Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saturday Sparkle: The Williamson Diamond Brooch

The Williamson Diamond Brooch
Pink and White Diamonds
Cartier, 1952
The Royal Collection
Some consider the central stone in this brooch to be the finest pink diamond in the world.  Certainly when it was mined, it was, and probably ties with the Graff Pink for that honor now.  Weighing 23.6 carats, the diamond was found in Tanzania by geologist Dr. John Williamson who presented the diamond to Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) as a wedding gift in 1947.  In 1948, the diamond was cut by London’s Briefel and Lemer.  Longing to wear the diamond, Queen Elizabeth II commissioned Frederick Mew of Cartier to create a fitting setting for the pink sparkler in 1952.  The result was this unique brooch which remains in Her Majesty’s private jewel collection. 

Masterpiece of the Week: Frogmore House, 1857

Frogmore House:
The Duchess of Kent's Sitting Room
James Roberts, 1857
The Royal Collection
Long a Royal residence and one-time home of Queen Charlotte, Frogmore House is mostly remembered as being the home of Queen Victoria’s mother, The Duchess of Kent, who occupied the mansion for twenty-years.

Queen Victoria often employed favorite painters to render scenes of the interiors of the family homes. James Roberts was commissioned to capture The Duchess of Kent’s sitting room in Frogmore House. The Duchess can be seen in the picture, sitting with Victoria’s beloved dog, Boz. This painting was completed just after the Duchess of Kent had finished the redecoration of Frogmore House. Lilac walls and red carpets comprised her decoration of this, her favorite room. The Duchess retained many of Queen Charlotte’s antique furnishings, but chose to hang her own collection of paintings on the walls. Prominent in the scene are portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert—without whose support the opulent décor would not have been possible.

Toys of the Belle Époque: Amy Miles’ Dolls House, 1890

Queen Mary wasn’t the only person to own an opulent dolls’ house. A young lady named Amy Miles’ owned this highly-detailed model which was built for her in 1890. The toymaker took great pains to make sure the house was as up-to-date as any real home in London. With electricity, a telephone, a carpet sweeper and running hot and cold water, this dolls’ house is a fairly accurate representation of the technology and standard of living of a well-to-do London family of the period.

The house features a billiards room, a nursery and formal reception rooms which were modeled on the Miles family home. At one point, there was even an artists’ studio set-up in the attic above the bathroom, however this was lost when the house was damaged during World War II. The Miles family loaned the dolls’ house to the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1915, making a gift of the house in 1921.

Here’s a Quicktime video of the second floor parlor of the dolls’ house which gives you a sense of the proportion of the rooms. It’s quite interesting, if not mildly disturbing, since it loops and the dolls just go on and on and on forever.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 125

Robert shook his head and took one more deep breath of cold air before returning to the house. He paused as he opened the door and thought, “You should be home by now, Punch. What’s happened.” He walked inside, still shaking his head.

As he passed by the parlor, Adrienne called to him.

“Robert,” Adrienne said, “Might we bother you for a moment?”

“Of course,” Robert mumbled, “but, I do need to return to Naasir.”

“I know,” Adrienne said softly, “but, will you help us convince Nellie that she should stay the night.”

“I appreciate you askin’.” Nellie argued. “You know I can’t do it.”

“We can’t let you go back.” Adrienne said firmly. “Can we, Robert?”

“Go back where?” Robert asked, squinting.

“To Iolanthe Evangeline’s.” Cecil explained.

“Is that where you’re from?” Robert raised his eyebrows.

“Oh, so now you’re going to judge me?” Nellie bellowed, “Mr. High and Mighty Doctor!”

“Of course not,” Robert sighed. “I’m the last person to judge anyone. To be honest, I wasn’t thinking of you just now.”

“Thanks ever so much,” Nellie frowned.

“When I heard Iolanthe mentioned,” Robert continued, ignoring Nellie’s sarcasm, “to be honest, I was thinking of my companion.”

“Ah,” Nellie nodded. “I’m beginning to understand. This Julian fella…Mr. Punch, as you call him.”

“He’s at Iolanthe’s right now—trying to help someone.”

“Good luck with that,” Nellie smirked.

Robert turned to Adrienne. “My dear sister-in-law, if this young lady wants to return to her…” He stammered. “Her…home, well, then, we can’t stop her.”

“She came to us for help. She wants to be free from Iolanthe. Robert, you know very well that we can’t send her back there.” Adrienne argued.

“I think we can.” Robert said firmly. “And, should. And, furthermore I think Cecil should escort her there.”

At that very moment, Mr. Punch cringed as the footsteps in the next room grew closer.

He bent over Mala again and patted her face. “Now, you poor little gargoyle, open your eyes. Mr. Punch’s gotta get outta here, he does. Come on, then. Only hit ya with a lamp and didn’t hit ya hard.” He patted her face again. “Listen, I had a whole stable fall on me and I lived.” He grunted, looking frantically around the room.

For a moment, he considered rolling Mala under the bed, but thought better of it.

“Poor little thing. Ain’t your fault you’re mean and ugly.” He muttered.

“Julian…” the Duchess moaned again.

“Quiet, you bleedin’ nuisance.” Mr. Punch whispered. “Me chums were right, they were. I shoulda left ya here, but, no, I had to come and rescue you cuz you’re me master’s mum. ‘Spose it were the best thing to do. Still, I hadn’t counted on hitting the little goblin.”

Punch heard the rattle of the door handle.

He leaned over Mala. “Had to go skulkin’ ‘round, didn’t ya? Makin’ trouble for Mr. Punch!” He pressed his lips together and thought. “Cripes, better stop talkin’.”

Mr. Punch stooped behind the side of the bed farthest from the door as it opened and peered up, trying to hide behind the folds of the Duchess’ skirts.

“It’s no good, Julian.” Barbara said as she hurried into the room, “I can see your maniac eyes. If that weren’t enough I heard you talking to yourself. You’ve got to hurry, Iolanthe will be up here any minute now and she’s wild with anger. You must…” She stopped when she saw Mala lying on the floor.

Barbara shook her head. “What have you done now?”

“Hit her with a lamp.” Punch said, standing up. “Wasn’t plannin’ to do it or nothing’. She grabbed for me, she did, when I was tryin’ to carry yer mum out. Just habit, I guess, to hit somethin’ what bothers me. Didn’t even know who it was, ‘til after it were done.”

“I do wish you’d talk like a gentleman, Julian.” Barbara sighed.

“Said the whore.” Mr. Punch frowned.

Barbara scowled and knelt down beside Mala, checking the woman’ s pulse.

“Did I kill her?” Mr. Punch gulped.

“No.” Barbara sighed. “More’s the pity. She’s a hateful creature. You’ve just stunned her. I will deal with this, you take Mother and be gone.”

“You sure?” Mr. Punch said. “You can come, too, you know. Ain’t gonna let you in me house. Not gonna let yer mum in me house neither. I’ll put you both somewhere safe.”

