Saturday, January 8, 2011

Saturday Sparkle: Elizabeth II’s Cartier Wedding Necklace

Diamond and Platinum Necklace
Cartier, London
Rebult from an Earlier Piece
Presented, 1947, to Princess Elizabeth
The Royal Collection
While Queen Elizabeth II may presently have her hands full as her grandson breaks from tradition with some of his wedding plans, she might take comfort in remembering her own wedding. When the Queen (then Princes Elizabeth) wed Prince Philip in 1947, nations from all over the world sent her an array of lavish gifts. This tasteful bauble was a gift from the Nizam of Hyderabad (Hyderabad is an Indian State, the Nizam is its Administrator).

This piece, created by the jewelers at London's Cartier, is actually rebuilt from an earlier Cartier necklace. The necklace was altered so that the Queen could wear the double drop pendants separately from the necklace. The necklace itself contains thirty-eight brilliant-cut, open-back collets as well as emerald-cuts and some substantial cushion-cuts. The double drop pendants incorporate brilliant-cut diamonds with thirteen emerald-cuts which surround two large cushion-cut diamonds and a rather impressive pear-shape.

This would make a nice gift for the Queen’s soon-to-be Granddaughter-in-law. Yes?

Masterpiece of the Week: The Coronation of George V, 1911

Coronation of King George V,
Edward, Prince of Wales Doing Homage
Laurits Regner Tuxen
The Royal Collection
Queen Victoria was the first notable English patron of Danish artist Laurits Regner Tuxen who traveled to England in 1880. His association with the British Royal Family continued until his death in 1927. Tuxen was commissioned to record the 1911 coronation of King George V is a monumental painting. The painting was so detailed that it was not completed until 1913 upon which time it was presented to the king.

Here, we see George V, newly seated on the throne. His brother, Edward, Prince of Wales, bows before him, paying homage. The the left of the canvas, we can see the newly-crowned Queen Mary, bathed in light.

Toys of the Belle Époque: A Mechanical Fox, 1930-39

Mechanical Fox
Shuco, 1930-39
The Museum of Childhood
The Victoria & Albert Museum
In the 1930’s, the fox became a surprisingly popular subject for children’s soft toys.  This is, in large part, due to fox characters in children’s literature whose trickster antics were much enjoyed.  German toymakers Schreyer & Co. (known as Schuco in the U.K.) offered a line of mechanical toys which, by manipulation of the creature’s tail, were able to either nod their heads in agreement or shake them side-to-side to indicate the negative.  This form of interaction proved quite enticing to children who begged their parents for these little mechanical companions. 
The most popular of the line was this fox.  In typical 1930’s style, the fox has been anthropomorphized.  He sits upright and wears wire-rimmed spectacles which give him a look of sly wisdom.  This example, housed in the Museum of Childhood at the Victoria & Albert Museum, was manufactured between 1930 and 1939.  It still bears its original tags and is in full working order. 

At the Music Hall: “Hands, Knees and Boomps-a-Daisy,” 1936

Hands, knees, and boomps-a-daisy,
I like a bustle that bends;
Hands, knees, and boomps-a-daisy,
What is a boomp between friends?
Hands, knees, oh don’t be lazy,
Let’s make the party a wow!
Now then, hands, knees, and boomps-a-daisy,
Turn to your partner and bow.

Annette Mills, the sister of actor Sir John Mills and aunt of Hayley and Juliet Mills, was embarking on a successful career as a dancer when a broken leg ruined the chance of realizing her dreams. She turned her attention to song-writing and penned two popular songs, one of which was “Hands, Knees and Boomps-a-Daisy” which quickly became extremely popular in music halls and night clubs of the late 1930’s. The dance associated with the song—which involved the bumping of posteriors—was a successful and enduring novelty.

Here’s a rendition of “Hands, Knees and Boomps-a-Daisy” as performed by Joe Loss and his Band.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 139

You filty, little idiot!” Ulrika hissed as she shoved Nellie to the floor. “How could you let this happen?”

“What choice did I have?” Nellie groaned. “They overpowered me.”

“And, what?” Ulrika growled. “You had the diamond in your handbag? You simply said, ‘Oh, here, this isn’t mine to give, but take it’?”

“No.” Nellie panted.

“What then?” Ulrika demanded. “How did Iolanthe Evangeline even know you had it? No one except Arthur and you knew that I had taken the diamond from Barbara! Not even Arthur knew that I had given it to you for…what I thought was safe-keeping!”

“There’s nothing that Iolanthe doesn’t know!” Nellie whimpered.

“Nonsense!” Ulrika paced the room.

“She demanded that I give it to her.” Nellie whined, “I could smell the death on her! I knew she’d kill me, too!”

“What does that matter?” Ulrika barked. “What use are you to anyone? Well, I suppose you’re enough use to a lonely man with money in his pocket! But, otherwise, what good are you?”

“I have a mind, and a soul!” Nellie said softly.

“No you don’t!” Ulrika spat. “You have a body and nothing more.”

Nellie began to cry.

“Oh, tears…really?” Ulrika grumbled. “Do you think I’ll soften as your tears fall? The wetness from your eyes will not tenderize me, my dear! I am ruined! You fool!”

“How are you ruined?” Nellie coughed. “You’re wealthy! Your family is powerful. You have the world open to you.”

“Not the world that I want!” Ulrika screamed. “You do realize that you’ll be punished?”

“Please, be kind to me.”

“No.” Ulrika shook her head. “You’ve given away my freedom, and, now I’ll see to it that yours is taken.”

“The Duchess is dead,” Nellie scrambled like a crab into the corner of the room. “We can get rid of Lord Fallbridge. Then, nothing will prevent you from claiming his fortune. Barbara? Don’t worry about Barbara Allen. Iolanthe has plans for her. It’ll be easy. Please, Ulrika, please. Listen to me. I don’t need to be punished. I’ll make it right.”

“To begin with,” Ulrika smiled, “I’ll see to it that your family knows your little secret.”

“No.” Nellie pleaded. “Please. It would destroy them!”

“Good!” Ulrika laughed. “I hope they choke on the knowledge that their precious little Nell bore her brother’s child! A deformed little creature that you buried in the field while it was still breathing! Perhaps I can commission an artist to paint a picture of the scene I stumbled upon that day two years ago! I remember it well!”

“You can’t do that Ulrika!”

“Those were the conditions of our association, Nellie.” Ulrika laughed.

“You’re too cruel!”

“Not cruel enough.” Ulrika smiled, lowering her eyes toward Nellie. “Look at your pretty face. Aren’t you fair? I suppose you’ll still be able to find work—on your back. Perhaps Iolanthe will take you back into her stable of fallen women. Or, perhaps you could work on your own. There’s plenty of need for young women of your stature in New Orleans. You might find your fortune still.”

“I…I…don’t…” Nellie began.

“Or,” Ulrika laughed, breaking a bottle on the mantel, ‘you might not!” With one quick motion, Ulrika took the broken end of the bottle and slashed it across Nellie’s face.

Meanwhile, up the street, Robert’s hands shook as he embraced Julian.

“It’s been so long,” Robert said in a trembling voice.

“For you, perhaps.” Julian said softly into the man’s ear. “I’ve been here. In his kindness, Mr. Punch has kept me informed. I’ve even been able to hear some of what’s gone on around us. Your words to us at Christmas were most appreciated.”

