Saturday, September 18, 2010

At the Music Hall: Down at the Old Bull and Bush

The Old Bull and Bush, watercolor
Martin Goode
Come, come, come and make eyes at me
down at the Old Bull and Bush,
Laa la la la la... 

The Old Bull and Bush is a public house (pub) in Hampstead London.  A house has existed on that site since the late Seventeenth Century.  In 1721, the establishment was granted a license to sell liquor.  The Old Bull and Bush became a popular pub.  By, the 1800’s the pub was a favorite hang-out of cockneys.  Singer Florrie Forde (1875-1940) popularized a song about the joyous nature of the pub.  Down at the Old Bull and Bush became a worldwide favorite and is still a beloved pub song to this day.  For your listening pleasure, here is Miss Forde herself singing a 1930’s-era version of her popular song.

Mastery of Design: Pendant with Charity and Two Putti

Pendant with Charity and Two Putti
The Royal Collection
This magnificent pendant dates to approximately 1880 and is housed in The Royal Collection.  Here, we see a semi-nude figure of Charity flanked by two putti (cherubs).  The putti are modeled in the round in émail en ronde bosse.  The figures are showcased in a niche of gold, and black and white enamel.  This niche is framed in gold set with rubies and scroll work of the finest green, blue and red enamel. 
This superb Renaissance Revival pendant also features two flawless diamonds and a variety of natural pearls.  A cherub's head dangles from a gold and enamel clasp at the base of the pendant.  “Charity” personified, was one of the most popular themes of Renaissance Revival design of the late Nineteenth Century.  The reverse of the piece is entirely in gold with carved lines mimicking the front design.  Acquired by Queen Mary in 1932, the maker of this English piece remains unknown.  Nevertheless, the fineness of work and detail speak to an unrivaled mastery of design.

A Mystery In Paint: Pieter de Hooch’s “Dead Bird” Still Life

A Man with Dead Birds and Other Figures
Pieter de Hooch and others, 1655, 1825
National Gallery, London
Pieter de Hooch, the well-known Seventeenth Century Dutch painter, was celebrated for his genre paintings of stable scenes and his limited, but rich, color palette. At first glance, this 1655 de Hooch painting entitled A Man with Dead Birds and Other Figures was a considerable source of mystery for art historians. The scene, for the most part, was pure de Hooch, however, the still life of colorful birds and a spaniel in the lower right quadrant seemed conspicuously out of place. When the painting found a home in London’s National Gallery, scientists and historians joined forces to solve a centuries-old mystery.

X-ray images showed that beneath the painting of the pile of dead birds and the spaniel, was the figure of a reclining man. The man was clearly in pain as he seemed to be struggling to support his weight. The figure now seen plucking feathers from a bird, originally had been painted with his hand on the reclining man’s knee. Digging into historical documents, a recording of a painting by de Hooch was found which described a work of a wounded man being attended to in a stable. That work was not accounted for. Most certainly, it was the piece in the National Gallery, the painting which had been over-painted with the still life of birds.

X-Ray Image of de Hooch's Painting
The National Gallery, London
Why had this happened? Who had made the alterations? Records indicated that a painting of a wounded man in a stable was sold to someone named Regemorter in 1825. In 1900, the painting entitled A Man with Dead Birds and Other Figures was sold from the same collection. Now aware that these two paintings were one-in-the-same, historians concluded that sometime during that seventy-five year period, the piece had been altered. Regemorter was most likely the painter and art dealer Ignatius Van Regemorter. Ignatius’ father was also a painter and art dealer known for altering paintings of great Dutch masters to make them more “saleable” in the market of the time. Was this the answer?

We’ll never know for certain. However, all the evidence seems to support the theory that the Van Regermorters had, once again, changed a work of art for commercial purposes. The brightly painted birds are reminiscent of Ignatius Van Regemorter’s other works.

Does the change effect the importance and value of the work? No. While we would most likely have preferred to see the work as de Hooch originally intended, the interference of the over-painter only makes the piece more interesting and certainly gives an element to its provenance that is, at the very least, intriguing.

Term for the Day: Impasto

Sunrise, 1826
Adolphe Monticelli
National Gallery, London
The Italian word meaning “dough” or “mixture” is used in the art world to refer to the heavy use and build up of paint in a painting.  The artist will apply the paint roughly—sometimes even mixing the color on the canvas itself—and will move the pigment around with wide strokes or the use of a palette knife to build thick layers of the medium.  The overall effect of impasto is one of depth and movement.  While impasto is largely seen in contemporary art, it did have its place in classical and traditional painting—employed either as the prominent painting technique in a piece or in conjunction with other, varied brushstrokes. 

Decorating Tip: Beaded Fruit

Have you got a compote, basket or other decorative container on display in your home which needs a little pizzazz? Sometimes, you don’t want the look of silk flowers or plants, and wax or artificial fruit can often just look strange.  Why not embrace something a little more abstract?  Beaded fruit can be found in many craft or decorator stores. 
By arranging beaded fruit in a container, you’re adding interesting colors, shapes and shimmer to an otherwise dull container.  The best part of beaded fruit is that, unlike painted wax fruit, you’re indicating that you know it’s not real and you’re making an artistic statement.  Beaded objects play with the light beautifully and offer an elegant touch to any room.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 48

That’s where I am!” Punch pointed wildly to the sugar cane which stood like emaciated ghosts in the fading light of the sun.

Robert looked out of the small window of the carriage.

“Stop this thing!” Punch cried. “I’ve got to find me-self!”

“We can’t, Punch, old man.” Robert shook his head. “Not presently.”

“I’m there!” Punch moaned.

“I believe you.” Robert said gently. “However, we musn’t act rashly. You saw how well that worked with Iolanthe Evangeline. We must approach all of these situations with caution. That is the only way we’ll have success.”

“No.” Punch shook Julian’s head. “That’s not the way to do it. We must attack quickly and unexpectedly.”

“Don’t you trust me?” Robert asked.

Punch grimaced.


