wait
Too Swift for those who Fear
Too Long for those who Grieve
Too Short for those who Rejoice
But for those who Love
Time is not.

Object of the Day: "Gypsy Woman with Parrot" by Alexandre Marie Guillemin, 1841

I’ve used this image at “Stalking the Belle Époque” several times, and, have even added it as a design on the shop. It’s a favorite of mine, and, certainly one of the most exquisitely painted pieces in my collection. In fact, it’s become emblematic of our mission here at “Stalking the Belle Époque,” to pause to appreciate the beauty around us.

A pastoral scene of a gypsy woman and a girl, this painting is alive with color—from the sparkle of her jewelry to the parrot’s bright plumage to the basket of peaches which rests at her rose-slippered feet. The central figure looks lovingly at a parrot while the girl playfully reaches for its tail feathers. This painting is signed by Alexandre Marie Guillemin.

Guillemin (1817-1880) was known for his tender scenes of peasant life which he rendered in bold colors. His genre painting garnered him quick attention and, soon, he studied under the Baron Gros in Paris. He exhibited at the Paris Salon starting in 1840 where he won medals in 1841 and 1845. In 1861, he was awarded the Legion d’honneur. His son, the sculptor, Emile Guillemin became a celebrated in his own right. A sculpture by Emile rests on a pedestal to the left of where this painting hangs in my home.

Guillemin’s work represents the sensibilities of the French mid-Nineteenth-Century painters. His use of rich colors and his masterful handling of chiaroscuro sum up the ideals of the day. And, so, this painting remains ideal—a brilliant caution to live a simple, gentle life.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Building of the Week: Westminster Abbey, London

Two majestic towers rise over the City of Westminster in London. Graceful tracery, the delicate peaks of gothic arches, cascades of sculpture and shimmering expanses of glass define this amazing building—the burial place of kings, queens, poets and celebrities of all walks of life. Here, you can see Elizabeth I in eternal slumber—forever across from her rival in life, Mary I of England.

Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, T.S. Eliot, Laurence Olivier, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, George II and Edward the Confessor all rest here, surrounded by many, many others whose names grace our history books. This is the site of coronations, royal weddings and funerals. This is the place where the very stones of the building breathe the history of the United Kingdom.

This is Westminster Abbey.

Founded in the year 960, The Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster (affectionately known as Westminster Abbey), is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. While the abbey has undergone many architectural and theological changes over the past one thousand and fifty years, one thing remains the same—the church that has stood on that site is a central hub of British politics, culture, art, and religion.

Westminster Abbey’s history is too rich and complicated to recount here in great detail. Though it was considered a cathedral for ten Catholic years in the middle of the Sixteenth Century, the current abbey is a “Royal Peculiar.” This means that the church is under the direct jurisdiction of the Queen as opposed to any religious authority such as a bishop or an abbot.

The first church constructed on this site in 960 was a smaller stone structure in the Romanesque style (referred to as “Norman” in English architectural terms). The building was set aside for Benedictine monks and was erected in proximity to the Palace of Westminster, which at the time was the seat of the monarchy. Henry III dedicated the abbey to Edward the Confessor and began an expansion and reconstruction project which continued from 1245 to 1517. The two towers were constructed between 1722 and 1745. Recently, the abbey underwent extensive renovations to ensure its survival.

As the struggle for religious control of England changed and twisted, so did the affiliation of the abbey which was named a Royal Peculiar in 1579 by Elizabeth I. Over the centuries, many different factions have tried to destroy the abbey. Yet, it still stands as proudly as ever.

Images Courtesy of Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey houses the monuments of hundreds of famous people and is also the home of the Coronation Chair which until 1996 sat above the Stone of Scone. The stone was returned to Scotland for both political and historical reasons.

Walking into the abbey is breathtaking. One visit is not enough. There’s too much to see and comprehend in one trip. If you’re fortunate enough to visit the abbey, take your time and really absorb what you’re seeing. It seems almost unreal. However, nothing could be more real. In front of your eyes, above your head and under your feet is the lasting history of England.


Decorating Tip: Painting with Light

You want privacy in a room, but you don’t want to block the light. Maybe you don’t want the look of drapery or blinds. One solution is “stained glass.” Real stained glass can be very expensive as well as difficult to fit into your existing window. However, you can emulate the look of stained glass with window paint.

