Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saturday Sparkle: A Portrait Ring of Nicholas I, 1833

Portrait Ring of Nicholas I, Emperior of Russia
Ivan Winberg, 1833
Miniature of Watercolor on Ivory
Gold, Diamonds, Enamel
The Royal Collection
This magnificent ring dates to 1833 and is attributed to the painter Ivan Winberg. Here, we have a miniature portrait of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia set behind a flat-cut diamond. The watercolor on ivory miniature is set in a ring of enamel, diamonds, and gold. The portrait is surmounted by a diamond-set imperial crown. The shoulders of the ring are flanked with enameled, double-headed eagles of Russia.

I don’t suppose it will come as a shock to anyone at this point that this ring came into the Royal Collection via Queen Mary (of Teck). How she got it, I don’t know. But, she got it—as one does.

The Art of Play: “France and Marianne,” 1938

France and Marianne
French, 1938
Jumeau Toy Factory, Paris
The Royal Collection
Even wee princesses like to play with dolls. But, princesses don’t play with just any old dolls. No, they’re given dolls on behalf of the children of an entire nation—dolls with wardrobes larger than most human-beings ever amass in a lifetime.

These special dolls named “France” and “Marianne” were given to the Princesses Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) and Margaret in 1938 as a gift from the “children of France.” They were made by the celebrated Jumeau Factory in Paris. The dolls were sent with an elaborate trousseau of over two hundred items including jewels, shoes, hats, gloves, luggage and gowns.

If the princesses played with them at all, they played very gently. France and Marianne remain in excellent condition, and, actually offer up a look at some of the most exciting trends in 1930’s fashions.

Painting of the Day: Nicholas I, Emperor of Russia, in Repose, 1855

Nicholas I, Emperor of Russia
Watercolor on Ivory, 1855
H.P. Heidemanns
The Royal Collection
Well, by “repose,” I suppose I mean, “dead.” This rather grim miniature was painted in watercolor on ivory in 1855, the year of Emperor Nicholas I’s death. The usually sturdy Russian leader caught a chill during the Crimean War and ignored it, continuing his strenuous work schedule. He developed pneumonia and died.

Queen Victoria purchased the miniature in 1879. Most likely her interest in the object stemmed from her ongoing feelings of guilt about the Crimean War. Despite its somber subject matter, it’s a lovely little painting from the hand of Henri Philippe Heidemanns.

At the Music Hall: Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty

Florrie Forde
Take me back to dear old Blighty!
Put me on the train for London town!
Take me over there,
Drop me anywhere,
Liverpool, Leeds, or Birmingham, well, I don't care!

I should love to see my best girl,
Cuddling up again we soon should be,

Tiddley iddley ighty,
Hurry me home to Blighty,
Blighty is the place for me!

The term “Blighty” became a sentimental nickname for England, especially during the first World War. “Blighty” is actually derived from a Hindustani word meaning “foreigner” and was used in India to refer to typically British people and things. The term was adopted by the English in India, and later in other parts of the world, to fondly recall their country of origin.

During the first World War, the song, Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty became a popular favorite. It summed up the feelings of soldiers stationed away from home who often hoped for a “blighty wound”—one which was serious enough to be sent home, but not so serious as to be life-threatening.

To this day, “Blighty” continues to be used to fondly refer to England, and Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty remains a sentimental favorite. Here’s a version as sung by popular World War I singer, Florrie Forde.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 163

Robert drew in a deep breath and ran his fingers through Julian’s damp hair. “There’s no blood.”

Marjani nodded. “Thank the Lord.”

“His lips and gums look healthy.” Robert continued.

“That’d be the first sign of Yellow Jack,” Marjani sighed.

“Still, it’s a terrible fever.” Robert frowned. “And, it has weakened his body. In this condition, the potential for Yellow Fever is there.”

“We got to protect him.” Marjani shook her head.

“Keeping him sheltered is the only way to do that.” Robert said.

“Well…” Marjani began.

“Yes, Marjani?” Robert raised an eyebrow.

“There may be another way.”

“What do you mean?” Robert asked.

“I don’t know if you’d approve.” Marjani said softly.

“I’m not sure I understand.” Robert said, looking into Marjani’s eyes.

“Doctor,” Marjani began, “Sometimes, we gotta look to things we don’t rightly understand in order to battle them things we don’t see.”

“Are you talking about prayer?” Robert asked. “Marjani, I’m not exactly what you’d call a religious person. I saw first-hand the results of ‘Christian charity’ with my mother. I think perhaps it did her more harm than good.”

“It depends on what folk got in their hearts when they do the work of God.” Marjani said.

“You’re quite religious, aren’t you?” Robert asked.

“In my way,” Marjani nodded.

“There’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you,” Robert said gently, “but I’ve not been sure how to phrase it.”

“Go on,” Marjani smiled.

“Clearly, you’re Catholic?”

“In a way.” Marjani nodded.

“And, yet, there’s a spirituality about you which is decidedly not Catholic. You seem to be well-versed in the ways of…other beliefs.”

“You mean Voodoo?” Marjani grinned.

“Well, yes.” Robert nodded. “How do you justify the two things? They’re certainly not compatible schools of thought.”

“You wouldn’t think so.” Marjani answered seriously. “But, sometimes, things ain’t necessarily what they seem.”

“Explain it to me,” Robert said, sitting on the bed next to Julian.

“Who’s to say that things gotta be a certain way?” Marjani asked. “Deep, wonderful things exist that have no explanation. Look at His Grace. He’s not what’s supposed to be, is he? But he’s still strong and beautiful. Even though most folk don’t understand him, that don’t make him less real, less wonderful. Think of all the things that folk feel. Think of love. Do we understand it? Can we explain what makes us feel the things we feel? No. But, that don’t make them less real, less powerful. Sometimes what we feel, what we believe may not make the most sense—to others, even to us. But, we feel them all the same, and all the same, they’re as strong as anything we can touch. Even when those things don’t seem to mesh together like the fibers of fabric, they still make a sturdy whole.”

“I think I’m following you,” Robert smiled weakly.

“So, sometimes, Doctor, you just gotta believe. And, by believin’, you can make something real even when it don’t seem like it could be.”

“Marjani, what are you suggesting?” Robert asked plainly.

“Since my daughter died, I done learned somethin’ which coulda saved her. If I’d known, if I’d believed, I maybe could have her here with me—here to raise her daughter, here to be the gorgeous creature she shoulda been.”

“And, you think that this…this thing…could help Julian?”

“I believe it to be so, yes.”

“What is it?” Robert asked.

“I can’t tell ya, Doctor.” Marjani shook her head. “I gotta show ya. If you’ll let me.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-162? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, February 7, 2011 for Chapter 164 of Punch’s Cousin.

Goal for the Day: Give Yourself a Day Off

During this time of year, with the holidays behind us and no real break to look forward to until the warmer weather, it’s important to allow yourself time to let your body rest. Allowing yourself to get run down puts you in the path for catching a cold or flu. With many of us snowed-in this weekend, it’s an excellent time to give yourself an impromptu day off.

