Saturday, February 19, 2011

Painting of the Day: Princess Alice, 1851

Princess Alice
William Essex, 1851
The Royal Collection
Prince Albert collected miniature paintings of family members which he displayed in his dressing room at Buckingham Palace. Nearly seventy miniatures were arranged in what Albert called “a family tree.”

For their wedding anniversary in 1851, Queen Victoria presented Prince Albert with this miniature oil on copper painting of their third child, Princess Alice. The painting by William Essex is a miniature of a larger portrait by Franz Winterhalter. Victoria called the painting, “a perfect ‘bijou’.”

The Art of Play: Princess Elizabeth and her Toy Cat, 1935

Princess Elizabeth
With Her Toy Cat
Marcus Adams, 1935
The Royal Collection
Even little princesses like to play with their toys. This 1935 photograph of a nine-year-old Princess Elizabeth is evidence of that. Taken to “The Children’s Studio” by Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and King George VI, Princess Elizabeth gladly posed for Royal photographer Marcus Adams. Her only demand—that she be photographed with her favorite toy, a small, stuffed cat.

What’s most amazing about this photo, however, is the fact the she looks exactly the same then as she does now that she’s Queen Elizabeth II. I wonder if she’s still got that cat. Maybe it’s what she keeps in her ever-present handbag.

Saturday Sparkle: Queen Victoria’s “Padlock” Bracelet, 1839

Queen Victoria's "Padlock" Bracelet
Given by Prince Albert, 1839
Gold, Emerald, Diamonds
The Royal Collection
On Christmas Day, 1839, Queen Victoria wrote in her journal, “Received to my inexpressible delight a dear, charming letter from dearest Albert, accompanied by a lovely little bracelet.” The “lovely little bracelet” in question was a combination Christmas gift and symbol of their recent engagement.

The bracelet of gold, diamonds and emeralds was testament to their romance. The gold is engraved with a pattern of hearts and knots, the diamonds are a symbol of eternity and the emerald signifies hope. The “padlock” charm was meant to represent the “locking away of the heart’s secrets.”

Queen Victoria specified that after her death, this bracelet along with several other pieces of personal jewelry, should not be passed down to the family and, instead, should be locked away in “Albert’s Room” at Windsor Castle. And, so, it was. In 1901, this bracelet and a few other jewels were displayed in the room in which Prince Albert had died—a room which had not been disturbed since his passing.

At the Music Hall: Mad Dogs and Englishmen, 1932

In tropical climes
There are certain times
Of day
When all the citizens retire
To take their clothes off and perspire.
It's one of those rules
That the greatest fools
Because the sun is far too sultry
And one must avoid its ultry
Violet ray.

English playwright, composer, actor, singer and director Noel Coward was known for his wit and talent. His clever lyrics and complicated melodies charmed audiences throughout his entire career and his was responsible for composing some of the most culturally significant songs of the Twentieth Century.

His 1932 song, Mad Dogs and Englishman, quickly became a popular favorite. It’s humorous statement about the intrepidness of the English when visiting foreign lands was as comic as it was relevant and true. He wrote the song without aid of pen or piano while traveling in Hanoi. Working out the complex song in his head, he triumphantly recited it from memory to his companion and later noted, “I wrestled in my mind with the complicated rhythms and rhymes of the song until finally it was complete, without even the aid of pencil and paper. I sang it triumphantly and unaccompanied to my travelling companion on the verandah of a small jungle guest house. Not only Jeffrey [Amherst], but the gecko lizards and the tree frogs gave every vocal indication of enthusiasm.”

Mad Dogs and Englishmen was featured in the show, Words and Music, but quickly developed a life of its own, being sung in music halls and pubs alike. Its humorous lyrics and rousing melody still delight audiences today.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 175

Robert squinted at Meridian. He was tired and his eyes burned. He hadn’t slept much the night before—getting up frequently to look-in on Julian.

“I’m sorry,” Robert mumbled. “Could you repeat that?”

“There’s a man here for to see ya, Dr. Halifax.” Meridian repeated.

“A man?” Robert asked. “Who is this man?”

“He says he’s called Charles Van Eyck.”

“I know no one by that name.” Robert shrugged. “Van Eyck? A Dutchman? No, I don’t know him.”

“No, sir, I don’t believe you do.” Meridian continued. “He’s come ‘bout the position of valet.” She nodded, adding, “for His Grace.”

“Valet?” Robert grumbled. “We’ve not advertised for the position. How did he know?”

“I’m not sure.” Meridian said.

“Send him away, please.” Robert sighed. “Tell him that…I don’t know. Get his information, if you would. We’ll contact him another time. We’ll send him a letter or something…”

“If you’ll pardon me sayin’ so,” Meridian began, “I think it’d be worth seein’ him. He seems like a nice enough fella, smart and not so bad lookin’, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t much care what he looks like,” Robert grumbled. “I’ve got too many things that need my attention at present to…”

Meridian nodded.

“Very well.” Robert muttered. “Perhaps we could use the help.”

“Now, Sir, I don’t mean for to pressure ya.” Meridian smiled gently. “We got plenty o’ help ‘roud here. One of the men outside can come in and help if we need ‘im.”

“Well, we do need someone trained in assisting a gentleman.” Robert grunted. “I’ll see him. If you would, please, have him wait in the front parlor. I’ll be there in a moment.”

“Of course, Doctor.” Meridian grinned.

Robert looked around the empty kitchen where he’d been sitting, mixing medication for Julian and Gamilla.

Marjani entered via the back passage and cleared her throat so as not to startle Robert.

“Ah, Marjani.” Robert stood up and smiled.

“Anything I can do for ya?” Marjani asked.

“Surely you’re exhausted.” Robert answered. “You’ve not gotten any more sleep than I.”

“I feel fine,” Marjani grinned. “Columbia’s gotten her bath and is out back playin’ with little Fuller. Gamilla’s been given her supper. I done helped Meridian with the supper for the Halifaxes. Last I checked on His Grace, he was playin’ with his puppet. So, I got some free time if ya need anything.”