“Julian,” Robert whispered, “I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” Julian replied.

“Come, Cecil, “Adrienne said quietly to her husband. “Let’s leave Julian and Robert alone so that Julian might have a moment with his mother.”

“Of course,” Cecil grunted.

“If you don’t mind, Robert, I’d like it if I could be alone.” Julian said as Robert released him from his embrace.

“Oh, Julian,” Robert shook his head. “I think I’d better stay…”

“I’ll be fine,” Julian nodded. “Please.”

Robert looked helplessly at Adrienne who nodded.

“Dr. Halifax,” Marjani interrupted, “I know what you’re thinkin’. I feel what you’re rememberin’. His Lordship needs to be alone. Come with me and I’ll make you some tea. His Lordship will return to you. Come have some tea with me—all of ya, and perhaps you and Mr. Halifax can remember your own mama together.”

“Marjani, thank you,” Adrienne said.

Marjani nodded.

“Robert?” Adrienne said.

“Do come, old man,” Cecil said softly.

“Are you sure?” Robert asked Julian.

“Quite.” Julian nodded.

Cecil, Adrienne, Marjani and Robert left the room, shutting the door behind them.

Julian picked up the lamp from the table and carried to the stand near the bed where the Duchess of Fallbridge lay more peacefully than her son had ever seen her.

He sat on the bed next to his deceased mother and studied her face.

“I never thought this would be how it ended.” Julian said quietly. “To be honest, Mother, I fancied you’d live forever.”

He sighed. “Why were you always so unhappy?” He shook his head. “I know why I’ve been unhappy. Partly, at least. Partly… My mind is different, you know. You always insisted that I was insane. Yet, my insanity has served me well. Don’t you think? Mr. Punch—for all of his wildness—has been a loving protector. He’s been kind to me. He’s allowed me to feel joy. You never had that. For that, I pity you. All the while, you looked at me with contempt. Or, so I thought. Perhaps, it was jealousy. Envy.”

Julian shut his eyes, but continued speaking. “Why did you always hate me? Was it because I reminded you of father? I know you disagreed with my passion for what you considered useless endeavors. I know you thought that, in that regard, I was too much like Father. I know you loathed what you perceived as my meekness. I am so, terribly sorry that I was such a disappointment to you. But, you had Barbara. She is so very like you. You could have rejoiced in her. Yet, you drove her away, too. And, here we are.”

Julian opened his eyes again and frowned. “Your words cut me. Do you know that? Unlike the cuts I endured—those physical cuts—that I withstood as a child, your words opened wounds that never healed. Why? Why did you leave me with that woman—Agnes? Didn’t you know what was happening? How could you do that?”

Julian drew in a deep breath and released it slowly.

“There’s nothing good that can come of my anger.”

He sat silently for several minutes and stared at his mother’s corpse.

Finally, he said. “In so many ways, Mr. Punch has released me. Now, I am able to release you, Mother. I hope that, finally, you might have some peace and some freedom. I don’t know about Heaven or Hell, Mother. I truly don’t. I know what I’ve been told, but personally, I think there’s a little bit of both for everyone. But, for your sake, I hope there is a comfortable place for you somewhere. Somewhere, perhaps, where you’ll finally be satisfied. I won’t vilify you. That wouldn’t be fair. For as much as you condemned me, and compared me, I’m guilty of the same. I look at Adrienne—through my own eyes or through Punch’s—and I see what a mother truly should be. I see a gentle soul who wishes to ensure the happiness of those she loves—at any cost. Yes, I’m guilty, for lo these many weeks I’ve wished that you were such a mother, just as you wished that I’d be a different man. No one is at fault, now. Now, it’s over. Go forth and be at peace, Mother. I hope to do the same, but I wish to do it while I’m still alive. Be at peace, now. Perhaps we all may be.”

Julian rose and walked to the fireplace, where he rested his head on the mantle and sobbed.

Mr. Punch spoke clearly to Julian—in that private way that they shared, the voice that no one else could hear.

“Master, chum.” Mr. Punch said. “Want me to come back? You’re not strong enough yet, but I’m most awful proud of you for what you just done.”

“Soon,” Julian answered without moving his lips. “Mr. Punch, I’ll need you for what’s to follow.”

“I only wish to serve you,” Punch answered from inside Julian. “I’m terrible sorry for what I done.”

“No, no,” Julian answered silently. “You did nothing wrong.”

“But, I did,” Punch answered from within, “I did.”

“Rest.” Julian thought. “Mr. Punch, rest. I wish to speak with Robert and the others—for a moment. Gather your strength.”

“As you wish,” Mr. Punch responded.

Julian walked out of the room and squinted down the corridor, trying to get his bearings. He wasn’t familiar with the house.

“The stairs are ahead, Master chum.” Punch said from within. “The family is, I’d guess, in the parlor to the left of the foyer.”

Julian nodded to himself and followed Punch’s directions. He found the group seated in the parlor, as Punch had suggested. Marjani was tending to the fire.

“How are you?” Robert rose and hurried to Julian’s side.

“I’m not sure,” Julian smiled weakly. “I know I have been so fortunate for the support all of you have shown me. Sadly, I do have more to ask of you.”

“Anything,” Adrienne nodded.

“We’ll need to arrange for Mother’s burial.”

“I’ll see to it.” Cecil said. “I know the ways of this area.”

“Thank you,” Julian said.

“There is one more thing.” Julian shook his head.

“What is it?” Robert asked.

“I need you to look after my Mr. Punch.” Julian answered. “He’s not well.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-138? If so, you can read them hereCome back on Monday for Chapter 140 of Punch's Cousin

Goal for the Day: Change Your Surroundings

With the Christmas decorations put away, your home may feel rather empty and dull.  This time of year can be a little drab.  But, it’s the perfect time to rediscover the beautiful things that you already have around your home.  You can change the look of any room simply by rearranging the items in it.  Try a different furniture arrangement.  Hang your pictures in new places.  Move your decorative objects to different locations.  This is a great way to enjoy what you’ve already collected and a positively free way to “redecorate.”  You’ll find that the house feels a lot more cheerful when you’re finished. 

Object of the Day: A Commemorative Coronation Cup, 1911

In Westminster Abbey on June 22, 1911, the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary commenced amongst much celebration by the British people. George V succeeded his father, King Edward VII, who died on May 6, 1910. George was the grandson of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. His wife, Mary of Teck (Princess Victoria Mary of Teck) had initially been engaged to his brother, Albert Victor, Prince of Wales who had died of pneumonia. Upon his brother’s death, during their shared period of mourning, a relationship began between Mary and George, and they wed in 1893 with Queen Victoria’s blessing.

Commemorative china and other items were traditionally created to mark special occasions in Britain. These objects served as a way of providing the public with representations of popular figures of their day. Long before the days of Facebook, you could “like” a monarch by collecting commemorative objects. This bone china cup was manufactured by Royal Doulton to celebrate the coronation in 1911. The particularly fine china is decorated with gold details and bears images of George V, Mary of Teck and each of their ciphers surmounted by their respective crowns and the date of the coronation.

King George V faced many challenges during his reign. World War I changed the Empire in unprecedented ways and George soon saw a world which had previously been ruled by members of his family, falling into the control of other powers. After the war, his health began to decline dramatically after years of suffering from respiratory problems and a fall from a horse. On January 20, 1936, King George V had taken a turn for the worse. So that his death would be painless (and also so it could be reported in the morning papers), at 11:55 P.M., his physician administered a lethal injection of cocaine and morphine. His last words were “God damn you,” as the nurse injected him.

