Saturday, December 11, 2010

Painting of the Day: “The Highland Lassie,” by Sir Edwin Landseer, 1850

The Highland Lassie
Sir Edwin Landseer, 1850
The Royal Collection
After their first visit to Balmoral in 1848, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert fell in love with the beauty of Scotland.  Before they established a royal residence at Balmoral in 1852, Queen Victoria took every opportunity to remind her husband of the happy times they spent at Balmoral.  In 1850, Queen Victoria commissioned one of the her favorite painters, Sir Edwin Landseer, to create an idealized Scottish scene to give to Prince Albert for Christmas.  The result was this stunning picture of a young lady with two deer set against a majestic Scottish landscape.  Thrilled with the painting, Prince Albert displayed it proudly.  I can only imagine that seeing this bucolic scene every day probably further encouraged Prince Albert to actively pursue the lease on Balmoral. 

Toys of the Belle Époque: William Terry Bear, 1905-1908

Mohair Bear
William Terry, 1905-1908
The Museum of Childhood
The Victoria & Albert Museum
English toymaker William Terry began his business in 1890 and found moderate success with his line of stuffed animals made from real animal fur. However, his first commercial triumph was a stuffed, mohair-covered, replica of King Edward VII’s beloved terrier, Caesar. From 1909 onward, due to the success of the Ceasar toy, Terry’s company used the trademark, Terry’er Toys.

Another popular stuffed toy, as always, was the bear. During World War I, when Britain banned the import of German products, British toymakers began to thrive with the production of their own stuffed bears. This bear by William Terry is one of the earliest known English “Teddy Bears.” Made between 1905 and 1908 from shaggy mohair and stuffed with wood wool and kapok, this doll set the standard for British toy bears. With glass eyes, a sharply humped back, webbed claws and stitched nose and mouth, this bear was copied many times by a variety of toymakers.

Today, he lives in the Museum of Childhood at the Victoria & Albert Museum. We know his name is “Ted” and that he was the loyal companion of a boy who was born in 1894. This bear is remarkable in that it predates the creation of the brand Terry’er Toys and shows not only one of Terry’s earliest attempts at creating a mohair toy, but also represents the most influential introduction of a stuffed bear into the world of English toy-making.

At the Music Hall, “Silver Threads Among the Gold,” 1873

Darling, I am growing old,
Silver threads among the gold,
Shine upon my brow today,
Life is fading fast away.
But, my darling, you will be, will be
Always young and fair to me,
Yes, my darling, you will be
Always young and fair to me.

Composer H.P. Danke had penned a song which he felt needed lyrics. He contacted Eben E. Rexford—a popular poet and author of “home and garden” magazine articles. Rexford looked through a collection of poetry he had written as a teenager and found a verse about growing older. Danke felt that the poem suited his song well. Copyrighted in 1873, Silver Threads Among the Gold became an instant success with a popularity that endured for many decades.

A sentimental favorite, the song was a staple of the American music hall, later finding its way into the repertoires of popular singers such as John MacCormack, Bing Crosby, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others.

Saturday Sparkle: The Garter Bar Brooch, 1838

The Garter Bar Pin
Rundell, Bridge & Co., 1838
The Royal Collection
On the occasions that Queen Victoria wore her garter insignia, very often, she would attach the garter, its accompanying star and “The Lesser George” to her gown via this bar pin.  The ten diamonds may have been part of a different piece prior to 1838.  This pin was supplied to the queen en suite with the garter insignia in 1838.  Sparkling brightly above the deep blue of the garter, ribbon, this bar pin was an elegant way to anchor the symbols of her reign. 

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 119

Robert clamped his hands on Julian’s shoulders and looked Mr. Punch in the eyes. “No.”

“No?” Mr. Punch raised Julian’s eyebrows.

“There will be no trade.” Robert said firmly.

“Chum…” Mr. Punch began.

“No!” Robert repeated, his voice becoming hoarse with emotion. “No.”

“I can get away from her. See, I got a wiliness what Naasir don’t. She’ll take me, she will—that ogress. She’d be happy to have me ‘stead of Naasir. You and Cecil can take him away—take him to safety, and I’ll find a way out before she can do somethin’ to me.”

“Out of the question.” Robert said, his hands still grasping Julian’s shoulders.

“Chum, don’t you see?” Mr. Punch asked.

“Do you remember what I told you on the ship?” Robert said slowly.

“You said a lot of things on the ship,” Mr. Punch smiled. “Some of them I wasn’t ‘round for, some of ‘em, I was. Can’t ‘xpect me to remember all of ‘em.”

“When we met?” Robert responded patiently. “When we met again on the ship?”

“Said that you understood me.” Mr. Punch answered, his smile fading. “Said you knew me.”

“What am I to you, Mr. Punch?” Robert asked, his eyes growing moist.

“You’re me chum.” Mr. Punch whispered.

“I’m your champion.” Robert said, swallowing hard. “Now, listen to me, dear Punch. For whatever reason—and, I don’t wholly understand it myself—I’ve decided that above all else, your safety is my priority. I’ve sworn to you—I’ve sworn my loyalty. I’m here to protect you, and I hope to…I hope…oh, I don’t know. I hope we’re around each other for many years to come—all three of us, Julian, you and me. And, all of the things that go with it—Toby and your puppet and our family.”

“In me master’s house in Belgravia…walkin’ to Covent Garden to see the other Mr. Punchs and eatin’ Turkish Delight from a paper cone.” Mr. Punch mumbled.

A group of rowdy men bumped into them as they passed by.

“Watch yourselves!” Cecil spat.

The men laughed as they stumbled past.

“All of that, Mr. Punch.” Robert said sternly. “Now, do you seriously think that I’m going to let you offer yourself to Iolanthe Evangeline in exchange for Naasir?”

“But, we gotta think of Naasir, too, we do.” Mr. Punch argued. “Hasn’t he been a champion to both of us? Hasn’t he protected us—all of us? Adrienne and Cecil and Fuller and you and me and me master? Even Marjani. He saved me from killin’ Arthur. He pulled me from that fire—riskin’ his own soul and knowin’ that one day he’ll die in a fire. He did that for us. He’s been loyal, too. Don’t we owe him the same?”

“We do.” Robert nodded, releasing his grip on Mr. Punch. “And, we’ll see to it that he’s safe and that he returns with us—but, not at the cost of your own safety!”

“My brother is correct.” Cecil interrupted. “You’ve got an obligation, Mr. Punch. We promised Adrienne and Fuller that all three of us would return to her—with Naasir. Can you imagine how heartbroken she’d be if you didn’t come back?”

“But, I will come back.” Mr. Punch said quickly.

“And, what of Fuller?” Cecil continued. “How would we explain to him that his Uncles Punch and Julian were not to return?”

“Think of Julian,” Robert added, “You’ve spent the last thirty years protecting him. Would you sacrifice that now? You’re the keeper of his body.”

“He’d want me to be brave.” Mr. Punch frowned.

“And brave you are—and brave you shall continue to be, but with us. Not alone.” Robert sighed. “You have an obligation to all of us.” He repeated. “And, especially to me.”

“It’s difficult, it is,” Mr. Punch said, Julian’s shoulders sagging in defeat. “How do ya make choices?”