“Would you mind finishing these tinctures?” Robert asked. “They just want mixing.”

“Be happy to.” Marjani nodded. “You gotta get out there to talk to the new valet.”

“How did you…” Robert began, pausing to chuckle. “What am I saying? Of course you know. You know everything, don’t you?”

Marjani winked.

“But, we’ve not hired the man yet.” Robert smiled.

“You will.” Marjani nodded.

“How can you be so sure?” Robert asked.

Marjani grinned.

“Of course, you’re sure.” Robert sighed. “Well, Marjani, you never know. I might surprise you.”

“You might,” Marjani nodded again.

As Robert walked from the room she whispered to herself, “but you won’t.”

Robert entered the front parlor and was surprised to see Adrienne and Cecil talking with a dark-haired man with piercing blue eyes.

“You must be Charles,” Robert said politely.

“Yes, Sir.” Charles bowed his head.

“Robert, dear,” Adrienne began, “We’ve just been talking with Charles. He comes very highly qualified.”

“From where do you come?” Robert asked.

“I presently work for Dr. Odil L'Ebène and his sister, Miss Heralda.”

“L'Ebène?” Robert repeated.

“We know him,” Cecil said. “And his sister. An interesting family…”

“If you’re currently employed, why are you here?” Robert asked.

“Well, Sir, I think every man has a right to better himself. I don’t want to be just a footman all my life. I’d like to see something of the world. I thought working with titled people would give me a chance to be in a position where I could grow and do some good.”

“I see.” Robert answered. “And, just how did you know that His Grace needed a valet?”

“Sir, New Orleans is a small place.” Charles answered. “Especially amongst free, white servants. We do tend to talk.”

“Ah,” Robert nodded.

“However, I want you to know, Sir, that discretion is always of the utmost importance to me. I never talk about the people for whom I work. The privacy of the family is very important to me.”

“That’s good to know.” Robert replied. “If you were to work for His Grace, you’d have to understand that you would be privy to information and occasions that must be kept strictly secret at all times.”

“I understand completely.” Charles nodded.

“Do you have references?” Robert asked.

“He does.” Adrienne spoke up, reaching toward the trestle table behind her and retrieving a bright, white envelope. “Quite good.”

Charles glanced quickly at the envelope. The motion of his eyes didn’t escape Robert.

“I should like to look at that.” Robert said. “Of course, you realize that the final decision belongs to the Duke of Fallbridge. You’ll be serving him primarily.”

“I’d very much like to meet the Duke.” Charles smiled. “I hear he’s a most exceptional man.”

“He is.” Robert nodded.

“Would it be possible for me to meet him this afternoon?”

“No.” Robert shook his head. “His Grace has been injured. He’s recovering. We can’t have him disturbed presently.”

“I would not disturb him, Dr. Halifax.” Charles shook his head. “If anything, I could be of some assistance. I’d very much like to begin right away.”

“What’s your hurry, Charles?” Robert narrowed his eyes.

“No hurry, Sir. I suppose I’m just eager.”

“So eager,” Robert said, squinting at the paper he held in his hands, “that you’d forge this letter of recommendation?”

Did you miss Chapters 1-174? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, February 21, 2011 for Chapter 176 of Punch’s Cousin.

Goal for the Day: Keep Reminders Nearby

Throughout our lifetimes, friends and family give us little things which will always remind us of a special time or person. These don’t have to be fancy objects. Sometimes, the most important things are those ephemeral pieces—notes, drawings, photos. We can’t always be in the same room with the people we most care about, but we can keep them nearby when we save those little reminders of our loved ones.

You might consider keeping a scrapbook or a memento box—some small receptacle to contain those cherished memories that might otherwise got lost. One day, those very same messages and mementos may mean something special to someone else, too.

Object of the Day: An Antique Pencil Sketch

Several years ago, I happened upon a group of antique sketches. Most of them were by the same artist and had been assembled into a portfolio. However, the collection also included works by another hand and in a completely different style. One of them is this pencil sketch of a Greek bust.

The drawing is signed, however, I can’t really make out the name. The others in the collection date to 1850-1875, so I would guess that this falls somewhere into that time range. I find it interesting that the artist responsible for most of the drawings and watercolors in the collection also amassed examples of another artist’s work. We’ll never know why or the relationship between the two artists, however, I think it’s rather fascinating that more than a century later, these same objects remain together.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Royal Pets: Islay, Tilco, The Macaw and Two Lovebirds

Islay, Tilco, the Great Macaw
and Two Lovebirds
Sir Edwin Landseer, 1839
The Royal Collection
Islay, the terrier, was a favorite companion of Queen Victoria. The scruffy darling is shown here in this 1839 portrait by Sir Edwin Landseer—the great painter of animals. Islay is joined by his friend Tilco as well as some fowl sidekicks. The Great Macaw (not to be confused with The Lory) was known to have spent a great deal of time with Islay. With them are two love birds from the Royal Aviary.

Not to be outdone, Bertie and his friend, The Lory II, have posed for a picture of their own.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: The Big Grin

Next year, in May of 2012, Mr. Punch will celebrate his 350th birthday. In celebration of Mr. Punch’s 1662 arrival in England for the wedding of “The Merry Monarch,” King Charles II, Punch and Judy aficionados across Britain will be staging a nationwide celebration called, “The Big Grin.”

The Big Grin will feature a great many different events. Appearances by Mr. Punch are a must, of course. He’ll be accompanied by Punch and Judy Professors from across the U.K. as part of a celebratory tour which will include a Punch and Judy Olympic Games, performances, school visits and a huge party.

As details for “The Big Grin” unfold, I’ll keep you posted. I wouldn’t mind seeing a 2012 celebration of Mr. Punch’s birthday in the U.S. That might be something we have to work on.

Friday Fun: An Animated Scene by Jean-Marie Phalibois

Another work by Phalibois--
a monkey-like fisherman
Jean-Marie Phalibois (born 1835) began his career in the cardboard industry. However, he soon began producing simple scenes encased in glass. These scenes featured automata which worked in conjunction with music boxes. Soon, the scenes became increasingly complex and ornate with figures which were able to reproduce intricate movements.

After a time, Phalibois began creating complicated free-standing automata. After his retirement in 1874, his son took over the family business.

This intriguing scene of a monkey magician is typical of Phalibois' early work. 

Antique Image of the Day: Peasants of Coburg, 1857

Coburg Peasants at the Rosenau
Francis Bedford, 1857
The Royal Collection
Prince Albert left behind his native country when he married Queen Victoria. His love for Victoria outweighed everything else, however, he did miss Coburg and spoke of it often. Albert and Victoria traveled to Coburg together in 1845, and the Prince delighted in showing his bride all the sights that he so adored.

For Prince Albert’s birthday in 1857, the Queen commissioned photographer Francis Bedford to produce images of Coburg that the Prince could display in his suite of rooms at the Palace. Amongst those images were photographs of peasants from Coburg. These were some of the pictures that the Prince most cherished. The people who sat for the photographs were so honored to do so that they refused any sort of payment for their time. Queen Victoria rewarded them with gifts—sending silk kerchiefs to the women and embroidered waistcoats to the men.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 174

Mr. Punch groaned as he sat up. His chest still hurt from the angry hole left behind by the bullet which had pierced Julian’s skin. Though he felt considerably less feverish, he was still quite dizzy, and, yet, he was incredibly restless.
He painfully reached across the narrow bed, careful not to disturb Toby who was asleep next to him. Punch grabbed his puppet by its curving nose and pulled it toward himself. He slipped his hand into the glove and smiled.

“Hullo, other Mr. Punch,” Punch whispered. “Coo, but you musta been bored sittin’ here waitin’ for me. Ol’ Mr. Punch has had a time for himself, he has. Not the way one imagines spendin’ his first New Year’s Eve as a human person.”

Mr. Punch squinted at the figure of the puppet and looked, for a moment, side to side at the empty room. He grinned slightly and spoke in a Punch-like squawk moving the puppet on his hand as if it were speaking.

“Whatever could have happened, Mr. Punch?” Punch spoke for the puppet.

“Well, I’ll tell you.” Mr. Punch answered himself. He paused for a moment as he remembered Julian as a boy and all of the times that Julian had manipulated his own puppet—the puppet that was long lost, torn apart in the sugar cane field by Barbara Allen.

Mr. Punch shook his head and pulled the puppet to his chest, hugging it with his other arm. He leaned back with effort and rested his sore back on the pillows behind him—sighing with a combination of relief and discomfort.

“Now’s not the time for me to start tellin’ me secrets to a puppet.” Mr. Punch chattered. “Secrets—too many of ‘em.” He recalled he conversation he’d had with Adrienne earlier that morning. Both she and Robert had been adamant that as much as Punch wanted to protect his “master,” he owed it to Julian to allow the man to heal by knowing what had happened to him all those years before. And, yet, Punch couldn’t bring himself to do it. He’d made a lifetime out of protecting Julian from all the terrible memories which could have hurt him.

Mr. Punch grunted, continuing to hug the puppet as Toby awoke and stretched his paws. The dog looked up and Mr. Punch and batted at him with a paw as a signal that he wanted Mr. Punch to scratch his belly.

“Busy, right now, I am.” Mr. Punch smiled at the dog.

Toby swiped at Punch with his paw again.

“Very well,” Mr. Punch sighed, removing his grip from the puppet so that he could scratch the dog’s stomach.

Toby grunted in satisfaction, and then he aggressively sat up, his ears at attention and he barked one “woof” of warning.

“What’s on your mind, nice dog?” Mr. Punch asked.

Just then, Punch heard a chime from downstairs. It wasn’t the chime of the tall-case clock in the hall. No, it was the bell on the front door.

“Someone’s here.” Mr. Punch said. “I wonder who’d come to see us.”

For a second, Punch considered getting up and wandering out into the hallway so that he could lean over the banister and peer into the foyer where he might catch a glimpse of the person who’d come to the door.

“No,” He sighed, concluding that he’d only get himself in trouble with Robert, Adrienne, Cecil and Marjani if he got out of bed.

Meanwhile, downstairs, Meridian hurried to the door, wiping her hands on her apron as she walked.

She opened the door and smiled at the handsome man who stood outside.

“Yes, sir?” She smiled.

“Oh, I’m no ‘sir.’” The man winked.

Meridian giggled. The man was quite good looking with dark hair, a strong jaw and clear, glittering eyes.

“As you say,” Meridian chuckled. “But, nonetheless, you’re here. What can ol’ Meridian do for ya? Have you come for to see His Grace?”

“I have.” The man smiled. “I am called Charles Van Eyck.”

“Is His Grace expecting you?” Meridian asked.

“No.” Charles shook his head.

“Then, you know I can’t let you see him.” Meridian smiled.

“I didn’t think that you would.” Charles shrugged. “I don’t mind talking to Dr. Halifax. That’s his name, isn’t it? The other man in charge?”

“Dr. Halifax is here.” Meridian chuckled, still quite overwhelmed by the man’s appearance. “But, you know I can’t let you see him either if he don’t know who you are.”

“Let me explain,” Charles said. “It has come to my attention that the Duke is in need of a new valet. Well, here I am…”

Did you miss Chapters 1-173? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Take a Deep Breath

Sometimes, we get so involved in what we’re doing that we forget everything around us. But, we have to remember that when you strip away our titles and responsibilities, we’re all just mammals and we need basic things for survival.

Have you ever had a day so busy that you feel as though you’ve hardly had time to breathe? Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. No deadline is as important as your own well-being. That is, unless of course you’re a paramedic or a cardiac surgeon or some other profession where people’s lives actually depend on your performance. Otherwise, it’s well within your rights to take a break and collect yourself. Pause every so often, take a deep breath, have a nice cool glass of water and allow yourself to recharge. Your stamina will improve and you’ll feel well enough to continue with all of your important duties.

Object of the Day: An Antique Beaded Face Screen

Beaded Victorian objects are always difficult to come by. Fabric and thread aren’t always the sturdiest media and often decompose, rendering most antique beadwork ruined after about a century. Every so often, an example will survive and while they very rarely retain all of their beads, they are magnificent and incredibly personal artifacts. Imagine the many hours it takes to create a pattern with little glass beads. The artist and medium must have a very close relationship. I love to think about that relationship when examining artifacts such as this antique face screen.

Mounted on a turned wood stick, this face screen is constructed of silk-covered card. The whole screen is surrounded by gold silk fringe. The black silk has been masterfully beaded with a pattern of oak leaves in ochre, olive, black and white beads. Such screens would have protected the makeup of a lady (which was made mostly of pigment suspended in wax) from melting in the heat of the fireplace. This one dates to the middle of the Nineteenth Century and is English in origin. They’re rather rare to find, so if you come across one in good condition and can afford it, it might be a good idea to snatch it up.

I adore personal objects such as this. Not only is the relationship between artist and object appealing, I’m also fascinated by the relationship between the previous owner and the object. It’s a nice thought to be a part of an item’s history.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Gladness of King George

“Hey, are you the guy on the dollar bill?”

Image: George III, Johann Zoffany, 1771, Commissioned by George III or Queen Charlotte, The Royal Collection

Painting of the Day: The Blue Velvet Closet at Carlton House, 1818

Carlton House:
The Blue Velvet Closet
Charles Wilde, 1818
Commissioned by King George IV
The Royal Collection
As we’ve learned previously, King George IV made redecorating Carlton House one of his favorite pet projects. He fretted over the designs of the house, making sure that his residence was properly befitting his station. We know that George IV had a penchant for French design. So, it’s no surprise that many of the motifs in the décor incorporated gilt fleur de lis.

Such is the case with “The Blue Velvet Closet.” Prior to 1818, this room actually was a small dressing room which adjoined an opulent bedchamber. George IV had the wall between the two rooms removed, moved the chimney piece to the farthest end of the room and created a large space to house his collection of Dutch art. As a backdrop for his cherished collection, he chose rich blue velvet adorned with a gold pattern of fleur de lis.

As was often the case with the Royal Family whenever a redecoration project was completed, they had the room recorded by painters who could ensure that the hard work of overhauling private suites would always be recognized. In this instance, Charles Wild was recruited for the job and did an excellent job showing the beauty of one of King George IV’s favorite rooms.

Unfolding Pictures: Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Fan, 1897

Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Fan
June, 1897
English--The Worshipful Co. of Fanmakers
The Royal Collection
A gift from the Worshipful Company of Fanmakers to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, this fan is crafted from the finest Irish lace, gold thread, and carved and pierced ivory.

Amongst the beads and spangles which adorn the fan are symbols of Victoria’s long reign. When it was presented to her, the fan shimmered with hundreds of diamonds which were woven amongst the pale-colored glass beads. At some point in the Twentieth Century, the fan was stripped of its diamonds. Still beautiful and an excellent example of the ingenuity of English fanmakers, I can’t help but think it would have been a little more magnificent if left alone.

Mastery of Design: A Fabergé Flower Study, 1900

Flower Study of
Cornflowers and Ranunculus
Carl Fabergé, 1900
The Royal Collection
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, did her part to add to The Royal Collection. She had inherited the family’s fondness for the designs of the House of Fabergé and added several unusual pieces.

This small sculpture is by the hand of Carl Fabergé himself. Created in 1900 of rock crystal, gold, rose-cut diamonds, rubies and enamel, the piece is one of several flower studies that Fabergé undertook in the early Twentieth Century. This one is unusual inasmuch as it combines two different kinds of flowers—cornflowers and ranunculus—as well as a bejeweled bee.

The Queen Mother purchased this piece in 1947 and it has remained one of the stars of the Royal Family’s collection of Fabergé ever since.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 173

Sure, you’re Barbara, Lady Fallbridge,” Charles laughed, “And, I’m Queen Victoria’s lost son, His Royal Highness Prince Chuckles of Lickspittle who accidentally fell into the sea and floated from England to New Orleans.”

“I really am Lady Fallbridge.” Barbara smiled.

“Of course you are. That’s why you’re here—doin’ hair for that sour-faced bitch and workin’ for Marie Laveau who everyone knows is the High Priestess of Voodoo.”

“Charles, what would I have to gain by deceiving you?”

“I don’t know.” Charles smirked. “What’s anybody got to gain by deceivin’ someone. I ain’t got no material good that would interest you. Maybe you fancy me and want to impress me. Could it be that? Them other girls tell me I ain’t so bad lookin’.”

“You’re not.” Barbara shook her head. “In fact, you’re quite nice looking indeed. However, I am afraid that I must tell you that I don’t, ‘fancy’ you.”

“Sure you don’t.” Charles smiled.

“”Even if I did. It would make no difference. I’ve a husband.”

“And, what’s his name, then?” Charles grinned.

“Arthur.” Barbara sighed.

“With you bein’ Lady Fallbridge, who’s your husband, then? Prince Arthur? Or maybe he’s the King of Prussia or whatever else kind of backwards places you folk got over there.”

“No.” Barbara shook her head. “My husband was a footman—a valet, just like you’ll be.”

“Was?” Charles frowned. “Is he dead?”

“No.” Barbara answered. “Not exactly.”

“Whatever does that mean?”

“He’s not dead in a literal sense, but he’s more or less dead to me.” Barbara said softly. “We’ve been separated for quite some time. We’ve had some difficulties.”

“He got himself a new woman.” Charles nodded.

“How can you make that assumption?”

“True, ain’t it?” Charles asked.

Barbara shifted uncomfortably. “Yes.”

“That’s what you get for messing ‘bout with someone not in your own class.” Charles shrugged.

“Thanks for you compassion.” Barbara spat.

“I just like to tell it like it is.” Charles shrugged. “How’d you get away with it? Surely your family would have disinherited you if they knew you’d been involved with a servant—not to mention marry one.”

“I disinherited myself.” Barbara sighed. “I fled from England. Arthur was to join me. We were both on the same ship. I convinced my former nanny to help us. You see, I’d had a baby. No one knew—no one except Arthur, the Nanny, the doctor who delivered the child…he’s the man who is my brother’s companion….and one other party. I had made arrangements through a connection which had been made for me. I took…” She shook her head. “I did some truly awful things.” She sighed. “So, with my new cruelty came a new name. I wanted to keep ‘Barbara” because it reminded me of my pain, but I needed something different so that they’d not find me. I chose Barbara Allen for obvious reasons. I truly thought I was being clever. I had everything in order. So, I thought. I knew they’d follow me. .Julian—that is to say His Grace, the Duke of Fallbridge, was on the ship, too, along with his companion. They had no idea that I was also aboard. Arthur would slip away to see me. Then, we got here and everything changed.”


“I don’t mean to burden you with all this.” Barbara shook her head. “In fact, I have no idea why I’ve told you as much as I have.”

“Folk are wont to do that with me. Say I got an honest face and kind eyes. Personal-like, I don’t see it, ya know?”

“I can see it.” Barbara nodded.

“Listen, the old cow will be down any minute and wantin’ you all to herself. What would you say if I asked you to meet me in Jackson Square at sunset tonight? It’s my evening off.”


“What are you worried about?” Charles winked. “That your unfaithful husband might get jealous? That the Voodoo witch you work for might disapprove? Or, maybe that you might like it?”

“Miss Allen?” Heralda belched as she teetered down the hallway.

“Come on, the old bat is headed in. Say, ‘yes.’ We can talk about this valet job and why it seems to mean so much to you. Say, ‘yes.’”

“Miss Allen?” Heralda continued, her voice growing closer.

“Yes.” Barbara chirped.

Meanwhile, Adrienne smiled gently at Mr. Punch. “Yes, of course, I’ll help you Chers Punch. Oui. There’s very little I wouldn’t do to make sure that you were safe and comfortable.”

“Thanks, Lady Chum.” Mr. Punch nodded strongly. “Ya gotta help me make sure that me master stops askin’ questions…”

“Mr. Punch, you do believe that I want to help you? Yes?”

“’Course I do.” Mr. Punch nodded.

“You know that I only want the best for you?”

“Right.” Punch smiled.

“That’s why, when I said I’d help you, I didn’t mean I’d help you keep secrets from Julian. I meant just the opposite. I’ll help you do what’s right, and only that.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-173? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Don’t Stop Believin’

Forgive me for borrowing a line from the 1981 song by Journey, but we really shouldn’t stop believing. While there’s much to mistrust in this world, some things are irrefutable. You know when something is right and good. When it is, trust in it. Believe in it. And, know that it will always be there for you.

Everyone needs to have people upon whom they can rely. No matter how many “friends” you may have, upon how many of them can you really rely? True devotion is a rare thing. When we find it, we need to nurture it and care for it—put our faith in it. Even if that devotion and purity of spirit comes from a pet and not a person, at least you can enjoy it and trust it. Each one of us has to have something in which to believe and trust. If you’re fortunate enough to have both a pet and people in your life in whom you can place your trust, you should have confidence in your decision to do so. And, even if you get knocked down, you can get up again. But, that’s a different song entirely.

Object of the Day: A Souvenir of the Palais du Commerce, Lyon

Built in 1856, The Palais du Commerce (also known as Palais du la Bourse) was originally constructed to house offices for the commercial court, brokers and merchants, employment agencies and institutions of credit.

Aside from being a practical building, the Palais du Commerce is actually quite attractive—heavily ornamented in sculptures which represent the building’s ultimate use, as well as opulent friezes, gables, pediments and entablatures.

Long-celebrated for its beauty, the Palais du Commerce has been a favorite subject for those wishing to capture an image which represents Lyon. Photographs, drawings and paintings of the Palais found their way on souvenir pieces. Take this finely-crafted box, for example. With its original silk lining peeking out from behind beveled crystal panels, the box is surmounted by a hand-tinted image of the Palais du Commerce which has been inset with mother-of-pearl and backed in metal which serves to give the overall picture a glimmering magical quality.

Such a souvenir box had a dual purpose. For starters, it was a reminder of an important Lyon building. However, it also served as a kind of reliquary in which another souvenir of Lyon (or anything else) could be displayed. Presently, it remains empty. Not everything has to be full all the time to be beautiful.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Building of the Week: Holy Trinity Church, Burrington, Devon

Holy Trinity Church in the late 1800's
Last week, I posted images of a watercolor painting I was recently given. The painting depicts a grave in the Churchyard at Holy Trinity Church in Burrington. Since then, with some help, I was able to find out more information about this fascinating little church.

Holy Trinity Church was built between 1150 and 1550 in Devon, England. The building was constructed under the direction of the Abbot of Tavistock Abbey and was under the supervision of an order of Benedictine Monks until Henry VIII, for his own reasons, dissolved monastic orders during his reign.

The Sixteenth Century Screen as seen in the 1900's
The granite-faced church sports most of its original structure including supports from the Thirteenth Century and its original Sixteenth Century screen and interior appointments. The churchyard, which features centuries of headstones, remains a beautiful reminder of the people who helped make that part of the world a civilized place.

This is certainly one building that I’d love to see one day. If you'd like to learn more about the church, this Web site has many excellent pictures.

The churchyard in 2009.  Notice the celtic cross from the grave which is the subject of my painting.

A postcard showing the church from 1922.

Sculpture of the Day: Jean D’Orleans, Comte de Dunois et de Longueville

Jean D'Orleans
Comte de Dunois et de
The Royal Collection
Jean D’Orleans, Comte de Dunois et de Longueville, was a devout follower of Joan of Arc and was known to have killed a great many Englishmen in behalf of his radical French beliefs. Crafted in 1825, in hard-paste biscuit (parian), this figure of Jean D’Orleans is the work of the French porcelain-makers at Sèvres.

Given the Comte’s passion for killing the English, it would seem peculiar that his likeness would be something that would appeal to King George IV. Yet, in 1828, he purchased this piece to add to his collection of French artifacts. The King, however, had an unusual sense of objectivity about historical subjects. Despite the Comte’s anti-English outlook, the King respected Jean D’Orlean’s strength and bravery and happily added his figure to the Royal Collection.

Unusual Artifacts: An Enamel Pencil Holder, Circa 1900

Two-tone Gold and Enamel Pencil Holder
Russian, 1896-1908
The Royal Collection
Made between 1896 and 1908, this beautiful two-tone gold and guilloché enamel was clearly inspired by the work of Fabergé, and was, in fact, made a a Russian artist. The artist was known only by his initials A.R. Little else is known about this master craftsman. His work was sold by the finest shops in Europe and sold for high prices. His initials are visible beneath the enamel.

The enamel is a particularly fine color—a light robin’s egg blue. This was a particularly popular color of the era, and, later, was a favorite color of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother who was often seen wearing the hue. Perhaps it was the soft color of this unusual pencil holder that attracted the Queen Mother to it. On an unknown date, he purchased this lovely little piece ad entered it into the Royal Collection.

Precious Time: A Fabergé Desk Clock, 1910

Desk Clock
Enamel, Ivory, Gilt Silver
Henrik Wigström for Fabergé, 1910
Gifted to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother
The Royal Collection
King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra had a particular fondness for the work of Henrik Wigstöm from the House of Fabergé. Their love of his work carried over into the next generations of The Royal Family. Both George V and his successor, George VI collected Wigström’s works.

This delicate desk clock was created in 1910 by Wigström for Fabergé. With an intricate pattern of moiré gray guilloche surrounding a smooth ivory face set in gilt silver, the clock was meant to be displayed on a desk. The design is interesting in that in combines the simple elegance of Edwardian design with the hallmark patterns of French Louis XVI sensibilities.

Curiously, this clock was not collected by Queen Alexandra or King Edward VII. It was, instead, purchased from Fabergé’s London Gallery in 1910 by the Prince de la Moscova, eventually being gifted to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother who added the shimmering piece to the Royal Collection.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 172

The Duke of Fallbridge?” Charles chuckled. “Now, what’d a man like that want with me?”

“He needs a new valet.” Barbara said softly.

“And, you know this how?” Charles grinned.

“It’s a long story,” Barbara blushed.

“I’m listening,” Charles nodded.

“Well,” Barbara shook her head, “Surely you’ve heard that His Grace’s valet was tragically burned in a fire? The man has passed away. That leaves the Duke with no assistance. I happen to know that he’s been shot—the Duke has. He’s going to need extra care.”

“Why’s he been shot? Did he get caught messin’ with another aristocrat’s wife?”

“Hardly,” Barbara chuckled.

“So, why has he been shot, then?” Charles asked.

“I’m sure he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Barbara said quickly.

“I see.” Charles winked.

“By all accounts, His Grace is a very kind and pleasant man. I do know that he’s also considered a trifle eccentric. He’s been known to have bouts of…well, excitability wherein he speaks and acts in a manner that is not exactly what one would expect from a nobleman. However, most consider those times to be when he’s at his most charming. He lives with another gentleman—a doctor who is…” Barbara tried not to smirk, “…quite pleasant. They share a home presently with this doctor’s brother and wife. They’re all very kind people. I’m sure you would enjoy working for His Grace. And, then, you’d have a chance to see England. I can’t imagine you want to stay in New Orleans forever.”

“I don’t” Charles said firmly. “But, what makes you think His Grace would want to secure me as a valet? I don’t have much experience. I’m a footman. Workin’ here for Dr. and Miss L'Ebène, I don’t get much of a chance to be ‘round gentlemen. Dr. L'Ebène’s never here. See, he’s always out at…well, he’s with other people. That leaves me here to tend to Miss Heralda. And, honestly, I don’t have much to do with her since she relies on the girls more than she does me. Besides, I don’t think she’d be very likely to write me a recommendation if I were to just sudden-like announce I’m leavin’. And, the Duke ain’t gonna hire me without a recommendation.”

“We could secure you a very good recommendation.” Barbara said confidently.

“How do ya figure?” Charles laughed.

“I’m just sure that we could.”

“All right, Miss. Now’d be a good time for you to be honest with me. You ain’t no hairdresser. You don’t really work for Marie Laveau. What’s your real story? What do you know ‘bout the Duke of Fallbridge? How are you so certain ‘bout all this? What’s it to you if I get a new job. We only just met. And, what’s it to you if the Duke gets a new valet or not?”

“Very well, Charles, I’ll be honest with you.” Barbara sighed. “It would be a nice change of pace. You’re correct, I’m not really Barbara Allen. I am Barbara, Lady Fallbridge. His Grace is my brother.”

At that very moment, Adrienne knocked on the door to Julian’s bedroom.

“Come in,” Robert said.

“Merci,” Adrienne smiled. “And, how is our favorite man today?”

“He’s still weak,” Robert answered. “And, feverish. However, I think overall, he’s doing better.”

“Here, I don’t need you talkin’ ‘bout me like I’m not in the room!” Mr. Punch grumbled.

“Sorry, dear Punch,” Robert winked. “Why don’t you tell Adrienne yourself how you feel?”

“’Bout like he said.” Mr. Punch smiled.

Adrienne chuckled. “I’m glad to hear it.” She turned to Robert. “Would you mind looking in on Gamilla? Marjani is busy with the men from the…”

“It’s all right, Lady Chum.” Mr. Punch sighed. “I know that the mortician’s here.”

“I’ll certainly take a look at Gamilla.” Robert said. “Providing that you keep our Punch company.”

“With pleasure.” Adrienne smiled.

When Robert had left the room, Adrienne sat in the chair next to Punch’s bed.

“So, dear Punch,” Adrienne began, “are you really feeling stronger?”

“I am.” Mr. Punch nodded. He paused, “Sister Chum?”


“Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course, my dear.” Adrienne smiled.

“Have you ever kept a secret?” Mr. Punch asked. “Somethin’ what you know you need to keep so you don’t hurt someone?”

“Yes.” Adrienne said softly. “Many times—though I wish I could say I had not.”

“Will ya help me, then?” Mr. Punch asked.

“With what?”

“To keep a secret.” Mr. Punch responded.

“From whom?”

“From Julian.” Mr. Punch answered flatly.

Did you miss Chapters 1-171? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Pause to Play with Your Pets

Those of you who have pets at home have had the experience of your dog or cat coming up to you with a toy—eyes wide and expectant—wanting to play. Very often, we’re too tired or not interested in racing back and forth with a stuffed parrot or rabbit.

Still, whenever Bertie presents a toy to me, his tail wagging, I take a moment to play with him. It’s actually a nice break from whatever I’m doing, and to be honest, I enjoy seeing him active and happy.

Our pets don’t ask much from us. They only require food, water and safety, and in return they give us unconditional love. They don’t care what we look like, how much money we make, what we drive or even how intelligent we sound. They just love us. The least we can do is take a few moments from our lives to enjoy some playtime with them.

Object of the Day: “I’ve Got a Secret” Home Game, c. 1952

This popular panel show of the 1950s originally ran from 1952 to 1973 and was hosted until 1964 by Garry Moore. The program has been resurrected several times, well into this century. The point of the program was to bring a contestant in front of a celebrity panel which often included Bill Cullen, Betsy Palmer and Bess Myerson. The contestant had a secret, and the panel had to guess what that secret was.

As was often the case with popular game shows—and remains so today—a home game was produced. Board games were much more popular in the era before everything went digital, so, of course, audiences wanted to be able to play their favorite game show in the home. And, here’s one of them. I must confess I’ve never played it. However, it really is very nifty looking and has all of its original pieces. Perhaps one of these days we’ll play it.

For those of you who’ve never had the chance to see I’ve Got a Secret, here’s a clip from the program. As you can see, they’re taking a good natured jab at another celebrity panel show To Tell the Truth with their opening shtick about, “Will the real…please stand up.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Her Majesty’s Furniture: George IV’s Chariot Chairs

One of a Pair of Giltwood and Velvet
Chairs Designed for King George IV, 1812
Tatham, Bailey and Sanders
The Royal Collection
In 1812, though he already had a lot on his Royal plate, King George IV decided that a redecoration of Carlton House was long overdue and spent a lot of time and money in changing his surroundings.

His first order of business was to have the original furnishing re-covered in blue velvet. While he liked the look of them, they weren’t quite suitable for the grand scheme that he had in mind for Carlton House and, so, as one does, he had them removed and ordered a new set of furnishings to be made.

This chair is one of a pair that were made for Carlton House expressly for King George. The chairs get their design from drawings of Roman Chariots. With gilt-wood sphinxes and opulent red velvet, the chairs were deemed perfect for the King’s chambers.

Queen Victoria was quite fond of these chairs, and, fittingly had one of her own created in 1838 in a similar style.

Humanitarian of the Week: Hoda Kotb

Hoda Kotb
Multiple award winning journalist, Hoda Kotb, has enlightened and entertained us for many years. After graduating from Virginia Tech, Kotb began her career as a reporter in New Orleans before going national. Kotb worked on a variety of news programs before joining Dateline NBC. Now, she shares hosting duties for Today’s fourth hour with Kathie Lee Gifford.

However, what a lot of her fans don’t know about Miss Kotb (whose Egyptian name means, “The Pole”) is that she is a breast cancer survivor. In 2007, Miss Kotb underwent a mastectomy and major reconstructive surgery. Now, fully recovered, Hoda Kotb has devoted much of her personal time as well as her career to educating people in preventing breast cancer and helping those who have been diagnosed with the illness.

For her brilliant journalistic work and for her tremendous efforts in helping those in need, Hoda Kotb is our Humanitarian of the Week.

Film of the Week: The Oscar, 1966

Ah, The Oscar…what can one say about this film? It’s incredibly tawdry and garish and, truly quite comedic. Sadly, however, it was meant to be a very serious drama. Well, what can you do?

The film concerns the career of a conman/actor named Frankie Fane who is really just a louse. He begins his career “managing” a well-meaning stripper with the assistance of his overly-loyal friend and lackey, Hymie Kelly. Somehow, through his boorish behavior, Frankie manages to become a rather celebrated film star. Of course, he becomes increasingly difficult to deal with. Eventually, when his career is hitting a stalling point, he ends up being nominated for an Oscar. In order to sway the votes of the Academy, Frankie purposefully exposes a scandal from his past and makes it look as if the scandal was revealed by one of the other nominees. Will his little scheme work? Well, I’ll give you one guess.

The Oscar stars Stephen Boyd as the unctuous and positively bipolar Frankie. In his first film role, Tony Bennett plays Hymie Kelly and delivers the finest, and most impressive use of the word, “whore,” in 1960’s cinema. Elke Sommer plays Frankie’s love-interest. She’s a peculiar character, and Elke’s uneven performance makes what should be a tragic plot twist seem almost funny.

So, why watch this ostensibly awful picture? Because it IS unintentionally humorous. Even though it was peppered with notable guest stars, it was still “box office poison.” However, today, it holds the title of one of those “Awful films that we love.” And, it truly is loveable…and awful.

The Oscar [VHS]

The Belle Époque Today: George Bruce, RP

Self Portrait
George Bruce
Former president of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, George Bruce is one of the few remaining painters of the “grand manner” of portrait artists. His work decidedly has the flavor of great Victorian portrait artists such as John Singer Sargent.

Bruce, with his strong hand and bold use of color, has been invited to paint portraits of many British luminaries including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sir Campbell Addison and the Lord Chief Justice.

His work is monumental with a theatricality which reminds us of the works of the mid-to-late Nineteenth Century. Bruce strives to capture to true essence of the characters of his sitters while maintaining a grandeur which represents not only their surroundings, but also their positions in British Society.

For more about the lovely work of George Bruce, visit his Web site.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 171

Harelda L'Ebène slowly walked down the wide, curving staircase, her eyes fixed on Barbara Allen.

“You’re not my usual girl.” Harelda hissed.

“No, Ma’am.” Barbara shook her head.

“What are you?” Heralda smirked.

“Pardon me?” Barbara asked.

“Are you some kind of octoroon?”

“No.” Barbara shook her head.

“Marie’s got a white girl working for her?”

Barbara nodded.

“Well, then, aren’t we high-tone?” Heralda sighed. “Where are you from? You’re not from here.”

“No, Ma’am.” Barbara answered. “I’m from England.”

“How’d you come to work for Marie Laveau?”

Barbara blushed, looking over her shoulder at Charles who stood nearby watching the entire exchange.

“No need to say anymore.” Heralda laughed.

“Miss,” Barbara responded in a controlled manner, “you have no need to worry. I’m quite skilled with hair, and I’m sure I can make you even more beautiful than you already are.”

“Aren’t you full of flattery?” Heralda cackled.

“I simply speak of the things which strike me as true.” Barbara smiled confidently.

“Charles!” Heralda barked.

“Yes, Miss.” Charles responded flatly.

“Have one of the girls make up my room, and, then, take Miss…”

“Allen.” Barbara responded.

“Take Miss Allen to the conservatory.” Heralda said. “She and I will chat before we get to our business. I shall come down forthwith.”

With that, Harelda L'Ebène turned and walked back up the stairs.

Charles shook his head with resignation and reached for a bell pull in the corner of the front hall.

Within seconds, a fluttery maid appeared from a low archway beneath the stairs.

“Meg,” Charles whispered. “It’s time to make up the beast’s room.”

Meg nodded, glancing at Barbara.

“Never you mind. Just go on about your work.” Charlies harrumphed.

Meg flitted off to do as she was told.

“Come this way,” Charles sighed.

“You’re very kind,” Barbara smiled as sweetly as she could.

“I’m just doing my job, Miss Allen,” Charles responded.

“It must be difficult,” Barbara said.

“Whatever do you mean?” Charles frowned.

“Well, it seems to me that, perhaps—and I mean no offense—perhaps your employer could be a little difficult at times.”

“Perhaps. What’s it to you?”

“Well, it’s just that I’ve been employed by a difficult family.”

“You don’t strike me as having been employed by anyone.” Charles’ face brightened. “Seems to me that you’re some kind of lady out of her place.”

“I have a long and interesting story.” Barbara chuckled softly.

“I’d like to hear it.” Charles winked.

“Well,” Barbara nodded. “That could be possible. You know, your life could be easier.”

“How do you figure?” Charles asked. “I know of a man who’s in need of a valet.”

“Who’s this?”

“The Duke of Fallbridge,” Barbara smiled.

Meanwhile, at their borrowed house on Royal Street, Robert helped Mr. Punch change his bandages and slip into a fresh nightshirt.

“Coo!” Mr. Punch grunted. “These little things shouldn’t make me so tired.”

“You’ve got quite a recovery ahead of you.” Robert smiled encouragingly.

“I hate to think that you’re gonna have to take care of me.” Mr. Punch said softly.

“That’s what I’m here for, dear Punch.” Robert smiled.

“But, you got other things to do.” Punch shook his head. “You and Marjani can’t just look after me. Ya both got to take care of Gamilla what’s not better yet, and Marjani’s got Columbia what needs tendin’ to. ‘Sides, you’re me Chum, I don’t like the idea that you’d be helpin’ me like you was some kind of servant.”

“But, I’m here to serve you. Remember, we’re a team.”

“I know.” Mr. Punch smiled.

“I do understand how you feel.” Robert nodded. “Mr. Punch, I’ve hesitated to bring this up, considering that Naasir has only just…”

Mr. Punch nodded.

“But, we might consider securing a new valet—someone who could assist both of us.”

“Who?” Mr. Punch shrugged painfully.

“It’d have to be someone with discretion and who is unflappable in…well, unusual situations.”

“Ain’t gonna be nobody like that.” Mr. Punch sighed. “Not unless one just drops out of the sky.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-170? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Being Nice is Always the Best Route

Sometimes people treat us very poorly. Yet, is responding in kind the best way to deal with it? While it’s easy to spit out a vitriolic response, afterwards, don’t you feel rather lousy about yourself?

There’s got to be a middle ground. Betraying your nature will always make you feel empty. If you’re naturally an agreeable person, then being nice is always the best route. In being pleasant, you don’t have to be a victim. There’s always a way to protect your boundaries and preserve your self-respect while still being true to your agreeable nature.

Respond to everyone politely. When people are rude and disrespectful to you, giving them their ugliness back is not going to help everything. Politely walk away and feel confident in your ability to keep the peace.

Object of the Day: An Unusual Diamond Stickpin

As men’s fashions changed, a gentleman’s jewelry became considerably more sedate toward the turn of the Twentieth Century. By the 1920’s as the use of diamonds and platinum became increasingly the rage, a man’s stickpin reflected the simple elegance of the emerging style.

This platinum and diamond stickpin is extremely simple. Two sparkling diamonds set in elegant platinum prongs are the only adornment for this understated tie pin. The pin served its purpose quite nicely, securing a gentleman’s tie in place, but also added just a bit of extra sparkle to his attire—sparkle that we’re sorely missing today.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mastery of Design: A Sardonyx Cameo, 1660

Sardonyx and Enamel Cameo
The Royal Collection
This gorgeous French cameo of sardonyx, gold and enamel dates to the 1660’s and depicts a scene of cupid crowning Aphrodite. The setting is certainly from the 1660’s, but scholars now believe that the sardonyx carving dates to the First Century.

Described in the Royal Collection simply as a “pretty, little pendant,” the cameo has been a gift of love for centuries, given from one member of the Royal family to the next. Perhaps this would make a fitting gift from Prince William of Wales to his lovely new bride…