Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Sparkle: Eye of a Lady, 1905

Eye of a Lady
Gold and Diamonds, 1905
The Royal Collection
During the mid-to-late Victorian Period, gentlemen often were presented with painted ivory miniatures in jeweled frames. These miniatures depicted the eye of their beloved. Sometimes, the eye was given in secret by a mistress who wanted to make sure that her man never forgot her. The portraits were almost always set into a stickpin which the gentleman could wear as an homage to his beloved.

This watercolor on ivory miniature of an eye of a lady dates to 1905. Set in a diamond-studded gold stickpin, this item was first entered into the Royal Collection during the very brief reign of Kind Edward VIII. To whom the eye belonged is unknown.

The Art of Play: King Charles I’s Rocking Horse, 1610

Rocking Horse Belonging to King Charles I
The Museum of Childhood
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Of the two-hundred rocking horses in the collection of the Museum of Childhood at the Victoria & Albert Museum, this is the oldest. The horse, made of softwood and elm, was made in 1610 specifically for King Charles I–son of James VI and Anne of Denmark—when he was a child. Charles’ childhood was marked by ill-health and a variety of speech disorders which kept the prince secluded and largely indoors. This rocking horse probably provided the soon-to-be-king with a much needed distraction.

It’s rather amazing that this item has survived over four hundred years in the excellent condition that it’s in. A plaque affixed to the horse states that the horse was, “Purchased on 18 June, 1906, at Cheshunt House, Hertfordshire.” Theobalds House—the favorite home of James VI—was the location of James death and the announcement that Charles I would be king. Theobalds House stood near Cheshunt House in Hertfordshire. When the house was largely demolished in the Eighteenth Century, most of its contents were absorbed into the surrounding stately homes. This rocking horse seems to have made its way into Cheshunt House where it remained for three hundred years.

At the Music Hall: “I Love a Lassie,” 1909, Sir Harry Lauder

Sir Harry Lauder
I love a lassie, a bonnie bonnie lassie,
She's as pure as a lily in the dell,
She's sweet as the heather, the bonnie bloomin' heather,
Mary, my Scots bluebell.

This extremely popular music hall song comes from the great Scottish entertainer, Sir Harry Lauder whom Winston Churchill described as “Scotland’s greatest ambassador ever.”

Harry Lauder made a name for himself in Scottish music halls in the early 1900’s. Known for his keen wit and his rousing sonds, he quickly became a celebrated figure all over Britain. Lauder, for the most part, wrote all of his own songs. This one, it is believed, was inspired by his deep affection for his wife, Nancy.

Masterpiece of the Week: Scent Bottle with the Cipher of Queen Charlotte, 1805

Scent Bottle
With the Cipher of Queen Charlotte
Crystal, Silver Gilt, Colored Paste, Enamel
The Royal Collection
Wife of King George III, Queen Charlotte had a taste for fine, exotic fragrances. Her vanity was frequently said to be lined with glittering scent bottles. Very often, the fragrances were sent to her from India as gifts from the Nabob of Arcot along with a host of unusual jewels and luxurious fabrics.

This scent bottle was made in England specifically for the Queen and was meant to hold one of the fragrances which the Nabob had gifted to her. Its design is inspired by the jewels that the Nabob had sent to Queen Charlotte. The crystal bottle is adorned with paste “rubies,” “diamonds” and “emeralds.” The base of the bottle is engraved with Queen Charlotte’s crowned cipher and the peculiar motto, “Patent Paratout.” This is unusual since those words usually only appear on a particular type of umbrellas made in the early 1800’s.

By all accounts, Queen Charlotte favored this bottle and used it often. After her death, it was included in a collection of the Queen’s things that were saved. Somehow, in 1934, it was acquired by Mary of Teck. Queen Mary had a way of collecting all manner of interesting objects. The exact method she used to return this little masterpiece to the Royal Collection is unknown.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 145

A tattoo of shrill laughter cut through the horrified silence in the ballroom. Each head turned away from the shocking sight of Nellie’s bloodied face and gown to see from whom the maniacal chuckling had emanated. Dozens of eyes settled upon the cheerful figure of St. Joan who had tossed her head back to laugh at the plight of the young woman who shrieked from the entrance.

“I want Ulrika Rittenhouse!” Nellie screamed as the ballroom became awash in the murmurs of the revelers.

“Got ya, did she?” Iolanthe laughed as she approached Nellie who pressed herself firmly against one of the marbleized plaster columns which lined the entrance to the grand ballroom.

“Stay away!” Nellie shrieked.

Iolanthe slowly clapped her hands, “Come on, everyone. This is a good show.”

Others in the crowd began to clap as well.

“Edward Cage always puts on a good show, doesn’t he?” Iolanthe continued.

“Yes, yes,” Edward Cage hurried forward. “That’s all this is.” He said quickly. “Just a reminder that here, at my magnificent museum, you’ll see all manner of exhibits that will shock and amuse you!”

The crowd erupted into hesitant applause.

As Iolanthe reached Nellie she hissed, “Don’t be a fool. Come with me.”

“Never.” Nellie spat.

“Where else can you go?” Iolanthe grinned.

“I want Ulrika.” Nellie whispered.

“She’s here.” Iolanthe said, offering her hand to Nellie. “I’ll take you to her.”

Nellie reluctantly took Iolanthe’s hand.

“Welcome home, Nell.” Iolanthe grinned.

Carling and Fane Rittenhouse rushed toward Edward Cage.

“Edward,” Fane began, “I can appreciate your showmanship. God knows we’re all used to your theatricality, but why bring my daughter’s good name into it?”

“How dare you?” Carling harrumphed.

“I don’t know what’s going on here.” Edward whispered sharply. “This wasn’t my design. I was simply trying to stop panic before it started. If you want answers, you’d best consult with your precious daughter.” With that, he turned away sharply in search of his security guards.

“Perhaps I should go to her,” Robert muttered to Mr. Punch from their end of the ballroom.

Mr. Punch shrugged nervously.

“She’s clearly been injured.” Robert sighed. “Though, frankly, it’s no worse than she’s done to Gamilla. Still, I can’t let her go with Iolanthe.”

“I’m not the person what can help ya make decisions, Chum.” Mr. Punch said weakly. “I don’t know what’s right anymore.”

Robert watched helplessly as Iolanthe guided Nellie out of the ballroom. There, in the wide corridor, they encountered Ulrika Rittenhouse who was just leaving another clandestine meeting with Arthur.

“What are you doing here?” Ulrika gasped. “I gave you orders.”

“You’ve ruined me!” Nellie sobbed.

Iolanthe chuckled. “Quit your cryin’. Your face will heal.” She turned to Ulrika. “If I didn’t hate you so much, I’d say that you did a fine job with this one.”

“Your praise is touching.” Ulrika smirked. “I don’t see why you hate me. There’s no reason you and I should be bad friends. We want the same things. Don’t we? Perhaps we could form some sort of partnership.”

“I don’t form partnerships.” Iolanthe laughed.

“You’re both insane!” Nellie spat, blood still dripping from her cheek.

“There, there, Nell,” Iolanthe smiled. “No one cares what you think. You—“ She looked at Ulrika. “Two of my men are on the street. Signal to them and they’ll take this woman out of here.”

“I don’t take orders from you.” Ulrika frowned.

“Would you rather I let Nellie loose in the ballroom to tell all those fine people what you’ve done to her?”

Ulrika grunted.

“Go on,” Iolanthe ordered.

Ulrika did as instructed.

“I’m not going back to your house.” Nellie whimpered.