Safe and easy to use, stained glass paint dries transparent. When you tire of the look—unlike real stained glass—you can just simply peel the paint right off the window. Some window paint companies even offer adhesive-backed “leading” to really simulate the look of stained glass.

This is a great way to give yourself some privacy, but also to keep the light coming in. I’ve used this technique in a corridor in my home. As you can see from the picture, the plants are certainly getting enough sunlight.

Term for the Day: Bas Relief

“Bas Relief” refers to the sculptural technique of carving or modeling a subject to appear is if it is rising from a flat plane. The figure is not fully three dimensional as it would be in a free-standing sculpture. Bas relief can either be carved from a flat surface, modeled on top of that surface, or be the result of a casting from a mold. This technique has been used for centuries as a means of giving depth to a work of art without the difficulties of the mechanics of a three dimensional sculpture.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 21

Whatever do you mean, Sir?” Arthur asked, pulling back the slickness of his lips to reveal those teeth of his—those teeth yellowed by tobacco and years of bilious boot-licking. “Who has come for you?”

Arthur walked into the cabin and set a silver tray of sandwiches and broth onto the writing desk.

“She…” Julian trembled. He inhaled, trying to steady himself. Arthur was no ally. The relief that Julian had initially felt faded away, melting into his feet to comingle with the pool of churning, nervous blood which weighed him to the floor.

“I…I don’t know.” Julian shook his head. “Let’s…I…”

“You’ll be wanting somethin’ to eat, I suspect, Sir.” Arthur chirped in his false cheerfulness.

“I suppose.” Julian swallowed hard. The thought of food did not appeal to him.

Arthur set about arranging a place-setting on the desk for Julian. All the while, he hummed a tune.

“Must you hum like that?” Julian asked.

“Begging your pardon, Sir.” Arthur replied, baring his teeth again. “Only it’s a song what they’ve been singing below. You know it, Sir. I recall you singing it when you was young still, and, not so nervous all the time.”

“I’m hardly old.” Julian frowned.

“Of course, Sir.” Arthur nodded, his green eyes glinting like wicked peridots. “You remember the song, Sir? ‘In Scarlet Town, where I was born…’”

“I know the song. It’s ‘Barbara Allen.’”

“Reminds me of a young lass I knew once. Oh, but she was a corker. Cold as ice, that one was. But, in her face was fire.” Arthur caught himself, and stopped talking.

“Yes.” Julian nodded—trying not to gag at the smell of the broth.

“Only it’s just a song I like,” Arthur muttered. He turned to Julian. “Speaking of ladies, Sir, I smell perfume in the air.” He grinned a taunting smirk. “Have you been entertaining ladies, Sir?”

“No, Arthur. You know well that I haven’t.”

“Isn’t that right? So, then, Lord Fallbridge, who was what you said come for you?” Arthur asked.

“Never you mind.” Julian shook his head.

“Course not, Sir.” Arthur chuckled softly. “Now then, this food wants eating. But, first, your med’cin.”

“Medicine?” Julian asked. “What medicine. I don’t take medicine.”

“Only it’s what the doctor gave me for you to take.” Arthur said, taking a small brown bottle from the pocket of his coat. “You know, Sir? That friend of yours, Mr. Halifax. He said you should take two spoonfuls of this before you took your meal.”

“Did he?” Julian asked, clenching his fists to keep his hands from shaking. “When did he do this?”

“Just now, Sir, in the passage.” Arthur removed a spoon from the tray. “Now, sit down here, if you will, and I’ll give you this.”

Julian remembered the foul-tasting medicine that Nanny would give him as a child—that awful syrup that tasted of bitter, rotten fruit and vinegar. How he hated it! How it had made his eyes water and his head swim.

“Just two spoonfuls, then, some nice sandwiches,” Arthur grinned. He uncorked the bottle and the smell of roses in the cabin was replaced with the vile stench of the tincture.

“That’s what Nanny would say.” Julian walked toward the porthole and opened it. Even the sting of the sea air was better than the fetid aroma of that syrup.

“Nanny, Sir?” Arthur asked.