George V was succeeded (briefly) by his son who was styled as King Edward VIII. Thus began a rather wacky period in British Royal history. King Edward VIII abdicated the throne (we won’t get into that right now) and was succeeded by George and Mary’s second son, King George VI (father of Queen Elizabeth II). Queen Mary stuck around for quite a long time, enjoying the company of her grandchildren. She died in 1953 from lung cancer—just ten weeks before the coronation of her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Mr. Punch in the Arts: The Audience

Mr. Punch’s influence on all media has endured for centuries. His image has become associated with England, and London, in particular. Many Victorian artists employed Punch’s hooked visage to immediately put the viewer in mind of London squares. A frequent subject of Victorian postcards and ephemera, Mr. Punch was often shown in whimsical situations.

In that spirit, here is a charming cut-out card which was recently sent to me. I find this particularly delightful inasmuch as it portrays two subjects which are quite dear to me—Mr. Punch, and dogs. Here, an audience of canines—some of whom sport jaunty bows—clamor to get a look at Mr. Punch, mimicking a typical London scene of the time, but replacing the usual humans with dogs. I love that Punch even has a canine “bottler”—the fellow who would beat the drum and collect coins from the audience. For some reason, the bottler is wearing a coat and hat even though he’s a dog and despite the fact that the other dogs are nude. Curious and typically Victorian.

Of course, Mr. Punch seems quite pleased (I know) with his audience and delightedly waggles his slapstick in their direction with that wonderful, mad look in his eyes. Long live the art of puppetry, and long may it have dogs to enjoy it!

Pets of the Belle Époque: "The Connoisseurs" by Sir Edwin Landseer, 1865

The Connoisseurs:
Portrait of the Artist with Two Dogs
Sir Edwin Landseer,
The Royal Collection
Throughout our many visits to the work of celebrated painter and favorite of Queen Victoria, we’ve looked at his masterful paintings of both humans and their animal companions. However, we have not stopped to consider Landseer himself. His skill in painting animals is widely known. So, it’s only appropriate that in painting a self-portrait as a gift for King Edward VII, Landseer would flank his own image with that of two dogs. I’m not quite sure if these two dogs were his own companions, but I like the idea that they are the truest connoisseurs of his art. Landseer’s sense of humor keenly shows in this picture.

Despite his great talent and success, Landseer was often plagued by long periods of depression and hypochondria. Just before his death in 1873, his family declared him insane. Regardless of the melancholy that haunted him, he created exceptional works of art which are highly regarded to this day.

Antique Image of the Day: Wat and Basco, 1886

Wat and Basco
The Royal Collection
The beloved dogs of Princess Beatrice (daughter of Queen Victoria) and her husband, Prince Henry of Battenberg, Wat and Basco were the subject of several photographs. This portrait of the two of them was displayed in a blue velvet frame with gold mounts spelling the dogs’ names.

Princess Beatrice’s love of photography was inherited from both of her parents. Prince Albert was the first of the Royal Family to become enchanted by the art of photography. After his death, that passion was continued by Queen Victoria who instilled it in their children.

Friday Fun: Balloon Land, 1935

Animators of the 1930’s seemed especially fond of creating little microcosms wherein the inhabitants were made of the same material as their land, and even their architecture. This took many forms—cake, candy, and, in this case, balloons. Imagine, if you will, a world in which we lived on land made of flesh and used implements which were also made of human parts. Not a very pleasant picture, is it? And, yet, that’s basically what’s going on here. In balloon land, everything is made out of balloons—the “people,” the buildings, the vegetation—everything. For some reason, this was meant to be amusing. Perhaps I’ve over-thought it.

However, I see that I’m not the only person to feel similarly disturbed by this concept. To quote Tom Servo from Mystery Science Theater 3000, upon seeing Balloon Land for the first time, “Okay, now we’re in Hell. It finally happened.”

Here’s the 1935 animated short with music by Carl Stalling. And, as a counterpoint, here’s Episode 1003 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, "Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders," in which Mike and the ‘Bots are faced with a snippet of the cartoon—about 7 minutes in.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 138

Nellie panted as she banged on the kitchen door of Edward Cage’s Royal Street mansion.

“What you want?” A short, liveried man said, opening the door slightly. He glared at her with yellowed eyes.

“Please, let me in.” Nellie whispered breathlessly.

“Why?” The man growled.

“Please. I’m being chased.” Nellie pleaded.

“Mr. Cage--he wouldn’t like it.” The man sneered.

“What’s your name?” Nellie asked, pressing herself into the doorway.

“Odo.” The man answered. “I’m called, ‘Ty Odo.’”

“Ty Odo, do you know who Iolanthe Evangeline is?”

“Who wants to know?” Odo asked.

“Do you?” Nellie whispered angrily.

“I done heard the name.” Odo grunted.

“She’s chasing me.” Nellie hissed. “I need sanctuary.”

“Why here?” Odo asked.

“Please, I know Miss Rittenhouse. She’s staying here, isn’t she?”

“If you’re a friend of Miss Rittenhouse, why you come to the back door like you’re some kind of peddler?”

“Do I look like a peddler?” Nellie asked.

“No, that ain’t what you look like. Though you look like you been peddlin’ somethin’.”

“That’s enough,” Nellie said sharply, pushing Odo out of her way. “Where’s Miss Rittenhouse?”

“She’s upstairs getting’ ready for the ball tonight.” Odo smiled at Nellie’s brashness. “You’re a feisty thing, ain’t ya?”

“That’ll be enough from you.” Nellie spat.

“I can’t let you go upstairs,” Odo grinned. “Not ‘less I get somethin’ for my troubles.”

“Oh, you want something,” Nellie hissed seductively, narrowing her eyes and walking slowly toward Odo. She pressed her body against his. He smirked. She then leaned back and slapped him across the face sharply.

Odo growled.

“That’s all you’ll get from me!” Nellie said, hurrying toward the rear staircase.

“Dirty…” Odo shouted. Then, curiously, he laughed. “Dirty witch. It’s the fourth door on the left.”

Ulrika was not pleased to find that it was Nellie who was knocking on her door. She pulled Nellie by the arm into the room.

“What are you doing here?” Ulrika asked, making no effort to close her dressing gown.

“Iolanthe,” Nellie panted. “She’s murdered the Duchess of Fallbridge.”

“Oh,” Ulrika grinned. “And, here, I thought it would be bad news, really.”

“Don’t you understand?” Nellie gasped.

“Very well.” Ulrika smiled. “That’s one less thing to worry about.”

“She killed the woman and carried her body into the house and hanged her in my room!” Nellie said shrilly.

“How dramatic.” Ulrika laughed. “Delicious, really. One does have to admire that woman’s flare.”

“You’re just as insane as she is!”

“No.” Ulrika sighed. “Nellie, I’m much younger than she is. I’ve much to learn.”

Nellie stared at Ulrika—dumbfounded.

“So, you’ve risked being found out just to come here and tell me this?” Ulrika shrugged. “I don’t suppose you’ve managed to give Lord Fallbridge the little ‘tonic’ I offered?”

“I tried.” Nellie said. “Some fool maid drank it.”

“Is she dead?”

“No.” Nellie answered.