“I don’t see as how you have much choice.” Iolanthe grinned. “It’s either that, or you wander the streets bleedin’ until you die.”

Iolanthe’s men entered the corridor and took Nellie by the arms.

“We’ll discuss your punishment later.” Iolanthe winked as Nellie was dragged away in tears. “And, what about you?” Iolanthe turned toward Ulrika who had returned. “What about your punishment?”

“I’ll be punished on the day that you are,” Ulrika said plainly.

“That’s gonna be a long, long time from now.” Iolanthe laughed as Ulrika walked back into the ballroom.

“I do love parties.” Iolanthe muttered to herself as she followed Ulrika in.

Meanwhile, Mr. Punch and Robert continued to nervously await Cecil’s and Adrienne’s entrance.

They whispered to one another in their anxiety and were startled when Iolanthe interrupted them.

“What the matter?” Iolanthe smiled. “Aren’t you two enjoying the masquerade?”

“Miss Evangeline, this is a private conversation.” Robert answered.

“Your Grace,” Iolanthe began, ignoring Robert, “Is something bothering you? Are you feeling overwhelmed?”

“I ain’t overwhelmed,” Mr. Punch said angrily. “I want you to go away.”

“Well, that’s not very sociable, Your Grace. I know that’s not how your mother raised you.” Iolanthe taunted him.

At that very moment, Adrienne entered the ballroom, followed closely behind by Cecil. In a matter of seconds, all eyes had turned to her.

“It’s Iolanthe Evangeline.” Two men whispered to one another.

“The Elegant Ogress,” Another gentleman said quickly.

Iolanthe swiveled around to look. She growled audibly upon seeing Adrienne whose face was obscured by a glittering purple mask.

“What is this?” She exclaimed. “Who dares to mock me?”

Did you miss Chapters 1-144? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, January 17, 2011 for Chapter 146 of Punch’s Cousin.

Goal for the Day: Think Triumphantly

King George VI, circa 1940
The Royal Collection
Like King George VI and his speech impediment, each of us has some characteristic that we feel slows us down. Every individual has aspects about his or her life which they feel want changing. However, very often, we feel as though we’re powerless to do anything about it. That’s simply not true.

There’s very little in life which cannot be overcome. Consider all of the energy we put into being resigned about our circumstances. Image if we were to harness that energy into making a change. While there are certain part of life which can’t be erased, we can work to affect change in them. We can improve ourselves, we can triumph over the circumstances which challenge us. It may not happen quickly, but it can happen. And, at the end of it, at least you’ve fought for what you want.

So, today, consider those things which you wish to change. Don’t fear them, but rather, face them head-on. Even if you only make a small dent in the problem, that’s one step closer to living by your own rules and terms.

Object of the Day: A Commemorative Coronation Mug, 1937

Born December 14, 1895, on the very day that his great grandfather, Prince Albert, died, the future King George VI’s arrival into the world was kept quiet by his father who feared that the announcement of a birth on that sad day would further upset Queen Victoria. When his father suggested that his second son be named in honor of the deceased Prince, Queen Victoria was pleased. She wrote, “"I am all impatience to see the new one, born on such a sad day but rather more dear to me, especially as he will be called by that dear name which is a byword for all that is great and good". Therefore, the child was baptized "Albert Frederick Arthur George."

Known affectionately by the family as, “Bertie,” he was fourth in line for the throne—following his Grandfather (King Edward VII), his father (King George V) and his brother, Edward (known in the family as “David.”) Bertie was often overshadowed by his older brother who had something of a flare for the dramatic. Upon the death of their father, King George V, in 1936, Edward was to succeed as King. However, King Edward VIII, had a famously brief reign—abdicating when he was forced to choose between his relationship with twice-divorced, American, Wallis Simpson and the throne.

Bertie, unexpectedly, was to be crowned King in 1937. His wife, Elizabeth, would become the Queen Consort and his eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II), was next in line for the throne. The coronation commenced as if King Edward VIII had not been named King only a few months before. Coins were re-minted with the new King’s face. Typically, coins with a new monarch featured his profile facing the opposite direction as the previous monarch. King Edward VIII decided to break tradition by being depicted from his left profile so that his likeness would show the “part in his hair.” Bertie was also depicted from the left—to send a message that he was adhering to tradition and essentially stating that his brother’s vain wishes were erased. Bertie, reminded of advice from Mary of Teck, took the name George VI.

On May 12, 1937—the very day that Edward VIII was to be crowned—the coronation of King George VI took place. The occasion was met with the usual heraldry, and, also the typical souvenir items such as this china mug. The mug shows the date of the coronation with images of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The reverse of the mug bears the cipher of King George VI.

George VI was known to have a severe speech impediment. The story of his desire to overcome this inconvenience is chronicled in the new film, The King’s Speech.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Gifts of Grandeur: An Automaton by Fabergé, circa 1900

Elephant Automaton
Carl Fabergé, circa 1900
Gold, Enamel, Silver, Ivory, Diamonds, Rubies
Presented to King George V by Queen Mary, 1929
The Royal Collection
Here’s a peculiar and lovely little thing. When one thinks of Carl Fabergé, the mind immediately presents images of enameled and jeweled objects. That’s, indeed, what we have here. However, it’s got the added bonus of being an automaton.

Every so often, Fabergé would sneakily slip a jeweled automaton as a surprise into one of his celebrated eggs. This one, however, came all on its own. The gold and enamel figure of an elephant features silver details, rose-cut diamonds and cabochon rubies as well as ivory inlay. Wound with a key, the elephant “walks” by means of wee silver wheels in his elephant feet. He also swings his head back and forth and raises and lowers his trunk. His articulated tail will, occasionally, spin. He’s being “ridden” by a golden rider with an ivory turban.

This gorgeous automaton was given to King George V by Queen Mary (of Teck) for Christmas, 1929. Isn’t it wonderful? The elephant was kept in a vitrine with a collection of other Fabergé animals. (The others didn’t move.) Always organized, Queen Mary kept the box in which the elephant had been delivered and placed a detailed note inside the box which contained instructions on how to operate the automaton.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: “Sonnet to Punch,” circa 1796

One of Bryan Clarke's
exquisite hand-made
Mr. Punch figures based on
the designs of Piccini as
illustrated by
George Cruikshank.
Sonnet to Punch

Triumphant Punch! with joy I follow thee
   Thro’ the glad progress of thy wanton course;
   Where life is painted with such truth and force,
It’s equal on our stage we never see.
Whether thou kill’st thy wife with jolly glee,
   Hurl’st thy sweet babe away without remorse,
   Mount’st, and art quickly thrown from thy horse,
Or dance with “pretty Poll,” so fair and free;
   Having first slain with just disdain her sire,
   Deaf to music of thy sheep-bell lyre:
Who loves not music, is not fit to live!
   Then, when the hangman comes, who can refuse
   To laugh, when thou his head into the noose
Hast nimbly thrust, while he gets no reprieve?
             Who feigns to grieve
Though goest unpunish’d in the fiend’s despite,
And slay’st him too, is but a hypocrite.
             ‘Tis such a delight
To see thee cudgel his black carcase antique,
For very rapture I am almost frantic.

Scholars of literature, theatre and puppetry have long debated the author of this sonnet which appeared for the first time circa 1796. Though some disagree, it is believed to have been written—in the Italian style—by Lord Byron (George Gordon Byron). Regardless of the author, it’s a very clever poem and one that neatly summarizes the character of our dear Mr. Punch.

