Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Mystery In Paint: Portrait of a Woman, 19th Century

Portrait from The National Gallery
Part of The (British) National Gallery’s collection in London, this splendid painting is as mysterious as it is beautiful. The painting is unfinished. The artist has reused a canvas upon which he (or someone else) had begun a drawing of a nude man. Originally the sitter was thought to be Eliza Bonaparte (1777-1820), however, this was refuted.

Many have conjectured as to who the artist was and if the sketch and the painting are the work of two different hands. Once attributed to Jacques-Louis David, this was later proven to be untrue. While it is believed that this is an Italian work, some say it’s too French in style to be Italian. Others say the opposite. And, so she remains, unknown, uncategorized. But, from the look on her face, you can tell she really doesn’t care.

Recommended Reading: Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier

Highgate Cemetery
Author of Girl with a Pearl Earring—the novel which served re-popularize Dutch artist, Vermeer, Tracy Chevalier often employs the use of multiple voices (narrators) in her work. Each character picks up the narration of the story, chapter-by-chapter. I’ve always enjoyed this style. In fact, my The Garnet Red is written in this style. So, I very much enjoy Miss Chevalier’s writing. Aside from her literary style, I also appreciate her subject matter. She chooses historical subjects: Vermeer in The Girl with a Pearl Earring, William Blake in Burning Bright, Medieval France in The Lady and the Unicorn and The Virgin Blue, and my favorite, Edwardian England in Falling Angels.

Falling Angels tells the story of two families beginning with the death of Queen Victoria and through the Women’s Suffrage Movement. The central characters are Maude Coleman and Lavinia Waterhouse—two young girls who meet at a cemetery (modeled on London’s Highgate Cemetery) on the National Day of Mourning for Queen Victoria. Maude’s mother, the petulant Kitty Coleman is, however, the real centerpiece of the novel. Her actions—sometimes impetuous, sometimes just—are the catalyst for most of the action.

Miss Chevalier presents a detailed and intriguing look into the lives of these Edwardian families. We are treated to a look at the lifestyles of the upper class, the middle class and the working class. She serves up richly crafted characters—none more so than the grave-digger and his good-natured son who figure prominently in the story.

If you’re looking for a historical novel with excellent storytelling, this is the book for you. And, truly, I would not be recommending another author’s historical fiction if I didn’t really like it.

At the Music Hall: The Lambeth Walk

Original Sheet Music
The Vauxhall Kennington
Web Site
Lambeth you've never seen,
The skies ain't blue, the grass ain't green.
It hasn't got the Mayfair touch,
But that don't matter very much.
We play the Lambeth way,
Not like you but a bit more gay
And when we have a bit of fun
Oh, Boy.

Named for a London street known for its “working class” culture and open markets, The Lambeth Walk heralds from the 1937 musical Me and My Girl with book and lyrics by Douglas Furber and L. Arthur Rose and music by Noel Gay. In the context of the musical, The Lambeth walk is a show-stopping Cockney dance number. The song became such a success that it started a dance craze which was popularized by actor/entertainer, Lupino Lane. In 1937, everyone in Britain was doing “The Lambeth Walk” including King George and his consort, Elizabeth, who both shouted, “Oi!” with the crowd during the chorus. By 1938, the song had swept the United States. Duke Ellington even performed his own version in the U.S. At its heart, The Lambeth Walk is a song about being happy with who and where you are. While Lambeth may not have been as posh as Mayfair, it had a beauty all its own.

I hope enjoy this 1938 recording of The Lambeth Walk by Gracie Fields. It really sums up the spirit of the song.

Masterpiece of the Week: A Gothic Revival Armoire by Pugin and Crace

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London boasts an amazing collection of furniture from antiquities to modern pieces. While browsing their online catalog, I came across this cabinet. Designed by A.W.N Pugin in 1850 and crafted by John Gregory Crace, this cabinet (which they referred to as an armoire) was created for the Medieval Court in the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Pugin and Crace were frequent collaborators and had a vast understanding of one another’s working styles. Designed in a Gothic Revival Style, this monumental piece sports hand carved crests which Pugin painted with the symbols of the carpenters’ trade and their initials. With its delicately carved Corinthian capitals, spindles, tracery, and pierced frieze, this was considered one of the grandest works at the 1851 Exhibition, and certainly, can be considered one of Crace and Pugin’s finest masterpieces.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 36

Though Julian’s stomach still burned from the poison and though his vision was still blurry, Punch propelled Julian’s body through the power of a ferocious anger. He stomped through the passage and down the narrow flight of stairs to the sad row of cabins which housed the servants of the First Class passengers.

Arthur’s cabin door was open, a cloud of tobacco smoke curled from the room into the corridor, extending long, wispy fingers which beckoned Punch in. The man was sprawled out on the floor, his back resting on the edge of his cot. He wore no collar and no jacket, his shirt unbuttoned to reveal the protrusion of a boney sternum and sharp, vicious clavicles which seemed to struggle against his pale, shiny skin. Next to him sat a robust, hairy man with a thick black beard that framed his too-pink, fish-like lips. The two of them were laughing, clinking glasses.

“I think we done well, Professor.” Arthur chuckled.

The heavy-set man looked up to see Julian’s figure framed in the doorway like an iconographic saint emerging from a mandorla.

“Here, we got company.” The man belched.

“Lord Fallbridge!” Arthur spat, standing up quickly on wobbly, drunken legs.

“Right.” Punch growled.

“Are you wanting something?” Arthur asked nervously, a bead a sweat trickling down the slender twig of his throat.

“What do you think?” Punch replied fiercely.

“Is something the matter? Is Dr. Halifax…”

“Dead?” Punch widened his eyes. “No.”

“That…I didn’t…I didn’t ask that.” Arthur trembled.

“I’ll be asking the questions, Devil.” Punch stepped forward.

“What’s this about?” The professor rose and stood next to Arthur. “Are you not feeling right, Your Lordship.”

“He sounds funny.” Arthur whispered to the man. “Like he does sometimes.”

“How can we help you?” The professor asked. “You really shouldn’t be down here, you know. It’s not a fitting place for a fine gentleman.”

“Neither is a coffin.” Punch came closer still. “Only that’s what you intended for me and my chum.”

“Whatever do you mean, Sir?” Arthur asked.

Punch grinned—a thought coming to him that he perceived as one of immense brilliance. With pleasure, he shut his eyes and put his hand to his head as he had known Julian to do hundreds of times. He fluttered Julian’s eyelids and pretended to gasp.

“Your Lordship?” Arthur said with a tremble in his voice.

“Oh, Arthur,” Punch replied, feigning Julian’s voice. “I don’t know what’s become of me. Dr. Halifax and I shared a bottle of spirits. They must have gone to my head.”

“Oh?” Arthur glanced sideways at the professor.

“I’m so sorry to interrupt you with your friend,” Punch continued as he thought Julian might, “however, I was hoping you could assist us. I think Dr. Halifax has had a little too much whiskey. He’ll need some aid getting back to his cabin. I was hoping you might lend me a hand.”