So, today, settle in with a marathon of movies that you enjoy, watch a sporting event that you enjoy, play some games with your family, and make a point to rest and enjoy yourself. The calendar doesn’t have to have a special occasion listed on it for you to enjoy a holiday.

Object of the Day: A Steiff Bassett Hound

Steiff—the German-based toy company—began in 1880, started by Margarete Steiff who had amused her friends by making plush elephants which were to be used as pin cushions. Soon, Steiff found that her friends’ children began playing with the cuddly elephants, and she realized that her talents could be employed to encourage the comfort and fun of children. Dogs, cats and pigs soon entered her menagerie of animals. In 1897, her nephew, Richard, joined the company and in 1902, they introduced a line of teddy bears which solidified the firm’s popularity. Operating under the motto, “Only the best is good enough for children,” Steiff has always used the finest mohair and materials in the production of their toys. In order to stand out from their growing number of imitators, Steiff introduced an “ear button” on each animal which proved each animal was an authentic Steiff creation.

This bassett hound is a Steiff creation from the 1950’s and once belonged to my mother who gave it to me when I was a child. With her sweet eyes and long face, the bassett captures the expression of the breed. She wears a green leather collar with a tag stating, “Bassett.” The toy still has its original “ear button” which bears the Steiff name and states, “Made in Germany.” Just as soft and adorable as she was fifty years ago, this bassett hound is testament to the beautiful craftsmanship of Steiff and a reminder that, “only the best is good enough for children.”

Friday, February 4, 2011

Pets of the Belle Époque: Queen Alexandra’s Pekingese, 1907

Queen Alexandra's Pekingese
Alfred Pocock for Fabergé
Fluorspar and Rose Diamonds
The Royal Collection
Long after her husband had received his elephants and was off in pursuit of more feminine creatures (or so it is rumored), Queen Alexandra spent her time doing fittingly queenly things and enjoying the company of her dogs. A favorite of hers was a dear Pekingese.

In 1907, she shopped around for a sculptor to create a figure of this Peke from precious materials. The friendly people at Cartier did some sketches of a stone Pekingese with cabochon sapphire eyes. Ultimately however, Alexandra decided to go with the work of Alfred Pocock who had newly joined Fabergé. The end result is this lovely fluorspar sculpture with rose-cut diamond eyes. This stone animal joined the Queen’s zoo of other Fabergé beasties and seemed to please her immensely.

Of course, this collection was continued later by the next Queen—Mary of Teck—who added quite a few more animals to the precious menagerie.

Antique Image of the Day: King Edward VII’s Elephants

Two Elephants Presented to Edward VII (When Prince
Wales) While in India.
The Royal Collection
We’re familiar with Edward VII’s many dogs, but did you know he had elephants? Two of them! While Prince of Wales, he toured India (as one does) and was presented with two elephants as a “Welcome to your Empire” gift. How nice. Actually, it wasn’t unusual for countries to present members of the Royal Family with animals native to their lands. Those who survived the journey home (which were few) were given to the London Zoo, except if they were dogs or birds. Smaller, cuter animals were just added to the menagerie in the Royal households.

These elephants actually did survive the voyage and were given a relatively cozy home at the London Zoo.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: “Punch and Judy Comics,” 1944

Dedicated to my friend, "Whirligig."  Whirl, you
never told me about your thriving washing
machine concern...
Fans of vintage comics know the name Jack Kirby. He gave us such timeless characters as “Lockjaw the Aligator” (sounds painful) and “Earl the Bunny” (equally painful in a different way). He also gave us “Punch and Judy” Comics. But, don’t be fooled—this isn’t the Mr. and Mrs. Punch that we know from the puppet shows. No, it’s kind of like Mr. Punch, but not quite. In fact, if you’ll pardon an editorial moment from me, it’s just wrong…wrong, wrong. But, I’m a Punch purist.

So, it seems the comics followed the adventures of a living marionette named Punch and his relationship with a human girl named Judy (who looks oddly like “Little Audrey”). Why he’s living, I’m not sure. However, he has a human uncle—“Uncle Tony” to be exact. It seems that “Uncle Tony” somehow imbued Punch with life. It’s got the stink of Pinocchio all over it.

Not only did the comic follow this imposter Punch and his chum, Judy (who doesn’t seem to be at all terrified), it also gave Kirby a chance to interject his famous animal antics. Punch interacts with such characters as “Fatsy McPig” (Ha!), “Captain Catfish” (Huh?) and “Buttons the Rabbit.” Seriously, what’s with all the “so-and-so…the Rabbit” names in 1940’s comics? Okay, that’s the gist of it.

Like it or hate it, it’s just further evidence of how pervasive Mr. Punch is and how much he’s influenced popular culture for centuries. I wouldn’t mind taking a look at one of these comics in its entirety. Who knows? I might just become enchanted with Fatsy McPig.

Friday Fun: Antique Marionettes
As I’ve mentioned before, our Mr. Punch started his antics as a marionette until “professors” concluded that glove puppets were easier to transport and manipulate. Marionettes are quite complicated and it takes a skilled puppeteer to manage them gracefully. There’s a certain elegance about a marionette.

These antique puppets show some of the cleverness and artistry that went into Victorian stringed puppets. They’re rather lovely. As much as I love puppets, I have to say that the “Grand Turk” creeps me out just the tiniest bit. But, I love it nonetheless.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 162

Master,” Mr. Punch squawked. “I can’t make our mouth move. Are you stoppin’ me?”

“No.” Julian sighed.

“Can’t you do it?” Punch chirped.

Julian paused and visibly strained—squinting. “No.” He said after awhile.

“Maybe if we tried together,” Mr. Punch said frantically.

“You know we can’t control the body at the same time.” Julian smiled softly.

“I don’t know that.” Punch shook his head. “We never tried before, we haven’t.”

“Think about it Mr. Punch, if two puppeteers are trying to work the same figure, what would happen? The puppet would rip in half. Only one hand at a time can work a puppet.”

“But, we ain’t a puppet no more…” Mr. Punch said, beginning to cry. “Our chum’s talkin’ to us, he is. I don’t want him to think we don’t hear him! It’ll make him sad.”

“Dear Punch,” Julian replied gently, “Some things are out of our control.”

“What’s happenin’ in here?” Mr. Punch croaked. “It’s so hot in here! And, the room…it’s changin’ again. Look at the fire! Look how big it’s gotten! And the walls, they’re all orange and bright! Ain’t you hot?”

“Quite.” Julian nodded.

“How can you be so calm?”

“Don’t let my outward reserve fool you.” Julian shook his head.

“Listen,” Punch exclaimed. “It’s our chum! He’s callin’’ to us.” Mr. Punch looked up and shouted, “I’m here! We’re both in here. Julian ‘n’ me! We’re hot! It’s so hot!”