“I ‘spect I do.” Punch muttered. “You do seem to be looking out for me and me master.” He smiled. “You’re me chum.”

“Very well, then. Please know that it is my aim to find you. I know you’re lost in the sugar cane, but you must let me plan this carefully. It wouldn’t do to have us just charge into that plantation. The people here are not ones to take kindly to random intruders.”

“What should I do, then?” Punch asked.

“I suggest you rest. Let Lord Julian come back out for awhile. He and I will make sure that we find you.”

“Can’t do it.” Punch shook Julian’s head. “Master can’t cope with all this. New places, new smells, new people. It’s all too strange for him. ‘Sides, that woman—that Nanny. She’s there. Right over there in that house. I don’t want him havin’ to deal with her. It’d be better to let me.”

“I realize that His Lordship will be overwhelmed by all of this, however, the only way for him to get his strength is to let him be exposed to it.”

“Can’t.” Punch repeated.

“So, you, too, are protecting him?”

“What do you think I been doin’, Chum? Why do you think I’m in here in the first place?” Punch asked.

“Yes, I suppose that you have been.” Robert nodded. “Now, I hope you’ll allow me to protect both of you.”

“I guess we all will let you.” Punch replied after a moment.

“All?” Robert raised an eyebow, coughing for a moment.

“Me and me master.” Punch nodded.

“Fine, then.” Robert smiled. “Here we are at my brother’s.” He pointed out the oval-shaped window to a rambling yellow clapboard house with intricate gingerbread the color of clotted cream.

“’S a nice house.” Punch grinned. “Reminds me of the seaside.”

“Funny.” Robert smiled. “That’s what Cecil said.”

As the carriage stopped in front of the gate to the house, a portly man bounded from the front porch with his arms wide open. His face was Robert’s, but his body was that of a man who lived life with abandon and gusto.

Robert climbed out of the carriage and embraced his brother.

“Cecil!” Robert laughed. “You’ve gotten round.”

“And rounder still, I’ll be!” Cecil laughed a deep, clear, joyful laugh.

A woman fluttered out of the house and down the path to the carriage. She extended her hands to Robert. He kissed one of them. “Adrienne, you look so well. You’re positively aglow.”

“It’s the joy of motherhood.” Adrienne beamed. She spoke with a thick French accent. “Oh, but you must see the little one. He is the most beautiful baby.”

“I have no doubt, if he takes after his mother.” Robert said.

“Here now,” Cecil grinned. “He’s got my eyes, you know.”

“Poor child,” Robert teased.

“And who is this?” Adrienne said sweetly as Punch/Julian descended from the carriage. “Is this the Lord Fallbridge you wrote to us about?”

“This is.” Robert said.

Adrienne smiled at Punch. “So, which one are you, then? Are you His Lordship or are you Mr. Punch?”

Punch frowned. “You told them?”

“When I sent word that I was bringing you, yes, I did explain our situation.” Robert answered honestly.

“No matter who you are, you are welcome in our home.” Cecil smiled—a gentle smile much like Robert’s.

“I’m Punch.” Punch answered, feeling at ease. “That one up there getting the bags is Naasir. He’s our chum, too.”

“He’s also Lord Julian’s valet.” Robert added.

“Welcome to all of you.” Cecil said heartily. “I’ve had the best rooms readied for you and Cook has created one of her finest masterpieces in honor of your arrival!”

“Good,” Punch pulled Julian’s lips back into a grin. “I’m hungry. I don’t know how you humans stand all the things your bodies need. Always wantin’ something. Such a distraction, it is.”

Adrienne giggled. “Yes, Mr. Punch, I suppose that is true.”

She took Mr. Punch by the arm and led him up the path. “You will be comfortable here.”

Followed by Naasir, they walked into the house. The walls were the same buttery yellow as the exterior—capped by gently curved moldings. White pedestals lined the front hallway—topped by expertly carved busts.

Punch walked over to one of the busts and tapped it with Julian’s finger. “Hullo.” He said to it. “You don’t know how lucky you are—havin’ nothin’ in your head. Never did have nothin’ in there, did ya? It’s no good when you got somethin’ and then it goes away.”

Cecil glanced at Robert who smiled weakly and shrugged.

From the floor above, they heard the cry of a baby.

“Ah, our young master is awake and ready to see his uncle.” Cecil said happily.

“What’s that?” Punch asked. “Is that a baby?”

“Yes, our son!” Cecil replied cheerfully, “We call him ‘Fuller.’”

“Don’t like babies.” Punch frowned.

The smiles faded from Adrienne’s and Cecil’s faces.

“Cursed lot of trouble, babies are.” Punch continued.

“Robert…” Cecil began.

Robert looked nervous. “I think Mr. Punch hasn’t had much experience with real babies. I’m sure he’ll find Fuller enchanting.”

“But, Robert. This man—as he is—does he behave exactly as Mr. Punch? You know? We’ve all seen how the puppet treats his baby.”

“Our Mr. Punch is very much like the Mr. Punch we know from the outdoor shows, yes.” Robert said slowly. “Only this one has human reason as well.”

“Don’t talk about me like I’m not standin’ here in the room.” Punch frowned. “What’s this? Do you think I’m gonna do somethin’ to your baby?”

Cecil shifted his weight uncomfortably.

“Do ya?” Punch demanded.

Did you miss Chapters 1-47? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday for Chapter 49.

Goal for the Day: Eat Healthy

We’re all in a hurry most of the time. Cooking healthy meals can be time consuming and may take more effort than we might want to exert at the end of a long day. The temptation to take the easy path is pretty strong. We have a wealth of pre-prepared foods available to us. While these may be easier to prepare and faster to consume, are they the best things for us? No, probably not.

Unfortunately, we’re just as pressed for time on the weekends as we are during the week. However, today, try to make a point of eating something healthy. Instead of a snack of a candy bar or a cookie, grab an apple or some carrot sticks. Forego the take-out burgers and order a salad or a grilled chicken breast. Many restaurants offer healthier options which are just as flavorful as their greasier counterparts.