“’Course, Sir.” Arthur nodded.

“You go and do your duty, Arthur,” the hairy man said slowly. “I’ll wait here for you.”

“Again, my apologies for the intrusion on your private time. I will make sure that Arthur isn’t long.” Punch couldn’t help but laugh as he thought. “Long for the world.”

“Take your time, Sir.” The man nodded.

“I didn’t happen to learn your name.” Punch said to the man in Julian’s voice.

“Folk call me ‘Professor.’” The man grunted.

“Good evening, Professor.”

“Good evening, Sir.” The man narrowed his eyes under his fuzzy brow.

“Let me help you back to your stateroom.” Arthur said.

“Please.” Punch responded as Julian.

They walked together, slowly, up the narrow stairs to the deck. Punch grinned through Julian’s teeth. He enjoyed the feeling of Arthur’s distress.

The cool night air served to calm Julian’s stomach, so Punch made his “master” breathe deeply.

“Do look at the moon, Arthur.” Punch said walking over to the rail, knowing that the valet would follow.

“It’s pretty, Sir, only we should get you to your cabin.” Arthur twitched.

“Just a moment,” Punch smiled.

“We don’t want to keep the doctor waiting.” Arthur protested.

“Look at the moon, Devil.” Punch hissed, grabbing Arthur’s arm.

“Here!” Arthur cried out. “You’re hurting me, Sir.”

Punch spun the footman around and pressed his belly against the rail of the ship. Punch forced the weight of Julian’s slender body against the man’s back as he bent the man over the rail and pushed his head down.

“Sir!” Arthur hollered. “You’re hurting!”

“Hurting like you did to me chum?” Punch whispered terribly in the man’s ear. “Like you did to me master?”

“I don’t know what you mean!” Arthur cried.

“Look at the moon!” Punch hissed again. “Look at it reflected in the water like diamonds.”

“Let me go!” Arthur shouted.

Punch pushed Arthur forward with such strength that the valet’s feet rose from the deck. Arthur howled!

Through Julian’s eyes, Punch looked from side to side. Someone was coming! A dark figure approached. As he got closer Punch knew immediately who it was—the dark-skinned man who had presented Julian with the gris-gris.

“Great Man of the Rocks.” The African smiled. “You are fulfilling your destiny?”

“What’s it to you?” Punch asked angrily as he pressed down on Arthur’s back. The valet kicked his legs, but he could not get loose.

“Nothing.” The African man laughed.

“’Nothing’ is right! You see nothing here!” Punch spat.

“I see only what is meant to be.” The man grinned.

“Go away!” Punch screamed. “I got to kill the Devil!”

“May I help you, Great Man?” The African asked.

Arthur continued to squirm, kicking Julian’s leg and sending his body off balance.

The African lunged forward and grabbed Arthur’s right arm as Punch moved Julian’s hand to grab Arthur’s right.

“Close your eyes, Great Man, and I will help you.” The African smiled.

“I ain’t gonna close me eyes!” Punch growled.

“You must.” The African continued to grin. “You do not wish for your other half to see you kill this man.”

Punch considered that for a moment as he tightened his grip on Arthur’s arm.

Arthur sobbed violently, pleading, “Please, Sir, please!”

“Very well!” Punch said, finally, “Me master shouldn’t see this.”

Punch shut Julian’s eyes as he pushed Arthur forward.

Arthur screamed in terror—his wail piercing the night.

The African man laughed. And, then, there was a loud splash as a body hit the sea.

Punch opened his eyes.

He was alone on the deck.

Did you miss Chapters 1-35?  If so, you can read them here.
Come back on Monday, September 6, for Chapter 37 of Punch's Cousin.

Goal for the Day: Remember Someone Special

Our memories are tricky things. Sometimes memories can be painful, other times, they serve to lift us up. Today, as you go about your usual Saturday business, recall some good times that you spent with someone you cared about. Perhaps this person is no longer with us, or maybe there’s a distance between you.

Think about happy moments and allow yourself to smile. If you can, make a special place in your home that will be a reminder of that good memory. You can frame a photograph or display an object that elicits good memories of times well spent. We are fueled by our thoughts. Ultimately, it’s our decision to keep the good ones close and let the negative ones drift away.

Object of the Day: A Victorian Rococo Étagère

Some refer to these pieces of furniture as an étagère while others would call it a “display” or “china cabinet.” No matter the name, pieces such as this served an important purpose in the Victorian home. They were a place to display the finest crystal and china in the household as well as an extra serving space in addition to a sideboard.

This étagère exhibits characteristics of the Rococo or Louis XV style which was popularized in France. English in origin, the piece dates to the 1840’s. Originally finished in a deep cherry tone, this étagère was most likely ebonized after the death of Queen Victoria. In 1901, as England mourned the passing of the “old Queen,” the practice of ebonizing furniture became a popular way of making a display of mourning (a very revered Victorian tradition).

With intricately carved cabriole legs supporting the entire piece and the elevated shelves, this étagère reads like a textbook of Victorian design. Spindles, piercing, applied ornaments, undulating shelves, scalloped mirrors, fretwork and delicate volutes create an overall look of lightness and elegance. The highly decorative crest-rail takes the form of a “broken pediment” and is flanked by two barrel-arched niches upon gently turned spindles—backed by balloon-back shaped mirrors. The interior of the cabinets are upholstered, housed behind glass topped by carved ornamentation. In true Rococo form, a shell has been carved into the center crest above the middle shelf.

Everything about this étagère speaks to the delicate craftsmanship of the mid-Victorian period. It’s a remarkable piece of furniture and can be studied for hours just to absorb the intricacies of its design and hand-carving.

Friday, September 3, 2010

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

Every week, I share some of the delicious foods that I enjoy. Now, I’d like to know what foods you like. What are you favorite treats? What’s your favorite meal? What makes your mouth water? Cuisine is an art. What food makes your life more beautiful? I look forward to reading your comments!

Mr. Punch in the Arts: “Punch” or “May Day” by Benjamin Haydon, 1829

Punch or May Day
Benjamin Haydon, 1829
Tate Collection
Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) was a well-respected English historical painter who was plagued by financial difficulties and what he considered the under-appreciation of his work. Despite his troubles, he had a verve and enthusiasm for his work and a deep love of the life of London with its bustle and hubbub. He tried to impart this enthusiasm to the public, and especially to his pupils which included Charles Locke Eastlake.

One of Haydon’s most cherished works entitled “Punch,” or alternately, “May Day,” was painted in 1829. This brightly-hued and energetic canvas depicts a scene the May Day festivities at Marylebone Road. A flamboyantly-costumed procession parades past a lively Punch and Judy show. This painting, which he originally planned to entitle “Life,” depicts the comingling of many classes and cultures. Just before exhibiting the painting, he added the image of a merchant trying to sell artifacts to a disinterested public—a representation of his feeling of his own life, feelings which, sadly, led to his suicide at the age of sixty-one.