Pets of the Belle Epoque: Vida, 1911

Robert Falcon Scott's Dog
Presented to George V, 1914
The Royal Collection
A rather controversial figure of the time, Robert Falcon Scott, was a Royal Navy officer and explorer who lead two expeditions into the Antarctic. On these journeys, he and his crew used dogs to pull their sleds. Though, by all accounts, Scott wasn’t quite sure how to care for a dog in these conditions, he did seem to have genuine affection for them. One in particular was a favorite of Scott’s—a dog named Vida. Vida, it seems, had a bad coat and was very distrustful of people, but he soon grew to become attached to Scott.

Scott wrote in his journal of Vida, “He is a strange beast - I imagine so unused to kindness that it took him time to appreciate it.” In 1911, Scott had Vida photographed, looking very sweet.

During one of his polar expeditions in 1912, Scott and his companions died from exposure to the cold. They were discovered eight months later. In 1914, this photograph of Vida was presented to King George V in remembrance of Scott and his brave team.

Friday Fun: “Popeye in Goonland,” 1938

In this early Popeye cartoon by Max Fleischer, we learn some valuable information.  To begin with, he’s forty years old in 1938.  Next, we learn that his father abandoned him at birth.  Poor Popeye.  In search of his “Pappy,” he travels to Goonland—something that does not seem to faze him at all.  There, he encounters some unusual beings with extremely large ribcages.  Enjoy!

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 144

Ulrika Rittenhouse nonchalantly walked into the ballroom, immediately being spotted by her mother, Carling.

“Just where have you been, young lady?” Carling hissed.

“I went to look at the exhibits, as Father suggested.” Ulrika smirked.

“He wanted all of us to look at them together—you haven’t been with your family in days. Do you want to make your Father think that you don’t care for us?”

“Mother, you know just how much I care for all of you.” Ulrika smiled.

“How did you turn out to be such an ungrateful woman?” Carling shook her head.

“Mother,” Ulrika winked. “You know very well how. We’re not so different, are we? We have the same appetites.”

“Quiet, Girl.”Carling spat.

“If you’re finished with me, Mother,” Ulrika grinned, “I do have some things that I need to attend to.”

“Get out of my sight.” Carling shook her head.

“That’s all I’ve been trying to do all evening.” Ulrika laughed as she walked away. She paused as she passed “Joan of Arc” and squinted at the woman in the short blonde wig.

Iolanthe grinned at her.

“I didn’t know you were invited,” Ulrika smiled as she approached Iolanthe. “I thought that the invitations were only sent to respectable members of society.”

“You’re here.” Iolanthe answered curtly. “So, apparently not.”

“Aren’t you clever?” Ulrika smirked. “And, look at you. Joan of Arc? Really?”

“And, why not?” Iolanthe narrowed her eyes. “I have made sacrifices, too.”

“You’ve offered sacrifices, yes.” Ulrika chuckled.

“And, what are you meant to be?” Iolanthe asked.

“Marie-Antoinette.” Ulrika smiled.

“That seems fitting.” Iolanthe nodded. “Perhaps someone will cut your head off, too.”

“Only before they burn you at a stake.” Ulrika answered.

“Move along, little woman.” Iolanthe said. “I wish to socialize.”

“In a moment,” Ulrika said, frowning. “First, we have something to discuss.”

“Are you seekin’ employment? I don’t know if my gentlemen would really go in for a ginger girl. You know what they say about flame-haired people…”

“You know what I mean,” Ulrika said firmly. “You have something of mine.”

“Listen, witch,” Iolanthe answered sharply. “Everything that I got is mine and mine alone. I don’t want you thinkin’ that it isn’t.”

“Give me that diamond.” Ulrika whispered.

“I don’t know what you mean.” Iolanthe laughed. “Do I look as if I’m wearin’ any diamonds tonight?”

“Stop that!” Ulrika said a little too loudly.

“Do you mean the pretty blue diamond?” Iolanthe asked coyly. “That? Just before she died—God rest her soul—the Duchess of Fallbridge told me that she wanted me to have it. She bequeathed it to me. You wouldn’t want to interfere with a dead woman’s plans, would you?”

“You’re a liar.” Ulrika growled.

“And, you’re a harlot.” Iolanthe laughed.

“You—you are calling me a ‘harlot.’?”

“Girl, at least I get paid for it.” Iolanthe laughed. “Now, get out of my way before I see to it that someone really does cut off your head.”

“We’re not finished.” Ulrika grunted.

“I think we are.” Iolanthe winked, walking away.

Ulrika clenched her fists in anger and went off to find Arthur again.

Meanwhile, Mr. Punch sat in a gilt balloon-back chair, tapping his feet nervously on the parquet floor. “What’s taking them so long, Chum?”

“We must be patient, dear Punch,” Robert said soothingly. “You know that they were to wait several minutes after Iolanthe’s arrival before they entered.”

“It’s been several minutes,” Mr. Punch grumbled. “Oh, I wish we were all home with me dog and me puppet. Only…” He paused.

“What is it?” Robert asked.

“Only…she’s there. Lyin’ there dead. My master’s mother what died because I was so callous.”

Robert put his hand on Julian’s shoulder. “Punch, you musn’t…”

“Don’t seem fair.” Mr. Punch said. “Look at her over there—that ogress in a saint’s clothes. She’s killed folk, she’s done all manner of terrible things, yet she’s free and alive…”

“She won’t be free for long,” Robert said. “Here, now, she’s headed this way.”

“If she comes near me, I’ll twist her neck.”

“No.” Robert said firmly. “You know you won’t.”

“Lord Fallbridge,” Iolanthe purred as she came closer.

“His Grace is to be addressed as, ‘The Duke of Fallbridge,’ now.” Robert interrupted.

“Oh, of course.” Iolanthe grinned. “With your mother’s death, you would inherit her title.”

“The woman what you killed.” Mr. Punch growled.

“Did I?” Iolanthe laughed. “I thought she’d hanged herself.”

“You know very well what you done.” Mr. Punch answered, making no attempt to impersonate Julian.

“I do.” Iolanthe chuckled. “I do. Perhaps you should thank me.”

Mr. Punch looked at Iolanthe with amazement.

“I see that you’re not mourning too deeply. Here you are at a lavish affair, wearing the brightest of colors, on the very night that your mother died. I see you’re taking it in your stride. And, here, I thought you English noblemen had very strict rules about mourning. But, as I always say, rules are made to be broken. That’s always been my motto. Still, I wonder if any of the other guests here tonight think that it’s peculiar, dare I say, even, insulting, that you’re here tonight. Then again, you don’t care what people think, do you? If you did, you wouldn’t behave the way you do.”

Mr. Punch stared at the floor as Julian’s shoulders sagged.

“Miss Evangeline,” Robert said quickly, “if you’ll excuse us…” He took Julian’s arm and led his friend away.

“Don’t let her break you.” Robert whispered as they walked. “That’s what she wants to do.”

“I saved that woman’s life,” Mr. Punch said. “I carried her out of that burnin’ stable so she could live—live to kill me master’s mum. Live to make us all suffer. This is my fault…”

“Please, dear Punch,” Robert said, unsure of what to do. “Don’t think that.”

“But, Chum…” Punch began, but he was interrupted by a unified gasp from the crowd as everyone turned to look at the ballroom’s magnificent arched entrance.

“That’ll be Adrienne coming in,” Robert whispered.

He and Mr. Punch turned to look, but were shocked to see that the person who had elicited the collective gasp of shock was not Adrienne in her costume, but rather, a grim woman with a bloody face and gown who stumbled into the ballroom.

“It’s Nellie,” Robert exclaimed. “What’s happened to her?”