“He can’t hear you, Mr. Punch. It’s no use exhausting yourself. You’d do better to settle in and reserve your energy. We’re going to need all of the strength we can muster.”

“Robert!” Mr. Punch shouted again, ignoring his other-self.

“Mr. Punch,” Julian repeated, “please.”

“I don’t want him to be sad.” Punch moaned.

“He’s going to be sadder still if we are too weak to…” Julian paused. “Please, come and sit by me.”

Punch looked exasperatedly at Julian.

“Please,” Julian smiled.

Meanwhile, Robert and Marjani leaned over Julian’s sweating, limp body.

“Come on, my man.” Robert whispered. “Come back to us. Marjani’s here. She wants to talk with you, too.”

“He can hear ya.” Marjani said sweetly. “They both can hear ya.”

“Why is there no response?” Robert groaned angrily.

“You know why as well as I do.” Marjani whispered. “You’re the doctor.”

“Damn it!” Robert shouted.

“Now, Dr. Halifax, you done got to keep yourself still. Ain’t no good lettin’ your anger take you over. There’s somethin’ we got to do.”

“I know.” Robert sighed.

“I know you’re scared, but you’re a doctor, and you know we got to do it.” Marjani patted Robert’s shoulder.

“It’s difficult,” Robert replied so softly that Marjani could barely hear him. “When you’re a physician, you can keep some level of detachment from your patients. But, when it’s someone you know, someone you love…”

“All the more reason to take good care.” Marjani answered.

Robert took a deep breath.

“Go on, now.” Marjani urged him. “We got to know.”

“Yes.” Robert exhaled.

He put his hand on Julian’s face and gently parted the man’s lips, studying Julian’s teeth and gums.

“Well?” Marjani asked.

“I can’t believe it…” Robert growled.

Did you miss Chapters 1-161? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Make the Best of It

As we all know, most of the U.S. is coated in snow and ice. In areas like the one in which I live, we don’t really know how to deal with it. My town was coated in another half a foot of snow last night. Now, I’m quite fortunate in that I don’t have to go anywhere—ever, really. Everything I do, I do from here. But, I find the weather bothersome and inconvenient nonetheless.

Early this morning before Bertie got up, I worried how I’d get him outside to do his dog things. Bertie has a history of visibly blaming me for inclement weather with a look that flatly says, “Why did you allow this to happen?” So, I woke him up and announced that it was time to go outside. Off we went. As I opened the door, I got “the look.” That look that said, “Pardon me, but this in unacceptable.” But, then, if dogs could shrug, Bertie would have. Because within seconds, he was bounding down the stairs for a ten minute rolling romp in the snow.

Afterwards, as I was blow-drying the clumps of snow from his fur, I offered him a Mr. Punch-like “That’s the way to do it,” and realized that he had the right idea. There’s so much in the world that we can’t change, so why not just lean back and make the best of it?

Object of the Day: A Crimson Comb

Nearing the middle of the Victorian Era, decorative hair ornaments and combs reached an apex of opulence. Combs were often quite tall and heavily adorned with crystals. Designers also relied on color so that a lady could match the comb to her other jewels as well as to her gown.

Many combs were made of shell or bone, but the introduction of celluloid provided a lightness to hair ornaments which made them considerably more comfortable to wear. This grand comb is created from cellulite and features an intricate pierced pattern of curves and volutes. The crown of the comb glitters with brilliant scarlet rhinestones. There’s nothing subtle about this comb, but, then again, subtlety is overrated.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mastery of Design: The Bird of Paradise from Tipu Sultan’s Throne, 1787-91

Bird of Paradise
Created 1787-1791
Gold, Silver, Diamonds, Emeralds, Rubies
Stolen from the Throne of Tipu,
Sulatan of Mysore, 1799
Presented to George III
The Royal Collection
Here’s something that Mary of Teck didn’t get her hands on! Instead, it came into The Royal Collection via King George III who was equally responsible for adding objects to the collection, albeit in a different way.

Prior to being given to George III, the “Bird of Paradise” was actually a piece of the magnificent golden throne (made up of life-sized gold and bejweled tigers) of Tipu, Sultan of Mysore, India. The bird of diamonds, rubies, gold, emeralds, pearls and silver sat atop the throne and was considered a symbol of happiness. Should the bird ever touch the ground, that would mean an end to peace. Well, the bird hit the ground. In 1799, when Tipu Sultan’s citadel was ransacked and he was overthown and killed, British soldiers hacked his glorious throne to pieces and took the prizes home as glittering trophies. This stolen beauty was presented to George III by The East India Company. George III gave it to
Queen Charlotte who bequeathed it to their daughters, who, in turn gave it to King George IV around 1818.

Painting of the Day: Landscape with Birds by Roelandt Savery, 1615

Landscape with Birds
Roelandt Savery
Oil on Board, 1615
Acquired by King James II
The Royal Collection
This rather curious and surprisingly grim oil painting on board comes from the hand of Roelandt Savery who was known for his interest in natural history and his representations of scenes of both natural and imaginary animals which ranged from the whimsical to the terrifying.

He notably painted many scenes of birds, but this one is particularly odd. Historian Karel van Mander described the painting as being “nightmarish,” with trees which have “fallen down so awkwardly you would scarcely belief it in a dream.” The composition relies on forced Gothic patterns, uncomfortable shading and brutal lines which belie the natural beauty of the birds.

The painting of was acquired by James II who seemed to be drawn to nightmarish pursuits and who had, at best, a troubled reign.

Unfolding Pictures: The Cabriolet Fan, 1755

In the 1750’s, the French went quite mad over the introduction of the cabriolet—a new type of carriage which was so lightweight that it could be pulled by only one horse. The cabriolet was the height of fashion, so much so that it became iconic of the era. Ladies designed patches shaped like a cabriolet to adorn their faces, and atop their heads, they wore elaborate wigs and hats fashioned to resemble this popular means of transportation. Men even had images of cabriolets sewn into their stockings.

The Cabriolet Fan
French, 1755
Acquired by Mary of Teck
Paper, Ivory, Mother-of-Pearl
The Royal Collection
This obsession, of course, irritated the English, who thought the French people excessive, but nonetheless mimicked them. Cabriolet fans were crafted with scenes of merry people riding in the contraptions. Very often these fans were quite elaborately assembled with not simply one leaf on the sticks, but several concentric leaves.

This fan with carved ivory sticks, paper leaves and mother-of-pearl guards shows a scene of courtiers riding in a cabriolet. It is listed in the official documents of the Royal Collection as having been purchased in 1915 by Queen Mary. Other records, however indicate that this fan, for decades, belonged to Ida, Lady Bradford—one of Mary of Teck’s closest friends and “Extra Lady of the Bedchamber.” It is documented that Mary of Teck had long admired this rare antique fan, and that to oblige her friend, Lady Bradford gave the fan to the Queen. Regardless of how she came to own it, Queen Mary proudly displayed the fan in a gilt case in her bedroom at Marlborough House for many years.