This work, however, belies the demons that Haydon fought. A brilliant scene of frivolity and raw humanity, the mortal condition is personified as fleeting and enjoyable. Once again, Mr. Punch speaks for the people. His very presence in this scene sends an instantly recognizable message—life can be a struggle, but we might as well enjoy it.

Decorating Tip: Dress Your Furniture

Do you have a shawl, a scarf or a wrap that you just love, but aren’t wearing because it’s the wrong season? Perhaps you’ve got a similar item that you don’t wear anymore, but still like. You can always repurpose it as a decorative object.

Draped over the back or arm of a chair, arranged on a dresser or table, even thrown over a banister or piano; shawls, scarves and wraps make perfect throws for your home. If you’re out at a vintage shop (or even a thrift shop) and come across something you like that you know you won’t wear, if it’s a good deal, buy it and see what you can do with it.

Adding a different texture can make a room more interesting. Similarly, contrasting a hard surface with something soft like a fabric throw, gives the piece of furniture a more inviting look. Take a look in your wardrobe. You may have just the thing in there to give your room a makeover.

Odd Antique Image for the Day: An Autochrome of Edward VII

Silver-Framed Autochrome of Edward VII
The Royal Collection
As I do each Friday, I’d like to present another unusual image from The Royal Collection. This one is not unusual because of its subject matter, but rather its presentation. Patented in 1903 by the famed Lumière brothers of France, autochrome was the very first color photography process and remained the standard until the 1930’s. Here, we have an autochrome image of King Edward VII who reigned from 1901 until 1910, following the death of his mother, Queen Victoria.

What’s special about this (aside from being a beautiful representative of early color photography) is the frame. Housed in a wedge-shaped silver frame, the autochrome faces upward so that it will filter light from above. The image is then seen, in reverse, reflected in a mirror on bottom of the frame. It’s pure Edwardian cleverness! This was presented to the King as a gift in 1909 and is now part of the Royal Collection.

Pets of the Belle Époque

Queen Victoria and Turi
The Royal Collection
Domesticated animals have been a part of the lives of humans since the first dog wagged the first tail. The English have always had a weakness for pets, and no era has historically displayed that love more than the sentiments of the Victorian. The Royal Collection Web site offers a beautiful online gallery called, “Noble Hounds and Dear Companions” which features a darling collection of historic photos of nobility and their pets. From the photograph of Queen Victoria with her beloved Pomeranian, Turi, to the unusual image of a naval officer with a cat on his head, this assortment of images is sure to delight you. I certainly enjoyed looking through it. I hope you do, too. The collection is also available in a book which accurately recounts the details of each image.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 35

Punch continued to rant within Julian’s body. “Hurt me master, will ya?” His screams did nothing to move Julian’s lips. Punch could feel Julian’s heartbeat slow as the embers in the man’s belly swelled into a fire that only served to fuel Mr. Punch’s anger. “Hurt me chum!”

Punch let out a cry to no avail. “Never had a chum afore. Never did. I’m fond of that one even if he is human.” He concentrated and struggled to get a response from his corporeal shell, yet Julian’s body would not respond.

The passage was strangely empty—devoid of the usual stream of passengers hurrying to and fro. Julian lay on the cold floor of the corridor, a trickle of drool running from his mouth to the polished surface below.

“Damn you!” Punch hollered in Julian’s head. For a moment, Punch thought he heard a voice. “Someone’s comin’!” He listened through Julian’s ears, but the voice was unclear. “Who’s that? Someone’s singin’.” He began to make out the words.

Though death be printed on his face
And o'er his heart be stealin',
Yet little better shall he be
For bonny Barbara Allen.
“Young man, I think you’re dyin’.” Punch shouted the lyric. The sound faded again, and, for a moment Punch wasn’t sure if it had been the words of someone outside of himself, or another of the echoes in Julian’s mind. “Noise, noise, noise!” Punch groaned in the blackness that surrounded him. “Always too much noise.”

Punch forced Julian’s body to draw in breath. “Master, rouse yourself. I’m lost! I need you to help me find meself. I need you!”

“How does it work?” Punch continued. “I can’t see if you don’t open your eyes! How does it work, this collection of meat and bone and blood?”

Punch thought—as best as he could—of Julian as a boy and how they had played. Julian’s hands were soft then. He didn’t mind the feeling of the boy’s hands tickling the hollow of his head, supporting him on the thin arm of youth. They had talked to each other then. They had. Perhaps Julian hadn’t heard Punch’s responses, but they had talked as Julian made Punch, in his glove-like form, come to life.

“I done gave you life, too, you know, Master!” Punch railed.

Julian’s heart began to beat faster again.

“I done so once, and I aim to do again.” Punch said strongly. “Move!”

Punch laughed as Julian’s fingers twitched. Punch could picture the sparkle of Julian’s ring. “Look at the fire on your hand, man!”

A dim light slashed into the darkness around Punch. “That’s it, Master! Open your eyes! Let me move you as you did me!”

Julian’s legs spasmed, and his body doubled into a ball on the floor as his lungs drew breath and his mouth sputtered.

“That’s it. I know we can rise!” Punch cried. “I can see!”

Though Julian’s body was in agony from the burning in his gut, Punch forced the man to roll over and lift his weight from the floor of the passage. On his feet, Punch willed Julian to stumble back into the cabin. He propelled Julian toward Robert, and with a strength he did not know Julian possessed, he lifted the man from the chair and dragged him to the bed, propping him up against the pillows.

“They need air and they need water,” Punch said—Julian’s lips finally cooperating, if only slowly.

He pressed Julian’s ear against Robert’s mouth. “There’s breath in him still.”

Using Julian’s hands, Punch struggled to undo Robert’s collar and cravat. He pressed firmly on the doctor’s chest, trying to massage the man’s heart and lungs. “Awaken, chum!”

Punch considered pouring water into Robert’s mouth. “I know they need water. An awful lot of trouble.” But, Punch recalled all of the times Julian had choked when he tried to swallow, all the times Julian had gagged and the contents of his insides had risen to the surface. “Don’t want to choke him.”

And, then, Punch had a thought. “When somethin’ bad is inside of these creatures, they got to spit out what’s hurting them.”

Again with a preternatural strength, Punch used Julian’s arms to lift Robert up and turn him on his side. He pressed Julian’s hand against Robert’s abdomen and tried to squeeze the evil from out of him. “Unswallow it!”

With deep circular motions, Punch massaged Robert’s stomach. “Spit it out!”

Robert’s face grew pink as the man vomited over the side of the bed. Punch laughed. “That’s it! Spit it out.”

Punch whooped with glee as Robert’s eyes fluttered.

“God help me.” Robert gasped.

“Don’t need, God, Doctor! Ya got me! I beat the Devil!”

“Julian, we’ve been poisoned.” Robert weakly said through shaking lips.

“Not Julian.” Punch grunted.

A spasm rocked Robert’s body as he vomited again.

“There now,” Punch said, helping the man sit up.

“Water.” Robert groaned.