“You’ve got to remember all of the consequences.” Robert said.

“It’s something that all of us have a hard time remembering.” Cecil said softly. “Recall, if you will when you and Robert stopped me from seeking out Iolanthe last night. I wasn’t thinking clearly. If I’d gone off on my own with a false sense of justice, I’d have only made things worse. By offering yourself to Iolanthe, you’d only be doing the same thing.”

“I understand what you’re sayin’.” Punch nodded. “But, I…there’s so much what I don’t understand. Why do folk like Iolanthe and me master’s sister and the Duchess and Agnes Rittenhouse…why do they gotta take from everyone? Why do they gotta make everyone suffer?”

“They have their reasons.” Robert said. “They’re not good reasons, but they justify their actions. It’s our choice to stay on our own course.”

Mr. Punch took a deep breath. “Fine, then. We’ll do this together, we will. But, we gotta hurry.”

“Let’s go, then.” Robert said. He paused and looked at Mr. Punch. “Thank you. You are brave, Mr. Punch. You’re the bravest man in many ways. And, before you argue—you are a man. You’re no longer a puppet-man. You are, simply, a man.”

Mr. Punch nodded.

“Come, we’re almost there, I think.” Cecil said. “We must hurry.”

“Almost there,” Punch mumbled. “Always almost there.”

At that very moment, Iolanthe laughed wildly as she pulled Barbara Allen down the stairs into the dark room where she’d had Naasir held captive.

“You’re hurting me!” Barbara cried.

“Not so it would leave marks. A girl with bruises ain’t gonna be very popular with my guests.” Iolanthe smirked.

She unlocked the door and threw Barbara in the room. Naasir rose from his knees and stared at the spectacle before him, squinting as the light from the torches in the hallway entered the room.

“Good evening, beautiful one.” Naasir said gently.

Barbara didn’t answer.

Iolanthe grabbed a long rope which was coiled around a hook on the wall and tossed it at Barbara. It hit her with a hard sting and she yelped.

“Tie him up.” Iolanthe ordered.

“Tie…?” Barbara whimpered.

“Bind him!” Iolanthe shouted.

Barbara looked at Naasir who nodded.

“The boys will be here in a moment with my son. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve seen him?”

For a moment, Barbara remembered her own son—the baby she’d bound in a sack and carried secretly onto the ship. The child which she had carried inside her, only to bring into the world to treat like rubbish.

“Stop standing there like a statue!” Iolanthe screamed.

Barbara picked up the rope and walked slowly toward Naasir.

Iolanthe laughed. “When I first saw you, Priest, I thought you were a threat to me. Little did I know at the time that you would be my salvation. How foolish I was to let you intimidate me. How could I have doubted my own power?”

Barbara wound the rope around Naasir’s hands. He did not struggle.

“When I return, I expect him to be properly bound.” Iolanthe said, walking toward the door. “Then, we shall begin.” She paused and smiled at Barbara. “I must thank you, Miss Allen. Your interference in Marionneaux actually turned out to be a blessing to me. Had my initial orders been carried out, we would not be here now, and I would not have this chance to correct the hideousness which I myself created.”

“I don’t understand,” Barbara sobbed.

“I don’t care.” Iolanthe grinned. “And, I don’t want you thinkin’ that I do.” With that, she slammed the door shut behind her as she left.

Barbara dropped the rope. “She aims to kill you,” Barbara said quickly. “She didn’t lock the door. Now’s your chance.” She unwound the rope from Naasir’s hands.

“She’ll destroy you.” Naasir said. “Do as she says. I know my destiny.”

“Idiot!” Barbara spat, “We create our own destinies.” She moaned. “Listen to me, I’ve done awful things. Terrible things. But, now is my chance. I’ll help you and you can help me. We’ll both leave here. All you need to do is help me get my mother. She’s upstairs. Iolanthe has drained her life, but we can carry her out. You can go back to my brother, and I’ll find Arthur and we’ll leave here—we’ll go…somewhere else, I don’t know. Just help me!”

“It’s too late,” Naasir shook his head.

“It isn’t!” Barbara cried. “Don’t you understand? I’m sorry for what I’ve done. I’ve been wrong. I wish to repent.”

“It’s too late,” Naasir repeated. “I cannot help you. I will not. My loyalty is to the Great Man of the Rocks. I do this for him. He has a far greater battle to fight than this. Do you really think, beautiful one, that I would aid in freeing his enemies.”

“I’m not his enemy!” Barbara said. “I’m his sister. And, that woman upstairs—for all of her cruelty—is his mother!”

“Bind my hands, Barbara Allen.” Naasir smiled. “Embrace the punishment you so rightly deserve.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-118? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, December 13 for Chapter 120 of Punch’s Cousin.

Ornament of the Day: A Piece of Cake

Our Christmas trees don’t need to be monochromatic, regimented displays of plain colored balls. They should represent the things that make your life more joyful throughout the rest of the year. Family photos, personal items and ornaments that remind you of the things you love should be displayed with pride on your Christmas tree.

My Christmas trees show a library of life. Items collected throughout my life have a place on my trees as do souvenirs from travels, and objects which reflect my passions. Any of you who’ve been reading since the start of Stalking the Belle Époque, might have guessed that I’m a fan of baked goods. So, it was only appropriate that I should be given an ornament shaped like a slice of cake. This glass piece of cake makes me smile—not only remembering my fondness for pastry, but also remembering from whom the ornament came.

Object of the Day: An Antique Cake Stand

With the introduction of pressed glass in 1825, working class families could enjoy the look of the sparkling cut glass and crystal objects reserved for upper class households at a fraction of the price. By the beginning of the Victorian era, pressed glass objects were readily available to add some luster to the tables and sideboards of almost any home.

Many pressed glass items remain today and can be found in antique stores. Take, for instance, this pressed glass cake stand which dates to the late Nineteenth Century and which most likely heralds from England. Can you imagine the variety of delicious treats that have been proudly displayed on this attractive stand?

If you’re a collector of pressed glass objects, you should feel free to display them in your home. This cake stand, for example, doesn’t need to only come out when there’s a cake to cut. It can act as a pedestal for another object. A smart vase of flowers would look quite attractive resting on this gleaming stand. During Christmastime, filling the stand with colored ornaments would be an interesting and sophisticated way to dress a table for the holiday.

Pressed glass items are sturdy and were made to be used and enjoyed. So, let’s use them! If you happen to find some reasonably priced pressed glass in a local antique store, rescue it. You’ll be surprised at just how versatile they are.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pets of the Belle Époque: “Dot and Cairnach, Skye Terriers” by Otto Weber, 1874

Dot and Cairnach, Skye Terriers
Otto Weber, 1874
The Royal Collection
Royal Academician Otto Weber was appointed portrait painter to The Royal Family in the 1870’s by Queen Victoria. Being as Victoria considered the royal pets to be as much a part of the family as anyone else, she commissioned Weber to paint portraits of her dogs, too.

This 1874 portrait shows two Skye Terriers who lived amongst the other dogs in the royal household. Known as Dot and Cairnach, these spirited companions were known to frolic through the corridors in typical terrier fashion. This wasn’t Cairnach’s first time posing for a portrait. He had previously been painted by Sir Edwin Landseer on several occasions and served as a great source of inspiration for the artist who used the terrier’s visage in quite a few masterpieces.

Curiously, one of Landseer's portraits of Cairnach dates to 1842.  This leads us to believe that unless Cairnach lived to be over thirty-two years old (which would have been quite grand!), the earlier paintings of Cairnach show a different terrier with the same name.  The 1842 round portrait was a Christmas gift to Queen Victoria from Prince Albert.

Sir Edwin Landseer, 1842
The Royal Collection

Friday Fun: Santa Claus, Punch and Judy, 1948

I’ve held off on posting this for months for various reasons. This edited down version of the 1948 short film, Santa Claus, Punch and Judy omits the rather unnerving Santa Claus bit and some other politically incorrect business and focuses on the performance of famed American Punch Professor George Prentice who is credited with keeping Mr. Punch and his chums vital and relevant throughout the 1930’s and 40’s. Here, you can see some new characters of Prentice’s own creation. There’s a particularly belligerent monkey, and Mr. Punch has some rare interaction with a cat. Prentice very cleverly incorporated popular songs of the day into his show while keeping Mr. Punch’s spirit close to that of his predecessors.

And, so, I give you, Santa Claus, Punch and Judy (minus Santa, but plus one monkey).

Mr. Punch in the Arts: Mr. Punch and Father Christmas, 1878

An Arduous Quest
Joseph Swain, 1878
Punch Magazine
Heritage Images
This engraving by artist Joseph Swain from the December, 1878 edition of Punch Magazine is entitled, “An Arduous Quest.” Here, we see Mr. Punch (looking quite tall), with his terrier, Toby, as they happen upon Father Christmas. Mr. Punch asks, “What are you looking for, Father?” Father Christmas, holding his torch aloft, replies, “Peace on Earth, and Goodwill Toward Men!” The light of Father Christmas’ lamp does not reveal what he seeks, but rather, the words, “War, Failures, Commercial Depression, and Distress.”

One hundred thirty-two years later, Father Christmas is still looking for the same things, and still finding the same. However, as long as we have Mr. Punch to ask the question, perhaps, the next time any of us faces “An Arduous Quest,” we’ll find something better.

Antique Image of the Day: A Royal Christmas Card, 1938

Christmas Card with Marcus Adams' Portrait of
The Royal Family at Buckingham Palace
December 20, 1938
Pictured: Princess Elizabeth, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth,
and Princess Margaret
The Royal Collection
During the reign of King George VI, the Royal Family’s favored photographer was Marcus Adams. Adams was often employed to take the photograph that was used on the official Christmas card of the Royal Family.

Such was the case with this 1938 Christmas card which was signed, “Bertie, Elizabeth, Lilibet and Margaret." The card is dated 1939.

The photograph, taken two years into the reign of George VI, was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth. Looking at this with modern eyes is interesting. “Bertie” is King George VI whose name was actually Albert Frederick Arthur George. “Elizabeth”’ is his wife, the woman most of us have known as “The Queen Mother.” Margaret is, obviously, Princess Margaret. And, “Lilibet” is Princess Elizabeth who is now Queen Elizabeth II.

To see such a personal greeting from the Royal Family is most unusual, and, then to see them looking so happy is quite a treat. Of course, now, the most interesting thing about this card is the image of a teenaged Queen Elizabeth II—looking hearty and carefree. It reminds us that all families are basically the same at heart.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 118

Ulrika Rittenhouse pushed her way through the throngs of merrymakers which lined the streets of the French Quarter. The cold night air stung her face through her veil and she cursed as drunken men stumbled into her path. Growling when a pink-faced man pinched her, she pushed him aside and walked briskly toward an open space in the crowd. Panting, she paused and looked behind her. Arthur limped toward her.

“Hurry up, you fool!” She shouted.

Arthur staggered forward. “Where’s Barbara? Are we going to find Barbara?”

“No, idiot!” Ulrika spat. “Listen to me. You will help me find Lord Fallbridge and his companions. Did you hear nothing? Have you no idea where they were going?”

“I can’t very well hear through walls, can I?” Arthur answered flatly.

“Useless.” Ulrika muttered.

“I did hear some of the men say something about Iolanthe’s girl—Mala. Seems she came by the house where Lord Julian and the others are staying. Got his valet to go with her.”

Ulrika raised her hand as she intended to slap Arthur across the face. She stopped herself and, instead, lifted her veil. Frowning she gazed at Arthur whose face went pale. He stepped backward.

“Don’t fear me, Arthur,” Ulrika grinned finally. “We are going to see Barbara, after all.”

Meanwhile, Cecil, Robert and Mr. Punch hurried toward Jouette Street.

“Are you sure this is the way?” Cecil asked, picking up his pace to keep up with Robert.

“This is the way I went when I followed Punch and Naasir here the last time.” Robert answered.

Mr. Punch frowned and bit Julian’s lip. He stopped in his tracks.

Robert noticed that Punch wasn’t keeping up with them. He, too stopped and gently touched Cecil’s arm so that he would pause.

“Dear Punch, is something troubling you?” Robert asked.

“Here,” Mr. Punch said softly, “this ain’t no pantomime, it isn’t.” He drew in a deep breath. “This is real. Can’t just charge in and start slappin’ folk with a stick—knowin’ that the man beneath ya is goin’ to make sure it comes out all right in the end. We ain’t got no one hidden below—makin’ us move. Ain’t no professor this time. We’re in charge of what we’re doin’. Can’t rely on no one to make sure it works out right in the end.”

“You’re correct, Punch,” Robert nodded, “we have to ensure that when this is finished, we are the victors. We’re in control of what we do.”

“So, what are we doin’?” Mr. Punch asked. “Ain’t you two always talkin’ ‘bout makin’ plans? What’s the plan, then? Are we gonna charge into that monster’s house and demand she give Naasir back to us? She won’t do that. We gotta think ‘bout what we’re doin’.”

Cecil grunted, “Demanding that Naasir be returned to us is rather what we’d planned to do.”

“Do ya think that’ll happen?” Mr. Punch shook Julian’s head.

“I…I don’t know.” Cecil shrugged. “But, it’s all we can do.”

“She ain’t a woman what does what she’d told.” Punch sighed. “She’s the kind of person who only gives when she’s getting’ somethin’ better in return. Like a trade.”

“We’re talking about human lives,” Cecil frowned.

“She don’t care nothin’ ‘bout lives.” Mr. Punch responded. “She puts no stock in the value of a life beyond what good it is to her.”

“I’m prepared to pay for Naasir,” Cecil said. “It’s undignified for him, but I’m willing to pay for his release.”

“She don’t want your money.” Mr. Punch grumbled. “She’s got money. She wants somethin’ more, she does.”

“Such as?” Robert asked.

“Me.” Mr. Punch said plainly. “Offer her a trade—me for Naasir.”

At that very moment, Barbara Allen met Iolanthe in the sitting room which adjoined the ogress’ bed chamber.

“You called for me, Miss Iolanthe?” Barbara said obsequiously.

“I did.” Iolanthe grinned.

“Is my mother still here?” Barbara asked cautiously.

“Never mind about that,” Iolanthe answered. “Tell me, how did you enjoy your first day of work?”

Barbara’s shoulders sagged.

“That much?” Iolanthe laughed. “You’ll get used to it. Mala tells me you done entertained five gentlemen today. I knew you’d be worth your weight. Now, you rest. Ain’t no use you getting lines on your pretty face all in one day. I gotta treat for you. Something right special.”

“Is Arthur here?” Barbara asked eagerly.

“No, honey, this ain’t no place for husbands.” Iolanthe laughed. “I’ve got something better for you.”

“Oh.” Barbara frowned.

“Don’t look so sad, honey.” Iolanthe smiled. “This is going to be a lot of fun. You remember when you were in Marionneaux and you stopped Leon from burning that priest that works for your lunatic brother?”

“I do.” Barbara said softly.

“Well, honey, why’d you do that?”

“I didn’t…I…it didn’t seem right. I may be a lot of things, but I didn’t see the point of killing an innocent man.”

“And didn’t you think I’d find out, honey?” Iolanthe continued to smile. “I always find out. I don’t want you thinkin’ that I don’t.”

“I wasn’t thinking about you at the time.” Barbara whispered.

“You’re gonna have to learn to always think about Miss Iolanthe,” The ogress winked. “First and above all else. Haven’t I helped you, honey?”

“Yes.” Barbara nodded weakly.

“Didn’t you think maybe I had a reason for wanting that man to burn?”

“What reason could you have?” Barbara asked. “How could the life of my brother’s servant mean anything to you?”

“You’re about to find out, Miss Allen.” Iolanthe chuckled. “But, first, I got a present for you. Come with me.”

Iolanthe took Barbara’s hands and led her to the bedchamber.

“Open the door.”

Barbara nervously did as instructed. Her face fell when she saw her mother’s lifeless body on the bed—pale and drained.

“Mother!” Barbara shrieked. “Is she…”

“Dead?” Iolanthe smiled. “Not quite.”

“What have you done to her?” Barbara shouted.

“I didn’t do anything to her except what she was meant for.”

“You’re talking nonsense!” Barbara said, rushing to her mother’s side.

“She’ll live, honey.” Iolanthe laughed. “And, so will my son.”

“Your son?”

“Yes, but there’s one thing we gotta do first. And, you’re gonna do it for me. See, you gotta put right what you stopped. You gotta make it right for me. Then, I’ll reward you. I’ll let you go see your husband. And, when you do, you can get that diamond for me, and we’ll forget all about this nasty business.”

“What do you want me to do?” Barbara asked anxiously.

“Gonna need you to start a fire.” Iolanthe winked.

Did you miss Chapters 1-117? If so, you can read them here.

Ornament of the Day: A Musical Hound

Long ago, I played the clarinet.  I gave it up for vanity.  The fear that it would make my teeth crooked outweighed my love of music.  I suppose I was always meant for other artistic pursuits.  My love of canines (dogs, not teeth) and clarinets has been recorded with this porcelain Christmas ornament, given to me by my parents over twenty years ago.  A very pensive hound dog plays the clarinet (or a recorder), while his expressive eyes tell the tale of whatever song he might be performing.  While I’ve not picked up an instrument in decades, this ornament is music enough for any Christmas. 

Object of the Day: A Pair of Victorian Murano Glass Vases

Long known for their masterful art glass creations, the glass blowers of Murano, Italy, are heralded for their handling of colored glass. In England, during the reign of Queen Victoria, Murano glass became the height of fashion and was collected for its brilliant color and exquisite workmanship.

Contrary to popular belief, Victorian households embraced bright colors and sought to incorporate brilliant hues into home décor. This pair of small Murano glass vases is testament to that. Swirls of cadmium yellow and white engulf these classically shaped budvases. Their bold hue is further heightened by raised crimson beads and hand-painted pink flowers surrounded by gilt leaves and tendrils. There’s nothing sedate whatsoever about these vases. In fact, they’re a brave shock of color in even the darkest of rooms.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gem of the Week: Tanzanite

An extremely rare tanzanite brooch designed by
Jean Schlumberger for Tiffany & Co.
Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry
Discovered in a Tanzanian mine in 1967, Tanzanite is a variant of the mineral zoisite. At first, incorrectly identified as a host of other gemstones, Tanzanite was finally correctly classified when geologist John Saul sent a sample of the stone to his father, Hyman Saul. The elder Saul was vice president of Saks Fifth Avenue and brought the stone to the Gemological Institute of America for identification.

Tiffany and Co. learned of this newly discovered gem and wished to create a line of jewelry featuring the brilliant stone whose colors ranged from blue to red to violet depending on the light. Executives at Tiffany and Co., however, weren’t too keen on its name, blue zoisite, thinking that it could be mistaken for the words, “Blue Suicide.” They renamed the gem, “Tanzanite” for the purposes of marketing, and the name was officially adopted for this unusual and rare stone.

Tanzanite is mainly found in Tanzania, though some veins have been found in other areas. The rarity of natural tanzanite makes it extremely valuable. This is one stone whose value is not affected by being color enhanced or treated. All tanzanite is heat treated to enhance the blue color in the naturally red-purple natural stone. Since it is universally heat-treated, the value is not diminished by human interference.

Tanzanite was recently adopted as one of the primary birthstones for December.

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Present

"I hope you saved the receipt."

Image: The Present, Alfred Stevens, 1866-1871, The National Gallery, Britain

Mastery of Design: A Bejeweled Sculpture by Fabergé, 1896-1903

Cockatoo in a Cage
Tiger's Eye,  Diamonds,
Gold, Silver
The Royal Collection
The Royal Aviary was a tranquil and lovely place and was often frequented by members of The Royal Family who were, for the most part, animal lovers. Inspired by the cockatoo in the Royal Aviary, King Edward VII commissioned artist Michael Perchin to design a sculpture of a cockatoo in a gold cage as a gift for Queen Alexandra. Designed by Perchin and crafted by the masters of Fabergé, this precious ornament features a very realistic cockatoo of Tiger’s Eye Quartz and rose-cut diamonds in a cage of gold and silver.

Such items were a specialty of the House of Fabergé. King Edward VII collected many such objects during his life, sometimes giving them as gifts, and more often, keeping them for himself.

Unfolding Pictures: The Christmas Fan, 1881

The Christmas Fan, 1881
Presented to Alexandra, Princess of Wales
from Queen Victoria.
The Royal Collection
Queen Victoria was very particular when choosing Christmas gifts for those close to her. Instead of letting members of her staff select presents, she made sure to do it herself. This fan was a gift from the queen to Princess Alexandra of Wales, wife of Victoria’s son and the woman who would one day be the queen consort to Edward VII. Queen Victoria commissioned celebrated painter Alice Loch to paint an elegant scene of holly, mistletoe and Christmas roses on a pale green silk leaf. Pleased with the painting, Victoria had the leaf mounted on mother-of-pearl sticks by her favorite fan-makers, Develleroy’s of London. This gorgeous gift was presented to Princess Alexandra on Christmas Eve, 1881.

The pale palette of the painting blends harmoniously with the mother-of-pearl sticks and guards and is accented by a silver clasp with a mother of pearl head. Princess Alexandra was so pleased with the fan that it’s rumored she used it even after the Christmas season had ended.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 117

Naasir squinted in the dim light of the dusty room into which Mala had led him.

“You’re to wait here.” Mala croaked.

“Of course,” Naasir nodded.

“Miss Iolanthe says I should make sure you’re comfortable. That’s what she says. Says I should give you whatever you want to eat. What you want?”

“I don’t care for anything, thank you.” Naasir said softly.

“No,” Mala shook her head, “you gotta have somethin’. Them’s my orders.”

“I don’t care for anything, thank you.” Naasir repeated.

“Gotta eat somethin’. Miss Iolanthe said.” Mala barked. “I’ll bring ya some chicken. Nice, fine chicken. You’ll like that.”

“If you insist.”

“You like the whisky?” Mala asked.

“No.” Naasir shook his head.

“You’re gonna have some.” Mala answered sharply. She paused and looked sympathetically at Naasir. “Listen, honey, it ain’t gonna be too bad. It’ll be over before you know it. Then, you’ll be free.”

“I’m already free.” Naasir replied quietly.

“You’re an odd one.” Mala grumbled. “Tried to be nice…” She scratched her hip, and walked away, locking the door behind her.

Naasir stood stiffly in the room and looked around. Even in the dim light, he knew where he was. It was the very same room—the dusty chamber with the low, wicked altar—that he’d been locked in before. This time, a long casket leaned against the farthest wall.

“My resting place…” Naasir sighed. “As it is written.”

He dropped to his knees and looked to the ceiling. “I do this for you, Great Man of the Rocks. I do this so that you may triumph. It is my destiny. I am not afraid.”

Meanwhile, two floors above him—atop the muffled laughter and hideous groans of the other inhabitants of the house, Iolanthe sat on her bed next to the limp body of The Duchess of Fallbridge. She sat cross-legged with a bowl of deep red liquid in her lap.

Grinning at the Duchess’ slack face, she cooed, “You’re gonna get your strength back. Just think of this as your atonement. Can’t spill blood without spillin’ a little of your own. I know. I don’t want you thinkin’ I don’t.”

Mala knocked on the door and entered without waiting for a response.

“I got him.” Mala said plainly. “Just as you said.”

“Did he struggle?”

“No.” Mala shook her head. “Came along like we was goin’ for an evenin’ stroll.”

“I’ll say this for the man,” Iolanthe laughed, “he’s cooperative.”

“Miss Iolanthe, ain’t my place, but do it quick.”

“It ain’t your place.” Iolanhe frowned. “Get out.”

“Yes, Miss.” Mala nodded.

“Feed the priest, as I instructed.”

“Already workin’ in it.” Mala replied curtly, scratching herself again as she walked out.

Once Mala had exited, Iolanthe grimaced and looked toward the Duchess. “She’s right. I should do it quick. Not for the sake of kindness—that ain’t my business—but because I know your lunatic son and his companions will be knockin’ soon enough.” She laughed, “Speakin’ of your offspring, I wonder how your sweet daughter has enjoyed her first day of work. Maybe she’d like a little rest. Yes, a nice little rest by the fire.”

At that very moment, Ulrika Rittenhouse met Arthur at a seedy tavern in the French Quarter. She wore a veil over her face, but the thin material wasn’t enough to mask her anger. “What’s taken you so long?”

“Don’t know my way,” Arthur responded blankly, still dazed from the St. Dymphna’s Root.

“Where are they?” Ulrika hissed.

“They’re leavin’. Goin’ out. Had their cloaks on an’ all. I had to leave less they saw me.”

“Where are they goin’?” Ulrika’s eyes widened.

“Don’t know.” Arthur shrugged. “Where’s Barbara?”

“Never you mind about Barbara!” Ulrika snapped. “You’re mine now. Barbara’s not your concern. I am!” She wrung her hands together, “You fool! You should have followed them.”

“You told me to come to you. I obeyed.” Arthur answered flatly.

“Must I do everything myself?” Ulrika grumbled. “Where could they be going?”

At the house on Royal Street, Adrienne grabbed her husband’s arm. “Cecil, mon cher,j'aime pas cela. C'est trop dangereux. Pourquoi ne pas envoyer l'un des serviteurs? Si vous allez à la chambre de Iolanthe, il y a aucune façon, vous aurez jamais revenir à moi. Pensez à votre bébé!”

“Adrienne, n'ont aucune crainte. Je vais retourner comme M. Punch et Robert. Iolanthe n'est pas de menace à tous les trois d'entre nous. Nous ne pouvons pas très bien laisser Naasir souffrir sa colère. Je le promets. Je reviendrai à vous et à nos enfant. Peut-être, je vais revenir triomphant.” Cecil responded reassuringly.

“Adrienne has a point,” Robert said. “Perhaps it is too dangerous.”

“Dangerous or not,” Mr. Punch said quickly. “We can’t let her hurt Naasir. We can’t! The man’s been nothin’ but loyal to all of us. This’ll be the third time she’s tried to hurt him.”

“We don’t even know that Iolanthe’s got him.” Adrienne cried.

“Where else could he be?” Mr. Punch said gently. “The other men saw him talking to an ugly girl and he went with her. They knew the girl, they did. They knew she was that little goblin what works for Iolanthe. The ogress has got the notion that our Naasir is some kind of threat to her. Course she wants to destroy him! And, in doin’ so, she thinks it makes getting’ to us all the easier. We gotta help him, we do.”

Adrienne sobbed. “It’s a trap. She wants to ensare the three of you, and then, she’ll come for me and Fuller. She’ll sell Fuller just as she did Barbara’s child. And, she’ll finally get revenge for my leaving and for Cecil…”

“My dear, we’ll be careful.” Cecil said, hugging his wife. “Now, honestly, don’t you trust us to return to you safely?”

“I trust you, my dear.” Adrienne said. “I trust all of you. It’s Iolanthe I don’t trust. Listen to me, she’s already gotten to the Duchess. Didn’t we all imagine that Her Grace was indomitable? Yet, we could tell by the way she spoke that she’d been with Iolanthe. Three good hearts are much easier to break than one wicked heart.”

“Or could it be that three good hearts got more power than what’s in one wicked one?” Mr. Punch smiled. “And, besides, we got a fourth…Naasir. Together, we’ll beat the devil.”

“I don’t know.” Adrienne wiped her eyes. “I wish…oh, I don’t know. We should have gone to England. All of us. We should have packed everything up and left here.”

“What’s it that Naasir’s always sayin’? Talkin’ ‘bout destiny an’ such. Well, it seems that this is our destiny. I don’t think we could do nothin’ to change it even if we tried. If we ran away, it would only follow us. So, isn’t it better to face it head on?” Mr. Punch said gently.

“I simply don’t know.” Adrienne began to cry again.

“My dear,” Cecil began, “the longer we wait, the more dangerous it becomes. Now, you go get Fuller and keep Marjani and Columbia company. She’ll be a comfort to you. And, you to her.”

Adrienne kissed her husband. “I love you.”

“And, I love you, darling.” Adrienne smiled.

“And, the two of you…” Adrienne began nervously. “You two are my brothers—more so than my own ever were. You will not deprive your nephew the pleasure of growing up without the influence of two such fine men. You will not. I don’t care if we have to beg and starve on the streets, we’ll be together. I demand it.”

“We’ll return.” Robert nodded.

“With Naasir.” Mr. Punch added.

“Go on, then.” Adrienne said. “Before I change my mind.” With that, she hurried off—sobbing—down the corridor.

“We’d best hurry,” Cecil said quickly.

Mr. Punch paused and looked around the house.

“Are you well, Mr. Punch?” Robert asked.

“I’m just lookin’.” Punch nodded. “So, I can remember this as it was—before it all changes.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-116? If so, you can read them here.

Ornament of the Day: A Miniature Chandelier

Anyone who has ever visited my home knows of my fondness for chandeliers.  When I ran out of ceilings, it was only fitting that I should have a chandelier to hang from the Christmas tree.  This miniature chandelier is crafted from glittering, resin-coated wire and features shimmering prisms. It’s an unexpected sight on the Christmas tree and catches the tree’s lights charmingly.  Of course, each year, when I hand it upon the tree, it’s only appropriate that I hum a chorus of that perennial, cheerful Christmas favorite…

Object of the Day: A Glittering Celluloid Comb

We’ve examined several celluloid combs here at Stalking the Belle Époque.  One of my favorites in my collection is this elegant comb featuring citrine-colored rhinestones.  This comb marks a transition of styles.  Earlier Victorian combs were lower and wider.  This comb shows the Edwardian trend toward narrower, longer combs which would sit higher on a lady’s head.  A comb such as this one would have almost exclusively been worn in the evening.  Such a hair ornament would have been the finishing touch to a lady’s ensemble, adding a bit of sparkle to an upswept coiffure. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Precious Time: The Sunflower Clock, 1752

The Sunflower Clock, 1752-1820
Vincennes and others
The Royal Collection
This curious clock is said to have once belonged to Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of French King Louis XV though that can’t truly be verified. It is, however, decidedly French in origin.

A porcelain vase which is painted with romantic scenes and adorned with sculpted insects has been filled with a bouquet of china flowers (held aloft on green wire stems). The central flower is a disguised clock-face with the hands cleverly mounted in the middle of a great sunflower. The clock’s case was created by the porcelain-makers, Vincennes.

British King George IV acquired this peculiar timepiece in France in 1819 while he was still Prince Regent. Upon bringing the clock to England, he had it altered rather dramatically. Twin handles of gilt serpents were added, a base with flanking branch candelabra was attached to the urn and a variety of new porcelain flowers were incorporated into the display. Not only that, but much of the original work by Vincennes was covered-over with jewels. No one’s quite sure why these changes were made, except for the fact that styles change with time.

Building of the Week: Rhodes Hall, Atlanta Georgia

Rhodes Hall, 1904
The Georgia Trust
Atlanta’s Rhodes Hall, also known as the “Castle on Peachtree Street,” is considered by Georgians to be the finest example of Belle Époque architecture in the state. Built in 1904 for furniture magnate Amos Rhodes, the Romanesque Revival mansion was the crown jewel of Peachtree Street during an era when the wealthy competed for prominence.

Rhodes Hall today
The Georgia Trust
With its imposing walls and turrets of granite from Georgia’s famed Stone Mountain, the house puts one in mind of a European castle. In fact, this is just what Amos Rhodes wanted. After he and his wife visited Europe in the 1890’s, they were terribly impressed by the architecture they saw. Rhodes hired celebrated architect Willis F. Denny II to create a castle for his family—specifically in the Romanesque style. Denny, however, noted that Romanesque Revival was starting to become out of vogue. So, he created a unique style of his own heavily influenced by late Victorian trends, with its roots in the Romanesque. The result was a mansion which became the envy of everyone on Peachtree Street.

One of the Original Light Fixtures
The Georgia Trust
The interior of the house was wired for electric light during construction. Over three hundred light fixtures illuminated the mansion with an unprecedented brightness. The walls were upholstered in specially designed silk damask surrounded by opulent mahogany moldings and the ceilings were hand-painted with frescoes. The centerpiece of the mansion was the sweeping mahogany staircase surrounded by painted glass windows which featured scenes and portraits of The Civil War.

In 1927, upon the death of Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes, their children gave the house (and one of its original 114 acres) to the state of Georgia with the stipulation that it only be used for “historical purposes.” And, it was—mostly. From 1930-1965, the mansion served as the State Archives. During this time period, the house was stripped of its wall coverings and the magnificent staircase was removed and taken to be stored in another facility.

The Grand Staircase
The Georgia Trust
By 1983, the mansion was in a bad state of repair when it was taken over by The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. The GTHP began restoring the house to its original grandeur. By 1990, the original staircase and painted windows had been returned to their rightful homes, replicas of the frescoes were expertly painted on the ceilings, original light fixtures were returned and the ornate woodwork was stripped of many layers of pain and restored to their original finishes. For awhile, the house was used as a “Haunted House” during many a Halloween. Thankfully, that tradition has been stopped. Now, the house functions as a museum and gathering space, allowing it to proudly flaunt its original beauty.

The restored parlor
The Georgia Trust
For more information about Rhodes Hall, visit the Georgia Trust Web site. The house was also featured recently on SyFy’s Ghost Hunters. The episode airs again tonight, Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 8:00 P.M. Eastern Time. Just be forewarned that there's an unfortunate appearance by "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" which is, frankly, more chilling than anything spectral the investigators might have found in the house.

Painting of the Day: Adoration of the Kings, Pieter Coek van Aelst, 1530

Adoration of the Kings
Pieter Coek van Aelst, 1530
Acquired by Prince Albert
The Royal Collection
One of Prince Albert’s primary duties was overseeing the daily workings of the royal residences. Upon their arrival at the newly-finished Buckingham Palace, they found the structure insufficient in many ways. Prince Albert saw to it that a private chapel was added to the palace and then set about filling it with religious artwork in the two styles which most appealed to himself and Queen Victoria—the works of Italian and Dutch painters.

This painting of the Adoration of the Kings comes from Dutch artist Pieter Coek can Aelst who studied in Rome, thereby bringing both Dutch and Italian sensibilities to his work. This jewel from 1530 was hung in a place of prominence in the private chapel. Prince Albert was particularly fond of the painting because he liked the symbolic setting. The background of a ruined palace artistically represented the shift from the Old Testament to the New, but also seemed a fitting metaphor for one of the Prince’s chief occupations.

Unusual Artifacts: Queen Victoria’s Charm Bracelet, 1840

"Locket" Bracelet
Gold Enamel Hair
Presented to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert
November 24, 1840
The Royal Collection
We know, of course, that one of Prince Albert’s greatest joys was giving jewelry to Queen Victoria. He’d often create reasons to present her with tokens of his affection. However, in 1840, a definite reason presented itself with the birth of their first child, Victoria, the Princess Royal.

Three days after the birth of Victoria, on November 24, 1840, Prince Albert presented his wife with this simple chain bracelet engraved with the date. Hanging from the bracelet was a heart-shaped gold locket, adorned with bright enamel. The locket contained a lock of their first child’s hair. Prince Albert added an enameled locket to the bracelet on the event of the birth of each of their subsequent children—each containing a lock of the infant’s hair.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 116

I’m comin’, Honey. Don’t cry no more, Chil’. Your mama’s comin’.” Marjani muttered in her sleep. “Don’t cry. Ain’t gonna be no pain no more.”

She awoke with a start and looked around the room with wild eyes. “Where am I? Where’s Columbia?”

Naasir smiled at the woman. “You’re in New Orleans, Marjani. Columbia’s quite safe. She’s with Mrs. Halifax, playing with Fuller and Mr. Punch. You collapsed. Dr. and Mr. Halifax brought you back to the servants’ hall. You’ve got your own room and everything. They figured that you’d have argued if they brought you upstairs.”

Marjani tried to get up from the narrow bed. “They was right.”

“What are you doing?” Naasir asked.

“I gotta go get my girl. Ain’t no way I’m stayin’ here and puttin’ those nice gentlefolk out like this.”

“No, you’re not.” Naasir responded gently. “You’re under strict orders from Dr. Halifax to stay right where you are. The doctor says you’re quite exhausted and need to rest. Meridian will bring you your supper shortly.”

“Supper?” Marjani asked. “How long I been sleepin’ here?”

“Several hours.” Naasir said softly.

“You been here the whole time?” Marjani asked.

“I have.” Naasir nodded. “Dr. Halifax asked me to watch over you.”

“I don’t need watchin’,” Marjani frowned. “But, I thank you for doin’ it.”

“You’re quite exhausted. You’ve been through a terrible ordeal. Now, you’ve got to rest. If not for you, then for your granddaughter. What good would it be to her for you to get yourself sick from exhaustion?”

“She needs me.” Marjani said.

“She needs you to be well.” Naasir grinned. “Besides, she’s perfectly content in the parlor. Mr. Punch and Toby are entertaining the children with a little puppet show.”

Marjani chuckled. “Strange, beautiful man.”

“He’s the Great Man.” Naasir nodded. “Which reminds me…you’ve got to rest so you can fulfill your destiny. You’re as much of a part of this battle as I am.”

“I know.” Marjani sighed. “But, I done fought so many battles.”

“And, you’ll fight so many more.” Naasir answered seriously.

“You’re a strange man, too, Naasir.” Marjani said, leaning back on the pillow—resolved to the fact that she needed rest.

“I am.” Naasir smiled.

“Tell me about yourself,” Marjani said. “You’re so different from your brother. Cephas ain’t a thing like you. He’s rough—kind, but rough.”

“Cephas was taken from my family when he was small. Even then he had a strong back and shoulders. I was weaker. It was both a blessing and a curse. It meant that I wouldn’t make good trade, so, it protected me from being taken—nameless—on a ship to a strange land. I was put in service when I was quite young. My mother had no choice. But, I was free and the English were kind to me. I had the freedom to learn. Cephas never got that chance. The great tragedy of it haunts me. He could have been a fine gentleman, my brother. Instead, he’s a pair of hands and a sweating brow

“He’s happy enough. Hannah’s made him a fine wife. He don’t want for nothin’.” Marjani shook her head.

“He doesn’t want because he doesn’t know what he’s lost.” Naasir sighed. “That, at least, is something of a kindness.”

“You’ve been all over the world?” Marjani asked.

“I have.” Naasir nodded. “I’ve seen many beautiful things. People and colors…”

“Colors.” Marjani smiled slightly. “That’s my great love. I done get lost in colors. I make them, you know—colors from the earth and I put them on cloth so that those fine white ladies can swaddle themselves in all of God’s colors. It’s my way of making the world for myself. Makin’ the world come alive and move all around us.”

“Then, that’s what you must do.” Naasir said firmly. “You must deal in life and not dwell in death.”

“But, I gotta dwell in death. Someone’s gotta nurse poor sick folk like…like my baby…”

“Can’t you do both?” Naasir smiled. “Can’t you achieve what so many of us seek? Balance—a perfect balance.”

“I done never thought like that.” Marjani yawned.

“You must rest now.” Naasir patted Marjani’s hand. “I will leave you to sleep. I’ll return with Meridian soon to check on you.”

“I don’t like lyin’ ‘round like this.” Marjani said quickly. “It ain’t my nature to be idle.”

“Idleness and tiredness are vastly different things. You must allow your body to repair itself so you can carry out your important work.”

Marjani yawned again. “I reckon you’re correct.”

“Rest well,” Naasir said.

“Thank you,” Marjani curled up on the bed.

Naasir left and walked across the yard to the main house. As he did, he heard a voice from the street. A truly homely woman limped along, crying in pain. Naasir recognized her immediately. How could anyone forget such a tragic face? She was Mala—the woman who had ushered him into Iolanthe Evangeline’s house so many days before.

“Oh…oh…I can’t walk no more.” Mala cried.

Naasir walked to her and gently addressed her. “Are you in pain?”

“Terrible awful,” Mala grunted.

Naasir narrowed his eyes. “And, so, it has come to pass—as it was written.”

“What?” Mala croaked.

“I shall escort you home, Miss.” Naasir sighed.

Meanwhile, in the house, Mr. Punch whooped with glee as he performed a puppet show for Columbia and Fuller—as well as Robert, Cecil and Adrienne.

“Now, now, Mr. Toby,” Punch exclaimed, whipping the puppet upward in a quick motion. “You can’t have me sausages.”

Toby wagged his tail and barked—unaware that he was performing in a show and, rather, thinking he was playing a game with Mr. Punch.

“Try as you might,” Mr. Punch continued. “Those sausages are mine! What say you, little girl?” He looked to Columbia. “Should I share me sausages with this little dog?”

“Yes!” Columbia said—her shyness gone—as she clapped her hands.

“Oh, I don’t know.” Mr. Punch grinned. “I’m going to need me sausages. Awful hungry, I am!”

“You should share them, Mr. Punch!” Columbia called out.

“Should I, then!” Mr. Punch said shaking the puppet’s head. “But, what if this little dog doesn’t share? What if he wants to eat all me sausages?”

“Then you should let him.” Columbia said. “If he wants the sausages, you should let him have them. You can always get more, but he can’t.”

“That’s the way to do it!” Mr. Punch cooed.

Columbia clapped her hands as did baby Fuller.

“And, so,” Mr. Punch smiled, letting the puppet rest in his lap, “The wooden-headed Mr. Punch shared his sausages with the little dog because a smart young lady told him he ought to. And, the dog was happy and Mr. Punch was happy because he did somethin’ good for a change. The end.”

Columbia rushed toward Mr. Punch and looked with fascination at his puppet. “Can I see him?”

“Dunno,” Mr. Punch frowned. He raised Julian’s eyebrows. “You’ll be kind to him, will ya? Talk to him nice and treat him gentle?”

“I will.” Columbia said innocently.

“Fine, then,” Mr. Punch handed the puppet to Columbia. “But, he’s mine. I’ll want him back.”

Robert chuckled to himself.

“I’ll be good to him, Mr. Punch.” Columbia smiled.

“You got only a few minutes.” Mr. Punch winked.

Columbia sat cross-legged on the floor with Toby and the puppet. She muttered softly to the wooden figure.

Mr. Punch grinned. “I say, that is the way to do it. She’s a fine young lady, that one.”

“What a brilliant show, dear Punch,” Robert slapped his friend on the back.

“Here, I ‘spose that’s one thing I know how to do well—being a Mr. Punch meself.”

“You do many things well.” Robert smiled.

Meridian entered the parlor and announced, “Your supper will be ready in just a few ticks of the clock.”

“Here!” Mr. Punch rubbed Julian’s stomach. “And not a minute too soon.” He looked seriously at Meridian for a moment. “How’s Marjani?”

“She’s resting.” Meridian answered. “I just brought her a tray. Poor thing.”

“Naasir, too?” Mr. Punch asked. “Though I’ve not seen him eat never, don’t mean that he don’t. Did you bring him a tray, too?”

“I did.” Meridian nodded. “But, he’s not there. Don’t know where he went.”

“He must be somewhere in the house.” Cecil said, tilting his head.

“I done looked everywhere, Mr. Halifax. Prob’ly went out for a walk.” Meridian said, wiping her hands on her apron. “Now, I gotta go make sure everythin’s nice and hot for ya.”

“It’s not like Naasir to leave without telling us.” Cecil grumbled.

“No,” Robert shook his head. “It isn’t.”

Adrienne began to look worried. “Perhaps the three of you should go look for him.”

Mr. Punch closed his eyes. “I got a feelin’ I know where he is.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-115? If so, you can read them here.

Ornament of the Day: “Peace on Earth”

Given to me in the mid-1980’s, this large glass ornament represents the earth.  A work of frosted and clear glass, the continents are clearly designed in this hand-blown globe.  The globe is surmounted by a patinated copper ribbon with the repousse message, “Peace on Earth”.  Topped by three copper holly leaves and three bells, this ornament is as attractive as it is meaningful.  This is a message we should try to spread throughout the entire year. 

Object of the Day: World Weight by Lundberg Studios

We’ve previously looked at crystal paperweights by California’s celebrated glassmakers, Lundberg Studios.  Aside from their marine-themed, floral and abstract designs in everything from paperweights to vases, Lundberg Studios’ most enduring design is their famous World Weight.  Available in a variety of sizes,  the Earth has been carefully recreated in topographic detail in this series of crystal paperweights.  We see our planet in brilliant blues, rich browns and greens veiled by a layer of clouds and atmosphere.  At once both monumental and tranquil, the World Weight reminds us of our relative insignificance in the universe as well as the necessity to try to make a difference in our world culture. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Belle Époque Today: The Art of Bill Jacklin, RA

Broadway Encounter III
Bill Jacklin, RA
Royal Academician Bill Jacklin began his painting career in the 1960’s--focused primarily on abstraction.  In the 1970’s the artist began to show more of a figurative approach to his painting and demonstrated a masterful ability to convey a sense of motion through light.  With numerous important commissions to his credit, in 1985, Jacklin left England for New York where he continues to paint scenes of urban life—capturing fleeting moments of great drama which he manages to convey through his superb handling of light and shadow.  For more information about this excellent artist, visit his Web site.

Film of the Week: The Man Who Came to Dinner, 1942

In 1939, the celebrated writing team of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart were looking for a vehicle for their friend, Alexander Woolcott—a writer, critic and general media personality known for his sour disposition and cutting wit. Kaufman and Hart tried several different ideas, but none of them seemed to work. One day, Woolcott arrived unexpectedly at the lavish Bucks County estate of Moss Hart and his wife, Kitty Carlisle. Woolcott wasted no time in being as unpleasant as possible, complaining about everything, commandeering the master bedroom and living up to his reputation as a dyspeptic tyrant. Upon leaving, he wrote in their guest book, “This is to certify that I had one of the most unpleasant times I ever spent.” Later, as Hart and Carlisle recounted their ordeal to George S. Kaufman, Kaufman responded that they should count their blessings that he didn’t break his leg and have to stay. An idea was born.

George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart
The New York Times
Kaufman and Hart wrote The Man Who Came to Dinner with Alexander Woolcott in mind. The story centers around a famous radio personality—Sheridan Whiteside—who travels to Mesalia, Ohio on his lecture tour. As part of his schedule, he’s to have dinner at the home of wealthy Mr. and Mrs. Stanley. Whiteside is not at all pleased about this. Traveling with him is his long suffering secretary, Maggie Cutler. When Whiteside falls on the ice outside of the Stanley’s stately home, he’s forced to stay in the household which he quickly proceeds to tear apart. During their extended visit, Maggie meets and falls in love with a young newspaper man. Sheridan Whiteside doesn’t much care for change and enlists the help of his famous friends to separate the young couple. Among Whiteside’s friends are Beverly Carlton (based on Noel Coward), Lorraine Sheldon (based on Gertrude Lawrence) and Banjo (based on Harpo Marx). Those three characters are an homage to friends of both Kaufman and Hart.

The play opened at The Music Box Theater in New York to rave reviews. Curiously, Alexander Woolcott wasn’t available to play the part which had been created for him (however, he did eventually play Whiteside on the West Coast). Monty Woolley was cast as the irascible Sheridan Whiteside—the role which rocketed him to stardom. Kitty Carlisle was slated to play Maggie. In later productions, Harpo Marx would join the cast, making one of his few speaking appearances as he played the part that he had inspired.

Monty Woolley, Bette Davis and Ann Sheridan
Warner Brothers
In 1942, after seeing the New York production of the play, Bette Davis pressured Jack Warner to purchase the rights to the picture for Warner Brothers. She wanted to play a softer, comedic role to balance the heavy performances she’d given in The Little Foxes and Now, Voyager. Of course, Bette got her wish—but, not entirely. She was cast as Maggie Cutler, but who was to be her Sheridan Whiteside?

Davis wanted desperately for John Barrymore to play the role of Sheridan Whiteside in the screen version. Barrymore was tested, and, in some records shown as even having been hired for the part, but proved that his years of heavy drinking had taken a toll on his memory. Barrymore couldn’t recall his lines, and when he did, he was unable to keep up with the fast comedic pace of the dialogue. He wouldn’t do. Bette fumed! Monty Woolley was quickly brought in to reprise the role he’d made famous on the stage. After that, Bette Davis lost interest in the production and pouted a bit, even delaying filming for many days due to “an injury to her nose.”

"Maggie" and "Beverly Carlton"
Warner Brothers
 Despite Miss Davis’ ire, the film was a huge success and is still one of the greatest comedic films ever produced. Joining Woolley and Davis are Ann Sheridan as “Lorraine Sheldon,” Jimmy Durante as “Banjo,” Richard Travis as Maggie’s love interest (Bertram Jefferson), Reginald Gardiner as “Beverly Carlton,” Billie Burke as Mrs. Stanley, Mary Wickes as Whiteside’s nurse and Grant Mitchell as Mr. Stanley.

While some of the dialogue was softened for the film version, the picture retains all of the sharpness of Kaufman and Hart’s original play. It’s a fast-paced, feverish romp. While you may not be able to absorb all of it in one viewing, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth in laughs. This is a film that only improves the more you watch it.

Wooley, Sheridan and Durante
Warner Brothers
Here’s the trailer for the film. As is often the case with Warner Brother’s trailers of the 1940’s, it’s quite deceptive and doesn’t reflect the picture very much.