“Well, that’s disappointing. Perhaps I mixed it wrong. Oh well, no point in killing a maid. Go back and try again.” Ulrika walked to her chifforobe and, from the bottom drawer, retrieved a small vial filled with a cruel-looking powder. “Try this one.”

“I can’t go back!” Nellie said. “Listen to me! Iolanthe found me! She had two of her men with her. They’re the ones who hanged the Duchess.”

“It’s always nice to have help, really.” Ulrika sighed. “Reliable help, I should say. My Arthur, though he is…passionate, is not the most reliable of assistants. And, you, my dear, are taking far too long.”

“They dragged me out of the house!” Nellie screeched.

“Keep your voice down,” Ulrika spat.

“Iolanthe is mad with rage. I managed to escape and run here, but she’ll find me. She’ll kill me next.”

“We can’t have that, now, can we?” Ulrika sneered. “Presently, you’re far too valuable to me.”

“She got the diamond!” Nellie shouted.

“What?” Ulrika dropped the vial she was holding. It shattered upon hitting the floor. “How? I told you to hide it! How did this happen?”

“She’s unstoppable, you imbecile!” Nellie said frantically. “Don’t you see?”

Meanwhile, at Dr. Biamenti’s house, Mr. Punch sank to the floor—his body shaking with sobs. He removed his hat and tossed it aside.

Robert knelt next to him. “Dear Punch, please don’t do this.”

“It’s me own fault, it is!” Punch wailed. “I left her in that place.”

“She was cruel to you.” Cecil said, coming closer to Mr. Punch.

“Cecil, dear.” Adrienne whispered. “The woman is lying right here.”

“She was.” Cecil continued. “She was awful to Julian. By all accounts, she was horrid to everyone.”

“Don’t mean she deserved to die this way.” Mr. Punch sobbed. “I coulda helped her, I could. Now, me master’s got no one!”

“That’s not true,” Adrienne answered. “No, that’s not true. He has us and he has you.”

“What good am I?” Mr. Punch moaned.

“Plenty of good.” Robert said softly, stroking Julian’s back. “You’ve done such a fine job of protecting Julian for all these years. And, look at what you’ve done for all of us. Punch, you’ve brought us so much joy.”

“Poor, terrible woman, never had a chance to be good.” Mr. Punch wept. “Now, Julian ain’t got no father nor no mother.”

With that, Mr. Punch’s voice faltered, and Julian’s body fell flat to the floor.

“Punch?” Adrienne gasped.

“Dear Punch,” Robert said, reaching for his friend.

The voice that answered was not Mr. Punch’s, but rather one that none of them had heard in weeks.

“Let me see my mother,” Julian said as he rose from the floor. “I want to say goodbye.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-137? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Celebrate Your Individuality

Do you often find yourself pointlessly apologizing to the people around you for being “different”? Do you feel self-conscious when you have a thought or an idea that you fear won’t fit in with popular opinion? Do you worry that you will put people off when you express yourself? Well, you shouldn’t.

Everyone is an individual who is capable of thinking wonderful and interesting things. Some people choose not to. Some prefer to parrot the things around them and ape the actions of others. But, that’s a shame. Where would we be if it were not for the people who weren’t afraid of their own thoughts? We’d have no art, no technology, no growth.

Today, celebrate your individuality. Share what you’re thinking. Give your ideas a chance to breathe and to grow. Take comfort in the fact that you’re different. The greatest things in the world are the fruit of the minds of people who stood out from the crowd.

Object of the Day: “Pienza Near Montepulciano, Italia” by Robert J. Inness

I’ve mentioned the artist Robert J. Inness before. I’ve collected a few of his paintings over the years and am always impressed by his ability to capture the essence of a place. His attractive and colorful landscapes and cityscapes are brilliant representations of the spirit of the location.

This painting of “The Duomo” in the center of the square of the Italian town of Pienza is another mesmerizing study in the beauty of nature wedded to the ingenuity of man. Here, we see the façade of the town’s church—one of the earliest examples of Renaissance architecture. In fact, Pienza is considered to be the “touchstone of Renaissance urbanism.”

Inness often uses the sky to dramatic effect. This painting sets the façade of the cathedral against a calm sky. The base of the cathedral and its Germanic campanile are washed in shadow—the scale of the building reinforced by the silhouettes of a couple—thus making the architecture seem jewel-like. The whole of the scene is presented as seen through an archway of the loggia in front of the cathedral, thereby giving the painting an intimacy which belies the grandeur of the scene.

Such cleverness in composition reminds us of masters like Canaletto and Vermeer who presented urban scenes as if they were precious gems. These paintings call to us to reevaluate the way in which we view the world we see each day.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Painting of the Day: Leopold, King of the Belgians, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1846

Leopold I, King of the Belgians
Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1846
The Royal Collection
Leopold I, King of the Belgians was one of Queen Victoria’s most cherished relatives.  This beloved uncle was instrumental in arranging her marriage to Prince Albert.  Leopold’s fondness for Victoria was very evident in everything that he did for her—often sending her gifts and other sweet tokens of his uvuncular admiration.  In 1846, he sent Victoria this portrait of himself—painted by one of Victoria’s favorite painters, Franz Xaver Winterhalter. 

Unfolding Pictures: A Fan Reputedly Owned by Marie-Antoinette, 1720-30

Louise, Queen of the Belgians
Franz Winterhalter
The Royal Collection

When Queen Victoria’s favorite Uncle, Leopold I, King of the Belgians married, Victoria became close friends with her new Aunt Louise. Louise, Queen of the Belgians, shared Victoria’s passion for fine clothes and jewels, particularly those of the French variety. Of course, Louise came by this passion for French design quite naturally. She was, after all, the daughter of French King Louis-Philippe.

Louise often shopped in France for Queen Victoria who was busy with other things—such as being monarch of Britain. Queen Louise did a great deal of shopping for Victoria as she prepared for her wedding to Prince Albert. Louise was often assisted in her shopping expeditions by her sister Clémentine.

On November 25, 1839, Queen Louise sent the following letter to Queen Victoria:

I send you with this letter 3 fans which Clémentine choose [sic] for you and I enclose the bill which she was obliged to pay in the shop - as she would not [declare] her name and could not venture to give yours . . . I send herewith a magnificent fan which belonged formerly to Marie Antoinette. She says it is remarkably fine but it is dear it costs 500 f. about £20.
Curiously, she didn’t send the fans, as she indicated. She did, however, send the bill. The fans came on December 23, 1839 under cover of a different letter:

…the fans which you ordered are going with this letter. I hope you will like them. The small one which belonged to Marie Antoinette is I think very curious.

Fan Reputedly Owned by Marie-Antionette
Purchased for Queen Victoria, 1839
The Royal Collection
Queen Victoria did, in fact, like the fans. She was especially fond of the fan that was reputedly owned by Marie-Antoinette which she described in her journal as being “really curious” and which was admired by everyone in her court. There’s really no way of proving that the fan had once belonged to Marie-Antoinette. It’s likely to be untrue. Marie-Antoinette had become something of an icon of Marilyn Monroe proportions by the time of Victoria’s reign and things relating to her were considered highly fashionable. Historically, this fan, by the time it was made between 1720 and 1730, would have been considered quite unfashionable by Marie-Antoinette herself.

Regardless of its previous ownership, it is an excellent example of a rare lacquered brisé fan and was quite a valuable antique in its own right. Nearly three hundred years later, it remains in the Royal Collection as does its original leather case and the correspondence sent by Queen Louise.

Mastery of Design: Queen Mary’s Patch Box, 1694

Queen Mary II
From the Sixteenth Century, well into the Nineteenth Century, ladies (and later gentleman) wore “patches” on their faces for the purposes of heightening the beauty of their complexion. Of course, that’s what they claimed. However, the real reason for wearing gummed pieces of black crepe on the face—in the affectation of a beauty mark or mole—was, in fact, to cover scars, blemishes and craters left from smallpox. While patches mostly took the form of a round spot, they sometimes were cut into elaborate designs ranging from stars to intricately-cut silhouettes of carriages and horses. The fashion became so out of control that some were wearing many patches at once—presumably to make themselves more beautiful, but realistically, trying to hide an increasing number of skin problems. Critics of the practice considered it grotesque. The response to their disgust was often the argument that Venus herself had a spot on her face.

Patches were, quite fashionably, reused and stored in boxes on a lady’s vanity. Patch Boxes, as they were called, were often crafted by jewelers who indulged in the use of the finest stones and metals. Queen Mary II(1662-1694), the Queen Regnant who ruled alongside King William III, began wearing patches in the last year of her life despite a statement made by the Bishop of Gloucester that the queen, “Did not entertain such childish vanities as spotted faces.” And, perhaps, she normally wouldn’t have. However, during her thirty-second year of life, she mysteriously began adding patches to her daily routine. As it turns out, she’d contracted smallpox which had left her face scarred and in need of covering…oh, yes, and also killed her.

Patch Box
Presented to Queen Mary II in 1694
Gold, Enamel and Diamonds
The Royal Collection
Of course, when the Queen started wearing patches, she needed a proper patch box. Given Mary II’s great passion for jewelry, a very fine box was supplied to her by a now unknown German jeweler. This patch box, presented to the Queen just before her death in 1694 was made of gold which was finely enameled with her cipher and encrusted with diamonds. What a pity that she didn’t get to enjoy it.

Upon her death, this item, along with much of her jewelry, was bequeathed to friends and family and fell out of possession of The Royal Collection. In 1963, it reappeared at an auction at Christie’s in London where Queen Elizabeth II purchased it and brought it back into the Royal Family.

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Eve of St. Bertie

"You're kinda creepin' me out, lady."

Image:  The Eve of St. Agnes, Sir John Everett Millais, 1863, The Royal Collection

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 137

Cecil staggered back in disbelief. “I can’t believe it.”

“She’s been murdered.” Robert sighed. “The Duchess of Fallbridge.”

“Julian sera dévastée.” Adrienne sobbed.

Robert examined the body closer. At that moment, he noticed that upon the bodice of the Duchess’ gown, something had been pinned—a purple feather and a small, folded piece of paper. He unpinned both and unfolded the note, reading it aloud.

“Here hangs the remains of a murderess. ‘As you sow, so shall ye reap.’ In life, she was impossible. In death, she proves most valuable. Consider this your last warning. As the year ends, so does my patience.” Robert grunted, “It’s signed ‘Iolanthe Evangeline.’”

“She’s been in this house.” Cecil said angrily. “Here in the room next to my son’s. While we were dressing, she was in here murdering the Duchess of Fallbridge.”

“Her Grace did not die by hanging.” Robert shook his head. “This woman was dead before she was hanged.”

“Iolanthe couldn’t have done this alone!” Cecil spat. “She may be a hearty woman, but she’s not so strong that she could carry a corpse into this house and hang it without assistance. Someone helped her.”

“Nellie.” Adrienne gasped. “Where’s Nellie? If this isn’t she, where’s she gone?”

Meanwhile, downstairs, Mr. Punch snarled at Iolanthe Evangeline who still sat quite contentedly on Marjani’s bed.

“You’d best get out of this house,” Mr. Punch shouted.

“I’d like nothing more.” Iolanthe rose. “I’ve done what I intended and I’ve got what I came for.”

“Which is?” Punch asked.

“Several things.” Iolanthe chuckled. “Some more valuable than others.”

“Have you stolen somethin’ that belongs to Adrienne and Cecil? Did you take something of mine or Roberts’?”

“No.” Iolanthe smiled. “I’ve only taken back what’s mine to begin with. But, isn’t it sweet how protective you are of your friends? You’d better get back upstairs, Lord Fallbridge. There was a woman hanged here tonight, you know.”

“I know.” Mr. Punch narrowed his eyes, “but how do you know?”

“Haven’t you realized by now that there’s nothing that I don’t already know?” Iolanthe laughed. “And, I don’t want you thinkin’ otherwise.”

“What do you mean?” Mr. Punch asked.

“Nothing that you won’t soon see for yourself.” Iolanthe cackled, brushing past Mr. Punch. “If you’ll excuse me, I have companions waiting for me.”

She paused in the doorway. “Oh, by the way,” She gracefully reached into the small handbag that she was carrying. “Does this look familiar?” From the bag, she withdrew a large, glittering blue stone. She held it between her satin-gloved fingers.

“My father’s diamond!” Mr. Punch gasped.

“My diamond.” Iolanthe laughed. “You had no idea that it’s been in this house for days, did you? Well, dear lunatic, I have it and its guardian.”

“Give it to me!” Mr. Punch lunged forward.

Iolanthe jerked her hand away. “Naughty…”

“What’s goin’ on here?” Marjani shouted as she hurried down the hallway.

Mr. Punch turned toward Marjani. “No. Don’t come near her! She’ll hurt you.”

“You get away from him, you awful woman!” Marjani screamed.

When Mr. Punch turned around, Iolanthe was gone. All that remained was the scent of her perfume as if she’d simply vanished. Punch ran down the hallway just in time to see the back door closing.

“I can’t let her…” Mr. Punch grunted.

“Stop, Mr. Punch.” Marjani said softly.


“Ain’t nothin’ you can do. Besides, there’s tragedy in this house.”

“Gamilla?” Mr. Punch asked.

“No.” Marjani shook her head. “Gamilla’s gonna be all right.”

“It ain’t Naasir?”

“No.” Marjani said. “Upstairs.”

“Oh, coo. Nellie…that’s why I came down here in the first place. Could you come up, please? Nellie’s sad soul…it’s what made her do it, I’m sure.”

Marjani shook her head. “Mr. Punch, it ain’t that soul of that fallen woman that’s been released tonight.”

“I don’t understand. Were you upstairs?” Mr. Punch asked.

“No.” Marjani repeated. “It is written. Come with me, young Mr. Punch. I will take you to her.”

“I…” Mr. Punch shook his head.

Marjani took Julian’s hands. “Come with me upstairs.”

Punch followed Marjani back up the stairs. With each step, he felt a growing sense of dread. He knew that—within the body that they shared—Julian was uneasy, increasingly so.

Marjani led Mr. Punch to Nellie’s room.

“Don’t let him in yet.” Robert said quickly when he saw Marjani and Punch in the doorway.

“Why not, Chum?” Punch asked softly. “What don’t you want me to see?”

“My dear,” Robert walked toward the door.

“What don’t you want me to see?” Mr. Punch asked again.

“Punch, dear Punch…” Robert said, placing his hands on Julian’s shoulders.

“It ain’t Nellie, is it?” Punch asked.

Robert shook his head.