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Amuse-Bouche

“That’s right.  Fatten her up like a French goose.”
Image: A Woman in a Red Jacket Feeding a Parrot, about 1663, Frans van Mieris the Elder, The National Gallery, London

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 161

Folk’ll eat little boys what’s bad.” Mr. Punch muttered.

“I don’t understand,” Julian responded, staring at his other-half across the imaginary room inside of themselves.

“Don’t you remember?” Mr. Punch asked.

“No, Punch. You’ve done a very fine job of making sure that I don’t remember.” Julian said gently.

“You know the rough spot on your back?” Punch asked.

“No.” Julian squinted. “Well, I suppose I do. I’m not in the habit of looking at my back. That’s rather a difficult task.”

“Well, you know how when you’re taking a bath and you scratch your back, there’s what feels like a rough spot between your shoulders?” Mr. Punch asked. “You can’t tell me you didn’t notice it were there.”

“I have.” Julian shrugged.

“Didn’t you never think nothin’ of it?” Punch continued.

“Not especially.” Julian said.

“Good.” Punch nodded. “Then, I done my job well, I did.”

“I’d say.” Julian smiled. “So, what about the rough patch?”

“That’s just one of the scars.” Punch whispered.

“Scars?” Julian raised his eyebrows.

“If you were to look at it—close-like, you’d see it once said somethin’.”

“I’m sorry, I’m not following you.”

“Don’t you remember at all?” Punch screamed, becoming frustrated. “Don’t you remember the cuttin’, and how she laughed—that Nanny, Agnes? Don’t you remember the pain? The bleedin’?”

Inside that room that only Punch and Julian knew about—the room that only they could see—Julian’s spirit began to shake. “I don’t understand.”

“You ain’t ready.” Mr. Punch whispered to his other half. “You ain’t ready.”

“No.” Julian shook his head. “I’m not.”

“Sorry I hollered at ya, Master.” Punch continued to whisper.

“No need,” Julian sighed. “I’m sorry I pressured you.”

“Funny, us ‘pologizin’ to each other.” Mr. Punch smiled. “We ain’t the one’s what done nothin’ to…us. If that makes any sense.”

“It does to me.” Julian nodded.

“Here,” Mr. Punch frowned. “When’d the room go all red?”

“I’m not sure,” Julian responded, looking around. Their “room” which had been a warm bronze had turned to crimson around them, and was growing increasingly hot.

“Somethin’s wrong.” Mr. Punch squinted.

“I think so.” Julian nodded.

“Listen,” Punch said, straining to hear.

“I don’t hear anything except the faint beating of a drum.” Julian answered after a moment.

“That ain’t no drum. That’s our heart. But, under that…don’t ya hear? It’s our chum!”

Julian listened. He could, indeed, hear Robert faintly calling his name. And, then, pleading for Mr. Punch to come out.

“I think you’d better answer him.” Julian said.

“I’m tryin’.” Mr. Punch scowled. “But, somehow I can’t.”

“Whatever do you mean?” Julian asked.

“I can’t make our lips move. I can’t seem to break through the redness.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-160? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Keep Yourself Entertained

Many people are presently stuck inside because of inclement weather. If you’re accustomed to going out and being very active, this could be more than a little frustrating. But, it doesn’t have to be.

I’ve seen these long streams of “tweets” this week about how “bored” people are because they’re snowed-in. There’s no reason for anyone to ever be bored. As long as you keep yourself entertained, you can be quite content anywhere.

So, how do you keep yourself entertained? Well, that really depends on what you like. Of course, there’s always TV and movies. Read a book, do some online reading. If you’re frustrated because you can’t go out and exercise, look up some exercises that you can do right in your own bedroom. Or, do some sit-ups and push-ups. Start a project you’ve been putting off. Download Skype and have a video chat with some friends or family that you don’t normally get to see. The possibilities are endless. You’ll only be bored when you allow yourself to be.

Object of the Day: An Engraving by E.M. Ward

Edward Matthew Ward (1816-1879) was a prolific historical painter of the Victorian era. Very much against the emerging Pre-Raphaelite movement, E.M. Ward declared the works of the “brotherhood” to be “un-British” and preferred to continue to paint in the style of epic historical painters such as Hogarth. His steady “British-ness” made him extremely popular with the crown and government and he was often commissioned to do paintings for Parliament.

Ward was married to Henrietta Ward (maiden name and married name were both “Ward,” but they were unrelated), a skilled painter in her own right. Together, they associated with some of the most notable names of the era including Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. Henrietta was a celebrated art teacher in addition to her other work. Her intimate friendship with Queen Victoria led her to be the tutor appointed to teach the Royal children how to draw. Leslie Ward, the son of E.M. and Henrietta, went on to be a well-respected caricaturist for Vanity Fair, under the name “Spy.”

Many of E.M. Ward’s paintings were recreated as engravings so that they could be included in books and presented as wall hangings which could be enjoyed by everyday people. This engraving shows Ward’s signature style. Like his wife, he filled every inch of a composition with complicated figures, detailed scenery and theatrical costumes. The result is always a painting which is full of life and serves to give one a heightened sense of a historical scene.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Precious Time: The Colonnade Egg by Fabergé, 1910

The Colonnade Egg
1910, Fabergé
Bowenite, Four-Color Gold,
Diamonds, Platinum, Silver,
The Royal Collection
This remarkable work of art is one of four Imperial Fabergé eggs which incorporated a clock into the central design. Designed by Henrik Wigström for Fabergé in 1910, the egg was originally presented to Russian Tsar Nicholas II as the traditional Easter gift for his wife.

The centerpiece of the egg is a rotary clock by Henri Moser et Cie. The clock is supported by bejeweled and enameled columns and surmounted by the egg itself so that it takes on the look of a temple. It is meant to represent the “temple of love.” Two platinum doves symbolize the Tsar and Tsarina, with four cherubs representing their daughters and a fifth putti at the apex of the dome—a symbol of their long-awaited son. The entire piece is adorned with diamonds, enamel, four-color gold, platinum and silver.

When Nicholas II was overthrown and his family killed in 1917, most of the Russian treasures were confiscated by the provisional government. The Colonnade Egg was among those items which were seized. It was presumed lost. However, in 1931, it reappeared in the hands of Mary of Teck who presented it as a gift to her husband, King George V.

Building of the Week: Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California

It’s almost impossible for me to think of William Randolph Hearst without first thinking of Charles Foster Kane. The two are inextricably associated in my mind. This, I’m sure, would really bother the late Mr. Hearst, and would, no doubt, tickle Orson Wells from whose brain the latter character sprang.

Nevertheless, leaving the fictional Mr. Kane aside, and focusing on reality, Hearst Castle was built for a variety of reasons—most of which cross over into the realm of the fictional motivations of Charles Foster Kane. Hearst was a voracious collector of art. The mansion was not furnished with art and antiques, the art and antiques were furnished BY the mansion.