“I knew you’d be needin’ that.” Punch said, propelling Julian’s body to the pitcher on the washstand. He didn’t wish to use the water Arthur had brought. He poured a glass for Robert and helped the doctor sip from it.

“You better yet?” Punch asked.

“I’m terribly dizzy,” Robert gasped.

With a quick motion, Punch pressed on Robert’s stomach again. Again, Robert threw up.

“Drink more of the water.” Punch ordered. Robert did. “Now, more.”

“My stomach is aflame.” Robert said, looking a bit stronger.

“So’s me master’s.” Punch nodded Julian’s head.

“That oily bloke’s gone and given us poison like when he tried to give me master that tincture.”

“Why? Why would he?” Robert panted.

“Cuz he’s a bloody…” Punch began. “Devil.” Punch’s rage grew so much that it made Julian’s hands clench into fists.

Robert tried to rise, but was still too weak.

“You’re not gonna die are ya?” Punch asked. “Not like me father?”

“No.” Robert said softly.

“Fine, then, chum.” Punch laughed. “You rest yourself there and get the poison outta ya.”

Punch headed for the cabin door.

“Where are you going?” Robert asked weakly.

“To kill the Devil.” Punch grinned.

Did you miss Chapters 1-34?  If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Sit This One Out

With Labor Day coming this Monday in the United States, we’ll be given the opportunity to have a three-day weekend. Very often, these extended weekends seem to add an extra day to our list of chores. However, as much as I’m a fan of ticking things off of the to-do list, the closer I get to forty, the more I recognize the need to rest and recharge.

Take some time for yourself over the next four days. Unwind with a good book, watch a great film, spend time with your loved ones. You don’t always have to rush around. Pause for an hour to let your mind and your body recuperate from the onslaught of activity we face each day. Most importantly, be good to yourself. You’re the only “you” you’ve got.

Object of the Day: A Rococo Chair

In Eighteenth-Century England, a resurgence of interest in Gothic architecture gave way to an embracing of the asymmetry, florid lines and playfulness of the French Rococo Style. The term 'Rococo' is based on the French "rocaille," which describes the intricate curvilinear rock and shell work of the grottoes of Versailles. Rococo designs were lighter versions of Baroque style, choosing to rely on natural shell-like forms, s-curves, and artistic fluidity. While as the style was considered “too French” by most English architects, it was a source of inspiration for designers of furniture and the decorative arts.

This hand-carved maple chair comes from England and, I’m told, is attributed to the skilled carver, Thomas Johnson who worked in London in the mid-to-late Eighteenth Century. Johnson was one of the most successful furniture makers of the English Rococo Style. The chair dates to about 1790.
The chair has been reupholstered in pine green velvet. The fabric was changed before I purchased the chair. The original upholstery was a gold damask pattern that was in very poor condition. While the current upholstery is nearly twenty years old, the chair still retains its original horse-hair stuffing. Beautifully carved and in pristine condition, this chair was in the collection of a prominent Chicago Family before being willed to a Texas family who sold the chair. I was fortunate to find this magnificent piece. I’ve only sat in it four times in the eight years it has resided here. Bertie, however, sits in it as often as he can get away with.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mastery of Design: The Imperial Orb of Russia

Created for Empress Catherine II the Great's Coronation in 1762, the orb is constructed of rose gold. Russian goldsmiths crafted a beautifully smooth and spherical hollow orb of gold which was encrusted with diamonds. A large pear-shaped diamond anchors two bands of beautiful, old mine cut diamonds surrounded by a design of rose cuts.

Topped with a diamond-surrounded 47 carat sapphire and a diamond cross, this magnificent object was certainly befitting the grandeur of the occasion. Designed as part of an imperial set which included a scepter and a monumental crown, the Imperial Orb is housed in the Moscow Kremlin Armoury State Diamond Fund where it can be seen by the public. Quintessentially Russian in design, this beautiful object puts us in mind of the later work of the House of Fabergé.

Gem of the Week: Morganite

A morganite ring weighing nearly 40 carats.
From Lang Estate and Antique Jewelry, San Francisco
A member of the beryl family along with aquamarine (which is pale blue) and heliodor (which is greenish), morganite is a pink stone revered for its clarity and fire. also known as "pink beryl," "rose beryl," "pink emerald," and "cesian beryl," morganite can exhibit “color-banding” by showing stripes of orange and/or yellow.

The stone gets its name from financier, J.P. Morgan and was so christened by the New York Academy of Sciences in 1910. The largest morganite specimen found to date is “The Rose of Maine,” found in Bennett Quarry in Buckfield, Maine in 1989. This massive stone weighs 50 pounds—not carats, pounds.

Morganite became a popular stone in jewelry designs of the late Edwardian era and into the 1930’s. Prized for its delicate color, this particularly feminine stone was the favorite for cocktail rings such as the one pictured here.

Decorating Tip: Use Books as a Base

If you’re anything like me, you’ve collected quite a few books over the years. Of course, books are my business. That might account why I have so many. But, if you have a collection of attractive books, you don’t just have to line them up on a shelf. Books that you don’t use very often can be displayed in a variety of ways. Large, hardcover books make a great base for displaying decorative objects. Stacked by size and color, you can create an attractive tableau on just about any surface. You can change your displays whenever the mood strikes you—or if you’ve decided to re-read a book.

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture

Since you’ve asked for more pictures of Bertie, I thought I’d share this photo of Bertie taken in New Orleans in 2001. He was having quite a fine time for himself on that misty day, enjoying all the sights and smells of The French Quarter. With his fur all nice and curly from the humidity, he kindly posed in front of some historic doors—still, of course, attached to his leash, and to me. Our pets truly are the real treasures of our lives.

Term for the Day: Cabriole Leg

Representative of Queen Anne and Chippendale Style furnishings, a cabriole leg is composed of two curved sections. The upper curve is convex while the lower curve is concave—almost giving the appearance of an animal sitting on its haunches.

For this reason, many cabriole legs end in a carving made to resemble the paw or claw of an animal. A popular element of furniture design since the Eighteenth Century, the cabriole leg found its way into a variety of home furnishings and still speaks of traditional elegance.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 34

Arthur set the tray down on the writing table with a metallic clatter. Both Robert and Julian looked up at the footman who seemed to be a bit unsteady on his feet.

“Beggin’ your pardon, Sirs.” Arthur said in his typically obsequious manner.

Robert studied the tray which held a bottle of whiskey (his favorite maker as well), two glasses and a pitcher of water.

“Will you be needing anything else?” Arthur asked.

“No, Arthur,” Julian responded. “I think you can retire for the evening.”

“Very good, Sir.” Arthur bowed his head before exiting the cabin.

“Did you catch that twinkle in his eye?” Robert asked.

“I didn’t notice.” Julian shook his head. “He’s always got a bit of an impish look about him. No, ‘impish’ isn’t the word.”

“Demonic?” Robert suggested.

Julian laughed momentarily, his thoughts drifting to his own demons. The weight of the reminder made his face feel heavy.