“It’s Barbara, isn’t it?” Mr. Punch asked. “Iolanthe were here. I saw her downstairs. She got the diamond, she did. She got it from Barbara and killed her, didn’t she? That’s the woman what’s lying dead on that bed. Me master’s sister?”

“I knew that woman was still in the house!” Cecil growled.

Robert cast a warning look at his brother.

“She’s gone now, she is.” Mr. Punch said softly. “Disappeared like she were a ghost. Let me see Barbara.”

“It’s not Barbara.” Robert said.

“If it ain’t Barbara and it ain’t Nellie, who is it, then?” Mr. Punch asked, knowing the answer in his heart already. He looked at Marjani who nodded at him.

“Let him see his mother,” Marjani said quietly.

“No.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “Not me master’s mother. No!”

Julian’s body began shaking wildly.

Robert put his arms around the man.

“No!” Mr. Punch screamed.

“Punch, please, please…” Robert pleaded with him. “Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t do this to Julian.”

“It’s me own fault!” Mr. Punch shouted. “I left her there! I left her there! I left her there!”

Did you miss Chapters 1-136? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Make A Resolution For Your Pets

Our pets don’t make resolutions. When well taken care of, they are typically quite content with the way things are. Animals have a way of letting us know what they want, but they don’t always know what’s best for themselves.

This year, as you’re resolving to improve yourself, you should take some time to consider your pet’s well-being, too. Is your pet getting enough exercise? Is he or she getting groomed often enough? Are your pet’s shots up-to-date? Do you have the appropriate medicine that’s needed to ensure their continued health?

Our animals look to us for comfort and care. It’s up to us to make sure that their new year is equally bright and healthy.

Object of the Day: A Lucky Dog, 1941

This little figure of a Westie dog is dated 1941. Whimsically sculpted from a salt-based medium, the figure is the epitome of 1940’s styling with its sweetly exaggerated features and pronounced musculature.

A favorite theme of 1940’s novelty art was the “lucky”’ horse shoe. This cheerful little dog is holding a bright blue horse shoe which is inscribed, “Lucky.” With his quizzical expression and raised eyebrows, the dog seems to be challenging us—in a typically terrier way—to be lucky. I love this little guy with his hand-painted nose, tongue and eyes. Artists of the 1940’s had a wonderful ability to capture the innate organic spirit of their subjects and to express great emotion with abstracted detail. This is a perfect example of that ingenuity.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Building of the Week: Biltmore House, Asheville, North Carolina

The Vanderbilts
At the apex of America’s Gilded Age, as the nation enjoyed the second industrial revolution, prominent families such as the Vanderbilts were constructing lavish palaces around the country. These temples to their own wealth grew increasingly larger as families tried to outdo one another. Winter homes and Summer homes of epic proportions began to spring up in areas such as New York’s Hudson River Valley and Newport, Rhode Island. However, George Washington Vanderbilt II had a different location in mind—North Carolina.

Construction of the House, 1890
Vanderbilt had grown fond of the majestic mountain scenery of Asheville, North Carolina upon visiting the area with his mother. He dreamed of building a palatial home with monumental gardens in the French and English styles there. To achieve this goal, Vanderbilt enlisted two of the most influential designers of the era: architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead. Both worked with Vanderbilt to realize his dream of a bucolic French village in the mountains of North Carolina.

Construction began in 1889. The mansion was to rise to four stories and would be constructed in a French Châteauesque Style which mimicked the architecture of Sixteenth Century French palaces. With its massive stair-tower, steeply pitched roof and Renaissance-inspired ornamentation, the mansion became the centerpiece of the 125,000 acre estate which also included a working village.

The finished house contained 250 opulent rooms, lavish wood and stonework. At 135,000 square feet, the façade of the house stretches 780 feet at its widest part. Opened in 1895, despite the fact that construction hadn’t been finished, the mansion featured electric light, forced air heating, elevators, centrally controlled clocks and a host of other Victorian technological novelties.

Upkeep of the estate was enormously expensive and is said to have depleted a large portion of Vanderbilt’s fortune. Upon his death, his widow sold 80,000 acres of the original plot of land to the United States government with the understanding that it was not to be developed. The home remains in the Vanderbilt family to this day. It was opened to the public in the 1930’s to help defray the costs of maintaining it, however, members of the family still resided in the house well into the 1960’s. Today, the house and its surrounding land is a thriving tourist attraction which has spawned a rather extensive line of products for the home and garden. For more information visit the Web site for the Biltmore Estate.

Sculpture of the Day: “The Laughing Child,” 1498

The Laughing Child
Possibly a bust of Henry VIII
Guido Mazzoni, 1498
Polychrome clay
The Royal Collection
This startlingly realistic polychrome bust of painted clay has been attributed to Italian sculptor Guido Mazzoni who was also known by the name “Paganino.” In the 1490’s, Mazzoni was working on the tomb of French King Charles VIII when he submitted designs for the tomb of English King Henry VII which was to be built in Westminster Abbey. Royal records indicate that the designs of “Master Pageny” were rejected in favor of those of Pietro Torrigiano. However, it’s likely that this bust was commissioned by King Henry VII at that time or was presented to Henry VII as an example of Mazzoni’s life-like work.

The bust is crafted of an extremely thin layer of clay which was pressed into a very detailed mold. The child’s open mouth, nostrils and ears allowed steam to escape while the piece was fired. Removal of Victorian-era overpaint revealed the original painting scheme which was rendered over a layer of foil—giving the piece a natural glow.

The subject of the bust has been a matter of debate for centuries. William III had the sculpture removed from Whitehall Palace and placed in storage during his reign—perhaps it didn’t go with his décor or perhaps he found it unnerving. At that time, the bust was listed in the Royal inventory as “Head of a Laughing Boy.” By 1815, the inventory referred to the bust as “Head of a Laughing Girl.” Later, it was changed to simply, “German Dwarf.” However, historians now suspect that the bust is actually a portrait of a young Henry VIII—aged about seven years. This makes sense. The child does have Henry VIII’s features and the distinctive Tudor coloring. However, his true identity will never be certain. He is, most certainly, not, however, a German dwarf.

Precious Time: A Rare Figural Mantel Clock, 1783

Figural Mantel Clock
Vuilliamy, 1783
Marble, Gilt Bronze, Enamel, Porcelain
2nd Viscount Melbourne
by whom bequeated to Queen Victoria
The Royal Collection
This rare clock designed by innovative French horologist François-Justin Vulliamy with works by his son, Benjamin, shows an unusual design which had become quite the curiosity in Eighteenth Century England. Instead of a traditional clock face, the time is displayed on a dial-like mechanism which surmounts a gilt bronze and marble urn. Clocks such as this one often were set upon marble bases with gilded mounts and with Biscuit or Parian figures in a Classical style. Vuilliamy, realizing the necessity of quality, employed the finest sculptors to create the figures for these clock cases. In this instance, English sculptor John Deare worked directly for Vuilliamy, modeling this figure on a composition by John Bacon.

At one point, two other such clocks were housed in the Royal Collection, also created by Vuilliamy and with similar themes. They had been made expressly for King George III. While the Collection’s records indicate that George III had prized these clocks, no further evidence of them exists and they cannot be accounted for. This particular clock was bequeated to Queen Victoria by Lord Melbourne in 1848—a good sixty-five years after its creation.