“Ulrika!” Nellie shouted as the ballroom fell silent. “Ulrika Rittenhouse, you devil! I’ve come for you.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-143? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Keep a Consistent Attitude

While it’s easy to be upbeat and positive with people whom we like, it’s sometimes considerably more difficult to show the same cheerfulness to people who simply irritate us. Still, it’s something we should do. It’s impossible to like everyone. However, it’s important that we show the same courtesy to those individuals that we just can’t stand.

Every day, we’re faced with the challenge of interacting with people that we normally wouldn’t choose to associate with. Sometimes our distaste for an individual or situation shows through. Offering a negative face is only going to make the other party more disagreeable, and it will only serve to extend the time you’ve got to spend with them. There’s no need to be falsely pleasant or overtly demonstrative, just treat each person—whether you like them or not—with the same courtesy and respect that you would your favorite people.

You’ll find that you’ll leave the situation feeling good about yourself and better prepared to make the rest of your day a pleasant one.

Object of the Day: A Belgian Cityscape

The last in my collection of paintings by the talented Robert J. Inness shows the City Hall of Malines, Belgium. Malines—though French in origin--is actually the name used by English speaking people to refer to this city. The town is officially called Mechelen and is in the province of Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium. Mechelen is one of the major historical seats of Flemish art and has long been associated with magnificent painting, sculpture, wood-carving, lace and tapestry.

Here, we see the City Hall, resplendent with bold and colorful banners. Inness has captured the ornate façade of the edificice without overburdening the canvas with thick paint. Again, he shows us scale by introducing two figures on the building’s steps. Also jewel-like, this painting is another offering by Robert J. Inness which expertly captures the spirit of the location. In portraying a city known for its art, he has given us a painting of unsurpassed delicacy and beauty.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Mastery of Design: An Onyx Cup, 1845

Onyx Cup with Figural Base
Gold, Enamel, Turquoise, Rubies, Emeralds, Sapphires
French, Circa 1845
Purchased by Prince Albert
The Royal Collection
One of Prince Albert’s favorite hobbies was finding pretty, little things to give to his beloved wife. To be true, his love of jewels and shiny things was equal to hers, and, I think, he took as much delight in finding these things as he did giving them to her.

This onyx cup with gold pedestal is set with dozens upon dozens of turquoise, opals, rubies, emeralds and sapphires surrounded by additional gold and enamel-work. While the reverse is unsigned, it is most likely the work of the Parisian House of Marrel Frères who were known for their Renaissance-style gold work and jewelry.

Prince Albert presented this cup to his wife, Queen Victoria, on Christmas Eve of 1845. She wrote of it in her journal that night calling it a, “Beautiful little cup set in enamel and precious stones.” It has remained in the Royal Collection ever since.

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Vision of St. Bertie

"So, you see them, too?"

Image: The Vision (Dream) of St. Helen, Paolo Veronese, 1570, The National Gallery, London

Painting of the Day: “Silence!” By Jean-Baptist Greuz, 1759

Jean-Baptist Greuz, 1759
Acquired by King George IV, 1817
The Royal Collection
This French painting was acquired by King George IV in 1817. It was a peculiar purchase for the King who wasn’t prone to picking domestic genre scenes. He was, however, enchanted by all things French, and perhaps this intimate painting with its frank depiction of raising children, put him in mind of French attitudes toward life.

This handsome piece comes from the hand of Jean-Baptist Greuz who achieved considerable fame with his paintings of Eighteenth-Century, French domestic life. This work from 1759 who created, along with a companion piece for one of Greuz’s most loyal patrons who allowed the works to be displayed that year at the Paris Salon.

The following was displayed on a card alongside the painting:

A Painting representing Rest, characterized by a Woman who obliges her son to be silent by pointing to her other sleeping children.
The rather disheveled little boy has been up to considerable mischief. We can see that he’s been irritating his mother by making noise on his toy trumpet. We can assume that he’s responsible for the broken drum which hangs from the back of the chair of the slumbering child. His mother urges him, “Silence,” by pointing at the other little boy who is fast asleep.

The companion painting to this work showed the same mother with the disheveled boy. That painting, entitled “The Spoilt Child,” depicted a scene of paternal indulgence as the mother watches her son feed his dinner to a happy dog.

Unfolding Pictures: Fan Depicting the Abduction of Helen, 1750

Fan Depicting the Abduction of Helen
French Sticks and Guards
Italian Vellum Leaf
Vellum, Ivory, Gold, Mother-of-Pearl, Topazes, Diamonds
The Royal Collection
Of Queen Victoria’s large collection of fans—most of which were antiques at the time she collected them and all of which are exceptional in their own way—several stand out as being the best of the best. This is one of them.

Let’s begin with the guards and sticks. These are intricately carved and pierced ivory which depict delicately rendered figures amidst an elaborate fretwork. When the fan is closed, the layers of the figures form other images through the ivory latticework—creating an almost three-dimensional scene of putti, Flowering trees and dolphins. The sticks and guards are heavily gilt and painted as well as feature applied mother-of-pearl for an additional layer of sparkle. The overall opulence of the fan is made all the more splendid by its studding of pink topazes surrounded by diamonds.

The fan was designed to open á grand vol—meaning that it opens to a full 180°. This was the height of fashion in 1750 when this fan was created. While the sticks and guards of the fan are French in origin, the vellum leaf was painted by an Italian artist whose name has been lost over time. The scene depicts the mythological abduction of Helen—the event which is said to have started the Trojan War. The richly painted scene is surrounded by a motif of tromp-l’oeil flowers and ribbons which are really quite realistic. In short, everything about this fan is a masterpiece.

Curiously, little is known about how Queen Victoria came to acquire this fan. It was most likely purchased on her behalf by Queen Louise of Belgium—her aunt by marriage. However, unlike the majority of the fans in the collection, no documentation exists for this one. We do know that the fan was bequeathed by Victoria to her son, the Duke of Connaught, who auctioned it off. Later, in 1942, Queen Mary (of Teck) purchased the fan at auction to return it to the Royal Collection.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 143

Ladies and Gentleman, honored guests.” Edward Cage began. “Welcome to Le Merveilleux Musée de Cire—The Marvelous Museum of Wax! The pride of New Orleans.”

A cheer erupted from the ever-growing crowd in the ballroom.

“It is with great pleasure tonight that I welcome you to the finest, grandest waxworks in the world! Those English have got nothin’ on us!”

“Yes,” Robert whispered to Mr. Punch. “I’m sure Madame Tussaud’s on Baker Street will hurry to shut their doors forever when word of Edward Cage’s Louisiana Wax Museum reaches her.”

Mr. Punch chuckled.

“But, there’s more to be proud of in New Orleans than just my glorious museum,” Edward droned on. “There’s all of you—the finest and the best. That’s why you’re here tonight. My beautiful wife, Corliss,” He gestured toward Corliss who stood precariously next to him, looking as if she might topple from fatigue at any moment, “and I have invited you all to join us in welcoming 1853 because you’re the best people in the city! So, drink of my wine and eat of my food and make sure to see the new works of our famed sculptor, Cecil Halifax. Cecil,” He scanned the crowd, “Cecil…are you here?”

The room buzzed with murmurs.

“Looks like he’s not arrived yet. You know artists—always wantin’’ to make an entrance. We do have someone special here tonight. All the way from Merry Ol’ England—a real Royal fella.”

Mr. Punch clutched Robert’s arm. “He don’t mean me do he?”

“I suspect so,” Robert whispered. “So much for being inconspicuous.”

“He’s traveled a long way, and we’re honored to have him—His Grace, The Duke of Fallbridge.” Edward said proudly. “Over there, dressed as Mr. Punch from the puppet shows.”

Mr. Punch looked to the floor.

“Smile, dear Punch.” Robert hissed through his teeth.

Mr. Punch looked up and grinned as wide as he could—looking slightly more demented than glad to be there.

“Would you like to say a few words to these kind folks, Your Grace?”

“Not ‘specially.” Mr. Punch whispered.

“I think you’d better,” Robert smiled, guiding Mr. Punch toward the platform where Corliss and Edward were standing.

Mr. Punch looked out at the crowd in their fancy dress and took a deep breath. Speaking in Julian’s voice, he began, “It is, indeed, with great joy that I look out upon all of you this evening. Mr. Cage is correct, my companion and I have travelled quite a long distance. Little did we know that we would be met with such…” he paused. “Passionate, interesting and intelligent people such as yourselves. New Orleans has proven to be a magical place, indeed. And, when I return to London, I shall always remember the color, pageantry and gaiety that I’ve seen demonstrated in this remarkable city. With the utmost sincerity, I wish all of you the happiest of years.”

The crowd applauded and Mr. Punch hurried off of the platform.

“Well played, my dear.” Robert whispered in Punch’s ear. “That’s the way to do it.”

“Thank you, Your Grace.” Edward Cage spoke up. “With that, I invite all of you to enjoy yourselves. Later in the evening, we’ll have a contest to see whose costume is the best. Perhaps His Grace will w in.”

“Fifteen minutes ago, he was callin’ me a ‘wild man,’ now he’s full of praise.’” Mr. Punch whispered.

“When he realized that the papers will recount that the Duke of Fallbridge was here tonight, he realized that he could advertise this place as hosting English nobility.” Robert sighed.

“The winner of our contest will win a very special prize.” Edward said to everyone. “So, let’s enjoy ourselves! And, Happy New Year!”

“Happy New Year,” everyone shouted in response.

“Still no sign of Iolanthe Evangeline.” Robert mumbled.

“Cecil and Adrienne gotta be cold waitin out there in the carriage.” Mr. Punch grumbled, heading toward the window.

“Wait,” Robert said, taking Julian’s arm. “Look over there.”

Punch turned toward the entrance to see a woman enter. Despite her mask and short blonde wig, Punch could tell immediately that it was Iolanthe Evangeline. She was dressed as St. Joan—in a flowing white gown—tied about the waist with thick ropes. She carried a shield upon which a crest had been painted. The crest was divided into four quadrants. The first quadrant depicted fire; the second, a diamond; the third, a fleur-de-lis and; the fourth, a pair of angel’s wings—but instead of white feathers, they were violet and purple.

“Joan d’Arc,” Robert grunted. “When it’s she who is burning people.”

Mr. Punch hurried to the window and moved the candelabra to the left to signal to Cecil and Adrienne that Iolanthe had arrived. He paused at the window to see the pair descend from the carriage.

“They’re comin’.” Mr. Punch whispered to Robert.

“Let it begin,” Robert sighed.

Did you miss Chapters 1-142? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Help your Pets Relax

When you come home from work, you may wonder what your dog or cat has been up to all day. I’m fortunate in that I work out of the house. However, when I did have an office job, I answered the question of “What does Bertie do all day?” by being able to watch him over the house’s security cameras which I can access from my iPhone. The answer to that question is, “He sleeps, and barks at things.”

Regardless of their daily habits, dogs (and cats) still feel stress. When we’re not around, they do worry. They also get themselves worked up about things that we don’t even think about—squirrels and birds and other things that go “chirp” in the day.

At the end of the day, one great way for both you and your pet to relax is by taking half an hour to groom your pet. Simple daily brushing is a great time to bond with your pet. Some pets don’t care for being brushed, but the majority of them do. By brushing each day, you’re getting your four-legged friend more accusomted to grooming and you’re helping them lead a healthy and comfortable life.

Spending time with you, will help your pet relax. And, bonding with your pet for that half an hour a day will give you some much-needed time to unwind. I know Bertie loves his daily brushing. All I have to say is, “Brushing Time” and he comes running. You’ll find that it’s a half-an-hour which makes a huge difference.

Object of the Day: A Vintage Ceramic Westie

Artisans of the 1940’s had a penchant for making small vases out of figural subjects. These took the form of female heads with arcing eyebrows and heavy lashes to cheerful dogs. This 1940’s-era Westie has all the Hallmarks of the design of the time. His features have been exaggerated for maximum cuteness. The dog’s back features a hollow in which flowers could be arranged or a small plant potted. He could also be used for the storage of small objects.

Personally, I find him adorable just as he is. After nearly seventy years, he is not in service any longer, but rather, simply looks cute. With his lovely glaze and adorable hand-painted features, this is one dog who will always have his day.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Precious Time: Repeating Watch with the Cipher of George III

Repeating Watch
Once belonged to King George III and
King George V
Swiss, 1802
The Royal Collection
While Britain’s King George III loved lavishing extravagant gifts upon his friends and family, his personal style was considerably more subdued than the items he gifted. Take this watch for example. This was a favorite of George III who had been bequeathed the timepiece from Adophus, Duke of Cambridge. George added his own cipher to the back of the watch.

The watch was made in 1802 by watchmaker Louis Recordon. Recordon was an important part of horologic history and developed one of the first self-winding watch mechanisms. This particular timepiece is a repeater—meaning that it chimes the hour twice. It also chimes on the quarter hour.

George III presented his nephew, the future King George V, with this watch on his wedding day in 1893.

Sculpture of the Day: Princess Gouramma of Coorg, 1855

Princess Gouramma of Coorg
Marocheti, 1852-55
Marble painted with watercolor
The Royal Collection
In 1852, as a display of goodwill and affection for the empire in India, Queen Victoria welcomed the daughter of the deposed Rajah of Coorg. Coorg was considered the ‘Scotland of India,’ and Victoria wanted to ensure good relations there. Princess Gouramma was presented to the Queen and Prince Albert at Buckingham Palace on June 30, 1852 where she was promptly baptized with Victoria and Albert as her godparents.

Following that bit of fun, Victoria commissioned Carlo, Baron Marocheti, to create a marble bust of the girl as she looked when presented with her crucifix. To heighten the sense of realism, the Queen had the bust painted in watercolor over the marble. The painting was completed by W.H. Millais.

Unusual Artifacts: A Commemorative Veilleuse, 1827

French, 1827
The Royal Collection
This porcelain veilleuse—an object used for warming tea by means of an oil burner in the base—was created in France in 1827. The ornately-gilt teapot features an “animal head” spout or “spewer.” The base of the veilleuse is made to look like a crenellated tower upon which a curious scene has been painted. The scene depicts, of all things, a giraffe.

However, it’s not as strange as it first sounds. In 1824, France’s King Charles X was given the gift of a giraffe by the Pasha of Egypt. The giraffe’s arduous journey across continents was a cause for celebration, and its arrival in Paris resulted in a fleeting trend of giraffe-themed clothing, jewelry objects and, even, hair styles.

Queen Mary (Mary of Teck) purchased this veilleuse. In 1930, she gave it to the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle.

Building of the Week: Windsor Castle

Originally built just after William the Conqueror’s Norman invasion in 1066, Windsor Castle has served as one of the principal residences of the Royal Family since King Henry I. Though originally constructed as a castle—essentially a protective structure with battlements—the castle is now considered a palace, and is thought to be the longest-occupied palace in Europe.

Today, the castle is a mixture of architectural styles ranging from the medieval to the very modern. For nearly one thousand years, the castle has undergone almost-continual reworking, sometimes for aesthetic reasons, sometimes for practical reasons, and sadly, because of great tragedy.

The castle’s main structure is comprised of three bailey wards (a “bailey” being a courtyard enclosed by a curtain wall) and a central keep (a tower). The castle walls, however, house a variety of structures, and, in fact, a small village originally meant for the people who worked in the castle.

To recount the last nine hundred years of the castle’s history would make for a rather ponderous blog. Discussing the rooms alone—including the famed St. George’s Chapel and lavish State apartments—would take innumerable words.

So, we’ll try to hit the highlights.

As is the case of any structure that’s survived that long, the castle has developed over time, changing as needed. Since the time of its initial construction on thirteen acres, additions and changes to the façade of the castle have been carried out in mostly a medieval style in keeping with the original purpose of the site.

William the Conquerer didn’t use the castle as a residence. Henry I was the first to live there, and, in fact, was married there. His son, Henry II, began the first building project at the castle since 1067. These changes were largely made to keep the castle from tumbling down. Massive foundations were built and the keep was reinforced. During King John’s reign, the residential quarters were improved, and, then, the entire castle was repaired after a series of sieges left it weakened. Henry III added three towers to the structure.

Edward III ordered that the central palace be rebuilt, adding new windows and making the overall structure, decidedly more unified in a Gothic style. Then, as is often the case with castles, it went through a couple of centuries of being seiged, released, attacked and otherwise battered. It became the place of many births, deaths, weddings and burials.

Henry VII was a sporty, fun kind of fellow, and added a tennis court and other amenities which would make his favored palace more comfortable. He also had the gates widened so that more of his friends could enter at once. Edward VI didn’t find the castle at all comfortable, notably stating, "Methink I am in a prison, here are no galleries, nor no gardens to walk in.” Edward attempted to make the castle more attractive by bringing in parts of English abbeys to be used for additional decoration.

Conversely, Elizabeth I very much enjoyed life at Windsor and took steps to reinforce the structure. By the time of James I and Charles I, the castle became more of a hunting lodge and a place to display art than it was a fortress.

In 1660, with the Restoration of the Monarchy, the castle (and all of the Royal residences) was substantially repaired following a long period of upheaval and revolution. Charles II had the castle fully “modernized,” added buildings and, most importantly, commissioned the regal Baroque interiors which are considered the finest of their kind in Britain. For the next century, until George III’s reign, the castle saw the completion of very few construction projects.

George III worked with architect James Wyatt to completely remodel the building—changing the style of the front façade to a more dramatic Gothic design in 1760. The Royal apartments were remodeled and refurnished at a cost of £150,000 (about £100 million today). George IV also expanded the palace.

Queen Victoria made Windsor Castle her primary residence. Prince Albert died there, leaving Victoria dubbed as “The Widow of Windsor.” Victoria made several changes in décor and added a private chapel. During her time at Windsor Castle, water was successfully piped into the structure for the first time. Her son, Edward VII, set about a massive redecoration of the palace, personally moving art around himself.

By the 1950’s Queen Elizabeth II made Windsor Castle her permanent weekend home and made sure that the castle was technologically up-to-date. Elizabeth II has long declared Windsor Castle to be her favorite home. In 1992, a terrible fire spread through Windsor Castle when spotlights used during renovation of the private chapel set off a blaze. Nine of the State rooms were completely destroyed, the Great Hall was gutted and one hundred other rooms were very badly damaged.

To pay for repairs to the castle, Queen Elizabeth II opened part of Buckingham Palace to tourists. Though not without controversy, the damaged parts of the castle were rebuilt. Some areas such as the Crimson Room were designed to approximate their Baroque style. Other areas, such as the Great Hall, were rebuilt in a more modern style which complimented the original architecture. My thought is that the castle has seen changes over the many centuries of its existence, so it’s not shocking that, in this phase of rebuilding, a style which reflects the current time period isn’t terribly shocking. I applaud the desire to recreate spaces as they were, but I can understand the wish to modernize in this particular instance. Luckily, most of the art and precious antique items of value had been removed because the castle was already being renovated at the time of the fire. So, the loss of artifacts was not as great as it could have been.

Today, the castle is fully repaired and expertly maintained. It is open to the public who can tour the historic structure and view its impressive collection of antiques and art.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 142

Corliss and Edward Cage stood at the entrance to the ballroom to receive their guests. Many false smiles traded faces on that New Year’s Eve, and a good many hands were shaken by people who held little more than weak contempt for one another.

“Who’s this, then?” Edward bellowed at Robert and Mr. Punch as they entered. “Brilliant costumes! Wait don’t tell me. Corliss, what do you think?”

Corliss shrugged meekly, “I couldn’t say.”

Edward rubbed his hands together. “That chin. I know.”

“Do you?” Robert asked.

“Dr. Halfiax,” Edward Cage smiled broadly—giving him the appearance of having eaten something which disagreed with him. “Corliss, you, of course, remember Dr. Halifax. He’s Cecil’s brother.”

“Yes, of course.” Corliss Cage nodded politely.

“And, he’s brought his wild man with him. You’re the fellow I met that night in my fields, yes?”

Mr. Punch nodded, feeling his mask rub against his Julian’s cheekbones. He bristled. Speaking in Julian’s voice, Mr. Punch said. “I am. However, while my title may mean very little to the people in this country, I should be addressed as…” He paused and glanced quickly at Robert who immediately realized the thought that had occurred to Mr. Punch. Robert blushed for not having thought of it, too.

“I shall be addressed as ‘Your Grace,’ and referred to as ‘His Grace.’ I am the Duke of Fallbridge.” Punch continued, still affecting Julian’s voice.

“Certainly, Your Grace.” Mr. Cage bowed dramatically. “Do enjoy your evening.”

“Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Cage,” Robert nodded.

“Are your brother and his wife on their way?” Corliss asked in her crackling, dry voice.

“Yes, they are.” Robert nodded. “They were delayed, but are on their way presently.” Of course, this wasn’t true, Cecil and Adrienne were waiting in the carriage behind the museum, but Edward Cage needn’t have known that.

“I should hope so,” Edward smiled—this time, an almost sincere smile, “After all, tonight is his triumph as well. He’s done a fine job with the new figures. Very fine, indeed. I’d reckon I’m quite fortunate to have such a talented sculptor in my stable. Even if he is a bit headstrong and sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong.”

Robert adjusted his mask so as not to lash out against Edward’s disparaging comments about Cecil. “My brother is most exceptionally talented. “ Robert said. “And, you are most certainly fortunate. Good evening.”

“Good evening, Dr. Halifax,” Edward nodded with a slight tint of mocking in his voice. “And, to you, Your Grace.” He bowed exaggeratedly again.

Corliss absent-mindedly curtsied.

Robert led Mr. Punch to a corner of the already crowded ballroom.

“Dear Punch, and dear Julian, I am so sorry that it didn’t occur to me that—since your mother’s passing—you’ve inherited her title.”

“Only just happened half an hour ago.” Mr. Punch sighed. “Only realized it me-self just now. But, that’s the way it works, isn’t it? Now that the Duchess of Fallbridge is dead, me master is the Duke of Fallbridge.”

“Yes,” Robert nodded, placing a reassuring hand on Julian’s shoulder. “Yes, Mr. Punch. Julian’s title is inherited. Now, he is the Duke and should, respectfully, be addressed as ‘Your Grace.’”

“Ain’t no sense in ever callin’ me that. You can use it on Julian only I ain’t a man what’s deservin’ of a title. I’ll wager that me master’d trade that title forever were it to bring his mum back to life—awful and cruel as she was. She didn’t deserve to die in so painful a way. No one does, and I…” Mr. Punch gasped for air. “I done it.”

“Iolanthe murdered Her Grace,” Robert shook his head. “You had nothing to do with it.”

“I might as well have killed her me-self. Leavin’ her there in that terrible house…”

“Mr. Punch,” Robert began softly. “You can’t continue to think that. It’s simply not true. You said yourself that the Duchess didn’t want to be saved and that you couldn’t save someone who didn’t want it. Even if you had carried her off and brought her home with you, she’d have gone back. I don’t mean to sound like Naasir, but what happened was what was meant to happen.”

“I don’t know,” Mr. Punch grunted, scratching Julian’s ear. “It just seems to me that someone ought to pay for it.”

“And she shall,” Robert smiled. “That’s why we’re here. We’ll bring Iolanthe to justice—finally. Now, let’s see if she’s here, shall we?”

“I meant me-self.” Mr. Punch mumbled faintly—so low that Robert couldn’t hear him over the buzz in the ballroom as people milled about, drinking and looking at the exhibits which lined the walls.

“Do you see anyone in violet feathers?” Robert asked.

“No.” Mr. Punch answered, searching the room for any woman who could have been Iolanthe Evangeline beneath her costume. “Here,” Mr. Punch began, “this is a masquerade, yes?”

“Yes,” Robert chuckled. “I should hope so. I don’t think I’d have worn this mask and wig otherwise.”

“Well, then, why weren’t the Cages in fancy dress?”

“Cecil mentioned something to me about his employer never wearing fancy dress at these events. He always wears his evening clothes. While he doesn’t mind the rest of us looking foolish, I suppose he thinks he’s above it himself.”

“I don’t think we look foolish.” Mr. Punch frowned. “I think we look right sweet, we do. Reminds me of bein’ a puppet.”

“Well, of course, you and I are the exception.” Robert winked. “We always look dashing, no matter what we’re wearing.”

For the first time that evening, Mr. Punch smiled.

“There it is.” Robert nodded.

Mr. Punch shrugged. “Couldn’t help me-self. The idea! Why, I never though anyone’d think I was handsome. But, I keep forgettin’ that I don’t look like Mr. Punch no more. I got Julian’s face, and he’s a fine enough lookin’ fella, even if he is a bit pale.”

“I wouldn’t wish to change either of you.” Robert said softly.

A man in a plain white mask which covered his entire face bumped into Robert.

“Pardon me,” the man coughed as he hurried off.

“Huh.” Mr. Punch grunted.

“I see some people have started their celebration earlier than others,” Robert sighed.

Mr. Punch squinted behind his mask.

“What is it, Punch?” Robert asked.

“Nothin’,” Punch shook Julian’s head. “Only that fella…did you smell him?”

“I can’t say that I did.” Robert smiled, “And, by your expression, I count myself lucky that I didn’t.”

“He smelled familiar, that one. Like lemons and honey over spirits.”

“I’m sure that describes most of the people here.” Robert chuckled. He craned his neck. “I see no sign of Iolanthe. Unless she’s been very clever with her costume, I don’t think she’s here.”

“Let’s go to the window, then.” Mr. Punch nodded.

Robert and Mr. Punch walked to the rear wall of the ballroom which featured three grand archways of startling height. On the massive sill of the central arch, a candelabra flickered brightly. As was their signal, Robert moved the candelabra from the center of the sill to the right. Cecil had agreed that that was how Robert would let him know if Iolanthe had not arrived.

“When we see her, we move it to the left? Is that it?” Mr. Punch asked.

“Yes,” Robert nodded.

“And, they can see it from where they are?”

“Look,” Robert motioned with his chin. “The carriage just beyond the fountain. That’s they.”

“What do we do now?” Mr. Punch asked.

“We attempt to look as if we want to be here, and we try to remain inconspicuous.”

Meanwhile, in one of the museum’s exhibit wings, Arthur rushed to meet Ulrika. He sweated beneath his stiff white mask. He spotted Ulrika amongst a Biblical scene. She was standing next to a figure of Mary Magdalene.

“He’s here.” Arthur panted. “With the doctor.”

“Well done, Arthur,” Ulrika grinned. “Now, off to work with you.”

“Now?” Arthur asked.

“Yes.” Ulrika spat. “Won’t it be tragic, really, when Lord Fallbridge, pardon me—the Duke of Fallbridge, commits suicide right here at the masquerade ball? That ought to make an interesting start to 1853. And, certainly, a most profitable one for us.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-141?  If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Get a Tune-up

As we try to carry out our New Year’s resolutions, many of us have vowed to live a healthier lifestyle in 2011. To that end, it’s always a good idea to have professional help. This is the perfect time of year to make those appointments that you dread making.

Call your eye doctor for a check-up, schedule an appointment with your dentist, make time to visit your family doctor for a physical. These are the people who will put you on the path to a healthy year. As much as we don’t like seeing them, it’s worth the trouble.

Object of the Day: An Antique Landscape Painting

Purchased a few years ago at an antique store in a small South Texas town, this painting, curiously, show two signatures. The first is a finely penned “Gen. Morton,” the second is a hard to decipher name, written in child-like letters which seems to read, “M. Roco.” It’s difficult to imagine that two people worked on this painting. Similarly, it shows no signs of having been over-painted or repainted and is in relatively the same condition as it was the day it was completed.

Dating to the late Nineteenth Century, this painting shows evidence of the Aesthetic movement with its reliance on natural themes; simplified fluid forms; Asian influence and bold use of greens and blues against a more neutral background. Here, we see nature reduced to its most graceful planes and lines. Painted with a delicate hand, the work almost appears—at first glance—to be watercolor. However, closer inspection reveals that it is thinly diluted oil paint on board. The painting’s long shape also is a hallmark of the Aesthetic movement—a period during which the shapes and sizes of paintings varied greatly in order to best represent the subject.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Film of the Week: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, 2008

Winifred Watson’s novel, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, caused quite a sensation when it was published in 1938. Her heroine, Delysia LaFosse, was not the usual lady protagonist. She was a headstrong girl with many passions and many lovers. What was scandalous then, is nothing new to us now. However, Focus Features’ 2008 film version of the novel, manages to make Delysia and her new secretary, Miss Pettigrew, seem as fresh and exciting as they day they were first created.

The story centers around two women. Delysia LaFosse is a singer/actress who is looking for her big break. In the meantime, she doesn’t mind being a “kept woman” in order to have a nice roof over her head—even if it means breaking the heart of her one true love, Michael. Guinevere Pettigrew is in a similarly dysfunctional predicament. She can’t seem to hold on to any of her nanny jobs—even being fired for her wild hair. Having reached middle age, Miss Pettigrew is also in need of her big break, or, at the very least, a meal—something she hasn’t had in days.

Miss Pettigrew bends the truth a little and manages to secure a job as Delysia’s secretary. Both women learn from one another over the span of their one day together--each of them realizing that for all their differences, they’re very much the same.

The film stars Frances McDormand as Miss Pettigrew and Amy Adams as Delysia, along with Lee Pace as Michael. Shot in and around London, the film makes excellent use of the city—heightened by brilliant 1930’s-era costumes and sets. It’s a visually beautiful film with interesting characters that are expertly portrayed.

Humanitarian of the Week: Diahann Carroll

Diahann Carroll
Diahann Carroll’s life has been a series of “firsts.” She was the first African American woman to win a Tony Award, she was the first African American woman to star as a career woman in her own television series. Her career has spanned stage, screen and television. Not only is she a talented actress, but she’s also an accomplished singer who has appeared in several Broadway shows—most recently as “Norma Desmond” in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Sunset Boulevard.

Miss Carroll’s bravery extends past her career, however. She is also a breast cancer survivor, and in that capacity is motivated to help others who are struggling with breast cancer. Carroll made her fight against cancer quite public when she allowed herself to be filmed during treatments. In doing so, she was able to demonstrate the realities of the treatment to people who might be about to undergo the same. As an activist and a survivor, Carroll will be featured in Uniglobe Entertainment’s, 1 a minute, a docudrama about breast cancer. Her efforts to educate people about the disease have aided hundreds of people who are battling breast cancer.

You can see Diahann Carroll in USA’s exceptional drama White Collar as the series begins airing new episodes on January 18, 2011. For more information, visit Diahann Carroll’s Web site.

The Belle Époque Today: Stephen Shankland, R.P.

Scottish painter Stephen Shankland has made a name for himself with his crisp, sharp portraits. Becoming a member of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters in 2008, Shankland’s work is defined by bright colors and highly detailed figures. Shankland doesn’t shy away from showing the reality of his sitters. Instead, he shows us how each line, each mark and each plane fit together to create a wholly unique and exceptional individual.

Shankland is a master of atmosphere, cleverly depicting reflective surfaces and natural lighting. Most recently, the artist has embarked on a series of paintings which depict the U.K.’s most celebrated golf courses. His work has been applauded as the only paintings which truly capture the spirit of golf. For more about Stephen Shankland, visit his Web site.

Her Majesty’s Furniture: An Italian Baroque Armchair, 1690

Gilded softwood, silk velvet,
Silver Embroidery
The Royal Collection
In furnishing Windsor Castle, King George IV’s taste for continental designs became even more apparent. His selections included ornate French and Italian furnishings with elaborate scroll-work and heavy ornamentation.

This armchair in one of a set of ten purchased by King George IV for Windsor Castle. The epitome of Italian Baroque style, these chairs feature scroll legs adorned with up-turned faces. The rich crimson upholstery is masterfully embroidered with a pattern which mirrors the carved legs and finials. King George paid £18 each for these chairs. They are, certainly, worth much more than that today.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 141

My God, Ulrika,” Fane Rittenhouse belched at his daughter as they entered the grand ballroom at Le Merveilleux Musée de Cire—Edward Cage’s opulent French Quarter waxworks. “The least you could do, after detaining our entire party, is step aside so that the rest of us may view the exhibits.

“You, Father dear, don’t have to act like a brute just because you’re dressed as Henry VIII. You know, you could have thought of a more clever costume, really. The room is likely to be lousy with Henry VIII’s.”

“Don’t be so tiresome, girl.” Ulrika’s father sighed. “Besides, I don’t see anything particularly clever about your attire. Do you think you’ll be the only Marie-Antoinette here?”

“I’ll be the only one with her throat sliced.” Ulrika grinned, removing the scarf from her neck to expose the red slash she’d painted across her throat.

“Obscene!” Carling Rittenhouse moaned, fluttering her fan in front of her face. “Wash that atrocity off immediately.”

“Oh, please, Mother.” Ulrika smiled. “It’s not as if you wouldn’t see much worse right here in the museum’s exhibits.” Ulrika’s grin broadened as she thought of how she’d come to paint the wound on her neck.

“Wherever did you find such a dreadful-looking makeup? It looks as if it could be real blood.” Fane Rittenhouse frowned.

“Doesn’t it?” Ulrika winked as she recalled swiping her fingers through Nellie’s blood and using that clotting crimson mass for her costume.

“Well, then, who’s with me?” Fane Rittenhouse grumbled, realizing that Ulrika wasn’t about to do as her mother asked.

“With you?” Ulrika spat.

“I want to look at the exhibits—as I said.” Her father frowned. “Will you come?”

“No.” Ulrika laughed. “I haven’t come here tonight to see wax figures. I want to enjoy myself.”

“Ulrika,” Her mother said sternly, “Your time away from home has made you even more disagreeable. I didn’t think it possible.”

“Anything is possible, my dear mother.” Ulrika chuckled. “Anything.” She searched the crowd for a familiar face and was relieved to spot Arthur—cleverly sporting the mask she’d given him—slipping into the ballroom via the servants’ door. “Oh, yes, tonight will be full of possibilities.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Punch, Adrienne, Cecil and Robert rode in silence in their hired carriage.

“I suspect we’ll be a bit early.” Cecil grumbled after awhile. “We’d best wait before we go in. We want to be able to make an entrance. We’ve got to take everyone by surprise.”

“The real surprise is Adrienne.” Robert said seriously.

“Perhaps you and Mr. Punch can go in ahead of us.” Cecil suggested.

“You promised we’d all stay together,” Adrienne said quickly.

“I’ll stay with you,” Robert answered. “But, there’s no point in having you enter until we’re sure that Iolanthe Evangeline is there.”

“I suspect she’ll want to make an entrance of her own.” Adrienne frowned.

“Will she?” Robert asked. “Wouldn’t she be wiser to slip in without detection? She is, after all, not an invited guest.”

“When has anything as simple as an invitation either stopped or encouraged Iolanthe to do anything?” Cecil grunted. “She does what she pleases.”

“She’s more likely to make a show of arriving.” Adrienne continued. “She always does. She likes to flaunt her presence in the faces of ‘respectable’ people. Frankly, most don’t even realize she’s there. With everyone in fancy dress, it’s hard to tell who is who.”

“How will we even know she’s there?” Robert asked.

“She always wears her purple feathers. No matter what her costume is, she’ll have a purple feather somewhere quite visible.” Adrienne answered.

“Surely there will be dozens of ladies with purple feathers.” Robert sighed.

“No.” Adrienne answered. “No one of any station in New Orleans would wear Iolanthe’s color.” She shook her head, “Except me, of course.”

“You’re not nervous, are you?” Cecil asked.

“Of course, I am.” Adrienne exclaimed. She looked at Mr. Punch and reached across the carriage to pat Julian’s leg. “I think we’re all a little nervous, and rightfully so. Mr. Punch, you’ve suffered a terrible shock, so it’s understandable that you’d be so quiet. Is there anything we can do for you?”

Mr. Punch shook Julian’s head. “No, thanks, Lady Chum. Ain’t nothin’ no one can do. But, don’t you worry, I’ll carry out everything you told me to do in just the way you told me to do it.”

“We have no doubt of that.” Robert smiled.

“I only hope you fellas know what you’re doin’.” Mr. Punch sighed. “No use puttin’ innocent people in harm’s way.”

“We know what we’re about,” Cecil said confidently. “Don’t suppose I’d put my own, darling wife in danger.”

“True.” Mr. Punch whispered. “But, sometimes, things happen what we don’t account for.”

At that very moment, Iolanthe laughed as Barbara Allen helped her on with her dress.

“Stop your pouting,” Iolanthe cackled. “How can anyone look so sad when I look so beautiful?”

“I’m not pouting,” Barbara spat, “I’m mourning.”

“For what?” Iolanthe narrowed her eyes, “The mother that you fled from? The woman you hated so much that you traveled across the ocean? I did you a favor. You should thank me.”

Barbara simply stared at Iolanthe.

“You do realize that I own you?” Iolanthe growled.

“I know.” Barbara nodded.

“So, you’ll do as I instructed?” Iolanthe smiled.

“If it kills me.” Barbara sighed.

Did you miss Chapters 1-140? If so, you can read them here.