Introducing healthier elements into your diet will afford you more energy and will make your body run at its best capacity. You don’t have to do away with all of your favorite treats, but you may find that you like healthier foods just as much.

Object of the Day: A Canadian Still Life

A wooden bowl tilts to spill a cascade of ripe bananas and peaches. A lone unripe peach has rolled off on its own, providing a shocking counterpoint of fresh green against the golden colors of its surroundings.

This still life painting signed by C. Vernon comes from Canada and dates to approximately 1880. It was part of the collection of a Canadian art aficionado which somehow made its way to Texas in early 2000.

Borrowing the ideals of Dutch and Flemish still life painters, the artist has arranged this assortment of slightly over-ripe fruit as a means of demonstrating the fleeting nature of time. The presence of the unripe peach—on its own—reminds us that we all have our own spot in the journey of life.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Fun: Harpo, Punch and Judy, 1931

Who is a better foil for Mr. Punch than Harpo Marx?  The famous red-headed mute crossed paths with Mr. Punch in the 1931 Marx Brothers film, Monkey Business.  Here, we see Harpo, typically on the run from any type of authority, seeking sanctuary within a Punch and Judy show.  Their antics are well-suited to one another.  I hope you enjoy this clip.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: The Paintings of Helen Wilkes

Helen Wilkes, the Head of Humanities at the City & Guilds of London Art School, is an accomplished painter with dozens of award-winning exhibitions to her credit. Her work studies the complexities of interpersonal relationships and she has a passion for exploring the correlations between theater and the visual arts.

Wilkes finds much inspiration in the character of Mr. Punch and often paints Punch and his wife Judy as an allegory of domestic life. In her “Punch and Judy” paintings, Wilkes examines what the relationship between the characters would be like within the private confines of their tent—behind the scenes. The paintings are fascinating—colorful and engaging. A complete statement about her work as well as a gallery of pictures can be found on her Web site.

Antique Image of the Day: Queen Alexandra with Her Camera, 1889

People have always been fascinated by new technology. Just as we all scramble to get the latest cell phones and other gadgets, our ancestors also enjoyed trying their hand at the newest in inventions. Photography grew to become a popular hobby as technology allowed cameras to be small enough to be hand-held. Even the Royal Family wasn’t immune to these trends.

Here, we have a photograph of Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII before she was the Queen Consort, but rather still the Princess of Wales. This image taken in 1889 shows Alexandra very enthusiastically clutching her very own camera. The Queen enjoyed photography and often took pictures which chronicled the goings on in the Royal household. In fact, many of her photographs remain as part of the Royal Collection.

This is such a charming picture. The look of excitement in her face matches that of any of ours when we get a new “toy” thus proving the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Pets of the Belle Époque: King Edward VII’s Dog, Caesar

Caesar, The Royal Collection
King Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria, was a great lover of dogs. He kept many dogs as companions and for sport, however, his favorite was a Wire Fox Terrier named Caesar. Caesar was King Edward’s constant companion. When the king traveled both in England, and abroad, he always brought Caesar with him. Caesar, being a terrier, had a mind of his own and was known to get into mischief from time-to-time. That only made the King love him more.

Caesar and Edward VII
The Royal Collection
Caesar wore a jaunty little collar with a gold tag which read. “I am Caesar. I belong to the King.” The tag served useful when Caesar invariably ran off in search of adventure—something he did quite often. Once, in fact, the entire Marienbad Police Force was dispatched to find Caesar after he had darted into the woods. While Caesar was perfect in the King’s eyes, when he would visit friends, his hosts often found the dog to be rather “stinky.”

Such a beloved pet, Caesar was immortalized in a jeweled sculpture created by Carl Fabergé which was given as gift from the King to his wife Queen Alexandra. Made of enameled chalcedony, the figure featured a gold collar and ruby eyes.

In 1910, upon the death of the King, Caesar was reportedly broken hearted. The terrier walked in the King’s funeral procession—behind the carriage holding the casket. The sculpture atop the tomb of Edward VII depicts Caesar curled up at the King’s feet.

Caesar in the King's Funeral Procession
The Royal Collection
The British people felt a deep sympathy for Caesar and his bereavement. His image graced many postcards and a book was written “by Caesar” following the King’s death entitled, “Where’s Master?” The frontispiece of the book reads as follows:

We’ve come to the end of the journey.
They say I can’t follow Master any further.
They say there are no little dogs where master has gone.
...But, I know better.

Caesar's Book
Jackson's World
Upon the King’s death, Caesar stayed close to Queen Alexandra. When he passed away, she described him as her greatest comfort during a time of great loneliness. Caesar was a noble and royal companion who just happened to have a royal master.

Figure of Caesar by Fabergé
Jackson's World

Where's Master?

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 47

The carriage jerked as a wheel rolled over a rock. The first sensation of which Julian was aware was hitting his head on the cushioned sidewall of the carriage’s interior.

“Oh!” He sat up, startled.

“Hello Julian,” Robert smiled.

Julian blinked rapidly and looked down. His clothes had been changed from what he remembered wearing. Clearly, it was a different day. But which?

“Glad to have you back.” Robert nodded from his seat across from Julian in the small carriage.

“I don’t know what to ask first.” Julian sighed.

“Let me see if I can just clarify everything for you at once.” Robert winked. “You’ve been absent for a little over a day. In the meantime, Punch took Naasir out to Iolanthe Evangeline’s house and managed to almost get both of you killed when he decided it was a good idea to try to stab ‘The Elegant Ogress’.”

Julian slouched into the carriage’s bench.

“Iolanthe recognized some sort of spiritual threat in Naasir and had intended to burn him alive at her ‘altar.’ We did not have any success in finding Lady Barbara, however, I was able to talk the ‘Elegant Ogress’ out of doing any harm to you or Naasir.”

“Thank you,” Julian whispered.

“My pleasure.” Robert laughed. “Presently, we’re on our way to Marionneaux to the home of my brother. I had to promise Iolanthe Evangline that we’d leave New Orleans.”