Unusual Artifacts: Ostrich Egg Cup and Cover, 1623

Ostrich Egg
Cup and Cover
The Royal
This lovely, though peculiar, gilt cup was presented to the Reverend John Stopes on New Year’s Day, 1623, as a gift of affection for the Reverend who had followed in his father’s footsteps as the beloved Parson of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Old Fish Street (love the name), City of London.

The cup is inscribed:

This Cupp was given to Mr John Stopes our parsonns sonne by the Parishioners of the Parish of St Mary Magdalenes In or neere Olde Fishstreete London for his paines takinge / with vs by his often preaching with vs hoping that he will so friendly accept it as we most franckly and willing meane it The firste day of January 1623.

The object is crafted of a genuine ostrich egg supported by a silver-gilt base and mounts. Atop the cover, a gilt-silver figure of the goddess Minerva stands. Minerva once held an engraved banner which showed the face of Mary Magdalene and the words, “The 4 of october 1577 Mr James Stopes came to be our parson,” in reference to John’s predecessor, his Reverend father.

The cup and cover bears the mark known as “The Trefoil Slipped.” This is the mark of a goldsmith who was in business from 1570-1630. While the goldsmith’s name in now unknown or forgotten, his mark lives on and is prized for the artist’s use of exotic materials such as ostrich eggs, mother-0f-pearl and abalone as well as his masterful gilding.

Somehow, this object came to auction in 1924. The auction catalog lists the piece as having the aforementioned “banner” in the hands of Minerva. However, over the next thirty years, the banner was lost. In 1953, the piece came into the possession of the American Branch of the English Speaking Union and was presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the day of her coronation.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 136

Adrienne shrieked. “Let me see her!”

“No.” Cecil held Adrienne back, trying to keep her from entering the darkened room in which Nellie had hanged herself.

“Mon Dieu! J'arriverai jamais pardonnez moi-même! J'ai laissé que pauvre fille dans ma maison! Elle avait accès à notre enfant, Cecil! Nos enfants! Maintenant, elle est assassiné elle-même! Avec notre enfant dans la prochaine chambre!" Adrienne screamed. “Cecil, Fuller’s in the next room!”

“He has no idea what’s happening, and he’ll never know.” Cecil said, trying to soothe his wife.

“The poor girl,” Adrienne sobbed, her head sinking to her chest. “This could have been prevented. I should have helped her escape Iolanthe when you rescued me. I should have made it my mission to help all of those girls find happy lives, too. Mon égoïsme! Je ne pardonneront jamais mon égoïsme. Mon cher, je pensais que seulement de moi-même! De notre bonheur! Je n'a pas fait assez. God forgive my selfishness!”

“You can’t rescue everyone, darling.” Cecil embraced his wife.

Adrienne broke free of her husband’s arms and rushed into the room.

“Adrienne!” Cecil called after her.

“Adrienne, my dear,” Robert said softly, “please, don’t come in here.”

“Where’s a lamp?” Adrienne asked. “It’s too dark. She hated the dark. Lorsque nous avons vécu à cette terrible chambre ensemble, nous avons partagé une chambre. Elle a toujours maintenu une chandelle allumée par son lit de nuit. Elle avait en horreur ténèbres.”

“Adrienne, être encore. Permettez-moi libérer de la corde dans l'obscurité.” Robert responded softly. “I can’t reach her. I don’t know how she managed this. There’s nothing from which she could have jumped.”

“What?” Adrienne said.

“I’m trying to get her down. But, there’s no chair, nothing to step upon. I don’t know how she could have gotten to a height from which she could have hanged herself.”

Cecil entered the room, “Let me help you.”

“Une lampe! Nous avons besoin d'une lampe!” Adrienne stumbled around the darkened room in search of a lamp. She found one on the mantle and lit it with a long fireplace “noiseless match.”

The three of them slowly peered up at the woman hanging from the center of the room.

“That’s not Nellie!” Adrienne said, cupping her hand over her mouth.

“Dear God,” Cecil groaned.

“Who is it?” Robert asked, stupefied. “I can’t see her face well.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Punch scrambled through the servant’s hall in search of Marjani.

He knocked on the door to her room and, upon, hearing “Come in,” entered—not realizing that the voice was not Marjani’s deep, sweet tone.

“Here!” Mr. Punch shouted, “we got trouble…”

“I’d say you do.” Iolanthe Evangeline smiled at him from Marjani’s bed.

“Bollox!” Mr. Punch shouted. “I shoulda known you’d have some hand in this!”

“In what, maniac?” Iolanthe grinned.

“How’d you get in here?” Mr. Punch asked.

“Your servants, Lord Fallbridge, may be loyal, but they aren’t very intelligent. You wouldn’t think they’d leave the door to their quarters unlocked—not with such important guests staying in their home. Yet, they did. Foolish, don’t you think?”

“Where’s Marjani?” Mr. Punch asked.

“So many questions.” Iolanthe sighed. “And, you—all dressed up in your costume. Don’t you look adorable? Are you some kind of harlequin?”

“You know what I am.” Mr. Punch spat.

“I do!” Iolanthe growled. “I know exactly what you are. So, does your mother, Her Grace. Tell me, what are the others in your party dressed as? I’ve not seen them. I suppose I’ll see them at the ball—you know I’ll be there, my invitation is unspoken. This is a divine surprise. I hadn’t counted on being found just now. But, I’m so glad that I was. I got a little preview of your darling little outfit before I slipped away.”

“If you’ve done somethin’ to Marjani, I’ll twist your bleedin’ neck!” Mr. Punch shouted.

“You’re worried about your slave?” Iolanthe laughed.

“Marjani ain’t no slave. She’s a free woman. A person! So’re all the folk what work here. They’re our equals, they are. Ain’t a one of ‘em anybody’s property. That’s not somethin’ you’d understand—you who make your livin’ by makin’ by ownin’ other folk!” Mr. Punch answered. “Now, where is she?”

“Don’t worry.” Iolanthe sighed. “I’ve not done any harm to any of your precious ‘equals.’ They don’t even know I’m here. Your Marjani is with that priest—Naasir—or, what’s left of him anyway. The other woman is with the girl who seems to be sick. As for the men, they’re enjoying some wine in the courtyard. No one saw me come in. But, I think it’s sweet how you worry for them. I don’t want you thinkin’ that I don’t. If only…”

“What?” Mr. Punch said.

“If only you’d worry more for your own family.”

“I worry plenty ‘bout me family!” Mr. Punch said.

“Do you?” Iolanthe grinned. “I mean your real family, Lord Fallbridge—or whatever it is you call yourself when you’re out of your mind. Your sister and your mother.”

“Ain’t got neither!” Mr. Punch shouted. “Both are dead to me!”

“How little you know.” Iolanthe laughed. “You have no idea how accurate that statement is.”

Upstairs, Robert balanced on a chair, cutting through the rope with a knife that Cecil had found in the writing desk. Cecil stood below him, supporting the woman’s body as best he could, hoping to catch her before she fell to the floor.

Adrienne watched the scene in horror.

“I’m almost through…” Robert grunted.

Cecil suddenly felt the weight of the body in his arms. Robert hurried off the chair and helped Cecil carry the woman to the bed.

Adrienne brought the lamp over.

The three of them gasped as they got a good look at the woman’s face—recognizable though distorted by death and agony.

“La mère de Julian,” Adrienne croaked.

“The Duchess of Fallbridge.” Robert whispered.