Though the sprawling estate itself is often referred to as San Simeon, that is actually the name of the unincorporated city nearby Hearst’s land. Hearst himself referred to the estate as “The Ranch,” with the name “Hearst Castle” arising later. Hearst’s father, George Hearst, had purchased the huge parcel of land in 1865. At the time, the estate totaled 250,000 acres and already had a large Victorian home on the property. The original house remains and is occupied—at times—by members of the Hearst Family. In 1915, William Randolph Hearst contacted architect Julia Morgan about building a bungalow atop what he referred to as “the hill at San Simeon.” This “bungalow” soon began to take a different form.

After much debate regarding the style in which the house should be built, Hearst and Morgan concluded on a combination of Spanish Revival, Renaissance, and Mexican Colonial architecture. By the time construction began in 1919, the design strayed from even those three to something completely of its own invention—incorporating pieces of ancient and antique European castles, churches and palaces that Hearst purchased and had shipped to California in pieces. The result is a mansion that is a beautiful Frankenstein’s monster of parts—mortared together into a peculiarly grand puzzle of everything from Baroque to Gothic architecture. Hearst often capriciously ordered parts of the house to be torn apart and reassembled because he didn’t like a particular detail. He would have whole sections rebuilt repeatedly until he was completely satisfied. A good example of this is the Neptune Pool—the centerpiece of which is a reassembled Greek temple. This was rebuilt three times before Hearst was happy.

The main house consists of 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a cinema (curiously lined with book shelves), an airfield, and (“the world's largest”) private zoo and totals over 60,000 square feet. Three other mansions on the property add another 30,000 square feet to the living space.

One of the most impressive features of the estate is Hearst’s monumental art collection. To learn more about the collection, the castle and San Simeon, visit the official Web site.

Unusual Artifacts: Peppermill with Cipher of George III, 1761

Peppermill with Cipher of
George III
Tortoiseshell, Silver, Steel
The Royal Collection
King George III had a distinct distaste for opulent dining and did not enjoy public banquets and dinners. He much preferred sharing a simple supper of mutton, cold turkey, fried oysters and custard with Queen Charlotte in his bedchamber. Toward the end of his life, as he became slightly more--shall we say—peculiar, he liked to eat alone at 2:00.

However, just because he preferred a simple meal at a small table, didn’t mean he wanted to just use any old china or service. Between 1761 and 1762, George commissioned a new, magnificent set of silver (partially gilt) for use at his private table. Part of the order was this peppermill. The vessel is crafted of tortoiseshell and silver with a silver inset of George III’s cipher. The blades of the grinder are made of steel. Though slightly worn from use, the peppermill is in excellent condition and is a nifty little reminder of George III and what probably amounts to hundreds upon hundreds of fried oysters.

Sculptures of the Day: Biscuit Figures in the Sévres Style

Pair of Infants: One Drawing, One Reading
Dihl et Guerhard, Late Eighteenth Century
Hard-Pase Biscuit Porcelain
Acquired by Queen Mary, 1936-38
The Royal Collection
In the late Eighteenth Century, with the growing popularity of biscuit (parian), the porcelain makers at France’s Sévres introduced the trend of creating a pair of figures—one a female child who represents reading, the other a male representing drawing. This motif was frequently copied by other aspiring porcelain makers—both French and English--who were well on their way to perfecting their own parian figures. Such is the case of this pair of infants. Crafted in the late Eighteenth Century in the Sévres style by Dihl et Guérhard, this set is numbered on the reverse in black paint, “No. 1” and “No. 2.” Historians believe that the pair may have been sculpted to be included in a group on a large clock case that was never completed.

You’ll never guess how these ended up in the Royal Collection. Oh, okay. You guessed. Mary of Teck acquired the first one in 1936 and the second in 1938. How she managed to hunt down the the mate to the first one, I’ll never know. But, she did, and they’ve been in the Royal Collection ever since.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 160

How are you with hair?” Marie Laveau asked.

“Pardon me?” Barbara Allen squinted.

“Hair, girl. Hair! Can you coif a woman’s hair?” Marie hissed.

“Yes,” Barbara nodded. “I think so.”

“Good.” Marie smiled. “Imagine—me sendin’ a white woman to them rich ladies’ houses. Won’t they just think I’m high-tone?”

“That’s what you intend to do with me? You intend to use me as a hairdresser?” Barbara asked, tilting her head to one side.

“I’d say it’s a damn lot better than what you were doin’ for Iolanthe.” Marie laughed.

“I’m not complaining,” Barbara nodded. “But, surely that’s not all…”

“No, girl.” Marie laughed. “That ain’t all. I got big plans for you.”

“Such as?”

“Such as takin’ care of Iolanthe once and for all.” Marie winked. “But, don’t think me unfair. No. All my folks is treated fairly. I’ll help you, too. It ain’t the way it is with Iolanthe. See, I’ll help you get what you want. Like that husband of yours. No sense havin’ a husband if he’s with another woman all the time. You want him back?”

“God help me, but I do.” Barbara frowned.

“No tellin’ what love’ll do.” Marie howled with laughter. “The man’s messin’ around on ya. And, he shot your brother! But, you want him back!” She rocked back and forth as she laughed. “And, so, it shall be, Barbara Allen. So, it shall be.”

“I’ll do anything you ask.” Barbara said.

“Of course you will, chil’.” Marie grinned. “Of course, you will.” She sighed. “Now, let me show you to your room. You better get plenty of sleep tonight, girl. Tomorrow’s gonna be right busy for ya.”

At that very moment, in her own home, Iolanthe Evangeline paced slowly across the plush carpets in her bedroom.

“Do sit down, Iolanthe.” Ulrika barked. “You’re making me dizzy.”

“Just because I’m entertainin’ the idea of workin’ with you, Ulrika Rittenhouse, don’t give you the right to order me around. And, I don’t want you thinkin’ it does!”

Arthur chuckled. “She told you, Pet.”

“Shut your man up, Ulrika!” Iolanthe growled.

“Seems she’s told you, too.” Ulrika smiled.

Arthur grunted.

“Really, Iolanthe,” Ulrika sighed. “What’s gotten into you? Ever since that…woman…was here, you’ve been quite shattered. She’s just a servant, for God’s sake!”

“No,” Iolanthe shook her head. “She’s more than that.”

“She works for the Duke of Fallbridge.” Ulrika shook her head. “She only came here to try to rattle you because, like all of the people who are associated with that loon, she’s strangely loyal to him. She just wanted to scare you. Don’t let her. It’s unlike you, really.”

“Who are you to tell me what I’m like?” Iolanthe spat. “What does that woman mean bringing that statue into this house?”

“It’s just a souvenir figure of the Virgin Mary. Really, you can buy them at the French Market. Frankly, I find it humorous. Imagine—giving you, of all people, the Virgin Mary!”