Julian sat silently for a few moments and tried to process what he had just been told. “I tried to murder Iolanthe Evangline?”

“No. Mr. Punch did. And, I don’t think that it was murder that was his motive as much as he was trying to get the answers he wanted by the only means he understands. This is, after all, an entity whose main defense is to club anything that gets in his way. It’s all he knows.”

“Still, it’s rather problematic.” Julian replied glibly. “Thankfully, once again, you came to my rescue.”

“Well, that is rather what I’m meant to be doing. Isn’t it?” Robert grinned.

“You hadn’t bargained on this when you made arrangements to visit your brother.” Julian sighed.

“As it turns out, I will see my brother after all.” Robert nodded. “So, truly, it’s all working out.”

“And Naasir will be able to see his family.” Julian added. “Wait! Where is Naasir?”

“He’s up top with the coachman.” Robert pointed upward. “He wanted to ride in the fresh air.”

“Ah.” Julian nodded, shivering.

“Are you cold?” Robert asked. “I think there’s a rug here.”

“No.” Julian shook his head. “I’m tired. And, I’m confused…and worried. We’re leaving New Orleans and I haven’t found my sister.”

“We’ll go back to New Orleans. Don’t worry. I just knew that the ogress would be keeping her eye on us. However, I suspect that your sister is not in New Orleans.”

“Where is she, then?” Julian asked.

“As we were walking back to Royal Street last night, Punch recounted what had transpired between himself and Iolanthe Evangeline. She had told him that Lady Barbara wasn’t there and that she was taking care of some business. Punch was puzzled by a question that Iolanthe asked him.”

“Which was?”

“She asked if he knew the cost of a human life. A fresh, new human life.” Robert answered.

“What does that mean?”

“I’m not quite sure. However, Adrienne, my brother’s wife, had told him that when one of Iolanthe’s girls would become with-child, Iolanthe would sell the baby to wealthy childless couples.”

“Do you think that Iolanthe has helped Barbara sell her child?” Julian asked, wide-eyed.

“I think it’s a possibility.” Robert nodded. “I’m hoping that Cecil and Adrienne will be able to give us some information that may be useful.”

“But, how could Barbara…” Julian muttered. He stopped, knowing that Barbara was capable of anything.

“We shall see.” Robert said gently.

“Where will we stay?” Julian asked.

“I sent a messenger on ahead of us.” Robert said. “I’ve let Cecil know that we’re on our way. Cecil does quite well as a sculptor. They have a fairly large home on a hill there in Marionneaux—La Colline Cramoisie.”

“The Red Hill.” Julian nodded.

“Yes.” Robert smiled. “I’ve told them to make rooms ready for all of us.”

“Thank you.” Julian said sincerely. “However, I do hope I won’t be an imposition.”

“Nonsense.” Robert waved his hand. “Cecil will adore you. You’re both artists, after all. He sculpts in wax, you sculpt with gems.”

Julian smiled. “I’d almost forgotten about that part of my life.” He twirled the ring on his index finger. “It seems so far away—my house in Belgravia.”

“It is far away.” Robert said softly. “But, you’ll return one day. Now, close your eyes and try to rest. We still have far to go.”

They arrived in Marionneaux just as the sun began to set. The town was bordered by a large, wine-colored bayou lined with towering oak trees. A grand fountain marked the crossroads of the town’s major streets. To the west, a row of shops curved into the distance. To the east, modest homes nestled together for comfort. In the center, a winding road clung to a rolling hill with soil the color of crushed garnets. At the crest of the hill, sat a tremendous house with massive white columns which lined the perimeter of the entire building like soldiers standing guard.

The very sight of the mansion and the sprawling fields of sugar cane which surrounded it, made Julian shudder. As they passed by the gate, Julian squinted in the fading light to read the name which was scrawled in wrought iron across the mighty arch.

“Rittenhouse.” Julian read aloud.

For a fleeting second, Julian could have sworn he smelled dried rose petals. Suddenly a sharp pain darted though his head. As the pain cut through him, it carried with it long-lost words which trailed behind like the tail of a comet.

“Her Grace must never know!” Julian heard the words echo in his head.

The pain subsided as the world grew dark around Julian. The inkiness flooded his eyes and Punch yawned himself awake.

Did you miss Chapters 1-46?  If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Remember Your Value

You are a valuable person who has much to contribute to our world. Every single one of us is. However, sometimes, we have a difficult time remembering that fact. More often than not, the people in our lives are quicker to find fault than to remind us of the good things we offer. Worse, still, we often do the same things to ourselves.

So, today, remember what makes you a remarkable person. Hold your head up high and know that there’s only one of you. When you realize your own beauty, you can begin to realize the true beauty of the people around you.

Object of the Day: A Victorian Papier Mache Spectacle Case

Spectacles were expensive and not-so-easy to come by before the days when they could be purchased and crafted in an hour. When something means the difference between being able to see and not being able to see, you tend to want to treat it with care and respect. Spectacle cases such as this papier mache case would have been used in many a Victorian home.

As I’ve mentioned before, The Victorians liked to make the things they used everyday look as pleasing as possible. Just because an object was utilitarian didn’t mean it couldn’t be attractive. This case has been inlaid with mother-of-pearl in a star and diamond pattern. The pearl on this piece is particularly shiny. The inside of the case is lined in black velvet and it clasps shut with a little silver button.

I’m always glad to see these types of objects. The idea that something was special because it was useful just makes sense to me. I find it refreshing to be reminded that everything has value.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Everyone Should Know Harry Winston

Today, we associate the name “Harry Winston” with red-carpet events and starlets draped with the finest diamonds. While, it’s true that Harry Winston Diamonds does lend a considerable amount of exquisite jewelry to celebrities for awards shows, the story of Harry Winston is far deeper than the glitz of Hollywood.