“Buck up, there.” Robert said cheerfully.

“Sorry.” Julian sighed.

“No need to be. In addition to everything else that’s burdening you, you are also mourning.” Robert answered gently.

“I won’t even be in England for the funeral.” Julian thumped his hand on the desk. “Not that Mother would even notice if I were there—except to tell me how disappointingly like my father I am. I’m sure she’s missing Barbara, however.”

“Do you know what you need?” Robert asked.

“Do tell.” Julian grumbled.

“A drink.” He poured a glass of whiskey for himself and one for Julian.

“No. I can’t handle the stuff.” Julian shook his head. “Never could. Besides, do I really need to further distance myself from reality?”

“Might do you good. A nip or two now and again can be healthy.” Robert winked.

“That’s your scientific opinion, Doctor?” Julian asked.


“No, no. Thanks, but no. You have your ‘little nip.’ But, I shall pass.” Julian shook his head again.

“It’s good for what ails you.” Robert continued, pushing the glass toward Julian.

“I already have a bag full of grave dirt for that.” Julian pointed toward the bed where the sack of gris-gris sat under the pillow. “Being ‘The Great Man of the Rocks,’ I know it will protect me.” He added dryly.

Robert sighed, picking up his glass. “I was hoping to make a toast.”

“To what?”

“To you. To our safe journey. To our health. To our friendship.” Robert smiled.

“Well, then, go ahead.” Julian shrugged.

“Toasts are invalid unless you take a sip.” Robert replied playfully.

“Why is it so important to you that I take a drink?” Julian grunted.

“Because, dear boy, I want you to sleep tonight.” Robert answered in exasperation.

“Very well!” Julian picked up the glass that Robert had poured for him.

“Splendid!” Robert grinned. He raised his glass into the air. “To your health, Julian!”

“Thank you.”Julian nodded.

Robert took a sip of the whiskey. Julian, however, brought the glass to his mouth, tilting it back, but only letting the amber-colored liquid wet his lips. He did not swallow.

“To our safe arrival in New Orleans.” Robert took another drink.

Again, Julian did nothing more than raise the glass to his lips.

“To us…” Robert toasted again, taking a swig from the glass.

“To us,” Julian smiled, again, not swallowing the liquid.

“I know you’re not really drinking.” Robert chuckled.

“I don’t like spirits!” Julian retorted. “I don’t do well with them. I’ve already explained that.”

“One more toast.” Robert said. “And, this one you have to drink to.”

“What’s that?”

“To Sir Collin Molliner. May he rest in peace.” Robert took a sip.

“To Father.” Julian said softly. This time, he did take a sip of the liquor which burned his throat and made him sputter a bit.

“You really can’t handle it.” Robert smiled sleepily.

“I told you I couldn’t.” Julian nodded. “Thank you, by the way, for toasting Father.”

“My…p…p…leasure.” Robert stuttered, squinting.

The cabin seemed to spin around Robert’s head, tilting and twirling at the strangest angles. As it spun, all the color bled from the room, leaving nothing but ghostly outlines of the place—like the lines of a charcoal sketch.

“Robert?” Julian rose, walking to his friend who had begun to slump in his chair. He stood behind Robert and shook him by the shoulders—gently, but firmly. “Robert?”

“L…L…Lord Julian…” Robert stammered before falling forward onto the table, his face striking the shining wood.

“Oh God!” Julian knelt down next to Robert’s chair and turned the man’s head to the side. He felt the man’s neck and put his hand to Robert’s lips and nose to see if he could feel his breath.

“Help!” Julian shouted in a deep voice, rushing toward the cabin door.

He, too, began to feel dizzy.

“Someone! Help us!” Julian shouted into the corridor.

Julian stumbled, grabbing the wall to keep from tripping. The corridor twisted and writhed around him. However, for Julian, the wriggling turned to blackness, and, quickly, Julian was gone-Mr. Punch taking his place.

“Try to poison me master and me chum?” Punch growled. “I’ll beat his oily face in with me stick!”

Punch tried to walk down the passageway, however, Julian’s body did not cooperate. It staggered and stumbled. Punch felt the fire in Julian’s stomach.

“Here now!” Punch cried out. “I need this body, I do!”

Julian’s legs gave out—his body falling in a heap in the corridor.

Punch screamed in terror! “I need this body! I need it!” However, Julian’s mouth didn’t open, and his body remained motionless. Punch’s screams went unheard.

Did you miss Chapters 1-33? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Sort Your Papers

Many of us have desks that are filled-to-bursting with papers. We may have receipts that we’ve kept for years, written reminders that are now meaningless, take-out menus, catalogs we never go to look through—the list is endless.

A little bit at a time—a few pages each day—go through your desk and get rid of the papers you don’t need. If the pages have any personal or sensitive information on them, be sure to shred them or tear them up. If you can get rid of a few things every day that you are certain you won’t need, within a week, you’ll see that your work space looks and feels a lot better.

Object of the Day: A Queen Anne Style Secretaire

From the graceful curves of its cabriole legs to the undulation of its bowed front, this secretaire represents the delicacy of the Queen Anne Style. A secretaire (or secretary) is a desk that is comprised of a chest of drawers upon which sits a cabinet with a sloped, hinged writing surface. Sometimes a secretaire will also be capped by a bookcase or glass-front cabinet.

This particular secretaire is English in origin, dating to about 1880. It’s very solidly constructed. The design is simple, allowing the architecture of the piece to do the talking. A subtle inlay of red wood and Mother-of-Pearl is the only adornment on the front.

Opening the cabinet further reveals the quality of the craftsmanship. Neatly assembled cubbies and pigeon holes would have helped to organize the owner of this desk. A piece such as this would have graced the parlor’s of many a fine home. It appeals to the Victorian love of beauty as well as their love of order.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Building of the Week: The Louvre Palace

The Louvre today: Musée du Louvre
Now, of course, it’s arguably the most famous and important museum in the world, however, The Palace of the Louvre was once the seat of the French Empire, and the home of the king.

The first structure built on the site the Right Bank of the Seine (between what is now the Tuileries Gardens and the church of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois), was a medieval fortress erected in the Sixteenth Century. The name “Louvre” is derived from a Frankish word meaning “fortified.” In 1682, King Louis XIV moved the home of the Royal Family to his new palace at Versailles. However, the Louvre Palace remained the official seat of the government until 1789. After that, the palace became partially a museum and partially other governmental offices. In 1983, the building was renovated and the last remaining governmental offices (The Finance Ministry) were moved allowing the entire building to be utilized as a museum. Modern architect I.M. Pei was commissioned to create a new structure to serve as an entrance to the palace. The result was the controversial glass pyramid which sits in front of the old structure. While the pyramid had many detractors, it has now become a beloved, iconic, French landmark.

Musée du Louvre
Long before the pyramid and long before it was a museum, however, the Louvre had more practical purposes. The original building was a tall, turreted structure in the medieval style which served its purposes well. However, in 1546, King Francis I wished the palace to be modernized and hired architect Pierre Lescot and sculptor Jean Goujon to remodel the building in a Renaissance style.