“Yes, when I was a boy. You remember Nanny. She came back when Lady Barbara was small. She left shortly after you came to work with us.”

“Oh, yes, Your Lordship. That one. She was a hard one, wasn’t she?”

“Yes.” Julian nodded.

“You’ll be wanting to take this now, Sir.” Arthur walked toward Julian with the spoon. “I was given instructions, Sir, from that Mr. Halifax that you should take this.”

“You don’t work for Mr. Halifax. You work for me.” Julian answered, surprised by the firmness of the words that came from his mouth. He felt, for a moment, that he wasn’t the one speaking them. But, how could that be?

“Sir, I was told that you should take this and I aim to see that you so.” Arthur came closer still.

Julian’s vision became blurry and he felt the strangeness of lightning in his arms. Where was that sweet blackness? Wouldn’t it come? That absence of all things that was his only escape…

Arthur poured the mixture into the spoon. It was brown—the color of scabs—all ruddy and alive. He held the spoon up to Julian’s lips.

“Just two of these, Sir.” Arthur grinned. “And, then, it’ll all be over…”

Did you miss Chapters 1-20?  If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Emerge From Your Shell

Many people have no problem facing each day with gusto and relish. Others of us are more shy and reserved. Still, each of us has a threshold of comfort. Today, try to push yourself a little further. Speak up politely in a meeting and voice your opinions in a clear, rational way. Talk with someone new. Share something special about yourself. Offer your best qualities to the world. Challenge yourself to show your brightest light.

All the while, remember that you are the only person who can really take care of you. Remember your boundaries and make sure that you are comfortable with what you’re doing. You’ve got a lot to offer the world. If, each day, you step out just a little to present your innate beauty to the people around you, you’ll be on your way to making the world that “better place” that we hear so much about.

Object of the Day: Art Nouveau Bas Relief Plaque

She appears to be emerging from a mist, the drapery of her robes clinging to her—almost holding her back. This cast spelter bas relief Art Nouveau plaque represents its time period well. Borrowing heavily from the Rococo, with its arced edges and volutes, the plaque depicts a favorite subject of the Art Nouveau—the female form in its most voluptuous. This style defined itself by reimagining the female body in a series of curves and tendrils, playing with tension and weight to depict the body as a fluid, natural entity. The figure appears to be alive, gently writhing to escape the background.

I suspect that this plaque was initially part of a larger piece or grouping of similar objects. However, she is the only one that remains. Mysterious and energetic, this sculpture seems to have a life of its own.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Film of the Week: Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944

At first, the executives at MGM weren’t sold on director Vincent Minelli’s idea for a film about an upper-middle class Missouri family set in 1904. When asked what happens in the film, Minelli responded that they’re a happy family faced with the prospect of having to move to New York City. The execs wanted more. “What happens then?” “Nothing.” Minelli responded.

Despite the studio’s doubts, the film went on to be one of the biggest successes of 1944 and remains one of the most beloved films in cinematic history. This romantic musical is marked with the most cheerful of highs and the most heart-wrenching lows.

With a score by Roger Edens, the film starred  Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Tom Drake, Leon Ames, Marjorie Main, June Lockhart, and Joan Carroll as members of a loving family, living an absolutely normal life in St. Louis the year before the 1904 World’s Fair. The film follows them through the year, cleverly chronicling their trials and tribulations.

Meet Me in St. Louis is significant in many ways. This film introduced us to classic songs such as, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “The Boy Next Door” and the immortal “Trolley Song”…clang, clang, clang.

This is also the film which introduced Vincent Minelli to Judy Garland, leading to their marriage and, in time, the birth of Liza Minelli. Though she was resistant at first to star in the film—hoping to shed her good-girl image, the decision to participate certainly served Miss Garland well.

Aside from the music and solid acting, one of the most outstanding elements of this film is the beautiful sets. The Second Empire home is doubtlessly one of the most attractive sets in film history, and the interiors are historically spot-on.

Often considered a Christmas film, Meet Me in St. Louis is a picture for all seasons, and sure to offer you a very enjoyable time.