Winston was born in 1896—the son of Ukrainian immigrants. His father, Jacob, was a jeweler, and as a small boy young Harry studied at his father’s side while working in the family’s shop. Legend has it that at the age of twelve, Harry made his first major purchase—an emerald ring that he found in a local pawn shop. He paid twenty-five cents for the ring which he then sold for $800. Thus began Winston’s life-long passion for acquiring the most exceptional jewels in the world.

When Arabella Huntington, the wife of railroad tycoon Henry Huntington, died, Winston purchased her celebrated collection of jewels—one of the most famous in the world. Winston then set about deconstructing the pieces, using the flawless gems to create his own works of art. As his fame grew, so did Winston’s collection of gems. Throughout his life, he acquired some of the world’s most notable gems. His collection included the Hope Diamond, The Portuguese Diamond, The Cornflower Blue, The Crown of Charlemagne, The Blue Heart, the Jonker Diamond, The Louis XIV Diamond, and The Star of Sierra Leone among many, many others.

As a designer Winston let the jewels do the talking. His designs were based on both natural and architectural forms crafted of flawless diamonds and relied on a clever use of precious metals to give the impression that the stones were a continuous mosaic. Today, thirty-two years after his death, his name continues to be associated with the most beautiful works of the jeweler’s art. His brilliance was only outshined by the shimmer of his work.

Gem of the Week: The Citrine

Mounted by a sprig of garnets, amethysts,
aquamarine and pink sapphires, this105.35 carat
emerald-cut citrine dates to the 1950's.
Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry
A member of the quartz family, the citrine gets its name from the Latin word citrina which means “yellow.” The gemstone is typically yellow, but can range from orange to brown.  Natural citrines are very rare.  In fact, most modern citrines sold commercially are actually color-treated amethysts or yellow topaz.  Due to their similar chemical make-up, many citrines are found concurrently with amethysts.  When the crystals are joined together in a natural bi-color stone, the result is an “ametrine.” 
Natural citrine has been used for many years and was popular in English Victorian jewelry. Prized for its sunny color, the citrine is often paired with diamonds.  This also gives the effect of a canary (yellow diamond).  One of the birthstones for November, citrines remain a popular gemstone. 

Decorating Tip: Mix Patterns

Very often, we’re afraid to introduce new patterns into a room. While you wouldn’t want to wear striped pants with a plaid shirt, you can have more than one pattern in a room—especially if the room is large. Incorporating new patterns into your upholstery, drapes and accessories is an excellent way to define different areas in a room, and also to tie the color scheme of the room together. A floral pattern next to a geometric pattern or stripe, is an elegant choice. A bold toile throw pillow can look good on a couch with a small pattern.

There are a few things to keep in mind when combining patterns. Make sure that the colors blend together. Using a similar color palette will ensure that your patterns have a harmonious relationship. Also, try to vary the intensity of the patterns you use. Putting two busy patterns together may make for a wild, confusing mess. But, combining a busy pattern with a stripe or a more refined style can serve to make both items look even better.

Most importantly, surround yourself with patterns and colors that you enjoy and those that make you feel contented. No matter what anyone else thinks, as long as your home is comfortable for you, you’ve made the right choice.

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: “Bertie’s World”

In the spirit of American painter Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting, “Christina’s World,” here Bertie poses in the sun-burned grass.  Unlike Christina, however, Bertie quickly hopped up to chase a rabbit.

Term for the Day: Toile

In the Sixteenth Century, the original word “toile” referred to linen-cloth or canvas, specifically a cloth meant to be painted upon.  Today, we use the word “toile” to refer to what the French would have called, “toile du jouy.”  Toile du jouy is a decorative fabric used as upholstery or drapery which depicts a complex, repetitive scene.  The design is usually comprised of a pastoral scene of people engaged in bucolic activities such as enjoying a picnic in a grove or reveling in a field of flowers. 
Toile often portrays several different scenes joined together by flowers or other natural elements to create a pattern that repeats.  Most toiles render these scenes in a color, such as red, blue, purple or black against a lighter, neutral colored background which is often white, cream or gold, however other variations exist.  Occasionally, the scenes are depicted in solid color outlines which feature other colored details, making the composition seem more like a painting.  While most popular in fabrics, toile designs have also found their way into china and pottery.  The overall effect of toile is one of elegance and refinement which adds a gracefulness to any room. 

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 46

Robert held up his hand to indicate to Punch that he needed to be silent. He turned to Iolanthe Evangeline and shook his head. “I don’t understand. How is Naasir a threat to you?”

“You’re tellin’ me that you don’t know?” Iolanthe chuckled.

“He’s simply a valet. He has no power whatsoever.”

“You really believe that?’ Iolanthe asked.

“I do.” Robert nodeed.

“Tell me, where did you find the man?” Iolanthe asked.

“We met on the ship on our passage from England. He was traveling to Louisiana to see his brother in Marionneaux. Lord Fallbridge required a new valet, and Naasir had experience working in such a capacity in Egypt for an Englishman—an archaeologist acquaintance of Lord Fallbridge’s father. His references were quite good. And, so, Lord Fallbridge offered Naasir the position. He’s a gentle soul who seems to want only to serve well.”

“Serve what?” Iolanthe hissed. “How does his serve his master? With his magic?”

“He’s harmless. Like many of the people around here, he believes in folk magic. From what I understand you subscribe to a similar school of thought.”

“I make my own magic.” Iolanthe barked. “And, I won’t have some African interferin’ with it!”

“The only powers that Naasir possesses are a false belief in superstition. I am a man of science. I don’t take much stock in these things.” Robert argued.

“You’ll be able to find a new servant for your Lord Fallbridge easily enough at the docks. This one stays with me.” Iolanthe growled.

“I realize that the laws are different here. However, in our country, we do not believe that human beings are objects that can be bought and sold. Naasir is a man—a living, human man—and, no matter his lot in life, he deserved to be treated with dignity and respect. I cannot believe that you would harm a man for what he believes—especially when he believes the same things that you do.”

“That’s the way to do it!” Punch shouted happily. “Put her in her place!”

“Please, let me handle it.” Robert said quickly.

“I owe you no explanation, Doctor.” Iolanthe spat. “Here—in this house—I am the sole authority. That man is a danger to me and I don’t want you thinkin’ that he’s not. He must be removed!”

“Then allow me to remove him.” Robert said firmly.

“And have him out there in the Quarter where his influence can do me harm?” Iolanthe laughed. “Listen, ‘man of science,’ that won’t do.”

“What if we were to take him away?” Robert asked. “We will take him to Marionneaux to his family. Wouldn’t the distance protect you from whatever influence you believe he has?”

Iolanthe Evangeline narrowed her dark eyes. “I would need assurance that he won’t be back.”

“I can offer you that assurance.”

“And what about the mad Lord?” She pointed a thumb toward Julian/Punch. “Will you leave him in Marionneaux, too?”

“I aint’ leaving without what I came for!” Punch shouted.

“Yes.” Robert spoke over Punch. “I will see to it that neither Lord Julian nor his man returns to New Orleans.”

“And, if you don’t?” Iolanthe smiled.

“I shall suffer the consequences.”

Iolanthe clapped her hands. “Boys!”

Her two men arrived within seconds from a door hidden by flowing silk drapery of purple.

“Bring the African to the courtyard!”

“But, Miss Evangeline…”

“Do as I say!” Iolanthe shouted.

The two men retreated.

“Tomorrow morning, I will send my men to the place where you’re stayin’. If they find that you’re not preparing to leave for Marionneaux you shall indeed suffer the consequences. I don’t want any more blood on my hands than is necessary. But, I shall do it if I have to.”

“You’ll find us gone tomorrow.” Robert said.

“Here, chum!” Punch protested. “We can’t! What will I do without what’s been taken from me? And, he needs his sister! The Duchess will not like that at all!”

“You must trust me, Sir.” Robert said softly. “Clearly, Miss Evangeline is more of a force than we reckoned.”

“You must never underestimate me, Doctor.” Iolanthe grinned. “Never.”

“I shan’t.” Robert bowed. “I am your servant.”

“What’s this now?” Punch cried.

“Take your companion to the courtyard, collect your man and leave my house.” Iolanthe said in a deep, menacing voice. “Before I change my mind.”

“Come along, Sir.” Robert said to Punch. “Good evening, Miss Evangeline.”

“Chum?” Punch protested.

“Come along,” Robert repeated.

Punch let Julian’s shoulders sag in defeat.

“Please,” Robert whispered.

Punch did as he was instructed and followed Robert from the room.

“You betrayed us.” Punch said softly as they walked down the stairs.

“I did no such thing.” Robert smiled. “Quite the opposite. Would you have Naasir killed? Would you put Julian in danger?”

“Not ‘less I had to.” Punch said.

“Well, you don’t have to.” Robert answered. “You must trust me.”

They arrived in the courtyard to find Naasir waiting for them.

“I knew you would come.” Naasir smiled.

“We must hurry out of here, men.” Robert said quickly, bundling his coat around his chin to brace himself for the cold rain.

“We’re going back to Royal Street, Sir?” Naasir asked.

“Only briefly.” Robert nodded. “Then, we’re off to Marionneaux.”

“Truly, Sir?” Naasir asked.

“I believe that the answers we seek are there.” Robert smiled.

Did you miss Chapters 1-45? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Listen

Some people talk constantly.  Sometimes the people with whom we’re surrounded seem to chatter on about “nothing” and talk just for the sake of talking.  However, there may be more to what they’re saying than is immediately obvious.  Often, the people in our lives need help and guidance and just don’t know how to ask for it.  They may give subtle clues as they’re talking—clues that we might miss if we tune out.  Today, try to be careful to listen to what the people around you are saying.  Are they lonely?  Are they sad?  Do they need your help? Perhaps they do.  Or, perhaps they’re merely talking for the sheer joy of it.  The only way to find out is to pay attention.

Objects of the Day: A Pair of Regency Style Balloon Back Chairs

The first recorded mention of the Balloon Back Chair—so named for the shape of the back of the chair which resembles a hot air balloon—came in the 1830’s. This style reached the height of its popularity in the 1850’s in England and began to incorporate French Rococo details into the design which was dominated by a pinched “waist” and arched “shoulders.”

This pair of chairs, based on other examples, most likely heralds from the 1830’s. It exhibits the turned legs characteristic of early Balloon Back designs as opposed to the later incorporation of cabriole legs which became the standard in the 1850’s. What sets this pair of English chairs apart is the lack of a cross rail. Here, the backs are entirely open, reinforcing the balloon shape. The absence of the cross rail indicates that these are early Balloon back designs.

Constructed of walnut, and stuffed with horsehair, these chairs were reupholstered in a tea-stained toile before I purchased them. Judging by the style and era, I would guess that the original upholstery would have featured four to six buttons to create a tufted effect.

Chairs such as these would have graced the corners of drawing rooms and hallways to serve as occasional chairs. While not remotely comfortable to sit in, their purpose was meant to be attractive. That’s a job for which they are well suited.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Building of the Week: The British Museum, London

The Forecourt
The British Museum
Established in 1753, at Montagu House in Bloomsbury (the site where the current museum stands today), The British Museum originally housed a permanent collection mainly comprised of artifacts assembled by physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. Over the next two centuries, the museum grew and expanded as the British Empire began to encompass new countries and cultures. Before selecting Montagu House, the founders of the museum considered Buckingham House—now the site of Buckingham Palace—as the location for their museum. By 1759, the museum had opened its first galleries and famed reading room which King George II ensured would be supplied with every book published in the United Kingdom.

In the late 1770’s the museum’s collection of artifacts began to grow, and for the first time British subjects were exposed to the arts of far-away lands and people. Around 1800, the collection began to focus predominately on Greek and Roman antiquities which were collected by British explorers and archaeologists. 1801 saw the museum’s collection of Egyptian artifacts increase markedly, and in 1802, King George II gifted the famed Rosetta Stone to the collection.

Weston Hall Interior
The British Museum
 As the collection grew, the museum saw many structural changes. In 1822, King George III donated The King’s Library to The British Museum, and plans were set in motion to alter the building which had become increasingly decayed since its opening. Sir Robert Smirke designed the impressive neoclassical façade that we see today as the central portion of the museum. This new facility opened around 1827. However, by the 1850’s the collection had, again, outgrown the building which at the time was considered one of the largest in Europe.

By 1895, properties around the museum had been purchased so that the building could be further expanded. Construction of new wings on all four sides of the complex began in 1906. In the 1970’s, with the debut of the treasures of King Tutankhamen, the museum was, again in need of more space. The Royal Library was moved to a separate location and the museum expanded further. In 2000, the space formerly occupied by the Library was developed into The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court—the largest covered square in Europe.

The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court
The British Museum
One of the largest museums in the world, The British Museum boasts one of the most thorough collections of world art and humanities. While some of the objects in the museum are controversial due to the means by which they were acquired, the fact remains that the collection is impressive. One could spend many days in the museum and still not see everything housed there. The building itself is a grand work of art, carefully designed over centuries to maintain its grandeur and to reflect the importance of the artifact that it houses.

If you find yourself in London, set aside a good amount of time to visit The British Museum.  Few places offer such a remarkable sampling of the most amazing things created by humans.  You will leave the place feeling that you are a part of something very grand and important.

Term for the Day: Portrait Lengths

Typically portraits (whether painted or photographed) fall into three categories of length:

1. Head and Shoulders (or bust) portraits show, as you’d guess, the head and shoulders of the subject and, often, his or her crossed arms such as in this antique portrait by Vivien Biett Smith
2. Three Quarter Length portraits show at least three quarters of the subject’s body. This can include compositions in which the subject is seated and a bit of his or her lap is pictures such as the composition of this mid-Nineteenth Century English portrait.
3. A full-length portrait shows the subjects entire body, posed in relation to his or her surroundings. This F.W. Baker portrait is an excellent example of a well-planned full-length composition.

Antique Painting of the Day: The Duc d’Orleans by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1842

Duc d'Orleans, 1842
Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres
The British National Gallery
The Duc d’Orleans (1810-1842) was the eldest son of King Louis-Philippe of France. The young duke had been the subject of a three-quarter length portrait by Ingres. Upon the death of the young duke in an 1842 carriage accident, the king ordered that several copies of Ingres’ portrait of his son be created. This is one of them. Most likely finished by Ingres himself after being started by other artists in his workshop, what sets this painting apart from the others is that the duke’s uniform is almost entirely covered by a gray cloak. The cloak signifies that the portrait was painted posthumously.

This painting shows Ingres’ love of statuesque compositions. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) was one of the greatest French Neoclassical painters. He considered himself a painter of historical subjects, however, today, his greatest contributions to the art world are considered to be his portraiture. Ingres pushed away the influences of the Romantic Period, preferring to rely on academic and historical inspirations which gave his work a feeling of monumentality. The artist held true to his stylistic beliefs throughout his entire career, thereby giving his work an incomparable consistency. Ingres was obsessed with the idea of creating historical paintings. In the end, he did. His portraits are one of the best records of the history of his day.

Decorating Tip: Oversized Mats

When framing a picture, the size of the image doesn’t necessarily dictate the size of the frame. Some people purposefully choose frames that are much larger than the painting, print of photograph that they’re framing. The space between the frame and the image is filled with a mat board. Often, a picture can be over-matted, meaning that the size of the mat is far larger than the actual field of the picture. Over-matting and large frames serve several purposes. First of all, they give the image more weight and importance. Second, a large mat allows the picture to be more easily viewed and appreciated without interference from the frame. Placing a picture in a what seems to be a too-large frame creates a sense of drama between the image and the negative space of the mat.

I chose to frame this engraving by E.M. Ward (husband of Henrietta Ward and father of Sir Leslie Ward) in an over-sized antique frame with a double mat. I thought that this important engraving deserved the weight and drama of a large frame. The mat also helps the image be seen more clearly. If you’re going to over-mat an image, I would suggest using a neutral mat in black or white that will not interfere with the colors and patterns in the artwork, but instead serve to enhance them.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 45

Me chum!” Punch shouted happily as Robert entered Iolanthe Evangeline’s room. “Hullo, chum!”

“Good evening.” Robert smiled, shivering from the cold rain. He coughed.

“Look, Ogress,” Punch grinned. “It’s me chum.”

“What did you just call me?” Iolanthe hissed.

“Miss Evangeline,” Robert said quickly, “Clearly, Lord Fallbridge is ill. He’s confused and disoriented. Please allow me to take him home so that I might give him the care that he needs.”

“I ain’t confused!” Punch laughed.

“You are, Lord Julian.” Robert said sternly. “Julian…”

“Oh, that’s right.” Punch nodded. “I am Lord Julian.”

“Whatever is the matter with him?” Iolanthe asked the doctor. “He’s quite a lunatic, isn’t he?”

“Here!” Punch shouted.

“Do keep still, Lord Julian.” Robert said calmly. His voice was thick with gravel.

“He pulled a knife on me, you know.” Iolanthe continued.

“Did he?” Robert narrowed his eyes at Punch.

“I did.” Punch smiled. “I’d a gotten her, too, had she not got her men on me.”

Robert sighed.

“As you can see,” Robert began, “Lord Fallbridge is not in his right mind.”

“I can see that, yes.” Iolanthe growled.

“He’s been very upset by his father’s death and his sister’s disappearance.”

“His father’s death?” Iolanthe’s eyes widened. “I wasn’t told about that.”

“He was murdered near Paris some weeks ago.” Robert explained.

Iolanthe looked toward “Julian.”

“Killed our father, they did.” Punch nodded.

The ogress’ face hardened. “Still, that’s no cause for the man to come here wielding a knife. I don’t want you thinkin’ it is.”

“No.” Robert shook his head. “It is not.” He darted his eyes toward Julian. “Miss Evangeline, Lord Fallbridge is under my care. I’ll take him with me presently, and he will not return.”

“Here, I came to get his sister and what’s been taken from me.” Punch grumbled. “Only she says she don’t know what that is.”

“That’ll be enough for now, Julian.” Robert emphasized Julian’s name.

“This is New Orleans, sir.” Iolanthe laughed. “Your friend may be somebody in England, but he isn’t in England anymore. Here, he’s subject to the same laws as every other man. And, here, a man that draws a knife on a woman is punished.”

“Shall we send for the authorities, then?” Robert asked pointedly.

“I’m the only authority that matters in this house.” Iolanthe smiled coquettishly. “I’m judge, jury and executioner.”

“Even in this dubious court, a man has a right to trial. Isn’t that one of the foundations of your country?”

“He done had his trial.” Iolanthe laughed. “Listen, Doctor, you know what a fair judge I am. Just ask your brother’s wife.”

Robert coughed.

“Oh, yes, Dr. Halifax. I know who you are. I know all about you and your family. Quite the hero your Cecil is. Swoopin’ in and takin’ one of my best girls.”

“Presently, my only concern is for the welfare of a sick man.” Robert said plainly. “Now, I will take Lord Fallbridge and his man with me.”

“You can have your ‘Lord’ though I don’t know why I should let him go.” She glared at “Julian.” “You and I have further business, Mr. Molliner. It suits me that you remain alive.”

“I’ll fight you right now.” Punch shouted.

“Mr. Punch!” Robert said firmly.

“What’d you call him?” Iolanthe narrowed her eyes.

“It’s of no importance. Just a pet name. A joke between friends.”

“He’s me chum.” Punch grinned.

“Take him out of my sight!” Iolanthe raised her hands in disgust.

“We’ll just collect his man, Naasir, and be on our way.” Robert said quickly. “Thank you.”

“No.” The Elegant Ogress shook her head. “The African stays here.”

“I ain’t leavin’ without the other one.” Punch said wildly.

“I can’t let you take him.” Iolanthe replied fiercely. “He’s too much of a threat.”

“Naasir?” Robert questioned her. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

“He would.” Iolanthe purred. “And, he has. Only this time, he’s the fly, and I aim to pull off his wings.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-44? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Record the Commonplace

A studio shot, young and bespectacled
with "Wishbone," 1996

Though you may do the same things every day, and though your daily routine may not seem very special right now, in twenty years, you may yearn to remember what occupied your time. I remember, years ago, working on the set of the PBS show Wishbone. I wish I had taken more time to document that period of my life. Now, almost fifteen years later, I look back and realize I should have taken more photographs of the sets, of the people with whom I worked, of Soccer, the dog. I wish I had been more careful about absorbing the action that unfolded around me. Now, looking back at the memories of the beginning of my career, I find that they are somewhat murky. Had I been more vigilant in recording what was happening at the time, I could have created a greater historical record—not only of my own experiences, but also of a much beloved television program of the mid 1990’s. I thought it would last forever. But, nothing does.

So, today, as you go on about your business, snap a few photos with your cell phone of the world around you. Record the places, the people, the activity which to you may seem dull right now, but in the future will be a fond memory. Time brings many changes—most of them for the good. But, that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to look back from time to time to see where we’ve been. That’s the only way to know where we’re going.

Object of the Day: An Antique Pencil Drawing

A pensive woman sits at a table, reading a book with which she is utterly engrossed. She rests her body against her folded arms, unaware that her hair has become loose on one side. Who she is, we don’t know. What she’s reading, only she knows. Yet, there she sits—for over a century, enrapt in her book.

This antique drawing is something of a mystery. Her costume suggests that this work of pencil on paper dates to the early 1900’s. The provenance is murky. When purchased, I was told it was French in origin, however, I am more inclined to assign it to the hand of an English artist. Her collar and scarf seem more the outfit of a working-class Englishwoman than that of a French woman of the period.

Someone took the time to frame this drawing with a large, dramatic mat. Clearly this sketch meant something to someone. It is unsigned and undated—at least evidently. I am hesitant to remove it from its frame to check for more information since it has remained undisturbed—still backed in the original framer’s paper.

Regardless of her provenance, she’s a lovely figure. The lines of the drawing are free and filled with life. I don’t care who she is or where she comes from. The simple fact that she still exists is enough for me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Humanitarian of the Week: David Walliams

Known as the taller half of the comedic team of Walliams and Lucas, David Walliams has achieved great fame and success playing characters such as Emily Howard, Ann, Desiree DeVere, Sebastian Love, Lou Todd and Des Kaye on the hit BBC television program, Little Britain. Little Britain seemed to quickly become a sensation in the U.K. However, Matt Lucas and David Walliams toiled many an hour to bring the show to television. The two met as young men at a theater camp and a lifelong friendship and artistic collaboration followed.

Walliams and Lucas
When not wearing a dress or fawning over the “Prime Minister,” David Walliams devotes a considerable amount of his time and energy to charitable works. Along with Matt Lucas, Walliams has performed for “Comic Relief” benefits on numerous occasions. His most impressive efforts, however, came from furthering his long-time passion for swimming.

During the stressful run of Little Britain Live—the wildly successful and long-awaited traveling stage version of their hit television show—Walliams volunteered to swim the English Channel to raise money for Sport Relief (part of Comic Relief which provides services for people in the U.K. who are suffering from poverty). Despite their rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule, Walliams trained for nine months to swim the channel. He completed the swim of twenty-two miles in 10 hours and 34 minutes. In doing so, he raised over one million British pounds for Sports Relief. His triumph is recorded in the documentary, Little Britain’s Big Swim.

Walliams as "Emily Howard,"
the "rubbish transvestite."
In 2008, Walliams once again donated his efforts to Sport Relief when he swam the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain to Morocco in a little over four and a half hours. Again, through his efforts, a considerable amount of money was raised for the foundation Walliams’ work to raise funds to contribute to the dignity and quality of life of people in the U.K. make him this week’s “Humanitarian of the Week.”