In 1589, The House of Bourbon took control of France, and the palace was once again remodeled to remove any traces of the original fortress, to expand the central façade and to create a gallery between the Palais des Tuileries and the Louvre. When the huge construction project had been completed, it was the longest building in the world at the time. Later, Louis XIII made considerable changes and additions to the palace.

None of the changes were more enduring than those created at the instigation of “The Sun King.” Louis XIV who commissioned architects Le Vau and André Le Nôtre, and painter Charles Le Brun to expand and further beautify the palace he would soon leave for Versailles. Under Louis XIV’s direction, Perrault also designed a monumental pediment and colonnade for the central façade.

Musée du Louvre
In 1852, under Napolean III, the palace underwent further changes when a massive French Second Empire façade was constructed. This is—more or less—the Louvre that we see today. The work of some of the most celebrated architects in history is reflected in the Louvre—fitting, as today it now houses some of the most celebrated art in history.

Today, The Louvre is more thriving than ever—taking in millions of tourists—eager for the opportunity to experience history and see life through the eyes of those who have passed.

Painting of the Day: A Landscape by Achille Etna Michallon

Landscape Inspired by the View of Frascati
Musée du Louvre
Like the Guillemin family, other famous father/son pairs of sculptors/painters are notable in French art history. The history of the Michallon family comes to mind. The son of sculptor, Claude Michallon, Achille Etna Michallon (1796-1822) showed a remarkable talent at an early age. He was sent to study with the famed Jacques-Louis David and Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes. His talent finely-tuned, he began winning awards with exhibitions of his masterful landscapes in 1817. Two years later, he travelled to Italy where he found enormous inspiration and created some of his finest works. While there, he also copied landscapes by earlier Italian artists so that he could learn all that he could about the Italian style. Some debate this fact, but it is also rumored that the renowned artist, Corot, studied under Michallon. Achille Etna Michallon never had the chance to enjoy his newfound fame. He died from Pneumonia at the age of twenty-six.

What remains of his works are appreciated for their delicate hand and monumentality. This painting, for example, is representative of Michallon’s fine work. Landscape Inspired by the View of Frascati is among his Italian-inspired pieces. Painted in a studio, rather than in the field, what makes this painting exemplary is the clarity of Michallon’s desire to emulate the style of Classical landscape painting while incorporating his own realist sensibilities. This painting was displayed in the Salon, and later purchased by France. It now hangs in the Louvre as a lasting reminder of a talent cut short far too soon.

Term for the Day: Repoussé

In metalworking, repoussé (or chasing), refers to a design created in bas relief on a metal surface by manipulating the metal from the reverse side. The result is a pattern or a figure that is visible from the object’s outside surface. This technique can also be referred to as “embossing.” Repoussé was (and is) a popular technique of French and English silversmiths. This process is also employed in jewelry-making as well as sculpture. The most famous repoussé sculpture is most likely the Statue of Liberty—a work of copper repoussé attached to a wooden and metal framework.

Decorating Tip: Serving your Decor

You may have decorative trays or platters at home that you only use on special occasions. If they’re attractive and you enjoy looking at them, why not unpack them from the cabinet and incorporate them into your décor?

I like to group objects on a silver tray. I usually try to utilize objects of different textures and materials that will play against the light reflected from the tray. Here, I’ve displayed a crystal paperweight and an antique costume sketch. The tray reflects light into the paperweight, making the colors pop. Meanwhile, the sheen of the metal creates an interesting metallic background for the drawing. These sorts of groupings give your objects more weight and impact and help make a tabletop more interesting.

Silver or metal trays work very well for this. Often these trays have intricate engraving or repoussé which add an extra dimension to your grouping. However, you can use a wooden or bamboo tray, a china platter or anything else you find attractive. When you need the tray, just clear off the objects and put it back into service.

Many of us use an ottoman in place of a coffee table.  If you do, you may find that you miss having a surface to rest items--both decorative and practical.  A tray placed neatly on the ottoman can be a great way to display objects and also hold the magazines and remote controls you'd put on a coffee table

We tend to collect things we like. If we enjoy seeing them, let’s use them in our daily lives. Everything has a purpose more than just the obvious one.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 33

Robert and Julian sat uncomfortably in the two small chairs in Julian’s cabin. The wooden spindles pressed against Julian’s back in just the wrong places—their pressure reminding him of something he could not remember, but dreaded nonetheless.

Arthur hovered over both of them, clearing off the writing table so that he could place the two silver trays which he had brought with him on its shining surface. The smell of the food served to only elicit an angry swell of fluids in Julian’s throat. He swallowed hard as his face grew more pale than usual.

Robert winked at Lord Fallbridge as if to say, “The man will soon be gone. Not to worry.”

Julian nodded.

With his typical, overly dramatic flourish, Arthur removed the cloche from Julian’s tray and, then, Robert’s—revealing dishes of cold tongue and tomato. Julian blanched further.

“Will you be wanting anything else?” Arthur asked.

“Some wine, I think.” Robert said.

“Not for me.” Julian shook his head.

“Then, whiskey.” Robert looked to Arthur. “For me.”

“As you wish, Sir.” Arthur cooed before leaving the cabin.

“I don’t like your valet.” Robert sighed. “Have I mentioned that?”

“Yes.” Julian nodded. “Often.” He pushed the tray away from himself.

“You’ll have to eat something.” Robert said sternly.

Julian reached for the filigreed silver basket of hard rolls that Arthur had left between them.

“Something more than bread.”

“Just be thankful I’m eating bread.” Julian responded.

“Let me get Arthur before he gets too far. At least he can bring some cheese for you.” Robert suggested.

“No. Thank you. Bread will be fine.” Julian responded.

“Bread and water,” Robert muttered. “You’re not in prison, you know.”

“Am I not?” Julian asked, reaching into his jacket pocket and removing the small red sack that the ebony man had given him on deck. He placed it gently on the table. The bottom of the bag spread out as if it were filled with ashes and sand.

“Can’t we put that somewhere else?” Robert sniffed. “It’s a little whiffy.”

“Yes. Especially while you’re eating.” Julian took the bag and rose from his chair, looking around the room for a suitable place to store the crimson sack. As if by instinct, he walked to the bed and lifted the pillow, placing the bag underneath.

“Why did you put it there?” Robert asked, a strange sound of alarm creeping into his voice.

“I don’t really know.” Julian smiled. “It seemed to want to be there.” Julian’s smile quickly faded. “That man said it would tell me what it wanted me to do.” He squinted. “Good Lord, I really am mad. Mother was correct.”

“Calling yourself ‘mad’ won’t serve any useful purpose. And, certainly hearing that from your own mother couldn’t have done you any good.” Robert answered, quickly growing disenchanted with his dinner. The red of the tomatoes was peculiarly bright—so much like the felt of the sack.

“Not helpful, but accurate.” Julian joined Robert at the writing table again. “What else would you call a man who is possessed by a puppet and takes commands from other assorted objects?”

“I’d call him ‘unique.’” Robert grinned.

“I can’t decide if I find you charming or patronizing.” Julian couldn’t help but smile.

“You find me charming.” Robert interjected.

“Very well, charming Doctor, tell me, what is that sack? What did the man call it? Gree Gree?”

Gris-Gris.” Robert nodded, “spelled with an ‘is’ but pronounced as you just did.”

“You’re familiar with this?”

“Only somewhat. I know it’s thought to be some sort of magical dust, sometimes its grave dirt or sand. I think the faint odor it gives off owes to some kind of oil suspension of herbs that holds the whole of it together. It’s conjure. Folk magic. Some call it hoodoo. Where we’re going, however, they call it voodoo.”

“So, it’s a bag of dust, dirt and oil?” Julian asked.

“Hopefully.” Robert nodded. “Could be bits of bone or hair or fingernails…” He pushed his tray away as well.

“Lovely. What is it meant to do?” Julian asked.

“Protect its master from evil spirits for one.” Robert said. “These sorts of voodoo beliefs are not uncommon in New Orleans—especially among the African people who have settled there. And among the Creoles—though the beliefs differ from group to group. I’ve heard of the woman he mentioned—Marie Laveau—she is considered the high priestess of those who believe in the magical arts.”

“How do you know about it?” Julian questioned his friend.

“My brother’s wife, Adrienne. When she…lived…” He paused. “…worked. When she was with that Iolanthe Evangeline woman, they were all forced to take part in this sort of sorcery. Cecil recounted it to me in his letters. Adrienne has stopped the practice, but I suspect she still believes in it. Gris-gris would be worn by the person it’s meant to protect or placed under the pillow on the bed at night.”

“Perhaps it will serve to protect me from Mr. Punch.” Julian said, half-jokingly.

“You don’t need protecting from Mr. Punch. In his own way, Punch serves to protect you.” Robert answered.

“What did that man mean when he said that I am the ‘Great Man of the Rocks?’ He seemed to know of my…uniqueness. How could he? Have I had some interaction with him?”

“Not to my knowledge. I do try to keep my eye on you.” Robert smiled.

“So I’ve noticed.” Julian nodded.

Robert continued. “I have no idea what his meaning was, Julian. It’s probably just nonsense. Most likely, he’ll return to you, asking for payment for the good fortune he brought to you. It’s probably all just part of a scheme to use superstition to bilk money from people.”

“He’ll come back.” Julian sighed. “And, he’ll want payment. But, not for the reasons you say.”

Robert did not answer.

After awhile, Robert grumbled, “Where’s your man with my whiskey?”

“Most assuredly he’s already consumed what he was given for you and is off to find more.” Julian shifted in his seat.

“Probably so.” Robert laughed. He looked to Julian fondly. “Tell me, old chap, what’s the secret that Nanny Rittenhouse is keeping? Punch mentions it often.

Julian shrugged. “Punch is the guardian of secrets. Not I.”

“Not one? You have nothing that you’re guarding that’s yours and yours alone?”

“One thing,” Julian said. “Just the one.”

At that very moment, Arthur was wiping his sweaty hands on the back of his trousers.

“Here now, hurry up!” He hissed.

“Are you giving me orders?” A man growled back at him.

“No, Professor.” Arthur bowed his head. “Only I know the doctor’s up there waitin’ for this what he asked for.”

“He can wait.” The “professor” licked his lips, sending flecks of spittle into his beard. “The longer he waits, the thirstier he’ll be.” With a quick motion, the man forced a cork into a bottle of whiskey.

“You’re sure he won’t taste it?” Arthur asked.

“Right sure.” The “professor” laughed with such gusto that his splotchy cheeks became angry plums. “He’ll never know the difference.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-32?  If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Enjoy Your Landscape

Antique English Landscape, from my collection
Our eyes need a break from the strain we place them under every day. From the flickering light of monitors and televisions to the harsh beams of florescent lighting, our vision is constantly assaulted. If you get a chance today, take a few minutes to sit somewhere outside in the shade.

Perhaps your office has a courtyard where you can take a break. Or, even when you get home tonight, you can sit in your own garden. Enjoy the natural light and watch how it plays against the forms of the plants and terrain of your landscape. Reminding ourselves of the beauty of nature is healthy and rejuvenating. Your eyes and your spirit will thank you.

Object of the Day: Victorian Naturalist Ebony Bowl

Earlier this week, I highlighted an ebonized table with mother-of-pearl inlay indicative of the resurgence in English furnishings of the Eighteenth Century French Chinoiserie style. Also popular in the early stages of the Victorian period, was a return to “Orientalism” (a focus on the designs of Asian art) during this era in which Naturalism was revered.

This large bowl (measuring 21 inches in diameter), circa 1850, is English in origin. Carved from one continuous piece of natural ebony, the interior of the bowl features a scene of bas relief peacocks amidst a field of flowers. The birds and the landscape have been carefully inlaid with Mother-of-Pearl. A fine example of the Naturalist style and a nod to Chinoiserie, the bowl was designed for purely decorative purposes and would have been displayed—as it is today—as a wall hanging. It’s really a remarkable piece of craftsmanship and an interesting relic of a time when the beauty of nature was held in high esteem.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Humanitarian of the Week: Hattie McDaniel

Born in 1895 to parents who were former slaves, Hattie McDaniel was a creative, precocious child known for writing songs, singing and a charming, easy-going disposition. Her graciousness and comedic talent led her into show business where she would work with the best of the best: Mae West, Will Rogers, Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland, Vivien Leigh and Katherine Hepburn, among others. McDaniel was much beloved on any movie set. Her coworkers began to rely on her warmth and generosity. Other actors fought to work with her. Word of her tremendous talent began to spread.

Nevertheless, she had to audition for the role with which most people associate her, that of “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. She arrived at her audition dressed for the role, and won the part over many other actresses despite her past experiences in mostly comedic parts. Her fine performance as “Mammy” led to a nomination for an Academy Award—a first for an African American performer. More so historic was her win that year for Best Supporting Actress.

As "Mammy": Turner Entertainment
Even with an Academy Award win to her credit, Miss McDaniel still had many battles to fight. She was no stranger to discrimination. Even for the Atlanta premier of Gone with the Wind—the film for which she received her Oscar—event planners discouraged her (or any of the other black perfomers’) attendance. If she did go, she would have had to stay at a segregated hotel. She wouldn’t even have been allowed in the theater. In fact, her photo and the photos of the other African American actors were forbidden from being printed in the program. Clark Gable was furious—refusing to attend! However, McDaniel encouraged him to go.

Hattie McDaniel didn’t stand for the oppression around her. In 1945 she organized other African American residents of their posh Hollywood neighborhood to fight an injunction that dictated that homeowners could only be white. They won their battle and set a precedent that would be the groundwork for other such fights.

A member of the African American sorority Sigma Gamma Rho, McDaniel the Chairman of the “Negro Division” of the Hollywood Victory Committee, which offered entertainment for the soldiers stationed at military bases. Her good friend Bette Davis supported McDaniel in her efforts, making Davis the only white actor to perform for the African American troops. Known to feed, to clothe, to lend money or support to anyone in need regardless of knowing them, McDaniel also devoted her efforts to helping people who had been displaced by floods and natural disasters.

Hattie McDaniel died in 1952 after a long, celebrated career. Her last wish was to be buried in Hollywood Cemetery. The owner, however, refused to have a person of color buried in his cemetery. In 1999, the cemetery (newly renamed Hollywood Forever) wanted to correct this injustice as best they could. A large monument was erected in McDaniel’s honor. A fitting tribute to a remarkable person—if not fifty years too late.

Film of the Week: Gone with the Wind, 1939

I’m always shocked when someone tells me that they haven’t seen Gone with the Wind. The idea of never having seen one of the most famous, celebrated, successful, enduring and innovative films in American cinematic history, is astonishing to me. Yet, there is a contingency that has not seen this film.

Gone with the Wind was producer David O. Selznick’s great triumph, and he didn’t mind destroying myriad people in the making of it. Adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 best seller of the same name, the script was written repeatedly by an ever-changing team of people (with a lot of interference from Mr. Selznick). Of the many who worked on the script, only Sidney Howard is credited. The writers weren’t the only people suffering behind the scenes. The film had more than its fair share of directors as Selznick grew increasingly dissatisfied with what he was seeing in the “rushes.” While Victor Fleming (who also directed another film in 1939 that you may have heard of—The Wizard of Oz) is credited as director, both Sam Wood and George Cukor sat in the director’s chair for awhile.

Olivia de Havilland: Turner Entertainment
The film boasts one of the most famous casts in film history, and, one of the most famous searches for a leading lady. One of the first to be cast was the exceptional Olivia de Havilland as the gentle Melanie Wilkes (the sympathetic antithesis of the film’s lead, Scarlett). Casting the other leading roles posed some considerable debate amongst the production team. Finally, Leslie Howard was cast as the rather ethereal Ashley Wilkes (the object of Scarlett’s affections), and—another great triumph for Selznick—Clark Gable agreed to play Rhett Butler, the uber-masculine blockade runner. But, who was to play Scarlett? Many tested. Many were considered. At one point, early on, it was rumored that Warner Brothers would lend Bette Davis to Selznick for the role of Scarlett, providing Errol Flynn would play Rhett Butler. Selznick declined. Other finalists included Jean Arthur and Joan Bennett. Only two of the finalist were tested in Technicolor: Paulette Goddard and a lesser known British actress Vivien Leigh whom Selznick’s wife referred to as “The Scarlett dark horse.” The dark horse won the race.

Leigh and Howard: Turner Entertainment
Completing the cast were Hattie McDaniel as “Mammy”, Thomas Mitchell and Barbara O’Neill as Scarlett’s parents, Alicia Rhett as “India Wilkes,” Butterfly McQueen as Prissy and a host of other popular character actors of the era too numerous to list here.

This was the most highly anticipated film of the 1930’s and is part of the reason that 1939 is considered the greatest year in motion picture history. Of course, even if you’ve not seen the film, you’re aware of its plot. Gone with the Wind follows the lives of two intertwined Southern families before, during and after the Civil War. While some will argue that the film glorifies the South, it also shows much of the turmoil of that period in American history in great detail.

Leigh as Scarlett: Turner Entertainment
Technically revolutionary, the picture employs techniques that were unheard of at the time—combining layers of motion picture film with glass paintings, trick shots and even an unusual title sequence. The film swept the academy awards that year. However, the most notable Oscar win was the award for Best Supporting Actress which went to Hattie McDaniel—the first African American to win an Academy Award.

I really feel that everyone should see Gone With the Wind at least once. It’s a masterpiece—like watching a living painting set to an amazing score by the brilliant Max Steiner. However, if those of you who have not seen it still refuse, well, “frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Recommended Reading: Hollywood at Home

The "Great Garbo's" perfect Living Room
In 2005, Architectural Digest assembled a stunning, full-color book of the magnificent homes of the Hollywood elite. Mixing stars of the past and present, we are allowed a peek into both the ostentatious and the unusual.

This thoroughly interesting book, edited by Paige Rense and with a foreward by Gerald Clarke, takes us through the gates of the homes of Candice Bergen, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Cher, George Cukor, Cecil B. “I’m ready for my close-up” DeMille, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Great Garbo, Judy Garland, Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, Jean Harlow, Katherine Hepburn, Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra, Steven Spielberg, John Travolta and Kelly Preston, Jack L. Warner, Orson Welles, and many more.

With gorgeous color plates and beautifully written articles, this big book makes for enjoyable reading and gives us a chance to see how and where the people both behind and in front of the cameras live.

Get to Know Marie Laveau

Marie Laveau

Franck Schneider after George Catlin

c. 1920s
The story of her life is unclear and riddled with inaccuracies. Some say she was a hairdresser. Some say she ran a brothel. Everyone, however, calls her “The Voodoo Queen.”

Marie Laveau was born in approximately 1801 to a Caucasian planter and a free Creole woman. Records at St. Louis Cathedral indicate that she married a Haitian man named Jacques (or Santiago) Paris in 1819. Paris died under mysterious circumstances in 1820. A widow after one year of marriage, Marie took up the work of a hairdresser for the wealthy women of New Orleans—traveling from home to home in the Garden District. In this capacity, it is said, she created an elaborate system of informants from within the staffs of the households who would keep her informed of each prominent family’s business. During this time, Marie entered into a common-law marriage with Christophe Glapion with whom she had a rumored fifteen children. Many other tales have been told about Marie Laveau. Many believe she was the madam of a high-tone bawdy house while others say her establishment was a simple “boarding house.”

She is, however, remembered today for her “magic.” Considered the “Voodoo Queen,” thousands flocked to her so that they could witness her displays of sorcery first-hand. She was considered to be a psychic, though many attribute these skills to the information given to her by her network of spies. Whether or not you believe in her magic, her place in history is undeniable.

One Marie Glapion Laveau was listed as having died in 1881. Her age at death was listed as 98. The inconsistencies aren’t surprising given the less-than-scientific record-keeping of the day. She was buried in the famed, historic St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 where her monument continues to draw thousands of visitors. Those who visit Marie’s mausoleum often leave the mark, “XXX” in chalk as a remembrance of Marie.

As is often the case with people who were considered “mystical” in life, Marie was spotted after death walking the streets of the French Quarter. However, this was most likely Marie’s daughter (also named Marie) who took up her mother’s work and persona. In fact, she is often referred to as Marie Laveau II. Colorful yarns of New Orleans recount the story of a flood which washed Marie’s casket out into the streets of the Vieux Carré. Her legend continued.

Marie Laveau and her practices will figure prominently in upcoming chapters of Punch’s Cousin as Lord Julian and Robert reach New Orleans. I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce you to “The Voodoo Queen” in case you hadn’t already met.