Humanitarian of the Week: Bobbie Eakes

Bobbie Eakes courtesy of ABC Daytime
She’s a legend in the daytime television community. While she’s presently portraying All My Children’s Krystal, Miss Eakes is also known to daytime fans for her years as Macy on The Bold and the Beautiful. This former beauty queen is also a talented singer with three albums to her credit. Yet, even with her hectic schedule recording and acting both on stage and screen, Bobbie Eakes finds time to give of her time and energy to the causes in which she most believes.

Aside from lending her talents annually to Broadway Cares: Equity Fights AIDS, Miss Eakes is a spokesperson for AHOPE For Children—a nonprofit organization which helps to bring comfort and assistance to the children of Ethiopia, particularly those infected with HIV. Through donating her time to raise awareness of the plight of these orphaned children, and also through her visits to Africa, Miss Eakes has offered her many talents so that an often forgotten people can look forward to a brighter future.

Talented, dedicated and compassionate, Miss Eakes personifies the spirit of a beautiful world. For all of her achievements both cultural and social, Bobbie Eakes is our “Humanitarian of the Week.”

For more information about Miss Eakes and AHOPE For Children, visit her Web site.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 20

The woman knocked again. “Lord Fallbridge?”

Julian smoothed his chestnut hair which clung to his scalp from the heat of his own perspiration.

His stomach boiled.

“Who is there?” Julian croaked.

“Please, Lord Julian, you must let me in.”

On quaking legs, Julian walked to the door and turned the handle. The door would not open. He looked for the key and found that it was gone. He wasn’t aware that Robert had taken the key with him when he locked “Punch” in the cabin.

“The door is locked,” Julian answered in a voice that shook despite his attempts to mask it.

“Can’t you open it?” The woman asked, her familiar voice at once both a lullaby and a sharp slap across the face.

“No.” Julian responded. “I seem to be locked in.”

“Oh.” The woman whispered through the door.

“Will you tell me who you are?”

The woman did not respond.

Julian staggered away from the cabin door. He peered at the crack of light at the threshold, but could not see the shadow of the woman’s feet.

“She’s gone.” Julian sighed.

He sat down at the small wooden desk and cradled his throbbing head in his hands.

“Why am I locked in this cabin?” Julian moaned. “What’s become of me? What have I done?”

Julian thought of Punch and how, for years, he had sat, locked in the curio.

“Am I now just a curiosity? Locked away to be viewed? Displayed and disparaged…”

Where had that man—Robert Halifax—gone? Where was Arthur?

Julian rose and paced the room, and felt as though his frantic strides were making the ship rock more, and, more, and more…

The cabin swayed with the beating of his heart which thumped the rhythm of a song.

"If on your deathbed you do lie
What needs the tale you're tellin'?
I cannot keep you from your death.
Farewell," said Barbara Allen.
Lost in the song, Julian was startled by a scratching at the door of the cabin. To his frenzied ears, the sound was the roar of a dragon and Julian, for a second, thought of his childhood make-believe play of St. George. “I raise my sword aloft!” Only there was no sword. There was nothing.

Suddenly, a piece of bright white paper slipped quickly between the door and the threshold, shooting toward the middle of the cabin.

Julian gasped as the paper stopped at his feet.

He stared at it for a few moments—expecting the flatness to swell into something horrible, something with hands that could claw and scrape. However, it remained only paper.

Hands trembling, Julian reached for the paper cautiously and unfolded it.

In bright blue ink, a simple message was scrawled in the slanted hand of weariness.

“I am here.” Julian read aloud.

The note was not signed. However, Julian knew the writing. He let the paper drop to the floor and stood as still as a caryatid as if the whole weight of the ship rested upon his head and, if he were to move, the vessel would crack in half.

The air smelled of rose water, and, the scent made Julian’s head hurt. No, it was not the plain throbbing of a headache, it was the sensation of being struck repeatedly.

The scraping of the key in the lock was a surprising comfort to Julian who rushed to the door, ready to give entrance to whomever would free him. Even Arthur would be welcome. At least, Arthur was consistent.

“It’s you.” Julian sighed as the door opened. “Please, help me. She’s come for me.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-19? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Purge Your Periodicals

Newspapers, magazines, catalogs and brochures come into our homes every day. Usually, we have little time to flip through them, let alone actually read them. And, so, they pile up—awaiting the moment when you can actually pause to look at them.