“Shut up, bitch.” Iolanthe grumbled.

“Oh, honestly,” Ulrika sighed, “if it bothers you so much…here!” Ulrika grabbed the figurine and flung it across the room. It shattered on the hearth of the fireplace. “Now, it’s just a pile of broken chalk. No threat to you!”

“Why?” Iolanthe shrieked. “Why did you do that?”

Meanwhile, at their borrowed house on Royal Street, Robert and Marjani continued to chat softly. All the while, Robert kept his eyes fixed on Julian’s body—waiting for some sign of consciousness.

Suddenly, Marjani’s head bolted upright and she grinned.

“Marjani?” Robert asked. “Is everything all right?”

“Oh, yes, sir.” Marjani nodded. “Things are happenin’.”

Little did they know, but things were happening inside Julian’s body, too.

“Dear Punch,” Julian sighed. “Do sit down again. Please.”

“Can’t.” Mr. Punch replied as he walked frantically around the ethereal room inside Julian’s body.

“Please,” Julian smiled.

“Very well,” Punch responded, returning to his spot in the chair across from Julian’s.

“Now, tell me, what’s going on in your mind? You know I don’t know what you think. We share a body, but our minds are separate.”

“I’m just rememberin’.” Punch answered quietly.

“It’s time to help me remember, too.” Julian said gently.

“You’re right.” Mr. Punch sighed. “I know you’re right. I’ll tell you now.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-159? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Take Your Time

So much of what we do is done in a hurry. It seems as if everyone and everything has a deadline, and, all of us end up rushing in order to accomplish most tasks. While we may not have any say in when our bills are due or when we have to complete tasks for other people, we do have control over the schedules of our own lives.

Putting undue pressure on yourself isn’t very healthy. When it comes to your personal life, take your time. Accomplish tasks and make decisions at your own pace. Most things aren’t a matter of life and death, after all. So, run your life at your own speed. You’ll be a lot more comfortable.

Object of the Day: Garry Moore’s Autograph

Known for his crew-cut, bow ties and cheery disposition, Garry Moore was one of the most famous faces in early broadcasting. His successful Garry Moore Show introduced the world to many up-and-coming entertainers, most notably Carol Burnett. He was the host of I’ve Got a Secret for many years and has subsequently been named one of the greatest personalities of the era.

I used to enjoy watching the vintage game shows. Seeing the sophistication of people like Kitty Carlisle, Arlene Francis, John Charles Daly and Garry Moore always appealed to me. Mr. Moore photo has a special place in my study, next to a picture of Kitty Carlisle. The two of them look out at me while I work and remind me of an elegance and wit to which we all should aspire.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Her Majesty’s Furniture: An Unusual Cabinet and Stand, 1660-1690

Cabinet and Stand
The Royal Collection
This cabinet and stand are a marriage of two individual pieces as well as a marriage of cultures. The cabinet itself was made around 1660 in Germany, possibly by Melchior Baumgartner. While the piece was created to hold precious jewels, it was also intended to be a jewel in its own right. The structure is crafted of pine, ivory, cedar, and ebony, with a facing of panels of pietra dura of semi-precious stones including lapis lazuli and agate, and gilt brass. The panels themselves were imported into Germany from Florence and Prague, thus making this a truly international piece.

The ornate gilt stand dates to about 1690 and is almost definitely an English addition. Historians believe that the stand was added to the piece when it was brought into the Royal Collection.

Humanitarian of the Week: Camryn Manheim

Equally adept at comedy and drama, Camryn Manheim has proven to be one of the most reliably gifted actors working today. Her face has become familiar to us over the years through her work on such television programs as The Practice, The Ghost Whisperer, Two and a Half Men, Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal, Will & Grace, and others, as well as in films such as The Tenth Kingdom, Dark Water, Scary Movie 3, Jeffrey, The Laramie Project and many more. Miss Manheim brings a natural believability to all of the characters that she plays. This probably owes, in large part, to her genuine nature as an individual.

Early in Miss Manheim’s career, she worked as a sign language interpreter in hospitals. This is a skill that she has been able to use as part of her dramatic craft. However, this is but one way in which Camryn Manheim serves our global community. She is a vocal human rights activist, speaking and acting on behalf of women’s rights, acceptance of overweight people and gay rights. She has given her time and effort to a host of organizations dedicated to improving people’s lives—RAINN, The House of Justice, The Children’s Institute, The Dream Fountation, Project Angel Food and the Anti-Defamation League to name just a few.

Camryn Manheim’s Web site offers a look into her numerous charitable activities as well as a glimpse into her prolific career. For her great talent and even greater works, Camryn Manheim is our Humanitarian of the Week.

Here’s a clip from a personal favorite of mine—Miss Manheim as “Snow White” in the epic Robert Halmi production, The Tenth Kingdom.

Film of the Week: Deception, 1946

Christine wants some answers.
Davis and Rains
Warner Brothers
By 1946, as Bette Davis was precariously dangling from the pinnacle of her career, Warner Brothers decided to reteam Davis with Paul Henreid and (her favorite costar) Claude Rains. The three had starred together in the tremendous success, Now, Voyager. In order to ensure further success, the studio attached the same director—Irving Rapper—to the package. The film was to be Deception—a property that had been originally purchased as a vehicle for Barbara Stanwyck and Paul Henreid. Warner Brothers thought the film would sell better with Davis opposite Henreid once again. It’s a pity that they weren’t right. While an artistic triumph, the picture lost money and began the downturn of Davis’ career at the top of the box office—for awhile anyway.

"A Tang Horse fit for a museum!"
Paul Henreid as "Karel" lambasts Davis' "Christine"
Warner Brothers
Deception is based on the French play Monsieur Lamberthier by Louis Verneuil—first produced in 1927. The play came to Broadway as Jealousy and had a successful run which ended in an initial 1929 film version, also called Jealousy. The play was revived in 1946—retitled Obsession—when it was purchased by Warner Brothers.

The studio renamed the script Deception and rewrote the story from the original though the gist of it is still the same. It’s a tale of treachery—some innocent enough, some just petty jealousy, and some pure madness. Bette Davis plays Christine Radcliffe, a talented pianist who thought her lover, Karel (Paul Henreid), was killed by the Nazis. She’s quite shocked to find him in the United States and is overjoyed when they are reunited. In her enthusiasm, she suggests they marry. But, she was forgetting one thing. Christine was already tied to another man—the powerful composer, Alexander Holenius (Rains). And, so Christine is caught between two terribly jealous men and tries to find a way to deal with both of them. She tries everything except telling the truth. And, that’s her downfall.

Always wear your finest white fur when murdering your lover.
Bette Davis teaches Claude Rains a lesson.
Warner Brothers
The film is moody and beautifully acted. Of course, being a film about the world of classical music, the score was of the utmost importance. Composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold scored the picture and composed “Holenius’” concerto which is rather a fascinating piece of 1940’s-esque classical music.