Did you miss Chapters 1-135? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Examine Your Character

When you’re reading a book or watching a film, you relate to the characters that you encounter by evaluating their characteristics and making a judgment about them. Similarly, we form our opinions of other people by taking an inventory of their characteristics. However, how often do we examine our own characters?

Spend some time today looking inward. Get to know yourself again. What motivates you? What are your beliefs? Use the same criteria to judge yourself that you’d use to judge the people around you. You may be surprised at what you’ll find.

Are you a positive person? Are you fun? Are you supportive? Do you complain too much? Do you dwell on the negative? Do you live only for your own wants and needs?

If you met yourself, would you want to spend time with yourself?

While each of us is a remarkable individual, we all have room for improvement. An honest self-assessment will tell you if you’re exhibiting the qualities that you most value.

Object of the Day: An Antique Watercolor Portrait

I instantly found this little English watercolor portrait to be appealing. The finely painted piece dates between 1860-1875, I’d say. The painting is in excellent condition, retaining a brightness of color in the vivid blues and flesh-tones—two hues which are often the quickest to fade with time.

The painter identifies himself or herself with penciled initials which appear to be “M.C.” Now, who is the sitter? I’m not sure. At one time, the piece sported a framer’s label which might have given us some more information. While the frame still has its original wooden backing, the label is long-gone with only the tattered edges remaining.

I was drawn to the painting by the gentleman’s resemblance to Mr. Hudson as played by Gordon Jackson from the original ITV series Upstairs, Downstairs (see below). Of course, this predates Gordon Jackson’s turn in the series by over one hundred years. However, he also favors philosopher, M.P. and all-around possessor-of-opinions John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). This fellow, however, looks a bit too cheerful to be John Stuart Mill, but there’s a distinct similarity. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know. But, it’s a lovely little painting and I’m pleased to welcome it to the family.

Gordon Jackson  as Mr. Hudson (right) with David Langton (left)
John Stuart Mill looking typically stern.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Her Majesty’s Furniture: A Wardrobe by André-Charles Boulle, 1700

Boulle, c. 1700
Purchased by George IV, 1825
The Royal Collection
André-Charles Boulle was one of the most celebrated furniture makers of Eighteenth Century France and enjoyed a long career and association with French King Louis XIV for whom he served as Royal furniture-maker and gilder. Boulle’s work was defined by his sense of architectural grandeur, his use of fine materials, inlays, marquetry and ormolu mounts. He produced furniture on a grand scale—including several monumental wardrobes which he designed for purposes of display more so than use. Nineteen such wardrobes have been identified as the work of Boulle.

In the 1820’s, as British King George IV was refurnishing Windsor Castle, his taste for French finery and antiques was satisfied by the designs of Boulle. George IV had spotted two large pieces of Boulle’s creation in the Royal Furniture Shop in Paris in 1825. This stunning wardrobe of oak, ebony, tortoiseshell, brass, pewter, kingwood, rosewood, mahogany, gilt bronze was one of them. He quickly spirited them back to Windsor Castle with the intention of placing them in his sitting room. However, they were too large. This piece ended up at an angle in The Grand Corridor where it remains today.

Humanitarian of the Week: Stephanie Gatschet

Stephanie Gatschet
While we often hear of young actresses whose lifestyles lead them into courtrooms and rehab, we rarely hear of those whose choices truly benefit others. The latter is the case of Stephanie Gatschet. Stephanie began acting at the age of nine, and she quickly parlayed her talent into a thriving career which encompassed stage, screen and television. Most people will recognize Miss Gatschet for her roles on daytime television. From 2002 until 2008, she played Tammy Winslow on The Guiding Light. After that, she joined the cast of All My Children where she continues to play murderess-turned-heroine Madison North. While Madison may be a trifle unhinged, Miss Gatschet is not. Instead of indulging in the wild lifestyle now available to her since All My Children moved from New York to Los Angeles, she’s continued her humanitarian work—efforts which reach a wide range of causes.

Stephanie devotes her time and efforts to The National Lung Cancer Partnership, The Gay and Lesbian Center, “Much Love” Animal Rescue, The American Cancer Society, “Model Home,” and to raise funds for young artists and actors. In 2007, Miss Gatschet also spent three weeks in Tanzania helping orphans in that impoverished country find some comfort amidst the chaos.

For her generosity and exceptional artistry, Stephanie Gatschet is our first Humanitarian of the Week for 2011.

The Belle Époque Today: The Art of Bernard Dunstan, RA

Campo S. Apostoli
Bernard Dunstan
A member of the Royal Academy since 1968, Bernard Dunstan has redefined the idea of “Impressionism” by imbuing his work with the ideals of painters such as Renoir, Bonnard and Vuillard, but creating a distinct atmospheric style of his own. His love of Impressionist painters has led Dunstan to write several books on the subject. Meanwhile, his exceptional paintings have found their way into the collections of The British National Portrait Gallery, The Museum of London and The Royal Collection.

With his tender brushstrokes and brilliant use of color, Dunstan’s works come to life. While they mirror their Nineteenth Century forebearers, they take their images to a new level of added dimension and meaning.

Film of the Week: Lola, 1961

C’est moi. C’est Lola.

The ease with which “Lola” identifies herself belies the confusion in the soul of this young, French “Dance Hall girl” (to phrase her profession gently). Lola is a lost soul. She’s in love with an ideal—a strapping blond sailor who left her alone with a child to raise in the French coastal city of Nantes. Lola is not without her amusements. She takes delight in the simplest things—adding some fringe to what seems to be her one, rather brief, costume, having a nice glass of wine, leaving her son unattended at night, and taking American sailors to bed. Lola’s not a prostitute, per se. She doesn’t get paid for her company. Sure, she gets whiskey and cigarettes and an increasingly large collection of toy trumpets for her son, Yvon, but that’s not legal tender. She’s got a good heart under all that fringe. She’s not really “Lola.” That’s just the name she adopted for the stage. She’s really Cecile—a sweet French girl whose heart has been broken.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Nantes, Roland Cassard is having an equally difficult time. He just can’t find himself interested in anything. He doesn’t care about his job—which he promptly loses. He doesn’t care about his music anymore. He craves adventure—something he finds in books, and he craves love. He fondly remembers a girl from his childhood—Cecile. When Roland stumbles across Cecile as the newly-transformed Lola, he thinks that this might mean his life makes sense. But, alas, this is a French film. So, no. What follows is an interesting tale of broken hearts, yearning, jewel smuggling, amorous sailors, peculiar dancing, and youthful angst.

Lola marked the directorial debut of the celebrated Jacques Demy and also serves as the first entry of his beloved trilogy which includes Les Parapluies De Cherbourg, and Les Desmoiselles de Rochefort. While the latter two films are strictly musicals set to lavish scores by Michel Legrand, Lola is, as Demy described, “a musical without music.” Legrand provided the orchestral themes—music which was adapted for Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. The character of Roland Cassard played by Marc Michel, appears as a lead character in “Parapluies,” taking the story of Lola to Cherbourg along with his own theme tune.

Anouk Aimée plays Lola and gives what could be a very one-note character a considerable amount of depth and subtle emotion. She’s nicely matched with Marc Michel who delivers a similarly brave performance.

This film is something of a New Year’s tradition with my family. It would be odd not to ring in the New Year without our favorite French stripper and her many loves. Of course, the film is in French, but you don’t really need to read the subtitles to know what’s going on. It’s incredibly interesting to watch, and, if you’re a fan of Jacques Demy, a must-see film.