If you’ve got a stack of magazines sitting in your living room or in your office, take a moment to sort through them. Have you read them? Will you actually have time to read them? Is there any reason you’d want to keep a particular one?

Realistically decide what you want to keep. If there’s an article, a photo or a recipe in a particular magazine that you like or would wish to see again, file it away. If not, it’s best to recycle that magazine just to purge your home of that accumulated clutter.

One way of recycling magazines is to bring them to your doctor’s office, a local nursing home or other organization that could use them. Just make sure to remove the address label or mark out your name and address from the cover. Not only would you be freeing up space in your home, you would be providing a much-needed service.

Object of the Day: 1887 “Vanity Fair” Cover by “Spy”

From 1873 until 1911, the famous caricaturist, “Spy” drew the cover art for over two thousand issues of Vanity Fair Magazine. “Spy” was in reality, Sir Leslie Ward—the son of famed painters E.M Ward and Henrietta Ward, and the grandson of the renowned, James Ward. Though he came from a celebrated artistic family, Leslie, as one of eight children, received no specialized art training in his early life.

During his time at Eton in Windsor, Spy showed considerable artistic talent, and, soon, was being shown at the Royal Academy. Still, his father encouraged young Leslie to be an architect. After a grueling year apprenticing in an architecture firm, Leslie asserted himself and went on to receive training in the arts. His drawings earned him considerable attention, and, in 1873, he replaced the caricaturist “Ape” as the artist in charge of the covers for Vanity Fair Magazine.

His work was applauded and notable figures of the day were honored by his skillful and sympathetic cartoons. In his 1915, autobiography, Sir Leslie Ward said, “If I could sum up the art in a sentence it would be that caricature should be a comic impression with a kindly touch, and always devoid of vulgarity.” His drawings defined the art of caricature so much so that they are referred to as “Spy Drawings.” Three hundred of his original drawings hang in the British National Portrait Gallery.

This Vanity Fair cover from the November 12, 1887 edition is a classic representation of “Spy’s” work. Entitled, “First Lord of the Treasury,” the drawing reflects Sir Leslie Ward’s belief that caricature should not be forced or cruel, but should show “a good memory, an eye for detail, and a mind to appreciate and grasp the whole atmosphere and peculiarity of the ‘subject.’”

Today, Spy’s covers are highly collectable—just as they were at the time. Many of his covers were framed and proudly displayed. This particular cover is still in its original frame from C. Lamm and Company, 1890. The grace and simplicity of these covers makes today’s busy and loud magazine covers seem even more vulgar.

Trivia Contest Winner

Congratulations to “KathyL” for winning our very first Trivia Contest! Kathy will receive her choice of a Stalking the Belle Epoque, Punch’s Cousin or The Garnet Red tee-shirt from our online store. I’ll be offering another contest in a few weeks. Good job, Kathy!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Song of the Week: "I Vow to Thee My Country"

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Portrait by John Swannell, 1994, courtesy Chris Beetles Gallery
As we approach the thirteenth anniversary of the shocking death of Diana, Princess of Wales, I find myself humming “I Vow to Thee My Country” when I’m not humming, “The Ballad of Barbara Allen.” A favorite of Diana’s, the hymn was played at her funeral.

It’s also a favorite of mine. When I first heard the hymn, I found it familiar. There was a good reason for that. Gustav Holst adapted a portion of the “Jupiter” movement from his masterwork, The Planets as the tune for the hymn. The haunting lyrics stem from adaptations of a poem by British diplomat Cecil Spring-Rice which speaks, in the first verse, of the United Kingdom—most specifically the substantial losses she suffered in the First World War. The second verse, “And, there’s another country” refers to Heaven.

Often played during Armistice memorial services, the hymn was first performed in 1925. Since then, it has become one of the most popular hymns in the United Kingdom for both patriotic and spiritual purposes. In fact, it’s often sung at Cricket matches. From the evocative lyrics to the beautiful melody, this is more than just a hymn, just an anthem. It’s a means of expressing loyalty to whatever is of most significance to you.

This video is a touching compilation of scenes from the House of Windsor over the decades which has been set to this wonderful song.  Just click the play button to view.