I really don’t know why this picture flopped because it’s truly quite good. For some nice, noir-ish, slightly melodramatic cello-playing, gun-shooting, wife-choking, bread-toasting, glass-breaking, shoulder-pad-wearing, dinner-ordering fun, I’d recommend Deception.

The Belle Époque Today: The Art of Frederick Cuming, RA

The Wave, Golden Cap, Dorset
Fred Cuming, RA
A member of the Royal Academy since 1969, Fred Cuming first began studying art in 1945. His first group exhibition came in 1953, with his first solo showing in 1978. Since the, Fred Cuming has been the focus of major exhibitions in both the United Kingdom and the U.S.

Cuming’s work is intelligently abstracted. He says of his paintings:

I am not interested in pure representation. My work is about responses to the moods and atmospheres generated by landscape, still life or interior. I am interested in the developments of 20th-century painting in abstraction...and in new ideas and art forms. My philosophy is that the more I work the more I discover. Drawing is essential as a tool of discovery; skill and mastery of technique are also essential, but only as a vocabulary and a means towards an idea. I struggle to keep an open mind.

Take his painting of “The Wave, Golden Cap, Dorset,” (above) for example. While the work is by no means literal, it is an instantly recognizable subject. Cuming has a way of exposing the bones of his compositions, and thereby, recreating them with a life all of their own. By laying bare the elements of each scene, Cuming imbues each canvas with an unmistakable natural essence.

Even interiors and still lifes such as 1995's floral still life of Spring (left) have an overall ethereal effect which instead of abstracting the composition only serves to make it seem more realistic.

To learn more about Mr. Cuming's lovely work, visit his Web site

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 159

Mr. Punch found himself, once again, in the lavishly appointed room deep inside the body he shared with Julian. This time, the room was aglow in bronze-colored silks and glittering gilding. A fireplace sparkled against one wall. Punch didn’t recall there being a fireplace in that phantom room and he stared at it for a moment before noticing his master sitting in a wing-back chair next to the hearth.

“It’s warmer this time, eh, Mr. Punch?” Julian smiled.

“Coo.” Mr. Punch nodded. “It is. Almost hot. Where’d that come from?”

“I’m not quite sure.” Julian shrugged. “I think perhaps we’ve got a touch of a fever. I’ve noticed—while you’ve been out living in the world—that this ‘room’ changes given our surroundings outside.”

“So, this is where you stay all day?”

“And, all night.” Julian nodded. “Sit…” He pointed to a chair opposite himself—a chair that Punch hadn’t noticed before.

“If I’m in here with you,” Punch began, “who’s takin’ care of things for us out there?”

“No one.” Julian shrugged again. “Well, to be fair, I think Robert’s looking after us.”

“I was just out there,” Mr. Punch squinted. “How’d I get back in here with you?”

“Mr. Punch,” Julian said softly, “I’m no physician, but I suspect there’s something of a complication with our body. You know, being shot isn’t really the healthiest thing for a body.”

Mr. Punch nodded.

Julian continued. “I’ve been thinking this over, and I’m fairly certain we’re having a bit of difficulty breathing. That’s why you’re in here with me. Neither of us presently has the strength to be ‘out.’”

“I see.” Mr. Punch nodded again though he didn’t really quite understand.

“Besides, it gives us a chance to finish the chat we started. Isn’t it funny? We’re both parts of the same whole, yet we spend so little time together. No doubt it’s because you’re busy living my life for me. I’m quite grateful for that, you know. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Remember when you was a little man?” Mr. Punch sighed. “When you was small and a child and such? We used to talk all the time, then. When I was a puppet and you were a boy.”

“It’s interesting how it’s turned out.” Julian replied. “Now, I’m more of a puppet than you are, and you’re more of a boy.”

Punch grunted. “Here, are we ever gonna get a chance to rest?”

“You’re resting right now.” Julian laughed.

“No, I don’t think so.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “I think somethin’ bad’s happenin’ out there. This ain’t restin’. I mean a real rest—like a holiday. How many weeks have we been here in this strange country? Ever since we got here, there’s been nothin’ but trouble. Gettin’ burned, gettin’ shot, runnin’ ‘round chasin’ cruel people, dealin’ with terrible tragedies…”

“It has been rather…busy.”

“How much can one body stand?” Mr. Punch sighed.

“I suppose we’ll find out.” Julian grinned.

“You seem happy in here, master.” Mr. Punch tilted his head to one side.

“Selfishly, I suppose I am.” Julian nodded. “You know, it’s what I always desired—a chance to be alone, to be safe, to be quiet, to not have to deal with anything. You’ve given me that. The only tragedy in it is that you’ve had to live through these ordeals for me.”

“I don’t mind,” Mr. Punch smiled. “It’s why I’m here.”

“There should come a point, dear other-half, when you get what you desire, too.”

“I ‘spose.” Punch sighed.

“What is it that you desire, Mr. Punch?” Julian asked.

“Well, I don’t rightly know.” Mr. Punch grunted. “I got things what I like. I like feelin’ the warmth of the dog next to me—all furry and soft and innocent. I like playin’ with the baby. I like to eat! Coo! That’s a lark! I like feelin’ the sunshine on me human face.” He paused.

“What else?”

“I like bein’ with people. I know you don’t, but I like it. Adrienne’s sweet and she smells like biscuits. Cecil’s funny, he is. He says things what would be shocking to other folk, but what I find humorous. Marjani and Naasir are kind to us and make us think ‘bout things, we’d not considered before. And, Robert…”

“What about Robert?”

“Well, I think I like him best of all.” Mr. Punch said. “He don’t talk so well. Too caught up in what he’s thinkin’ to be able to say it proper. But, he’s loyal, and he’s steady, and he’s brave. And, what’s more, I think he understands what we’re thinkin’ even if we don’t talk much ourselves.”

“That’s what a friend does,” Julian smiled.

“Not used to it.” Mr. Punch chuckled.

“Nor am I.” Julian laughed.

“When all this is over,” Mr. Punch began, “Can we go back to England?”

“That’s been the plan all along.” Julian nodded. “After all, I am the Duke of Fallbridge. I have duties.”

“Do we have to go back to Fallbridge Hall?”

“Well, yes,” Julian said. “That’s our home. And, now that Mother and Father are gone, I…well, it’s my responsibility.”

“I like the house in Belgrave Square better. Ain’t nothin’ to remind me of bad things there.”

“What bad things?” Julian asked.

“Nothin’.” Mr. Punch shrugged.

“Isn’t it time that we finish that conversation, Mr. Punch?” Julian smiled.

“I wonder if we’re breathin’ better.” Mr. Punch said absently. “It’s gettin’ hotter in here.”

“Changing the subject won’t distract me, Punch.” Julian grinned. “Remember, I know all of your tricks. You learned them from me, after all. This is important…”

“Breathin’ is important, too.” Mr. Punch frowned.