“Julian, she’s your mother, too.”

“I ain’t gonna argue with you,” Mr. Punch said. “You comin’ ‘r not?”

“There’s no time. Just take Mother and go.” Barbara spat.

“Listen, Barbara,” Mr. Punch began. “I remember when you were a little girl and Julian would sit with you on his knee. It were me what sang songs to ya. You remember?”

Barbara shook her head. “I almost feel pity for you. You are terribly ill. Aren’t you?”

“Not ‘specially. I got a home and folk what love me. What have you got? A job on yer back and a murderous husband what carries on with other women. I’d say I were the healthier o’ the two of us. But, you can be well, too. Come with me, let’s forget that I don’t like you much. Let’s forget what awful things ya done and come away. You can go off on yer own, you can. Change yer name again and be somethin’ new. You done it before. Why not again?”

Mala began to sputter as her eyes fluttered.

“Julian,” Barbara said quickly. “You must go now!”

Mr. Punch frowned. “You had yer chance, you did.” He rose and picked up the Duchess who moaned loudly as she tried to put her arm around Julian’s neck.

“Here, Your Grace, I don’t think you’re quite as weak as you let on. I think you’re playin’ this up. You got some heft to ya. Can’t see that losin’ some blood would knock you out so much.”

“I am weak,” the Duchess grumbled.

“Ah.” Mr. Punch grunted.

Without saying a word, he carried the Duchess into the adjoining dressing room and fumbled with the door to the passage. When he finally opened the door, his heart sank when he saw Iolanthe Evangeline on the other side. Her gown was stained with sweat and her usually perfect coiffure was disheveled, her false curls hanging precariously as if they might drop from her head at any moment.

Though her eyes were wild with rage, she spoke softly and slowly. “Are you stealin’ from me, mad Lord?” She stepped closer to Mr. Punch. “Are you? I don’t like when people steal from me. You and your folk already done stole from me once tonight. Took away my son’s chance to be like everyone else. Are you gonna steal this fine lady from me, too? I think that’s what you aim to do.”

“Step aside, Miss Evangeline.” Mr. Punch said firmly.

“No,” Iolanthe smiled eerily. “Not this time.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-124? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, December 20, 2010 for Chapter 126 of Punch’s Cousin.

Cookie of the Day: Luscious Lemon Squares

The combination of sweetness, tart lemon and delicate crust make these Lemon Squares a burst of summer flavor in the winter. Always a family favorite, we request these delectable cookies from my mother each year.

Her homemade crust becomes all the more tender beneath a custard-like topping of lemon and sugar. Baked to perfection and dusted with confectioner’s sugar, these cookies have a light, delightful flavor which warm the spirit even on the coldest of days.

Ornament of the Day: An Exceptional Egg

Since before I was born, my mother has created these beautiful ornaments from real eggs. By piercing an uncooked egg with a needle at both the top and the bottom, loosening the contents, and blowing them out, the eggs are emptied, and, then, dried. What remains is the hollowed shell which becomes stronger when it dries.

She then decorates the eggs with beads, sequins, rhinestones and ribbon to create these gorgeous ornaments. Their delicate beauty is the ideal adornment for the Christmas tree. This is one of my favorites. Magenta rhinestones, opalescent beads, faux pearls and gold ribbon form a pattern reminiscent of Eighteenth Century French designs. In this case, we know what came first…it was the egg.

Object of the Day: An Antique Pressed Glass Bowl

Antique pressed glass objects display much of the same shimmer and refractive qualities of costlier cut glass and crystal items. One of the advantages of pressed glass is that, while still fragile, it’s a little sturdier than its crystal counterparts.

I actually use my pressed glass pieces such as this bowl for their original purposes, however, they’re also decorative items which can be employed in your décor as accent pieces. This time of year, a bowl full of colored glass ornaments is a smart way to dress up a table or sideboard. Similarly, an arrangement of flowers and seasonal greenery would look smashing in a bowl such as this. These antiques have survived a long time and deserve to find good homes. If you happen upon an attractive pressed glass piece at a local antique store, you might consider purchasing it. You’ll find that not only are they attractive, they have many beautiful uses.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pets of the Belle Époque: “Beattie, A Lapland Dog Belonging to Queen Alexandra,” c. 1870

Beattie, A Lapland Dog Belonging to
Queen Alexandra
Jean-Edouard Lacretelle, 1870-1890
The Royal Collection
Like many members of the Royal Family before her, Queen Alexandra, consort of King Edward VII, had a fondness for dogs. One of her favorites was a handsome Lapland named Beattie who had been her canine companion prior to her husband’s ascension to the throne while Alexandra was still Princess of Wales.

Somewhere between 1870 and 1890, French artist Jean-Édouard Lacretelle (1817-1900) painted this beautiful portrait of Beattie looking quite noble and dignified. Whether Queen Alexandra was given this painting or commissioned it is unknown today, however, I’m sure that she cherished this reminder of her dear companion.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: The Designs of Hoolala’s Sam Gannaway-Jones

For my birthday earlier this week, my parents presented me with a beautiful pair of hand-made cufflinks designed by Sam Gannaway-Jones. The cufflinks are particularly special because they depict Mr. Punch and his wife Judy. Even better, they’re inspired by my favorite George Cruikshank illustrations of the perennially squabbling duo. As you can imagine, I was (and am) quite thrilled with them.

The cufflinks came in a lovely box, but they weren’t alone. Along with them came three wee envelopes—special gifts from Hoolala which were pleasant little surprises in and of themselves. This is, apparently, the Hoolala way of doing business. If only more people were as gracious.

Another of Hoolala's designs
Hoolala is the online storefront of the aforementioned designer Sam Gannaway-Jones who hand-makes her own line of exquisitely quirky and charming jewelry. Miss Jones’ inspiration comes from what she calls, the “mad, bad Victorians,” her family’s vintage photos and her grandmother’s charm bracelet. She says:

I am fascinated by the idea of the charm; in some cultures they are used to attract luck to the wearer whilst in others they are worn to ward off evil. My work centers around the idea of compulsion and repulsion, the morbid curiosity of the Victorians and my boxes of unusual treasures I have collected since childhood.

Well, I think that’s just splendid! My work centers around that, too.

Her work is exceptional. I would strongly recommend that you take some time to visit her Web site. Miss Gannaway-Jones is based in the U.K. My British readers will want to visit the UK version of her site. My non-U.K. readers should visit there, too. However, for ease of ordering, Miss Jones has a storefront on Etsy as well. The Etsy site has a vast array of her fascinating creations. Really, take a look! While you’re there, order something, too.

Friday Fun: Emanuele Luzzati’s “The Magic Flute,” 1978

We’ve looked at Emanuele Luzzati’s versions of Pulcinella on previous explorations of the colorful work of the talented artist, director and animator. One of his best known short films was 1978’s The Magic Flute set to the music from Mozart’s two-act opera.

As a stage director, Luzzati had mounted a lavish 1963 full-scale production of the opera and fell in love with the music and the story. His animated The Magic Flute, made fifteen years later, was met with glowing reviews and multiple awards. He followed the completion of the film with a children’s picture book that succinctly retells the story.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 124

Naasir didn’t make a sound as Robert carefully undressed him, trying to separate the charred clothing from the man’s burnt skin. Naasir must have been in terrible agony, but he did not flinch, nor utter a word.

Behind Robert, Marjani created a salve from herbs and oils over which she mumbled prayers—some of which were familiar to Robert, some of which were foreign and seemed to be in a language he could not recognize.

“Now, then, Naasir,” Robert whispered softly to the man who opened his eyes slightly and looked up pleadingly. “We’re going to help you.”

Naasir closed his eyes and let out a raspy breath.

“I have something here,” Robert said, reaching for his bag, “which will help you with your pain. I’m going to need you to open your mouth a bit. Can you do that for me?” Robert looked sympathetically at the man’s burnt and disfigured face.

Naasir did not open his mouth.

“It will help you,” Robert said. “It will make you sleep, and when you awake, the pain will be lessened.”

Naasir still did not open his mouth.

“Please, Naasir.” Robert said. “I don’t want you to suffer.”

“He’s afraid, Doctor,” Marjani whispered from behind Robert.

Robert turned to looked quizzically at Marjani.

“Can you make him understand that this will alleviate his pain?”

“It’s not the medicine he’s scared of,” Marjani shook her head.

“I don’t understand.”

“He’s scared that we angered the spirits—them forces that direct our fates. His destiny, he done tol’ me a dozen times, was to be burned to save The Great Man of the Rocks. He didn’t fulfill his destiny.”

“But, he was burned. That doesn’t make sense. We make our own destinies.”

“Do we?” Marjani smiled softly at Robert. “Listen, Honey, this man was gonna give up his spirit as a sacrifice. He didn’t do it. Now, he’s scared.”

“We had to save him.” Robert whispered. “We couldn’t just let him be murdered.”

“I’m not sayin’ you did wrong,” Marjani responded gently, “I’m jus’ tellin’ you what he feels.” Marjani patted her heart, “I know what he feels. I can hear him in my heart.”

“You must help me get through to him. Make him understand that we’ll help him.”

“I don’t know that he wants to be helped, Doctor.” Marjani sighed.

Robert grunted.

“Let me put some of this on him,” She lifted the bowl of salve. “I’ll talk with him for a spell. Why don’t you go an’ see ‘bout Mr. and Mrs. Halifax?”

“I’ll return in about ten minutes,” Robert nodded.

Robert walked into the main house, rubbing his neck with each step. He muttered to himself as he walked and was reminded of Mr. Punch and his nonstop chatter. “Why haven’t you returned to me yet?” Robert mumbled.

Entering the parlor, he squinted as he saw Cecil and Adrienne sitting with Nellie. He’d forgotten that Nellie was there. Her presence hadn’t registered with him when they’d come back with Naasir. Something about the woman, now that he’d noticed her, made him feel uneasy.

“Pardon me,” Robert said as he came into the room.

“How’s Naasir?” Cecil asked.

“Not well, I’m afraid.” Robert shook his head. “He’s terribly injured and he’s refusing any assistance. He won’t take anything to ease his suffering. I’ve left Marjani with him for a few minutes. At least she can put some poultice on his burns and, perhaps, talk to him—let him know that he doesn’t have to suffer.”

“I think it’s just terrible what Iolanthe done to him,” Nellie said. “But, I’m not surprised. I was just telling Adrienne and Mr. Halifax what sort of madness Iolanthe’s been about lately. I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced, Sir. My name is Nellie.”

Robert nodded. “I’m Robert Halifax.”

“My brother.” Cecil added.

“You’re a physician?” Nellie asked.

“I am.” Robert said plainly. He looked around the room, “I don’t suppose that…well, you’d have told me if Julian…”

“He’s not returned.” Adrienne interrupted, looking worried.

“I see.” Robert nodded slowly. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to step outside for a moment and take some air. It’s quite stuffy…” Robert’s words trailed off as he turned away.

“It was nice meeting you,” Nellie said quickly. “Even in these sad circumstances.”

“Yes,” Robert answered without turning around. “Thank you.”

When Robert had left the room, Nellie sighed. “Poor man. He’s worried about the servant…what’s his name?”

“Naasir.” Adrienne nodded. “Yes, he is. However, he’s also worried about someone else.”

“This Julian he mentioned?” Nellie asked. “Is he with the Mr. Punch you were talking about earlier?”

“No.” Cecil said. “Well, yes.” He shook his head. “Yes, I suppose they’re always together. They’re the same person. In a manner of speaking.”

Nellie looked confused.

“Let’s simply say that ‘Mr. Punch’ is an affectionate name that we have for His Lordship, Julian.” Cecil said quickly.

“Oh.” Nellie nodded. “Tell me, Mr. Halifax, is your brother married?”

“No.” Cecil chuckled.

Adrienne smiled.

“Did I say something amusing?” Nellie asked.

“No, Nellie.” Adrienne patted her friend’s hand. “But, if you’re looking for a husband, Robert wouldn’t be a good match for you.”

“Who said I was looking for a husband?” Nellie blinked her eyes quickly. “I was just asking a question. I see how happy you two are, I just thought…”

“You must be exhausted,” Adrienne interrupted. “Yet, we have much to discuss. You’ll stay here tonight. I’ll have Meridian make a room ready for you.”

“I couldn’t.” Nellie said, standing up. “If Miss Iolanthe finds me missing, she’ll kill me!”

“You’ve come here so that we can help you.” Adrienne said. “Having you return to that place will not aid in your freedom.”

“No, no…” Nellie shook her head violently. “I can’t. I have to go back!”

Meanwhile, Mr. Punch stood shaking in Iolanthe Evangeline’s bedroom. At his feet, lay the limp body of the tragically homely Mala.

“Oh, oh, oh,” Mr. Punch wrung his hands together as he peered over Mala’s body waiting for her to breathe. He looked to the floor next to Mala and saw the oil lamp with which he’d struck the woman when she snuck up behind him and grabbed him by the waist as he tried to carry the Duchess from the room.

His Punch-like instincts had kicked in. When he felt her hands on him, he gently lowered Her Grace back to the bed and quickly grabbed the first thing he could find to hit whoever was touching him.

“Oh, ugly girl,” Mr. Punch mumbled frantically. “Do get up, would ya? Breathe or somethin’. Didn’t mean to hurt ya. But, ya can’t go sneakin’ up on folk. Come on, little hobgoblin. Open yer eyes!”

“Julian,” the Duchess moaned from the bed.

“Wait a tick, Duchess.” Mr. Punch spat. “I’ll get ya out of here. But, I gotta see somethin’ first.”

Mr. Punch knelt down and patted Mala’s arm. “Come on, then, little hideous thing. Come on, open yer eyes for Mr. Punch. Can’t go grabbin’ at a person. You know you’re gonna get hit when you do that. Didn’t want to hit you.” Mr. Punch chattered. “Come on. Don’t be dead.”

Mr. Punch heard the door to the next room open and the sound of quick footsteps.

“What to do?” Mr. Punch stood quickly.

Did you miss Chapters 1-123? If so, you can read them here.

Cookie of the Day: French Butter Cookies

These delicate, tender, short cookies are rich and delicious. The key to baking them successfully is to use the best quality butter you can find. Since the cookies rely on butter for their flavor, employing the creamiest butter will only heighten their beauty.

The dough is made in logs which can be prepared in advance and refrigerated. The logs are rolled in turbinado sugar before slicing. My mother uses both turbinado sugar and large-grained colored sugar to achieve a festive effect for Christmas. Each cookie is sliced from the log and then pierced with a wooden skewer to produce four holes—resulting in the look of a large sparkling button. Imagine a crystal dish piled with these gorgeous cookies. They’re a delightful and elegant way to celebrate any holiday.

Ornament of the Day: An Egg in the Style of Fabergé

It’s tradition in my family to put a new Christmas ornament at each place setting at Thanksgiving. For several years, we each received ornaments in the style of The House of Fabergé. Even Bertie would get one though his were miniature versions of the ones we each received.

I was given this beautiful French-inspired ornament three years ago. It’s a particular favorite of mine. With its rich French blue and crème colors, accented by alizarin crimson and emerald green, and its heraldic laurel wreath pattern, it reminds me of the Fabergé pieces collected by England’s Royal Family during the Nineteenth Century. Accented by rhinestone’s in just the right places, this egg is an elegant adornment each Christmas.

Object of the Day: “The Esplanade at Versailles” by Robert J. Inness

We discovered the paintings of Robert J. Inness through his wife, Yvette Inness, a friend of my family who operates an excellent booth at Forestwood Antique Mall in Dallas. We quickly became enchanted by Mr. Inness’ remarkable talent, his brilliant use of color and his ability to capture the spirit of the places he depicts in his scenes.

Of the four Robert J. Inness paintings in my collection, two are quite large. One depicts Belgium’s beautiful Hôtel de Ville, the other is this monumental painting of the Esplanade at Versailles.

I was attracted to this painting initially for several reasons—the color palette, the subject matter and the composition. I love the fact that the majority of the canvas is comprised of this dramatic, misty sky which embraces the Palace of Versailles, putting the man-made beauty of the structure into perspective against the forces of nature. The organic feel of the composition is reinforced by the scurrying human figures—rushing about under their umbrellas in a manner which reminds me of the film, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. The Palace itself is almost abstracted, but Inness presents a realism through his cunning use of lighting which results in a depth and substance that humanizes the building while retaining its sense of grandeur.

Inness’ use of color is exceptional. Rich blues anchor the top and bottom of the canvas as the colors of the umbrellas provide a counterpoint to the slickness of the wet sheen of the ground. The esplanade slices through the canvas, reminding us both of the monumentality of the edifice and its place in history.

This is truly a stunning work of art, and one which I’m pleased to display in my home. If you’re ever in the Dallas area, I’d recommend a visit to Yvette. Not only is she a lovely person, but it’ll give you a chance to see some of Mr. Inness’ outstanding work.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mastery of Design: Prince Albert’s Walking Stick, 1840

The Royal
Upon the Christmas of 1840, Queen Victoria wrote in her journal that she’d presented Prince Albert with a beautiful, enameled walking stick to add to his collection. The Prince’s collection of sticks reflected his many interests—incorporating a wide range of styles and materials and coming from a variety of countries.

This walking stick features a shaft of Malacca cane mounted by an enameled grip which has been intricately inlaid with garnets, rubies, emeralds and turquoises. This walking stick set a fashionable trend for gentlemen of the period, resulting in the import of over 100,000 Malacca canes from China to London.

Unfolding Pictures: A Bejeweled Fan Depicting Bacchus and Ariadne, 1750

Fan Depicting Bacchus and Ariadne
Kid Leather Leaf: circa 1750
Gold, Diamonds, Emeralds, Pearls, Mother-of-Pearl
Silver Pin with diamond head.
The Royal Collection
The leaf of this fan—oil paint on kid leather—was painted circa 1750 and was traditionally described as a scene of the Christian warrior Rinaldo and the sorceress Armida. However, later, the scene was more appropriately interpreted as depicting the lovers Bacchus and Ariadne. According to Greek legend, the god Bacchus found Ariadne and immediately fell in love with her, proposing marriage. The fan’s leaf shows us his marriage proposal.

The fan originally was a gift from King William IV to his sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge. After the Duchess’ death in 1889, the fan was bequeathed to her granddaughter, Princess Mary of Teck (later Queen Mary). The beautifully painted fan with its mother-of-pearl sticks was a favorite of Queen Mary who had new guards added to the fan in the early Nineteenth Century. The new guards were crafted of gold and were adorned with diamonds, emeralds and pearls.

Upon becoming “Queen Mary,” in 1910, Her Majesty allowed the fan to be copied in full color to be used in the Christmas issue of The Gentlewoman. Mounted copies of the fan leaf were handed out to diners at London’s posh Savoy Hotel on New Year’s Eve to mark the hotel’s twenty-first anniversary. The box for each fan included the message:

The fan presented is a facsimile of the famous ‘Rinaldo’ fan on which is depicted a scene in the story of Rinaldo in the garden of Armida. The original is in the collection of Her Majesty The Queen, who has very graciously granted special permission for its reproduction. With compliments of the Savoy, New Year’s Eve, 1910-1911.

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Masquerade

"So, what are you?  Some kind of hippo or something?  Why aren't you pink?"

Image:  Exhibition of a Rhinoceros at Venice, Pietro Longhi, 1751, The National Gallery, London

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 123

Robert shook his head sternly. “Mr. Punch, climb into this carriage.”

“Chum,” Mr. Punch smiled helplessly. “You know I gotta do this.”

“We don’t have a minute to spare. We’ve got to get Naasir back to the house so that I can tend to him. His life is hanging in the balance.”

“I know.” Mr. Punch replied. “Take him. I’ll be along soon.”

“I won’t allow you to go back in there.” Robert responded firmly.

“Do be reasonable, Punch.” Cecil added. “Come along, now.”

“His mother’s in there—me master’s mum. Sure, she’s a beast. But, that don’t mean she’s gotta suffer at the hands of an even worse one.” Mr. Punch argued.

“She’s already lost, dear Punch.” Cecil said. “We’re not going to risk losing you to save her! Now, come up here!”

“No.” Punch said softly. “Listen, how many people told ya that yer mum was lost and that there weren’t nothin’ that could save her?”

“That’s entirely different!” Cecil snapped. “Our mother was kind to us. The Duchess of Fallbridge has never done a kind turn for anyone! To compare the two is insulting!”

“He’s not trying to insult us,” Robert sighed.

“I know.” Cecil grunted. “I’m sorry. It’s merely that it’s a sore subject.”

“Maybe there’s some hope for that woman up there.” Mr. Punch said. “Maybe this is the thing what she needed to make her realize that livin’ a life of cruelty just ain’t the way to do it. And, even if it’s not, would it be right to leave her to be tortured? Don’t everybody deserve a chance? I know that folk can change if they want to. Look at all I’ve learned while livin’ in Julian’s body. Don’t that woman deserve the chance to learn? It’s up to her if she don’t, but it ain’t up to me to take that chance away from her. She’s Julian’s mother for God’s sake! And, for that, in her own way, she’s me mother, too—though I hate to admit it. Without her, I’d have no body what I could live in. I’d be just another puppet.”

“Dear Punch,” Robert said quickly. “I can’t go back in with you. I’ve got to tend to Naasir.”

“I’ll go with him.” Cecil said, rising to climb down from the cab.

“No, Brother Chum.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “I thank you for it, but I gotta do this alone. You’re better to go with Robert and Naasir.”

“Driver!” Robert shouted. “To Royal Street. Before I change my mind.”

As the carriage clattered off, Robert looked over his shoulder at Mr. Punch and hoped that it wasn’t the last he’d see of him…or Julian.

Mr. Punch took a deep breath and, without knocking, walked into Iolanthe’s house. The entrance hall was strangely empty without Mala’s usual gargoyle presence. Punch could hear the sounds of the commotion which continued in the back as Iolanthe’s screaming and ranting persisted. He could hear Barbara Allen trying to reason with the woman.

Above him, the sounds of female laughter and the chatter of drunken men steered Mr. Punch toward the wide staircase which rose high against the velvet-covered back wall of the hall. Punch headed for the stairs and tried to recall the layout of the house. He knew he’d been in Iolanthe’s private rooms when she’d held him there. When was it? It seemed like years before, but it had only been days.

In the upstairs passage, Punch counted the doors. His nose itched from the smell of spirits and perfume and he cringed when he heard a faint howling further down the corridor. “Four doors, five doors. Where’s the turn?”

“There.” A narrow archway at the end of the passage seemed familiar to Mr. Punch and he turned sharply to the right, following a dim corridor to a door upon which the initial “E” had been floridly painted in gold.

Mr. Punch opened the door to the plush dressing room where Iolanthe had railed at him. To the right of the fireplace, another door was partially ajar, and through it, Punch could see the tall posts of a bed upon which a female figure was draped.

Punch entered the room.

“Your Grace?” Mr. Punch said.

The woman did not respond.

Punch walked closer and leaned over Julian’s’ mother. “Your Grace?”

She opened her eyes as a weak rush of air squeaked from her mouth. “Julian…”

“I’ve come to take ya from here, Your Grace.”

She squeaked again.

“Can you put your arm ‘round me neck?” Mr. Punch asked, bending over to lift the woman.

The Duchess tried to hold on, but didn’t have the strength.

“No matter,” Mr. Punch said softly, “I got ya anyway.”

Little did Mr. Punch know that Mala was lurking just behind him—her ghastly face pulled back into a terrifying grin.

Meanwhile, the carriage arrived at Dr. Biamenti’s fine house on Royal Street. Cecil and Robert carried Naasir—still wrapped in their cloaks—into the house.

They were surprised to see Adrienne sitting in the entrance hall with a woman they didn’t know. Adrienne gasped and rushed toward her husband and his brother.

“Mon Dieu! Ce qui est produit?” Adrienne cried.

“We didn’t get there soon enough.” Robert said softly. “Iolanthe’s burned him.”

“Est-il mort?” Adrienne asked—horrified.

“No. He’s alive, but barely.” Robert responded. “I want to take him to the servant’s hall. We’ll need to clear a room. I’ll need Marjani’s help? Is she much improved?”

“Yes, she’s quite well. All she needed was some sleep. She’s in her room with Meridian.” Adrienne answered. “Je ne peux pas croire! Je savais qu'elle était un monstre. Mais, cela? C'est inhumain!”

“I told ya!” Nellie said from the settee where she’d remained. “I told ya she’s more touched in the head than ever!”

“Who is this?” Cecil asked Adrienne softly, straining under Naasir’s weight.

“She’s Nellie. She’s…an old friend. I’ll explain later.” Adrienne said. “Nellie, pardon me, I’m going to help with Naasir. Do make yourself comfortable.”

“I’ll wait.” Nellie nodded.

As they hurried through the house, Adrienne said, “I’m going on ahead to get Marjani. Take Naasir to the room to the left of the kitchen. That one’s empty, and…”

Adrienne paused as Marjani came toward them.

“Holy Mother, he said it would happen,” Marjani gasped.

“I need your help, Marjani.” Robert said quickly.

Adrienne opened the door to the empty room. “We can put him here. I’ll…” She stopped. “Where’s Mr. Punch?”

Robert and Cecil glanced at one another as they gently placed Naasir on the bed.

“Robert, Où est cher M. Punch?” Adrienne asked again.

“He’ll be along shortly.” Robert answered vaguely.

“Tell me that he’s safe.” Adrienne gasped. “Me dire qu'il n'est pas avec ce monstre abominable!”

“He stayed behind to help The Duchess of Fallbridge.” Robert answered.

Adrienne turned to Cecil. “Comment pourriez-vous laisser faire cela? Comment pourriez-vous laisser là? Il est un innocent. Vous laisser un enfant avec Iolanthe?”

“I didn’t have a choice.” Cecil said.

“Please,” Robert interrupted. “I am just as concerned about Julian…Mr. Punch…as any of you! More so. After all, he is my…” Robert sputtered, “But, I…” He struck his fist against his thigh. “Naasir needs all of our attention right now!”

“Of course,” Adrienne said.

“I think maybe you two should leave me and the doctor to this,” Marjani said softly. “Meridian’s with little Fuller and Columbia. Why don’t the two of you go into the parlor?”

“Certainly.” Cecil nodded. He gently took Adrienne by the arm and led her from the room. He whispered. “I don’t want you to see Naasir. It’s quite bad, really.”

“I can’t comprehend any of this.” Adrienne said shakily. “I knew something bad would… Mon Dieu! J'ai oublié Nellie!”

“Who is this Nellie?” Cecil asked.

“Another lost soul, my dear,” Adrienne sighed. “Another soul who needs us.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-122? If so, you can read them here.

Cookie of the Day: Chocolate Icebox Cookies

These beautiful, old-fashioned cookies are a delightful treat.  The dough is rolled into a log which is then rolled in finely chopped walnuts and refrigerated.  The firm, chilled dough is sliced and baked.  The resulting cookie has a rich, mellow chocolate bite which blends deliciously with the creamy flavor of the nuts.  Adorned with luscious dollops of shining, melted dark chocolate, these cookies remind us of the simple elegance of Christmases past. 

Ornament of the Day: A Hypnotic Hippo

Our pets are a big part of our families. And, so, it’s only appropriate that they should have some representation on your Christmas trees. My trees hold a variety of ornaments associated with my family’s pets. Bertie, of course, has quite a presence. Amongst the many dog-themed and Westie-inspired ornaments are a collection of ornaments that Bertie has been given. When picking out an ornament “for” a dog, you’ve got to imagine what it is that he’d like.

One recent Christmas, Bertie was presented with this cheerfully colored ornament which seems like something he’d be quite interested in—a hot pink hippo. I think Bertie would rather enjoy a hot pink hippo. If we were to see what goes on in Bertie’s head when he’s sleeping, I’m pretty sure this is what he’d be dreaming of. I grin every time I see it.

Object of the Day: A Bewitching Paperweight by Caithness Glass

Since 1961, Scotland-based Caithness Glass has been producing beautiful art glass pieces inspired by the scenes and hues of the Scottish landscape. I have collected many pieces of Caithness Glass over the decades and, as a teenager, was a member of the Caithness Collectors Club. Their paperweights have long been heralded for their beauty and quality. In fact, in 1968 Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, granted Caithness a Royal Warrant for their exceptional work.

This amethyst-toned paperweight by Caithness designer Alastair MacIntosh, entitled “Bewitched” takes its color cues from the purple heather of Scotland. Lilac tendrils sway around a silvery Baroque bubble which floats above a bed of aubergine. It is, indeed, a bewitching piece which speaks of the magic of Scotland and the impeccable sorcery of the masters of Caithness Glass.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Painting of the Day: The Prince’s Dressing and Writing Room at Osborne House, 1851

Osborne House: The Prince's Dressing and Writing Room
James Roberts, 1851
The Royal Collection
Upon the completion of the new Osborne House in 1851, along with many photographs, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert commissioned various painters to record the carefully planned interiors of their new home.

Painter James Roberts rendered this replica of Prince Albert’s pale blue Dressing and Writing Room in the Prince’s suite in the new mansion. The artist has faithfully copied Prince Albert’s ever-increasing collection of Italian art.

These paintings proved helpful when the house was restored in the late 1990’s—allowing a clean, accurate look at the original color schemes.

Precious Time: The “Kylin” Clock, Mid-18th Century

The "Kylin" Clock
Mid Eighteenth Century Case with
Mid Seventeenth Century Artifacts
Ormolu, Porcelain
Purchased by King George IV, 1820
The Royal Collection
Gilt bronze fruit, berries, stems, leaves and lotus flowers comprise the case of this highly ornamental clock which was initially constructed in the mid-Eighteenth Century by an unknown French clockmaker. This ornate construct was created to showcase Asian artifacts which include a pair of what is described as Chinese “Lions,” but which to me seem more likely to be Foo Dogs. These porcelain figures date to the mid-Seventeenth Century, and were incorrectly thought to be hybrid creatures of Chinese mythology called “Kylin,” hence the name of the clock. Other Seventeenth Century porcelain pieces included in the clock’s case are parts of a blue and white teapot, a Chinese bowl which has been inverted to accommodate the face of the clock and a Japanese Arita group of two boys which stand just above the dial.

King George IV purchased this clock in 1820 to add to his growing collection in his seaside monstrosity at Brighton. As was often the case with George IV, he had the clock gutted, removing its works and replacing them with an updated French movement which ran for eight days between windings. In 1847, the clock was removed from the Brighton Pavilion and brought to the Pavilion Room at Buckingham Palace where it sat on the mantle overlooking Royals as they ate their breakfast.

Building of the Week: Osborne House, The Isle of Wight

Osborne House
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert longed for an informal family home away from the stresses of court life. Their private residence at Balmoral was, apparently, rather chilly in the winter. They wanted a comfortable residence by the seaside. Victoria recalled visits to the Isle of Wight which she had taken with her family as a girl. She and Prince Albert visited the Isle of Wight and found a lovely plot of land with a cozy house which afforded beautiful views of the sea which reminded Prince Albert of his time in Naples, Italy.

The only trouble was that the house, though appropriately cozy, was too small. And, so, in 1845, a massive building project began—removing the original structure and replacing it with a grand Italianate villa of Prince Albert’s design. Prince Albert employed architect Thomas Cubitt to oversee the project. Cubitt was also working on another project with Prince Albert--adding the massive monumental façade to Buckingham Palace. Cubitt and Prince Albert worked closely together for six years—making sure every detail was exactly as the prince had envisioned it.

The rambling pastel palazzo with its twin belvedere towers was built in phases until 1851. The first phase of construction was on the square wing known as “The Pavilion” which was to house the Royal apartments and entertainment areas. The queen and prince were adamant that the mansion not have the fairgrounds feel of George IV’s indo-chinese “extravaganza” at Brighton. Their vision for a more sedate residence included soft colors and little ornamentation. Now, I suppose that they met their goal—in their eyes. While Osborne House does not have the ornate circus-tent appearance of the seaside residence at Brighton, it can hardly be called austere or plain. It is, however, dignified, and certainly marginally less formal than Buckingham Palace and quite a bit lighter and cheerier than Windsor Castle and Balmoral.

Interiors of Osborne House, 1880-1890
Prince Albert was very particular about the interiors of the house and used the Italianate theme as an opportunity to add to his growing collection of Italian Renaissance and Baroque art. The Queen found the house to be “heavenly” and when at Buckingham Palace was to known to comment, “I long for our cheerful and unpalacelike rooms at Osborne.” Again, I wouldn’t call the place “unpalacelike,” but I suppose that’s relative.

Forty years after the mansion was completed, in 1890-1891, another wing was added. This wing was to include a more formal “court” room to be used for state dinners and grand functions. Nicknamed the “Durbar Room” (an Anglicized version of the word “Darbar” meaning “court” in Indian), the room was outfitted in a highly ornate Indian style.

The Royal Family at Osborne House

Queen Victoria died at Osborne House in January, 1901. Though she’d stipulated that Osborne House should remain in the family, her children had little use for it. They considered it to be something of a useless eyesore and equated it with memories of tending their own private patches of vegetables which they would “sell” to their father, Prince Albert, as his way of teaching them about economics. King Edward VII gifted the house to the State upon his mother’s death.

The Durbar Room
The Royal Apartments were maintained as a private museum dedicated to Queen Victoria while the rest of the house was used for other purposes. Over the course of the coming decades, Osborne House was used as a training college for The Royal Navy, a hospital and, later, a convalescent home.

In the late 1990’s, the house was taken under the care of English Heritage and returned to its original state—relying on the many photographs taken their during Queen Victoria’s residency as well as the multiple paintings commissioned of the interiors. Today, the house and its museum are open to the public.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 122

Robert was the first to react after Mr. Punch opened the door from beneath which the smoke billowed out. Quickly removing his cloak, Robert threw the garment around Naasir and pushed him the floor, rolling the man and slapping at him to extinguish the blaze which had already begun to sear the man’s flesh.

Mr. Punch and Cecil also removed their cloaks and tossed them to Robert who wrapped Naasir in them as he continued to gently pat the man who moaned in agony.

Iolanthe Evangeline screamed. “How dare you?” She ran wildly toward the men, bellowing like a madwoman. “Stop! Let him burn!” She looked at Barbara who stood—as still as stone—holding the drooling child. “Help me, Barbara Allen! You sow!”

Barbara didn’t move.

Iolanthe flung herself forward.

Cecil grabbed Iolanthe by the waist and stopped her. She beat at his hands and arms with her fists and screamed incomprehensibly with piercing, animal shrieks which had long ceased to be words.

“Why?” Naasir rasped. “Why?”

“Who can say why she’s done this?” Robert whispered to the suffering man.

“No.” Naasir panted, “Why…did…you…ssss…” Suddenly, Naasir’s voice locked in his throat and his body became quite still.

Robert uncovered the man. He studied the damage done by the flames. Robert shuddered.

“Chum?” Mr. Punch said nervously. “He ain’t…”

“No.” Robert shook his head. “But, we need to get him out of here.” Robert’s eyes met Mr. Punch’s and held there for a second as if to say, “It’s not good.”

Mr. Punch glanced at Naasir before Robert covered him again. He, too, shuddered. The man’s body was almost unrecognizable.

“Damn you!” Iolanthe bellowed. “Damn you to Hell! All of you! I’ll see to it that you all burn for this! I’ll murder all of you!” She continued to pound Cecil’s hands with her own fists. He let her go and she fell to the floor.

“We must get Naasir out of here—now!” Robert said. “Mr. Punch, run out to the street, would you? See if you can find a carriage. We can’t carry him back. The pain would be too much for him.”

“Sure, Chum.” Mr. Punch said quickly.

“Julian, wait!” Barbara shouted, finally moving. She hurried toward Mr. Punch—still holding Egil, Iolanthe’s child.

“There’s someone else who needs to be carried from here.” Barbara said.

“What? You?” Mr. Punch shook his head. “Last time we gave you shelter, you stole me lady chum’s jewels and silver. Don’t care if you are me master’s sister, I ain’t takin’ you nowhere. I’ll help you, I will. I’ll help you be free. I owe that to me master, I do. But, I can’t let you in the same house with the folk what are now me family.”

“Your family?” Barbara growled. “Your mother is upstairs in this very house—drained of her blood!”

“Barbara, please!” Iolanthe rose from the floor and grabbed for Barbara. “Please, Barbara, be quiet.”

“Your mother, Julian! Tortured!” Barbara spat. “I don’t care about myself. I deserve what I’ve got here, but don’t let our mother suffer.”

“What do either of you know of suffering?” Iolanthe screeched. “Look at him!” She pointed to the child in Barbara’s arms. “Look at his face! Listen to him breathe. He grunts like an animal. Born of an animal.” Iolanthe began to sob. “Give me my child!”

Barbara gently handed Egil to Iolanthe.

“All of you—get out of here! You’ve ruined it! Ruined it! I swear on all that is wicked that I will murder you three men—slowly and painfully, and I’ll make sure that that bitch Adrienne and your baby watch!” She narrowed her eyes and looked at Barbara. “As for you, Barbara Allen. Don’t forget. I own you. I don’t want you thinkin’ that I don’t. Get to your chamber.”

“Julian, please, help our mother!” Barbara pleaded as Iolanthe pushed her from the room with her hip.

Mr. Punch looked around the room. He heard Naasir’s moans and knew he had to hurry to find a carriage.

“I’ll be back in a tick!” Mr. Punch said quickly.

As he ran into the entry hall, he passed some of Iolanthe’s henchmen who were being led by Mala into the altar room.

Mr. Punch heard Iolanthe bellow. “Now? It’s too late! Get out of here! You’re all useless.”

Once outside, Mr. Punch searched frantically for an empty carriage for hire. The cold air felt good on his face. He thought of Naasir’s face. The fire had not been kind to it. He wondered if Naasir would live, and, if he did live, if he’d ever look the same.

“Poor fella.” Mr. Punch mumbled to himself.

Robert and Cecil soon joined Mr. Punch. They gently carried Naasir—still wrapped in their cloaks—between them.

Mr. Punch finally waved down a carriage and helped Cecil and Robert delicately carry Naasir into it. They settled in on either side of the man to keep him from rocking as the carriage moved.

Mr. Punch remained in the street.

“Do hurry, dear Punch,” Robert said. “There’s not a minute to spare.”

“I’m not goin’ with ya,” Mr. Punch shook his head. “I gotta get his mum, I do. Just because she’s been a monster to Julian, don’t mean she should stay here to be eaten by this ogress. You know I gotta help her.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-121? If so, you can read them here.

Cookie of the Day: A Shortbread Symphony

Shortbread is so named because of its crumbly texture. A baked good which is “short” has a high fat content which caused the texture to be dense and crumbly. Many people associate shortbread with Britain. In fact, these unleavened biscuits originated in Scotland and are a centuries-old Scottish tradition.

And, so, in honor of the Scottish heritage of shortbread, each year, my mother’s shortbread takes the shape of our other favorite Scottish imports—West Highland White Terriers and Scottish Terriers.

Westie Dogs of shortbread sport chocolate bows, noses and eyes which have been sprinkled with colorful nonpareils. The Scottie Dogs are chocolate shortbread with white chocolate detailing. Each is delicious! Each is adorable.

These crumbly canines are perfect with a cup of tea. I also love seeing them all lined up on the counter after my mother decorates them—like a cookie army.

Ornament of the Day: A Pair of Medieval-Inspired Spears

This interesting pair of ornaments was given to me—I think—the year we moved to Texas, 1987. I’ve always really liked them.

Created from resin to resemble rock crystal, these ornaments have been fashioned in a medieval style with long crystalline spikes surmounted by horses’ heads. One is the pinkish-tone of rose quartz, the other has the milky-look of rock quartz. They’ve got kind of a Knights of the Round Table/chess set look to them that I found appealing in the 1980’s and still find attractive today.

Object of the Day: Osborne Ivorex, 1899

This remarkable antique was given to me this past Sunday for my birthday. It’s an example of “Osborne Ivorex.” Created by English bas relief sculptor, Arthur Osborne in 1899, Osborne Ivorex plaques are made of the finest plaster of Paris to resemble ivory carvings.

A master plaque of a scene (usually inspired by famous landscapes or postcard images) would be sculpted in clay, then; a gelatin mold would be formed around the clay plaque. Once the mold had hardened, it was used for the production of the plaster plaques which were hand-painted in great detail.

Many of the plaques were set into custom-built, black lacquer shadow boxes with brown velvet slips. These were considered the most prestigious of the Osborne Ivorex line. And, here’s one of them.

This Ivorex plaque shows a bas relief scene of Holyrood Palace (also known as Holyroodhouse) in Edinburgh, Scotland—the official seat of the sovereign in Scotland. As you can see, the casting is quite detailed and has an amazing sense of depth to it.

I had never seen one of these in person before and it really caught my attention when I saw it. A little research revealed that it was Osborne Ivorex. The Arthur Osborne Company continued to produce Ivorex well into 1965. Now, of course, I’m tempted to find some more of these.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Our Humanitarian of the Year: Fran Drescher!

Our list of nominees for Humanitarian of the Year included some of the most influential and altruistic people of the last century. However, the total votes pointed to a landslide win for one person—Miss Fran Drescher!

And, I couldn’t be happier about it.

In July of this year, I named Miss Drescher our first “Humanitarian of the Week,” so it’s only fitting that she should be our first “Humanitarian of the Year.” And what a humanitarian! For the countless hours of laughter she’s brought to all of us, she’s also brought immeasurable comfort. Most importantly, however, Fran Drescher has offered hope for a healthy life to hundreds of people through her tireless efforts to raise awareness of women’s health issues.

After her own harrowing battle with cancer, Miss Drescher turned her ordeal into a blessing by creating a worldwide support group via her Cancer Schmancer Movement. Through her visits around the world and the resources she’s provided, Miss Drescher has been responsible for not only encouraging a quality and dignity of life for women in every country, but she’s also ensured continued life for many people for whom hope would have been lost.

And, that’s the beauty of Fran Drescher. This exceptional woman possesses the incredible ability to take something that could have broken most of us and turn it into a global triumph. I can honestly say that we’re all better off for having her in our world.

And, thankfully, Miss Drescher is once again on television with her new talk show, The Fran Drescher Tawk Show which has been airing to excellent reviews in test markets. We wish her well with that project and look forward to her program being picked up nationwide. Furthermore, Miss Drescher will be starring in a new show for TVLand. The cable network ordered a pilot for Happily Divorced, a comedy based on Miss Drescher’s own life with ex-husband and longtime friend, Peter Marc Jacobsen.

I think it’s appropriate that Fran Drescher’s middle name is “Joy.” There’s no better word to describe her. She has brought inestimable joy with her humor, her heart and her humility. I’m very pleased and proud to name Francine Joy Drescher Stalking the Belle Époque’s first “Humanitarian of the Year.”

Film of the Week: Mommie Dearest, 1981

“Scrub, Christina, Scrub.”
--Faye Dunaway as “Joan Crawford”

To say that this is a true biographical film of the life of Joan Crawford would be to give it far too much credit. Based (loosely) on Christina Crawford’s famously scathing account of life with a movie star mother, Mommie Dearest  manipulates details, personalities, events and circumstances which were already rather vague and dubious in the source text.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures in 1981, the film was directed by Frank Perry about whom Faye Dunaway would later opine that she wished he knew when to rein in his actors. Dunaway, whom Joan Crawford herself once heralded for her potential, plays a hyper-intense version of Metro’s one-time Queen. She is joined by Diana Scarwid and Mara Hobel as adult and child Christina Crawford, respectively. With them are Rutanya Alda as a fictionalized amalgam of many Crawford household staffers, Steve Forrest as an equally fictionalized combination of Joan’s husbands and lovers, Howard da Silva as a surprisingly convincing Louis B. Mayer, and Jocelyn Brando as “Barbara, please!” a magazine reporter.

The film omits huge facts from the real life of Joan Crawford. While it chronicles her “adoption” of Christina and another child, Christopher, it leaves out the temporary adoption of another son, and the permanent adoption of two girls whom Crawford called “the twins.” Those two of Crawford’s daughters, Cynthia and Cathy, publicly denounced Christina’s scurrilous book as well as the film—disavowing any association with it and stating plainly that Christina was lying.

We’ll never know if Christina Crawford’s account of her childhood is true or not. We can read her book and read other biographies of Crawford and decide for ourselves. The film shouldn’t be taken seriously, but, then again, that’s not its main appeal.

Shortly into the film’s release, Paramount knew they had a flop. To this day, Faye Dunaway doesn’t care to speak of the film and credits it for ruining her career. Paramount had a major task on its hands if they were to make a profit. Realizing that viewers were unintentionally laughing at the violent melodrama, they remarketed the picture trying to capitalize on its camp appeal and dark humor. The film was still a box office disaster, but soon achieved cult status, and now, curiously, is a favorite film of many people.

It’s not meant to be funny. It’s meant to be terrifying. But, the caricature of Crawford is amusing, and Scarwid’s inexplicable Southern accent adds a humor to the most serious of dialogue. In short, it’s a knock-down brawl from start to finish with some of the most quotable lines of any film ever produced.

I’m saddened by the fact that when people think of Joan Crawford, they think “No wire hangers, ever” and imagine, not Crawford’s face, but Faye Dunaway’s. Some people even think that Crawford herself starred in the movie. No, she was dead. And, she would not have approved at all.

Still, I confess, I enjoy the film. “I am not one of your fannnnnns!” And, further confess that I can repeat the dialogue with it. If it had any basis in reality, it would be a true tragedy. But, it’s pure fantasy. It’s accidental farce. And it should be treated as such. That said, watch it—cringe, laugh and be merry. Just be thankful you’re not Christina Crawford, Joan Crawford or even Faye Dunaway.

If you’re given a DVD copy of the picture for Christmas this year, just remember, of all your gifts, “That’s the one you may keep.” Just watch the film, it’s worth it.

The Belle Époque Today: The Art of Ken Howard, OBE, RA

Trafalgar Square
Ken Howard
Royal Academician Ken Howard was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to the art world. His works—ranging from sensitive studio portraits to cityscapes—capture his subjects in glimmering moments of time. Howard’s greatest gift is his incredible ability to render atmosphere. From a soft sunlit room to the hard sheen of wet pavement, Ken Howard presents us with a heightened reality, revealing the true nature of all that he paints.

Many of his scenes show us places with which we’re all familiar either from photographs or from in-person visits. Yet, Trafalgar Square looks wholly new and exciting as commuters hurry past in the rain and Venice is once again alive with the jewel-tones of man and nature.

Dora at St. Clement's Studio
Ken Howard
Howard himself sums up his work thusly, “For me painting is about three things. It is about revelation, communication and celebration.” This philosophy is evident in his gorgeous paintings as he reveals the world to us in ways we never imagined seeing it, visually communicates in an enchanting language all his own, and celebrates life by showing us the beauty that we so often miss each day.

To learn more about Mr. Howard, visit his Web site.