Saturday, November 6, 2010

Masterpiece of the Week: Portrait of Armand Gérôme, 1848

Jean-Leon Gerome, 1848
The National Gallery, Britain
Jean-Léon Gérôme, a painter and sculptor, who was educated in Paris under Delaroche and Gleyre exhibited his work at the Paris Salon in 1847 and 1848. This bust-length portrait depicts the artist’s brother, Armand, in the uniform of his polytechnic school.

The painting may have been a study for a full-length portrait of the same sitter which the artist exhibited at the Salon in 1848. The whereabouts of the full-length portrait are unknown. However, this painting remains in perfect condition in the collection of Britain’s National Gallery.

Saturday Sparkle: Locket with Hair of Charles I

Locket with Hair of Charles I
Created 1620
with insert, 1813
Gold, Enamel, Rubies, Diamonds
The Royal Collection
This stunning gold and enamel locket features twelve rubies and ten trillion-cut diamonds on the front. The reverse showcases an enamel-work floral scene. The locket was created in 1620, and centuries later, came into the collection of King George IV. George IV was endlessly fascinated by King Charles I—the martyr king—not only as a monarch, but also as a collector of great works of art.

In 1813, when a new grave was being prepared for King George III’s sister, Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick, in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, the casket of Charles I was unearthed. George IV ordered that the casket be opened so that he might survey the remains (as one does). A lock of Charles I’s hair was cut from his long-dead corpse and encased in a red gold and glass case which was fitted into this locket.

Since 1813, the locket has been inscribed, “Hair of Charles the First Cut from his head April 1st 1813. Discovered on the Funeral of the Duchess of Brunswick and given to me by the Prince Regent” though it does not specify who “me” is. We do know that the locket at one point belonged to George IV and later to his daughter, Princess Charlotte. After that, the whereabouts of this piece are a little murky until it resurfaced in the private jewelry collection of Queen Victoria which was moved to Windsor Castle after her death in 1901. At least Charles’ hair and body were reunited after nearly a century—if only just nearby.

At the Music Hall: Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow Wow, 1892

Vesta Victoria
I love my little cat, I do
With soft black silky hair
It comes with me each day to school
And sits upon the chair
When teacher says "why do you bring
That little pet of yours?"
I tell her that I bring my cat
Along with me because

Daddy wouldn't buy me a bow-wow! bow wow!
Daddy wouldn't buy me a bow-wow! bow wow!
I've got a little cat
And I'm very fond of that
But I'd rather have a bow-wow
Wow, wow, wow, wow

Written in 1892 by celebrated songwriter, Joseph Tabrar, Daddy Wouldn’t Buy Me a Bow Wow was penned specifically for music hall singer Vesta Victoria. With her comic delivery and deadpan style, the song made Vesta Victoria a tremendous star who soon became the highest paid performer in vaudeville.

The song made its debut in The Unites States in 1895 as recorded by Silas Leachman. Painter Toulouse-Lautrec’s portrait of May Belfort depicts the actress performing this song. It also was featured in the 1934 film Evergreen as sung by Jessie Matthews. Ever-popular, the tune even popped up in 1980, sung by Helen Mirren and Peter Sellers in the film The Evil Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu.

Toys of the Belle Époque: Trentsensky Toy Theater, 1825-1880

Trentsensky Toy Theater, 1825-1880
Victoria & Albert Museum
This toy theater is originally the work of famed toymaker, the Austrian-born, Matthias Trentsensky. Trentsensky began producing these paper theaters in Austria in 1790, using his brother Joseph’s name for the company. Such paper theaters were quite popular in England. Trentsensky exported many of these printed sheets for assembly in Britain.

The theater consists of a stiff paper-board proscenium, fabric-covered base and elaborately detailed paper backdrops. “Plays” would be staged in the theater by using paper dolls in intricately drawn costumes. This particular theater was assembled in Britain and remained in the same family until 1880. The owners added several of their own backdrops to the assortment of scenes that came with the theater.

This Trentensky Toy Theater is in remarkably good condition given its age and the amount of use that it endured for nearly sixty years. Today, it is on display at the Museum of Childhood at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

In Franco Zeffirelli's semi-autobiographical film, Tea with Mussolini, a similar paper theater was used.  You can see it in this clip at about one minute in.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 90

Robert rose from the bed and stood in front of it, blocking Nanny Rittenhouse’s view of Mr. Punch.

Toby pulled back his ears and growled.

“How did you get in here?” Robert asked.

“I simply told one of the girls in the kitchen that I was His Lordship’s nanny and dear companion when he was a lad. She gladly let me in when I suggested that I could bring him some comfort during his recuperation from that dreadful fire. I believe her name was Gamilla or something like that. Their names are so strange, you know. I can never keep track of which is which.”

“No doubt, our names seem strange to them,” Robert frowned. “Your sentiment is admirable—at least regarding His Lordship, however, presently, I am the only companion he needs.”

“I can help nurse him back to health.” The nanny continued. “I know all of his quirks. Of course, I do have my duties to think of, but I can come here in the evenings when the children have settled down. I do have a maid of my own at my disposal. She’ll happily take some of the responsibility if I were to spend some time here.”

“Miss Rittenhouse,” Robert said firmly, “I’m a physician. I think I’m perfectly able to look after His Lordship on my own.”

“Oh, but you’ve been so ill yourself, haven’t you? With your terrible infection… Surely, you’re as weak as a little kitten yourself.”

“We have a house full of servants at our disposal as well as His Lordship’s man, Naasir. We’ll carry on quite nicely. Thank you. And, good evening.”

“Your Lordship,” the nanny continued, straining her neck to see Julian/Punch behind Robert. “How are you feeling?”

“Believe me chum bid you ‘good evening,’ Agnes.” Mr. Punch answered.

“Agnes?” Miss Rittenhouse said as if insulted.

“That is your Christian name, ain’t it?” Mr. Punch grumbled, “If you can call anythin’ ‘bout you Christian.”

“Well, yes, but isn’t it so much nicer when we call one another by our formal names? I wouldn’t dream of calling you ‘Julian.’ Now, that’s not how I taught you to behave, is it? I don’t care how old you are, young man. You must continue to behave like a proper gentleman.”

“Ha!” Mr. Punch whooped. “Then, you’re a fool cuz there ain’t nothin’ proper ‘bout me. See, I ain’t a gentleman. Me chum is. And while he may be all polite and formal wit’ ya, I’m not against getting’ up outta this bed and hittin’ ya with something. So, you’d best do what he said only I’ll slap ya all the way back to your own house.”

“He’s fevered.” Nanny Rittenhouse exclaimed. “He always used to act like this when he wasn’t feeling well. Dr. Halifax, you see, I was correct. You need my assistance. Clearly, you’re not able to care for His Lordship properly.”

“Good evening, Miss Rittenhouse.” Robert said sternly.

“Mayn’t I stay and talk with His Lordship for awhile?” The nanny asked quickly. “It is Christmas. I think that reminiscing about his boyhood would cheer him so.”

“Bloody likely!” Mr. Punch shouted.

“Lord Fallbridge!” Miss Rittenhouse scolded him. “Such language.”

“I got more.” Mr. Punch grinned. “Bullox!”

Robert smiled. “Good evening, Miss Rittenhouse.”

“This won’t do. Dr. Halifax, it’s my understanding that you’re used to rough people—treating those poor indigents and charity cases that you do, but this sort of behavior is not acceptable in a nobleman. I can’t let you encourage it. Lord Fallbridge needs someone who understands his own kind.”

“You’re correct,” Robert nodded. “He does need someone who understands his own kind. You’re also correct, I am accustomed to rough people. I’ve learned quite a lot from them. Shall I show you what I’ve learned?”

“How dare you, Sir?” Miss Rittenhouse gasped.

“If you don’t get out of this room, I will physically remove you. I assure you that it won’t be pleasant.”

Mr. Punch laughed loudly. “That’s the way to do it.”

“I will return when the two of you are thinking more clearly.” Miss Rittenhouse responded in a quavering voice.

“Get your rottin’ carcass outta here!” Mr. Punch shouted. Toby barked.

The nanny hurried from the room.

Once she’d left, Robert smiled at Mr. Punch, “We’d best have a chat with Gamilla about whom she should and shouldn’t let in.”

“Here,” Mr. Punch grunted. “What’s she want, then? She wasn’t comin’ here outta kindness. Ain’t nothin’ kind ‘bout her.”

“No, Mr. Punch.” Robert shook his head. “This had all the makings of something Arthur has dreamed up.”

“What ‘bout that red-headed one? That Ulrika. They’re kin, she and the nanny.”

“They are. I wonder… What could Ulrika profit from having her cousin come here?”

“Dunno.” Mr. Punch shrugged. “She’s carryin’ on with Arthur, that one. Saw that they were thick as thieves when we were in the stables.”

Mr. Punch sniffed and hugged the dog closer to him.

“What’s troubling you, dear Punch?” Robert asked.

“Wanna go home.” Mr. Punch said, wiping his eyes. “Don’t like it here, I don’t. Nice big house in Belgrave Square just waitin’ for us—all me master’s things in it. Lots a room for you and me and Toby and me master to play. Just wanna go home.”

“We shall go home.” Robert said gently. “However, there’s ‘much to contend with here, first. There’s Barbara. The Molliner Blue is still missing. We must somehow find a way to retrieve Barbara’s child from those Cages. And, what of Iolanthe Evangeline? If she did, in fact, order Sir Colin’s murder, she’ll have to be dealt with.”

“I know.” Mr. Punch nodded. “Doesn’t make it feel no better.”

“I understand.” Robert said, returning to his seat at the foot of the bed.

They sat in silence for awhile until Robert cleared his throat.

Mr. Punch looked at him quizzically.

“God rest you merry, gentlemen,” Robert began in a clear voice.

Mr. Punch raised Julian’s eyebrows.

“Let nothing you dismay,” Robert continued.

“Here,” Mr. Punch smiled. “You’re singin’, you are.”

Robert nodded as he continued, “For Jesus Christ our Savior was born upon this day,”

Mr. Punch joined him.

To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray:
O tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

They sang together.

Toby wagged his tail.

Meanwhile, Ulirka met Nanny Rittenhouse on La Rue de la Colline Cramoisie.

“You’ve failed!” Ulrika hissed, shivering in the cold. “Arthur grab her arms!”

Arthur did as instructed—restraining the woman from behind. The nanny began to scream, but Ulrika clamped a freezing hand over the old woman’s mouth.

“I do not accept failure!”

Nanny Rittenhouse struggled, biting Ulrika’s hand.

Ulrika yelped and pulled her hand back.

“You’re a devil, Ulrika Rittenhouse!” The nanny spat. “I curse you! My prayer is that one day the fires of Hell will rise to the earth and take you—take you!”

Ulrika slapped Miss Rittenhouse sharply across the face.

“Get back in there and do as you were told!”

Did you miss Chapters 1-89? If so, you can read them here. And, come back on Monday, November 8 for Chapter 91 of Punch’s Cousin.

Contest Reminder

So far no one has answered all ten questions correctly.  You still have a chance to win your own Punch’s Cousin coffee mug from our online store.  All of the answers to the questions can be found right here at Stalking the Belle Époque.  Good luck!

Goal for the Day: Enjoy Your Home

You spend a lot of time trying to make your home a lovely and comfortable place to live. You clean, you decorate, you pay the bills, you perform the necessary maintenance. But, do you ever get a chance to just enjoy your home?

This weekend, set aside a few hours to appreciate all of your hard work. Take some time to relax and look around. After awhile, the furnishings and objects that you’ve worked to maintain go unnoticed. Pause and look at the fruits of your labor. You’ll like what you see.

Objects of the Day: A Pair of 1930’s-era Wall Sconces

I’m always in favor of subtle, indirect lighting. One way to achieve a warm atmosphere in a room is to light the walls. This highlights the architecture of the room and provides a gentle light which is perfect for a relaxing evening. I use a lot of wall sconces and favor antique and vintage fixtures because of their visual impact and craftsmanship.

This pair of two-arm wall sconces dates to the 1930’s. Crafted in brass with a lovely patina, these sconces take a very French style without being overly Rococo. The graceful arms extend from sculpted wall plates which have been adorned with flowers and leaves. The arms themselves are carved to resemble branches draped with flowering vines. Embellished with tear-drop shaped crystals and French pendalogues, these sconces case the perfect amount of light from behind shirred cream shades.

While you’re not going to want to perform surgery or fix a computer under such low-wattage light, it does make for the perfect ambiance for a calm and peaceful evening.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Fun: La Maschera di Napoli

Mr. Punch’s equally hunchbacked Italian ancestor, Pulcinella, is still alive and well in Italy.  This interesting video shows an artist from Naples, an associate of La Maschera di Napoli (the Italian version of Punch and Judy men) as he crafts a Pulcinella puppet.  Interspersed are scenes of the puppet in use.  We can immediately see that Pulcinella and Mr. Punch have influenced one another over the years.  Enjoy!

Antique Image of the Day: Queen Victoria with a Portrait of Prince Albert, 1854

Queen Victoria, 1854
Brian Edward Duppa
The Royal Collection
The deep love between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert is legendary.  The two often surprised one another with special gifts and mementos.  They also shared a passionate interest in photography.  In July of 1854, Queen Victoria commissioned photographer Brian Edward Duppa to take a photo of her looking adoringly at a photographic portrait of her husband which Duppa had taken months earlier.  She presented the photograph as a gift to Prince Albert on July 5, 1854.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: An American Punch from 1937

"Puppet Punch"
Edward Strzalkowski, 1937
Watercolor, Pen and Ink
The National Gallery, U.S.

Mr. Punch’s popularity didn’t stop in England. He traveled across the ocean and found a nice place for himself in the United States—his tradition carried on by immigrant Punch & Judy Men. Mr. Punch’s American persona changed a bit from his British guise, but his antics remained relatively the same.

Here, we see a drawing from 1937 by Edward Strzalkowski which was acquired by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1943. The artist shows an Americanized Mr. Punch with a wooden head, fur wig and costume of fur, velvet, corduroy, and cotton. Unlike the glove puppets which were the fashion in English Punch & Judy shows, many American versions were operated by means of a stick which extended into the figure’s head.

Historical drawings such as this give of a sense of Mr. Punch’s many-centuries-long evolution and show us the influence that has had on all the arts.

Pets of the Belle Époque: King George VI and His Corgi, 1948

King George VI and a Corgi, 1948
Baron, Sterling Henry Nahum
Noble Hounds and Dear Companions
The Royal Collection
Though technically not “Belle Époque” in the historical sense, this lovely photo does fall into the category of “Royal Pets.”  Queen Elizabeth II is known for many things—among them her ever-present handbag and her corgis.  It seems that Elizabeth inherited her appreciation for these sturdy pups from her father, King George VI.  Here, we see the King in 1948 with one of his herd of corgis.  Both King and companion seem quite fixated on something in the distance.  This cheerful image was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth (“The Queen Mother”) and is further proof that despite their occasional ups and downs, the Royals are always kind to their dogs.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 89

Naasir tapped gently on the warped door of the shack.

“Go ‘way!” Marjani shouted from inside. “We got sickness.”

“Marjani, it is I, Naasir. I’ve brought some gifts from Mr. and Mrs. Halifax and the doctor and His Lordship.”

The door opened a crack and Marjani peeked through. “Can’t let you in, Naasir.” She shook her head.

“I’m not afraid.” Naasir smiled warmly.

“Honey, we got sickness here. It’s not fittin’ for you to come in and risk getting’ it.”

“If it’s fitting for you to be in there, then, it’s fitting that I should be as well.” Naasir said gently.

Marjani opened the door.

“Thank you,” Naasir nodded, entering the cold shack. “There’s not even a fire in here.”

“What do we need a fire for?” Marjani answered exhaustedly. “Nontle and Kirabo are burnin’ up as it is.”

“What about you? You must be freezing.” Naasir took his coat off and placed it over Marjani’s shoulders. “Here, this will keep you warm.”

“What ‘bout you?” Marjani shook her head. “I can’t take your coat.”

“It’s my gift to you.” Naasir smiled.

“How ya doin’?” Marjani asked. “Heard you was burned in the fire when you rescued His Lordship.”

“I’m much improved, thank you.” Naasir smiled. “I will die in fire. I know that. Twice now, a fire has tried to take my life, and twice it has failed. The third time will mean my end, but not until I accomplish what has been written.”

Marjani nodded. “I understand. Mine will come in a wash of blue. I know this to be true. And, there ain’t nothin’ here that’s blue. All we got is the brown of the dirt and the red of my baby’s blood.”

“They are not improved, then?” Naasir asked, looking toward the cots where Marjani’s daughter and son-in-law lay—their chests rattling.

“No.” Marjani answered, tears welling in her eyes. “Such sufferin’. I didn’t think it possible that the Holy Mother would let such sufferin’ come to pass. Haven’t we all suffered ‘nuff? For their young lives to be cut like this…”

“Great suffering on this earth will mean that their salvation will be all the sweeter.” Naasir said, putting his arms around Marjani.

She wept into his shoulder for several minutes.

“Now,” Naasir said softly, after awhile. “Perhaps these gifts will make you all feel more comfortable.”

“Why are they sendin’ gifts?” Marjani wiped her eyes.

“Because they care for you.” Naasir smiled. “And, it is Christmas.” He pointed to the three-legged stool in the corner and gestured for Marjani to sit.

She did so, and Naasir knelt at her feet. From the large wicker basket that he’d brought with him, he produced a beautiful quilt with an intricate pattern of emerald green, gold, russet and cream.

Marjani’s eyes widened.

“Mrs. Halifax made this with her own hands.” Naasir smiled. “She told me to bring it to you with her thanks for all you did to care for the doctor and His Lordship.”

“It’s too fine,” Marjani shook her head.

“She would be offended if you did not accept it.” Naasir said firmly.

“For your children, she sent these sachets of lavender so that the room would smell sweet for them and so that their souls would be soothed.” He offered several sweet sachets to Marjani who placed them atop the quilt on her lap.

“How kind.” Marjani smiled.

“Mr. Halifax sends you a practical gift.” Naasir continued as he pulled a coin purse from the basket. “These will help you in the future.” He shook the bag so that the coins jingled. “It is his wish that you will be free one day. When you are, these will help you and your granddaughter start anew.”

“I can’t.” Marjani shook her head.

“You must,” Naasir said, placing the bag on her lap.

“Dr. Halifax has sent two things for you. The first is this medicine. He prepared it himself. It is to help clear the lungs and provide some relief in their breathing.” Naasir handed Marjani a small brown bottle. “The second is this Bible. It was his mother’s.”

“I can’t read.” Marjani said, wiping the tears from her eyes.

“Maybe so, but in you there are many words which will one day tell a tale of greatness and bravery. Perhaps your own hand will not write it, but your story will be told. This book is the first step in telling that tale.”

“I can never repay these kindnesses.” Marjani sniffed.

“Marjani, they are repaying you for your kindness.” Naasir smiled. “Now, Mr. Punch has sent you two things as well. The first is a gift of his own.” Naasir pulled a small brass bell from the basket—the bell that Julian had found in England before their journey.

“This bell was once worn on Mr. Punch’s hat when he was but a mere puppet. He sends it to you so that by hearing its jingle, you will know that you, too, will be free and transformed one day.”

Marjani smiled. “I miss Mr. Punch.”

“And, he misses you.” Naasir nodded. “The second is a gift of Mr. Punch’s selection based on what he thought His Lordship would want you to have.” From the basket, Naasir removed a small, red velvet box and handed it to Marjani. “Open it.”

With shaking hands, Marjani opened the box to reveal a fine cameo, set in gold and surrounded by small pearls. From the coral-colored center, a woman in profile looked regally toward the east.

Marjani gasped.

“This was made by Lord Fallbridge himself—every bit of it. Mr. Punch knows that his Lordship would want you to have this. He sends it with the heartfelt thanks of both himself and Lord Julian.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Marjani began to cry again.

“Say nothing, Marjani.” Naasir patted her knee. “I know what’s in your heart.” He rose and closed the basket. “Now, I must return to the Halifax House. Mr. Punch and the doctor will be expecting me.”

“Please tell them how…how…”

“I will.” Naasir smiled. “If you need me, you know how to reach me.”

“I do.” Marjani nodded.

Naasir gently kissed her on the forehead and started for the door. He paused. “I almost forgot.” He smiled. “This is from me.” From his pocket, he removed a red pouch. “You know what it is.”

With that, Naasir walked out into the cool evening.

With tears streaming down her cheeks, Marjani placed the gifts she’d been given gently on the stool. Taking the red pouch, she tucked it under the mattress where her children lay.

“We done got some hope,” She wept.

Meanwhile, at Cecil and Adrienne’s house, Mr. Punch was absent-mindedly scratching the dog’s stomach as he watched Robert reading by the fire. Robert felt Mr. Punch’s gaze upon him and looked up, smiling.

“There are more pleasant things in this room to study than my face, dear Punch.”

“Dunno.” Punch shrugged. “You’re not so bad.”

“Is something on your mind?” Robert closed the book.

“Restless, I am.” Mr. Punch frowned. “Wanna get up outta this bed and do somethin’.”

“Remember when I was ill and you insisted that I be still and recover?”

“Hmm.” Punch grunted.

“Well, then…”

“Can we sing?”

“Not presently.” Robert chuckled. “My voice is not quite back yet. Besides, Fuller is sleeping up the corridor; we don’t wish to disturb him before Father Christmas arrives.”

“Oh.” Mr. Punch nodded as if that made perfect sense. He sighed. “Barbara and Adrienne sure been talkin’ a long time. Don’t suppose Barbara’s done nothin’ to her.”

“I don’t think so.” Robert shook his head. “If anything, Adrienne has influenced Barbara for the good.”

“Don’t know if that’s possible.” Mr. Punch frowned again.

“Well, we can hope.”

“Where’s Cecil?” Mr. Punch asked.

“I imagine he’s in the studio. He’s been trying to finish those figures he’s been working on in time for the Cages’ masquerade ball.”

“Wonder if he painted me head yet.” Mr. Punch squinted. “You know, me puppet head.”

“I suppose you’ll have to wait and see. Perhaps you’ll receive a surprise for Christmas.”

“Ohhh.” Mr. Punch cooed. “Here, someone’s comin’. Maybe it’s Adrienne.”

The door to the room opened.

Mr. Punch’s face fell. Instead of Adrienne entering, he was surprised to see Nanny Rittenhouse.

“Lord Fallbridge,” The Nanny smiled. “I’ve been so worried about you…”

Did you miss Chapters 1-88? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Keep Your Spirits Up

With the weather turning colder and the days growing shorter, many people begin to feel quite gloomy. Personally, not being a fan of warmth and sunshine, I’m in a better mood than usual. However, the chill and the darkness can weigh upon anyone and make you feel depressed and lethargic. There’s actually a medical name for this winter malaise—Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD---aww). And, while it was regarded with skepticism for many years, studies and tests have shown that it is, indeed, a real phenomenon. So, what can you do to not be sad?

Science tells us that during the winter, our bodies begin to have low levels of the Vitamin D that we usually get through sunlight. With your doctor’s approval, perhaps taking a Vitamin D supplement would help. Also, during the warmest parts of the day, take a break and get out in the sun. But, most importantly, try to keep your spirits up, The same positive outlook that you would have in the Spring and Summer is equally valid in the winter. Always have something to look forward to—whether it’s a phone call with a friend or the sandwich you’re going to have at lunch. There’s always something positive on the horizon. Keeping your eyes fixed on the good things in life will always cut through the darkness.

Object of the Day: An Early Twentieth Century American Portrait

This unsigned portrait of a gentleman has always been one of my favorites. He’s got something of a Teddy Roosevelt quality about him. While the artist is unknown, we can get some clues as to its origin by studying the reverse of the canvas.

The portrait was painted on a prepared canvas—meaning that the canvas was pre-stretched and primed and sold commercially to artists. This phenomenon became more prevalent in the Twentieth Century. The reverse of the canvas is stamped, “Prepared Canvas” followed by the name of the company which is illegible. Beneath that, the year 1910 can be faintly made out.

The gentleman’s attire suggests that this was painted in the early Twentieth Century as does the style of his brushy moustache. I can say with great certainty that this is an American portrait. English pre-prepared canvases were stretched with a different kind of nails and would have vastly different markings on the reverse. Similarly, the subject’s bravado speaks more of American portrait painting than it does English. Whereas an English painter would have more likely leaned toward a portrait that captured a fleeting expression, this painter has purposefully posed the figure with a strong, deliberate countenance.

As is often the case with the portraits around here, I wonder who he is and what he did with his life. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know. However, he’s now a part of the happy two-dimensional family which lines the walls of a house in Texas. The painters and subjects of these portraits would probably have never guessed that such a thing would ever happen.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mastery of Design: The Tiffany Yellow

Tiffany & Co.
The Bird on a Rock Brooch
One of the most famous yellow diamonds in the world is known as “The Tiffany Yellow.” This stone was found circa 1877 or 1878, most likely in the DeBeer’s or Kimberly Mines. The diamond was a popular attraction in New York City—being among the first large yellow diamonds to be cut there. Cut by George F. Kunz in 1878, the resulting faceted gemstone weighed 128.54 carats.

Throughout the years, The Tiffany Yellow has been exhibited many times and has seen its fair share of grand events. It’s also been placed in a variety of different settings. Perhaps the most interesting of its former setting is that of “The Bird on a Rock” Brooch designed by famous jeweler Jean Schlumberger. Schlumberger made the stone the centerpiece of the design, whimsically perching a plumed bird of clear and yellow diamonds at a precarious angle atop it. This clever design remains one of the most interesting settings in gem history. It showcases an important stone, but reminds us not to take it too seriously.

Gem of the Week: The Canary Diamond

A Canary Diamond Engagement Ring
The Three Graces
As we know, diamonds come in a wide range of colors which, in the gem trade, are referred to as “fancy colored” diamonds. That name has always struck me as peculiar. Calling something “fancy” makes it seem less-fancy. For example, “Fancy Ketchup.” But, I digress. Of course, despite the inelegant name, there’s actually nothing quite as elegant as a colored diamond, and there’s also nothing quite as expensive.

Of the colored diamonds, I’ve always had a special fondness for “canary diamonds,” so called for their intense, “fancy” yellow color. The yellow color comes from the presence of nitrogen atoms during the stone’s compression process. Depending on the level of nitrogen, the color can cary in intensity from a pale yellow (which isn’t much good to anyone because it’s not quite yellow and it’s not quite clear) to a brilliant gold. Sometimes nitrogen will impart a brown color, thus making the currently popular “Chocolate Diamond,” or orange which creates the much rarer “Mandarin Diamond.”

Canary diamonds have long been prized for their pleasing color and cheerful light. When set with colorless diamonds in a platinum setting, they offer an unexpected burst of color which is really a sight to behold. As I’ve mentioned before, when purchasing “fancy colored” diamonds, always make sure that the color is natural. Many colored diamonds (especially blue) have been color-treated or enhanced. You shouldn’t be paying the same price for a color-enhanced diamond that you would for a naturally colored one.

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: "The Model"

"Hey, Kid!  Less reading.  More drawing."
Image: A Boy Seated Drawing, Eighteenth Century, After Wallerant Vaillant, National Gallery, Britain

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 88

Mr. Punch threw up Julian’s hands, “Lady Chum, I don’t mean to sound disrespectful only this girl is not the likes of one to be trusted.”

“Mr. Punch,” Adrienne said, without thinking, “It’s not my place to judge her. Even if she is speaking falsely, I know that deep in her heart, she must wish to be free of Iolanthe and her treachery. I can help her. I’m the only woman to escape Iolanthe and live to speak of it. It’s my duty to help this young woman.”

“Why do you call my brother, ‘Mr. Punch’?” Barbara asked, raising her eyebrows. “The doctor did the same. Why? When he speaks and acts this way, why encourage his mad behavior?”

“Oh, you’re a fine one to talk about madness.” Mr. Punch grumbled.

“Barbara, just as I will not judge you, I do not judge Mr. Punch or Julian. If you’d take the time to notice, they are, indeed, two different people. This man—that body—he’s your brother. I know that he loves you. Why else would he have come all the way across the sea to try to return you to your home and your rightful inheritance? He has shown you compassion, dear girl, the very least you could do in response is to show him the same kindness.” Adrienne answered softly. “That’s the greatest path to redemption.”

Barbara looked at Punch/Julian. Mr. Punch immediately recognized the hint of malice in her eyes. She turned her gaze back to Adrienne and said with an almost-convincing note of sincerity, “You are correct, Mrs. Halifax. I have much to learn from such a wise and thoughtful woman.”

“Adrienne,” Robert interrupted. “Don’t bring this woman into this house. It’s the same as leaving the door wide open to Iolanthe Evangeline!”

“At Christmas, all are welcome.” Adrienne said firmly. “Tomorrow we celebrate miracles. It would be vain of me to think that I was above opening my door to someone in need.” She looked at Barbara, “Now, come with me and we shall talk. Perhaps I can offer you some comfort.”

With that, Barbara and Adrienne left the room.

Robert rose and picked up Toby from the floor, placing him on the bed next to Mr. Punch. Robert sat cross-legged on the end of the bed and sighed.

“My brother’s wife is generous of spirit.” Robert said softly.

“That’s all well, I ‘spose.” Mr. Punch grumbled. “But, how can a person be gen’rous of spirit to one what ain’t got no soul?”

“Perhaps your sister can be rehabilitated.” Robert shrugged. “We did, in fact, come here for just that reason. Adrienne was correct on that point.”

“She ain’t me sister, Chum.” Mr. Punch shrugged. “Adrienne’s me sister where it counts. Barbara ain’t Julian’s sister no more neither. The girl what he held on his knee and sang songs to, she’s dead. No, she didn’t die in that fire. She died when she fell in with Arthur—maybe before. She’s too much like her mother, that one. She’s got the same coldness and ugly inside her. No, Barbara, Lady Fallbridge is dead, and what’s remainin’ is some shell of a thing what calls itself Barbara Allen. Sad, really. I s’pose she didn’t have no chance. Not with the things she had to live through. Least Julian had me.”

“What things, dear Punch?” Robert asked gently. “I’ve shared a bit of Cecil’s and my history, the pain we endured as children. Yet, neither you nor Julian has ever shared with me.”

“Julian don’t know ‘bout none of it.” Mr. Punch said, his shoulders tensing. He tickled Toby’s furry ear. “Pity, isn’t it that people ain’t more like dogs. Dogs want nothin’ only to be loved and fed and to play and have cuddles and such. Unless a dog is sick, he won’t want to do no harm to anyone. But, people, they don’t have to be sick to do awful things what hurt other people.”

“Those who hurt their fellow man are often ill, dear Punch.”

“But, not always. Seems to me that the largest lot of people will do evil just for the sake of doin’ it. Don’t seem right. They all can’t be sick.”

“Everyone is a little peculiar in his or her own way.” Robert responded.

“But peculiar ain’t the same as evil.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “If you don’t mind me sayin’ so, your mum was sick, weren’t she?”

Robert nodded.

“Only she never hurt nobody. Did she?”

“No.” Robert answered.

“So, seems to me that maybe the people that are thought to be sick might just be the right ones and then the rest—the big lot—are the ones what really are crazy. People are always callin’ me, ‘lunatic,’ or ‘barrmy,’ but is that so? Just cuz there’s two of us in here don’t mean that I’m wrong in the head nor that Julian is. Just means that he and I have a way of making a life. If more people had a ‘Mr. Punch’ to protect them, maybe there’d be less hurtin’ goin’ on.”

“You raise a valid point.” Robert smiled.

“So, then, sure, Julian’s scared a things—don’t like to go out, don’t like to be touched, don’t like to be ‘round people. No. But, he’s alive, he is. And, he’s got a mind and a soul. And, when he needs strength, he’s got me. He’s always known…always has…that he’s got me. Maybe he didn’t know like he does now that I’m what I am, but it’s all the better that he does.”

“You really care for Julian.” Robert sais gently.

“Sure, I do! He’s me master. I love him. He talked to me and trusted me. That’s why I was born in him. Without him, I’d not be. I’d just be some puppet what’s torn up in the sugar cane. Now, I’m a real man—in me own way. It’s better to be a real man some of the time than a puppet what can’t feel the softness of a pup’s ears or play with a baby or feel things like what I do. See, I learned to feel love for people other than me master. And, I learned that as much as I give him the strength what he needs, I got you to give me strength. And, I can help you, too.”

“You have on many an occasion.” Robert nodded.

“But, then you got the ones like Barbara and Arthur and that ‘Ogress’ what want to hurt all the time—just hurt. Dunno why, maybe cuz they been hurt. Barbara learned it from the Duchess, she did.”

“I’ve learned a bit about the Duchess of Fallbridge—from Julian and from things I’ve heard from other people in Belgravia.”

“She’s the one what started all the pain. And, when she grew bored of it, she hired that awful woman to make sure the pain never stopped.”

“The nanny.” Robert nodded.

“Yes—stinkin’ thing that she is.”

“What did she do to Julian?” Robert asked.

Mr. Punch shook his head. “Can’t say.”

“By saying it, you’ll release it. Perhaps it won’t weigh so heavily on both of you.”

“No, Chum.” Mr. Punch sighed. “I can’t.”

“I won’t betray your confidence.”

“Never thought you would.” Mr. Punch smiled, hugging the dog. “Only thing is, what with me master knowin’ ‘bout me and him and me gettin’ closer and closer, he might could hear what I say. Thirty years, I kept this for him. Thirty years, Chum. That’s too long to let him be hurt again.”

At that very moment, Ulrika Rittenhouse giggled as she pulled Arthur up the back staircase of the mansion.

“Quiet, then.” Arthur hissed. “Are you wantin’ your mum to hear ya?”

“Please,” Ulrika rolled her eyes. “By this point in the day, she’s passed out from her brandy.”

“Where’re you takin’ me?” Arthur whispered.

“To the nursery.”

“Don’t want to go to a nursery. What for?”

“That’s where one typically finds a nanny, isn’t it?” Ulrika laughed.

Ulrika grandly opened the nursery door and barged in, dragging Arthur by his hand.

Nanny Rittenhouse didn’t look surprised to see Ulrika, but didn’t look pleased to see her either.

“Miss Ulrika, if you’ve come for your brother, he’s in the schoolroom learning his verses. I’m afraid I can’t allow you and—that man—to stay in here. I’ve only just gotten Afton to sleep. She’s so fussy.”

“Arthur, you know my cousin, don’t you?” Ulrika said. “You were both employed by the Duchess of Fallbridge.”

“Not concurrently.” Nanny Rittenhouse sniffed. “Miss Ulrika, it’s not appropriate for you to associate with people of his class.”

“Isn’t he the same class as you?” Ulrika grinned. “And, yet, you and I share a surname. Isn’t it funny how one branch of the family tree is bare with poverty and the other is heavy with the fruits of wealth? I find it delicious that Mother employed one of Father’s distant relatives as a domestic. It’s too, too humorous, really.”

“I’m glad to amuse you,” Nanny Rittenhouse said dryly. “Now, please, Miss Ulrika, you must leave. I won’t mention to your mother that I saw you with this man, but you must go. I simply cannot risk waking Afton. She’s feverish again. Honestly, there’s nothing to interest you here.”

“Oh, yes, there is.” Ulrika shook her head.

“Do tell.” Nanny Rittenhouse sighed.

“You, my impoverished cousin. You interest me greatly. You’re in service to my family, are you not?”

“I am.” The nanny replied.

“Then, there’s something that I need you to do for me.”

“What is it?” The nanny lowered her eyebrows.

“I wish for you to help the lunatic Lord Fallbridge take his own life.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-87? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Be True to Yourself

Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between what’s best for you and what other people want you to do.  However, you should always follow your instincts.  If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.  We’re always going to have people in our lives who want to make their goals into your goals.  Remember that only you have control over yourself.  As much as we want to please the people we care about, we can’t please everyone.  If you’re uncomfortable with a situation, remind yourself of what you know to be right, and follow those instincts.  Everyone will ultimately be better off in the end. 

Object of the Day: A Statue by Rancoulet

French Sculptor Ernest Rancoulet (1870-1915) was known for his great skill in sculpting delicate female figures. His busts and full-figure sculptures were celebrated for their exquisite detail.

Here, we see a statuette signed by Rancoulet on the reverse. A young woman in flowing robes strums her lyre as she stands on a mound of flowers. Rancoulet has depicted the figure in a bucolic pose. Her face is peaceful as she looks out hopefully, enjoying her music.

This figure is cast in spelter and sports its original bronze-tone finish, aged to a lovely patina. She reminds us to pause and enjoy those brief peaceful moments that life affords us.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Precious Time: A Watch Case and Chatelaine from George III, 1785

Watch Case
Presented by
George III,
The Royal
King George III enjoyed giving gifts to people. Next to presentation boxes, he most frequently gifted magnificent watches to close friends and family members. This beautiful watch case and chatelaine was a gift from George III from about 1785. A magnificent work in gold, enamel and diamonds, the piece was likely given as a gift to his godson, James George, Third Earl of Courtown. Another theory is that the watch and chatelaine were a gift to the parents of James George who were very close to the King and lived in Windsor Castle.

Regardless of to whom this beautiful object was given, it was later purchased from the family by King George V and Queen Mary so that it could be preserved in the Royal Collection. The watch case is layered in blue enamel and set with a crowned cipher of George III, set in diamonds. This diamond and enamel work matches the details on the chatelaine. A chatelaine is a rather elaborate belt-hook from which a series of chains hang. The chains were meant to hold commonly used household items such as watches, scissors, keys, seals, etc. Curiously, chatelaines were almost exclusively worn by women, so why George III bestowed so many to male friends is quite mysterious. Nevertheless, when you receive a gift from the King, it’s always a good idea to accept it—especially when it’s as lovely as this.

Painting of the Day: “Flowers in a Glass,” by Roelandt Savery, 1613

Flowers in a Glass
Roelandt Savery, 1613
On loan from a private collection
to the National Gallery, Britain
Though born in Flanders, painter Roelandt Savery lived in Amsterdam from an early age. There, he was responsible for a number of the brilliant still life paintings which defined Seventeenth-Century Flemish and Dutch art. Here, we see a still life of flowers which could not have been painted from life. The blossoms that Savery has combined are from flowers that bloom at different times of the year. The detail of each bloom is spot-on, indicating that he had drawn studies of several flowers throughout the year and combined those designs into this one canvas. The flowers are nestled into an ornate wine glass known as a roemer. Roemers were known for their uneven surface of raised drop-shaped masses of glass.

In typical Dutch fashion, the vase is flanked by a frog and a lizard. The Dutch frequently included animals in their still lifes, which, technically makes them not still lifes. Butterflies and dragonflies flit around the buds, with some alighting on the petals. While these sorts of paintings are often overwrought, this one—though still quite full—takes a less-crowded approach, making the composition appear to be quite realistic.

Unusual Artifacts: “The Crystal Skull”

The Crystal Skull
The British Museum
Carved from one uninterrupted block of rock crystal (quartz), this life-size sculpture of a human skull was acquired by the British Museum in 1897. When the object was acquired by the Museum from New York’s Tiffany and Company, it was purported to be an ancient pre-Columbian artifact.

It isn’t.

According to records, Tiffany and Company came to possess the skull after the death of Eugene Boban, a French dealer of art and antiquities. Boban had purchased the object from an unnamed English antiques collector who had acquired the skull from a Spanish military officer in 1863. The officer had claimed that the skull was of ancient Mexican origin.

The Smithsonian's Skull
Fox News
However, between 1950 and 1990, extensive studies were made of the object to try to determine its age and origin. Dating stone objects is rather difficult. The stone is old no matter when it was carved. In 1996, the British Museum entered a collaborative effort with The Smithsonian Institute who has a similar skull in their collection. The results of this study showed that the skull in the collection of the British Museum is carved from a type of white quartz which does not come from Mexico. Examining the marks from the carving showed that the lines were too precise to have been created by ancient hand tools. Rather, the objects was turned on a lathe-mounted jeweler’s wheel. The skull was likely produced in the mid-Nineteenth Century to satisfy a growing demand for authentic-looking Mexican artifacts. Some art historians speculate the such skulls were produced for use in churches as a base for a crucifix.

This is an interesting item. Perhaps, it’s more interesting now than if it had been an actual pre-Columbian artifact. This way, at least, it’s got a mysterious tale to tell.

Building of the Week: Waveny House, New Canaan, Connecticut

At the center of New Canaan, Connecticut’s beautiful, three-hundred acre Waveny Park stands “The Castle” which is also known as Waveny House. Designed in 1912 by William Tubby for oil magnate, Lewis Lapham, the Tudor-style house served as a summer home for the Lapham family.

Graceful stone porticoes overlook the luxurious grounds which were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. The mansion features elaborate wood paneling, leaded-glass windows, glistening wide-plank floors, marble fireplaces and hand-stenciled walls and ceilings. Relatively unchanged since it was built, the house was sold to the Town of New Canaan in 1967. Today, the house and Waveny Park are open to the public as a community recreation center. The mansion can be rented out for special occasions and weddings.

ABC Daytime
 Speaking of weddings, many of you are familiar with Waveny House. The exterior of “The Castle” served as the façade of All My Children’s “Cortlandt Manor.” There, the daytime drama staged one of the medium’s most opulent and highly-anticipated weddings—the nuptials of Nina Cortlandt and Cliff Warner in 1981. Here’s a clip from that fondly-remembered episode which gives us a good look at Waveny House.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 87

Mr. Punch slapped the bed and glared at Barbara. “I don’t believe you.”

“It’s true, Julian.” Barbara said softly. “Iolanthe Evangeline had our father murdered.”

“Barbara, you can’t expect us to believe that—as powerful a force as Iolanthe Evangeline is here—that her power extends across the ocean.” Robert said firmly.

“But, it does.” Barbara argued.

“Robert,” Adrienne said, “Iolanthe’s evil is far-reaching. She has at her disposal a very elaborate web of people who do her bidding—both here and in our home lands. When I was disgraced, it wasn’t but a few days before I was propositioned by one of Iolanthe’s men. One in particular—Leon. The one who called himself ‘The Professor.’”

“The man who died in the fire in the stable.” Robert nodded.

“He’s the one who extended Iolanthe’s invitation to me as well,” Barbara nodded.

“Fine,” Robert sighed, “Let’s assume, then, that Iolanthe has influence across the globe. What possible reason could she have to wish Sir Colin Molliner dead? The authorities reported that he had been killed by thieves who stole the gems he was carrying. Would Iolanthe Evangeline be so greedy as to have a stranger killed for jewels which would take weeks to reach her?”

“Yes,” Barbara nodded. “However, her motives were far more sinister. She ordered that Father be murdered in order to teach me a lesson.”

“For what?” Robert asked. “You hadn’t even arrived in New Orleans when Sir Colin was killed.”

“Got word when we were travelin’, we did.” Mr. Punch said, breaking his unusual silence. “Didn’t know it, but you was on the same ship as us. She’d not even met you yet.”

“I had sent a letter to her before we departed. I had told her that while I was still intending to come here, I’d had reservations about the arrangements concerning my child. I told her that I didn’t want to part with him. Her response was to show me the full extent of her power.” Barbara explained.

“Don’t make sense.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “Don’t make sense at all. The time it’d take for your letter to reach the woman don’t match up with when our father were killed.”

“Why would I deceive you, Julian?” Barbara moaned.

“Because you’re a bleedin’ liar what’s only after what she wants. You’d say anything you could to change things the way you want ‘em.” Mr. Punch responded.

“Robert, Your Lordship,” Adrienne said, “I am not so certain. I’ve seen the sorts of terrible acts of which Iolanthe is capable.”

“I know you have,” Robert said gently. “You know better than anyone. However, we can’t let this girl manipulate our sentiments.”

“What have I to gain by telling you this?” Barbara covered her face with her hands.

“There’s always somethin’ for you to gain.” Mr. Punch growled.

“I’ll never be free of her. Don’t you see? Not unless you help me.” Barbara said through her hands.

“We’ve been trying to help you all along,” Robert answered. “You’ve pushed us away.”

“For your own protection. I didn’t want her to hurt Julian as she hurt our father.”

“You don’t care nothin’ ‘bout what happens to your brother,” Mr. Punch frowned. “You said yourself how you hate him…me.”

“I only said those things so that you’d leave me alone.” Barbara said. “I couldn’t risk entangling you in my problems.”

“Huh.” Mr. Punch grunted. “Only now you want to ‘tangle us? So, what’s it gonna take, then? Hmmm? What do ya need to be free?”

“Only some financial assistance.” Barbara said, smiling slightly.

“And, there we have it.” Robert sighed.

“I understand why you mistrust me, Dr. Halifax.” Barbara said softly. “However, I am most sincere.”

“I believe her,” Adrienne said quickly, remembering her own ordeal with Iolanthe Evangeline.

“Adrienne,” Robert shook his head. “Don’t let her fool you. This woman would see us all dead at her feet if it meant that she’d earn her gold.”

“Barbara,” Adrienne began, “Are you in earnest? Do you truly wish for us to help you extricate yourself from Iolanthe?”

“Terribly,” Barbara covered her face with her hands again.

“Then, we shall help you.” Adrienne put her arms around Barbara. “Furthermore, we’ll see to it that your child is returned to you.”

Mr. Punch and Robert looked at one another helplessly.

Meanwhile at the bayou, Arthur stumbled backwards into the cold mud after Ulrika shoved him.

“Come on, then!” Arthur said, catching himself on a large oak. “What do you aim to do?”

Ulrika laughed. “Have I frightened you?”

“You always frighten me a bit.” Arthur frowned.

“Just remember, really, who you’re dealing with.” Ulrika hissed.

“It would do you good not to forget what I’m capable of either.” Arthur spat.

“Can’t you see? We’re the perfect match for one another.” Ulrika grinned, extending her hand to Arthur. “I have everything you’ll ever want—including that beautiful blue diamond. What can Barbara offer you? Nothing! She’s forever enslaved by that woman, the ‘Ogress.’ I am free and I have the ability to conquer anything. You see, Arthur, I’ve been very clever.”

“Have you?” Arthur smirked.

“Yes,” Ulrika smiled. “I have in my possession a document that states quite clearly that upon the death of my maid, I, as her mistress, will receive all of her property. Barbara put her mark on it when she accepted her false position in my mother’s house. The only provision is that she have no living family. Well, it’s one thing when such an arrangement is made between a maid and her mistress. It’s really quite another when the girl is an heiress in disguise. Aside from her mother, who is Barbara’s only remaining relative? The lunatic. Well, as far as the world is concerned, Barbara Allen is dead. The inheritance she’d have received upon the death of her father would rightly go to me if it were not for Lord Fallbridge.”

“It won’t hold up.” Arthur shook his head.

“It will if you help me.” Ulrika winked.

“Did you ever think that maybe I love my wife?” Arthur asked.

“Arthur, really, you don’t love anyone.” Ulrika laughed.

“True.” Arthur laughed as well.

“Well, then?” Ulrika asked.

“Right.” Arthur nodded. “I’m in.”

“How lovely, really,” Ulrika cooed. “Come along. Let’s go see Nanny. Oh, yes, we shall have the happiest Christmas, Arthur.  The happiest...”

Did you miss Chapters 1-86?  If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Groom Your Pet

We spend a fair amount of time each day on our own grooming. This is a good thing. It makes us feel and look better. However, our pets also need the same attention in order to look and feel their best. If you’re a pet owner, take some time today to brush your pet’s fur, check his/her nails to see if they need to be trimmed and brush his/her teeth. Our pets can’t do these things for themselves. Even if they could, they probably wouldn’t. So, it’s up to us to keep them as healthy and happy as possible.

Some pets don’t really enjoy being groomed. Bertie does. He loves it. He’s not a fan of having his nails trimmed, however, and screams like a banshee if you so much as come near him with a nail clipper. For that reason, I let the professional groomers at his vet’s office trim his nails. I’d rather he scream at them than at me. However, he does get brushed every day and he really enjoys it. If your pet doesn’t enjoy being brushed, it still needs to be done. If you’re more comfortable, you can bring your dog or cat to a professional groomer. Like Bertie’s, many veterinarian offices have a grooming service. If not, you’re sure to find dozens in your area. It’s worth the slight expense to ensure your pet’s continued well-being.

Object of the Day: A Miniature Paperweight by Daniel Salazar

Founded in 1970 by the late James Lundberg, California-based Lundburg Studios continues to produce some of the most innovative and elegant art glass in the industry. Since 1975, many of Lundberg’s intricate designs have been the work of Daniel Salazar. Salazar quickly earned a reputation for his naturalistic scenes—bird, florals, and marine life—as well as his abstract work.

This paperweight signed by Daniel Salazar is a miniature inasmuch as it’s about a third the size of the average paperweight. The central feature is a delicately crafted orchid of gold and deep purple surrounded by flowing bright green leaves. The sense of fluidity is one of the defining characteristics of Salazar’s work.

The artistry of Lundberg Studios is just one more bit of evidence that the spirit of the Belle Époque is alive and well. We’re still creating beautiful things in this world. Now, it’s up to us to find them.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Her Majesty’s Furniture: Queen Victoria’s Jewel Cabinet, 1851

Jewel Cabinet, 1851
The Royal Collection
Displayed by Elkington, Macon and Co. at the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, this remarkable jewel cabinet was designed by Ludwig Gruner and constructed of oak, silver, copper and porcelain to resemble an over-sized reliquary.  Designed to hold Queen Victoria’s extensive collection of jewels, the cabinet also featured Victoria’s favorite portrait of her husband, Prince Albert, as well as miniature portraits of the six children she bore prior to 1851.  The front of the cabinet also sports the Queen’s coat of arms as well as the crest of Saxe-Coburg for Prince Albert.   The portraits were painted by Andreas Deckelmann and Otto Wustlich.  After the Great Exhibition, the cabinet was given to Queen Victoria and she cherished it always.  Now, it is equally cherished as part of the Royal Collection. 

Humanitarian of the Week: Doris Roberts

Doris Roberts
Marie Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond wouldn’t necessarily be considered a humanitarian. She’s outspoken and opinionated, and though truly devoted to her family, her loyalty takes an eccentrically critical form. Marie’s portrayer, Doris Roberts, is a different story.

Born on November 4, 1930, Doris was born in St. Louis, Missouri. When her father deserted the family, her mother moved Doris to The Bronx, New York, and raised her daughter with her Jewish family. By 1952, Doris had established herself as a sought-after actress who appeared on early television programs such as Studio One, Ben Casey, The Naked City, Way Out and The Defenders. Her film debut came in 1961 with the film Something Wild—a performance which led to several more film roles.

Doris Roberts was the original choice to play Vivian in the All in the Family spin-off Maude. The part eventually went to Rue McClanahan. Throughout the 1970’s Doris made a name for herself in comedic parts, often playing the role of the put-upon mother character. She came to greater wide-spread fame when she was cast in Remington Steele as Mildred Krebs and she continued to work steadily into the 1990’s.

Miss Roberts in the 1970s
The role which most defines Roberts work is that of Raymond and Robert Barone’s mother and frequent antagonist, Marie—winning the part over 100 other actresses. Her popularity due to Everbody Loves Raymond led for many more opportunities for Roberts who starred in a series of films during and after the production of the popular sitcom.

Though her contributions to the world of entertainment are many, her philanthropic contributions are what really makes Doris Roberts an exceptional person. She has worked extensively with Puppies Behind Bars. This organization works with prison inmates who learn to train dogs to work as companions for people needing assistance as well as service dogs trained to work with law enforcement officials. She has also served as the Chairperson for The Children with AIDS Foundation. In her 70’s, Roberts appeared before Congress to testify that the entertainment world is marred by age discrimination and suggested that such bias should be handled in much the same manner that gender and race discrimination is combated. Doris’ enormous talent and her equally grand love for humanity make her this week’s “Humanitarian of the Week.”

Remember, during November, you will have a chance to submit your nominations for “Humanitarian of the Year.” I look forward to hearing from you.

Film of the Week: Sunset Boulevard, 1950

The Opening Shot
Paramount Pictures
“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

--Norma Desmond

A man floats—face down—in a pool. We see him from beneath as he is gently fished from the freezing water—his body lifeless. We learn via a voice over that if you want to know the real facts, “You’ve come to the right party.”

Joseph C. Gillis was a screenwriter who was down on his luck. He needed some cash—quick—or his car was going to be repossessed. He tries various means of obtaining the funds that he needs—even going as far as trying to pitch a half-hearted script to Paramount Pictures. The only bite he gets is the biting criticism of one of Paramount’s lowly readers, a girl named Betty Schaefer.

The Principal Cast:
Nancy Olson, Gloria Swanon,
William Holden, Erich Von Stroheim
Paramount Pictures
Dejected, Gillis attempts to take his car back to the parking lot where he’d been hiding it, but the repo men spot him on Sunset Boulevard. They chase Gillis whose car blows a tire. The limping car is pulled out of sight into the driveway of one of those grand palazzos—the kind that crazy movie stars built in the crazy 1920’s. The house, somewhat run-down, seemed abandoned. So, Gillis pulled the crippled car into the garage. He’s shocked when the deep voice of a woman calls down to him, “You there! Why are you so late?” Ushered into the mansion by a bald, ape-like butler with a German accent, Gillis is told, “If you need help with the coffin, call me.”

Unsure of what to make of the scene, Joe ascends the grand staircase to meet the woman who had called to him. He’s not quite sure what to expect at the top of the stairs. A woman of fifty, elegantly dressed in a gown and turban meets him and describes the kind of coffin she wants—a satin lining in white…no red. “He loved fires and poking at them with a stick.” She pulls back a sheet which covers a small figure on a massage table by the fire to reveal a dead monkey. Joe explains that there’s been some mistake. He is not the man that the woman expected. Furious, she orders him out. He pauses as he recognizes her as Norma Desmond. “You used to be in pictures. You used to be big.”

"I am big..."
Paramount Pictures
“I am big.” Norma barks, “It’s’ the pictures that got small.”

Joe finds himself quickly embroiled in Norma’s dusty Baroque world of memories and creative rambling. Once a great silent film star, she hasn’t worked in decades—seemingly forgotten by her once adoring public. Norma proposes that Joe help her with the screenplay that would mark her triumphant return (she hates the word, “comeback”) to the screen. Joe agrees. Little does he realize that he’d soon find himself living in Norma’s house and becoming the object of her affections.

Norma's New Year's Seduction
Paramount Pictures
At first, Joe tries to extricate himself from Norma and her peculiar butler, Max, but soon he begins to grow accustomed to the opulent lifestyle she can offer him. In fact, he grows rather fond of her—almost protective. Yet, after evenings spent with the “Waxworks”—Norma’s collection of other silent film stars (played by real greats of the silent screen), and Norma’s increasingly jealous and controlling behavior, Joe flees the mansion on New Year’s Eve just as Norma declares her intentions. Norma attempts suicide, and Joe returns, thus beginning their affair.

Paramount Pictures
What follows is one of the most fascinating films ever created. Sunset Boulevard was a triumph—headed by writer/director Billy Wilder whose bitter criticism of the film industry was readily apparent in the film. He was considered a traitor by fellow directors and performers. In casting the film, Wilder went through many different ideas of actresses to play Norma Desmond—including Mae West. Finally, he cast Gloria Swanson whose own life eerily mirrored that of Norma’s in many ways. The set was filled with pictures of Swanson which must have been rather surreal for her—especially since she had begun working alongside Erich Von Stroheim who was to play her companion and servant, Max Von Mayerling—a former silent film director. Von Stroheim was actually a director who worked with Swanson on the film Queen Kelly which marked the beginning of the end of Swanson’s career.

Holden and Swanson
Paramount Pictures
For the role of the young writer, Joseph Gillis, Wilder initially wanted Montgomery Clift. Clift accepted the part, but then backed out of the film. Clift had a habit of backing out of big name films for peculiar reasons all of his own. He would grow to regret the decision. Instead, the part went to William Holden whose career was also in a downward swing. Sunset Boulevard served to resurrect his career. Though quite different in acting style and appearance than Montgomery Clift, Holden brings a masculine quality to the role of Joe Gillis which works quite nicely against Norma’s histrionics.

Real-life Hollywood greats of the twenties and thirties appear as themselves in the film including C.B. DeMille, Anna Q. Nillson, H.B, Warner, Buster Keaton and Hedda Hopper. Wilder labored over the film—changing the introduction (set in a morgue) after the sequence elicited unintended snickers from a preview audience. The result—though widely panned by Hollywood insiders at the time—is now considered one of the greatest cinematic masterpieces ever created.

"All right, Mr. DeMille.  I'm ready for my close-up."
Paramount Pictures
With a dramatic, Baroque set, equally dramatic score by Franz Waxman, riveting performances, cutting-edge camera work and a truly shocking script, Sunset Boulevard will always remain on the list of the finest films (especially among Film Noir) ever made.

The film has influenced many art forms and had been an inspiration to actors and writers alike.  A musical version by Andrew Lloyd-Webber was praised by Billy Wilder for its faithfulness to his original work.  Enjoy this clip from one of the first trailers for Sunset Boulevard