“A body needs many things in order to survive,” Julian said firmly. “Not the least of which is peace of mind.”

Mr. Punch stood up and paced in front of the fireplace. “Ain’t it hot in here? Do you feel strange?”

Meanwhile, outside of Julian’s body, Robert wiped the sweat from his friend’s brow.

Cecil and Adrienne had taken Fuller out of the room as Robert tried to make Julian more comfortable. Robert had explained that fluid had collected in Julian’s lungs and that he feared infection. Seeing that Julian had become feverish troubled Robert. He was, however, relieved when Marjani entered the room.

“I come back as quick as I could,” Marjani said softly. “How is he?”

“Not well.” Robert replied.

“I’m awful sorry to hear that.” Marjani said.

“I can’t get a response from him.” Robert mumbled. “From either of them. Yet, his lips are moving as if he’s speaking. You don’t suppose they’re talking to each other—the two of them, Julian and Punch? I don’t know. I wish I understood better what goes on in his mind—or minds. If there are two minds in there.” He shook his head.

“Who’s to say ‘xactly what anyone thinks?” Marjani gently placed her hand on Robert’s shoulder.

“You.” Robert smiled weakly. “You seem to know what people think. Thank you for saving him. He said you carried him to the cathedral.”

“I did.” Marjani nodded.

“Where’d you go?” Robert asked.

“Back to see Iolanthe Evangeline.” Marjani answered.

“Why?” Robert asked, wide-eyed.

“Jus’ somethin’ I had to do.” Marjani shrugged.

“She didn’t harm you, did she?”

“No.” Marjani chuckled. “It’ll take more than that witch to hurt me. Right now, let’s just think about His Grace. You know, Dr. Halifax, we got a worry we’ve not talked about.”

“I know.” Robert sighed.

“The city is thick with Yellow Jack.”

“I know,” Robert repeated.

“If His Grace is this weak…” Marjani began.

“You don’t have to say it.” Robert whispered.

“But, it’s something we got to think ‘bout.” Marjani said firmly. “I done already lost my babies to it, Doctor. We can’t lose this man, too.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-158? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Winter Weather Safety

Much of the United States is gripped in the icy fist of a rather nasty bout of winter weather. Even here in Texas, we’ve got ice and snow. Of course, with that thing coming up this weekend here in Dallas—what’s it called? The Superbowl?—everyone’s freaking out because we feel like bad hosts, allowing it to snow on our guests. Of course, if anyone even pours a bottle of water on the road in Dallas, people spin their cars out of control and sail off bridges. So, you can imagine how badly drivers behave on actual ice.

All the more reason to consider your personal safety when going out. If you’re experiencing icy weather, think of safety first. How necessary is it for you to go out? Some employers won’t close an office even if there’s twenty inches of snow on the ground. You might be asked to take a vacation day, if you can’t make it to the office. But, that’s worth it, I would say. Before going out in bad weather, truly consider just how important your trip is. Honestly, there aren’t many things that are more important than staying safe. So, use your judgment and always make sure to err on the side of caution.

Another thing to consider in bad weather conditions is the safety of your pets. If you have a pet who needs to go outside to do what animals do, make sure that you keep an eye on him or her. Dogs and cats can slip on the ice just as easily as humans. They rely on you to think for them, so make sure they’ve got a relatively comfortable exit. Similarly, strays (or those animals whose people don’t keep such a watchful eye on them) may be stuck out in the elements. Presently, there are three stray cats nesting on the bench on my front porch (much to Bertie’s chagrin). Normally, I don’t run a bed and breakfast for stray cats, but given the wretched weather, I’m making sure they’ve got food (though I don’t really know what cats eat) and water. It’s our responsibility to make sure that all creatures are protected—both human and otherwise.

Object of the Day: An Antique Diamond Stickpin

For centuries, the diamond has been revered for its eternal elegance. Though styles change from decade to decade, one thing always remains a constant—the sophistication of a diamond solitaire. A gentleman would have worn diamonds in the evening—in his buttons, insignia or stickpin. This early Nineteenth Century diamond pin speaks of understated luxury.

British in origin, the stickpin is set with a single European cut diamond which was faceted to take advantage of the dim candlelight. The cut shows the origins of the modern brilliant cut diamond. The gold prongs of the setting are arced to create the look of a tulip. Early Nineteenth Century jewelry makers felt a freedom to experiment with settings, often giving a whimsical flavor to what would have otherwise been a utilitarian mounting.

This would have been the finishing touch to a gentleman’s evening attire, catching the light playfully as he enjoyed an evening amongst friends.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Painting of the Day: Canaletto’s “Capriccio with a Roman Arch”

A Capriccio with a Roman Arch
Canaletto, 1742-45
Purchased by King George III
The Royal Collection
This ink and watercolor landscape by Canaletto shows a loose interpretation of the way the Arch of Titus looked prior to the 1822 restoration of the site. Though the artist has taken some “capricious” liberties with the composition, the arch depicted in this scene fits the descriptions of the un-restored Arch of Titus.

This work, dating to 1742, curiously does not match with the inventory of works drawn by Canaletto during his most productive youthful journey to Rome, and, was mostly drawn after-the-fact by studying similar scenes by other artists.

Person of the Week: Ernest Borgnine

When I think of Ernest Borgnine (which is, actually, something I probably do more often than most other people my age), I think of four things:

1. The Catered Affair

2. He was married to Ethel Merman for (what?) a month.

3. Bunny O’Hare

4. Mystery Science Theater 3000

Yes, of course, there are the other Borgnin-inian things—Marty, The Glass Menagerie, From Here to Eternity, Johnny Guitar, etc. But, the above are what first come to mind.

Ernest Borgnine worked with all the greats: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Montgomery Clift, Sinatra, Spencer Tracy. He also created some of the most interesting performances captured on film. He was brilliant in pictures like Marty (his breakthrough role) and The Catered Affair.

In The Catered Affair, he played opposite Bette Davis, as the working-class parents of a bride-to-be (Debbie Reynolds) who wants to have a fast, inexpensive wedding while her parents want her to have the grand affair they never could. He’s really very good in the part. I would say that it was one of his best performances. His other offing with Bette Davis--Bunny O'Hare (shudder)--was one of his worse—and one of her worst. In this 1971 “comedy,” Davis and Borgnine play senior citizens disguised as hippies who ride a motorcycle across the country on a wild crime spree. Shudder!

Nevertheless, whether it was From Here to Eternity or McHale’s Navy, Borgnine brought a strong work ethic, a remarkable humility and a sense of humor to each project. Or, I should say, he still does. At 94, he’s still working, and, just won the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award last night. That’s pretty good for a former Navy man (good training for McHale’s Navy, don’t you think) who never originally planned on being in show business.

Here’s wishing all the best to Ernest Borgnine, and many congratulations. As a personal message, thanks for the hideous joy that is Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders.