Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Sparkle: The Diamond Brooch of Queen Adelaide

Tudor Rose Brooch with
Miniature of Queen Adelaide
Commissioned by William IV, 1835
Gold, Diamonds
The Royal Collection
In 1835, King William IV commissioned a British portrait artist to create a miniature on ivory of his wife, Queen Adelaide, which would be set into a diamond-encrusted Tudor rose and made into a brooch. The gold and diamond brooch features dozens of fine European cut diamonds and gracefully frames the delicate portrait.

The brooch was given by William IV to Caroline, Duchess of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg who bequeathed it to Queen Victoria. Victoria succeeded William IV as ruler of the empire.

At the Music Hall: “She’s My Daisy,” Sir Harry Lauder

She is my Daisy, my bonnie Daisy,
she's the sweetest sugar candy and she's very fond of Sandy,
And I weary
For my dearie,
I would rather lose my spurs than lose my Daisy.

Scottish performer and songwriter, Sir Harry Lauder, popularized Scottish-themed songs as he trod the boards of U.K. music halls. Many of his songs concerned fair Scottish ladies and were rousing ballads about the joys of loving these plucky lasses.

His song, “She’s My Daisy,” became instantly popular and was featured in many films. Here’s a clip of Greer Garson singing the song in her 1942 film, Random Harvest.

The Art of Play: Princess Margaret with a Doll, 1935

Princess Margaret
Marcus Adams, 1935
The Royal Collection
In December of 1935, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) took their daughters Princesses Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) and Margaret to the Children’s Studio to be photographed by Marcus Adams. The Princesses wore matching silk dresses trimmed with small flowers and delicate frills.

The two princesses sat for portraits together, and individually. Each was photographed with a favorite toy. Elizabeth chose to be photographed with her cherished plush cat while Margaret chose to have her picture taken with this large doll.

Painting of the Day: A Royal Fake

Portrait Miniature of the Baron Howard
of Effingham
False Signature and Date
Oil on Card, Gold Frame
The Royal Collection
This portrait miniature of Charles Howard, 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham, later 1st Earl of Nottingham (1536-1624) is signed and dated to appear that it is a Sixteenth Century work by Nicholas Hilliard. It is, however, a Nineteenth Century copy based on an existing portrait of the Baron Howard of Effingham.

The miniature on card in a gold frame was first recorded in the Royal Collection during the reign of Queen Victoria. It was believed to be an authentic Sixteenth Century piece. However, further inspection proved that it was not. Nonetheless, it is a clever copy and beautifully hand-painted. Now, due to its own merits, it is a cherished antique with an interesting history.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 181

Sorry, Sir?” Charles blushed.

“Your name?” Mr. Punch smiled.

“Your Grace, I’ve already…”

“Your name isn’t Charles Van Eyck.” Mr. Punch repeated.

Charles didn’t respond.

“Your cuff buttons.” Mr. Punch pointed. “They’re engraved. They got initials on ‘em. Them initials don’t match the name what you gave.”

Charles glanced at his sleeves.

“You didn’t steal ‘em.” Mr. Punch smiled. “I know you didn’t. They’re worn and tarnished and not of any great value. I may not know much. Most things are new to me. But, I know jewelry. I learned that first-hand. If you were gonna steal cuff buttons, you’d steal some what were worth somethin’. Not those cheap things. But, the initials on ‘em are ‘C.I.’ So, what’s your name?”

“Carlo.” Charles sighed. “Carlo Iantosca.”

“That’s a right nice name.” Mr. Punch nodded. “Italian?”

“Yes,” Charles nodded.

“So, why use a different name?”

“Distance, Sir.” Charles said softly.

“From whom?” Mr. Punch asked.

“You’re not the only one with a difficult sibling, Sir.” Charles smiled.

“I see.” Mr. Punch answered. “So, you’re runnin’ away from somethin’?”

“I suppose you could say that.” Charles shrugged. “Though I’ve been running for so long now that I don’t think you could even call it ‘running’ anymore. Now, I’m just living—trying to live anyway.”

“So, in the short time we’ve known you, we can see you’ve already lied about your name and about your references.” Mr. Punch said, pulling the bedcovers up higher.

“Does this mean that you don’t wish to employ me, Sir?” Charles asked.

“No.” Mr. Punch answered. “I’m just tryin’ to understand you. Here, don’t look so frightened. You still got your job. It’s just that ‘round here, we try to be as honest as we can. We got ‘nough goin’ on without having to create extra dramas for ourselves.”

“You’re very wise, Your Grace.”

“That’s what folk keep tellin’ me. Coo! I don’t see it me-self. Now, go on, go collect your things. We’ll talk more later.”

“Of course, Sir.” Charles bowed his head. “And, thank you.”

Mr. Punch nodded.

“May I get anything for you before I go?”

“No.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “Just close the door on your way out.”

Charles bid his new employer “good evening” and walked downstairs. He thanked Cecil, Adrienne and Robert and headed out of the back door of the house. There, in the alley, he was not surprised to see Barbara Allen waiting for him.

“Well?” Barbara asked.

“Your brother is a curious fellow.” Charles sighed.

“I told you.” Barbara smiled slightly.

“And his companions are fiercely loyal.” Charles continued.

“But, did they hire you?” Barbara asked.

“Yes.” Charles nodded.

“Oh, I’m so glad.” Barbara sighed with relief.

“Why are you so glad?” Charles asked.

“Well, now I know that someone will be looking after my brother.” Barbara answered quickly. “And, of course, you’ll have an opportunity for a much more fulfilling life.”

“What’s it to you?”

“We already discussed this.” Barbara frowned.

“I defended you in there, Miss Allen—a woman I don’t even know. They don’t care for you much. Seems you’ve done some pretty wicked things.”

“I confessed to you all that I’ve done.” Barbara blushed.

“I don’t think you have—not all of it.” Charles narrowed his eyes.

“The important points.” Barbara muttered.

“I think maybe you’d best tell me the things that you consider unimportant, then.” Charles tilted his head to one side. “I’ll not be tricked. If I’m to do this, I need to know everything.”

“Very well,” Barbara whispered. “Come with me, and I’ll tell you the rest.”

Meanwhile, Ulrika Rittenhouse brushed the filth from the sleeve of her gown as she stood, shivering in a seedy little shop on one of the French Quarter’s side streets. To distract herself from her unsavory location, she browsed the contents of the shop. Costume jewelry, feathers, masks, tattered finery, threadbare coats and worn hats lined the walls.

“Can I interest you in anything else?” A toothless hag croaked from a corner of the shop.

“No.” Ulrika said firmly. “Just see to it that your husband is quick about his work.”

“Can’t rush these things.” The woman growled.

“Try.” Ulrika hissed.

“Might help if he could see the real thing again.” The hag winked.

“No.” Ulrika answered flatly. “It stays with me.”

“Wherever did a little thing like you get such a big diamond?” The hag chuckled.

“That’s none of your concern.” Ulrika spat.

“I figured you’d say that. I should know better than to ask questions. We’re not in the business of askin’ questions. For the right price, we’ll say nothin’ at all.”

“We’ve already negotiated our price,” Ulrika barked. “I’ve been more than generous. And, I can assure you, if you don’t keep your silence, I’ll burn this shack down around your ears.”

“Settle down there.” The old woman laughed. “You’re as fiery as your hair, ain’t ya?”

“You have no idea.” Ulrika smirked. “Now, go check on that man. Surely he’s finished by now.”

“You can’t rush genius!” The old woman howled. “You want it to look real, don’t ya?”

“As long as it passes for a few minutes, I’m happy.” Ulrika said, beginning to pace again.

“What’s your hurry, Red?” The woman asked.

“The longer this takes, the farther away someone gets.”

“You ain’t dealin’ in nothin’ shady, are ya?” The old woman narrowed her eyes.

“As I told you, I just want a copy made of that diamond so that I can wear it without worry.” Ulrika said forcefully.

“And you paid out the nose to keep us quiet?”

“Well, it’s embarrassing.” Ulrika grinned.

“As you say.” The hag cackled.

“You do ask too many questions.” Ulrika spat.

“Just tryin’ to be friendly.”

“I don’t need any more friends.” Ulrika shook her head.

“Whatever you say, Red.” The crone winked. “Whatever you say.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-180? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, February 28, 2011 for Chapter 182 of Punch’s Cousin.

Goal for the Day: Remember that Life’s not a Race

Why are we always in a hurry? It seems that “finishing” has become more important than “getting there.” For those of you who live in areas that have been affected by winter weather, have you noticed that drivers are still speeding and rushing even on unsafe conditions? What’s so important that they need to risk their lives and yours to get there in a hurry?

Life’s not a race. While some things are time-sensitive, most everything else can happen naturally. The only deadlines we really have are those we make ourselves. Don’t forget the importance of the journey and to take the time to learn and enjoy yourself along the way. We don’t need to sacrifice our quality of life in order to reach a spurious deadline. Crossing the finish line isn’t important as what you see along the track.

Object of the Day: Beat the Clock, circa 1950

Beat the Clock was a popular television game show on CBS from 1950-1958 and on ABC from 1958-1961. In recent years, the show has been resurrected several times in updated versions. The show’s original host was Bud Collyer assisted by a most-silent model named Roxanne. Contestants on the show were challenged to complete simple physical feats (called “problems”) before sixty seconds ran out. The time was kept on a giant clock which featured the name of the show’s sponsor. For much of the run, Beat the Clock was sponsored by Sylvania.

As was often the case (and still is), game shows usually produced a home version on the form of a board game. Here’s the Beat the Clock home version from between 1950-1953. The box features photos of Collyer and Roxanne as well as a prominent reference to Sylvania. I’ve never played the game, but it has a lot of complicated little pieces which would allow the home user to recreate some of the stunts seen on the show.

If you’ve not seen Beat the Clock, enjoy this clip from an early broadcast of the program.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pets of the Belle Époque: Cat and Dogs Belonging to Queen Victoria, 1885

Cat and Dogs Belonging to Queen Victoria
Charles Burton Barber, 1885
The Royal Collection
Throughout her entire life, Queen Victoria was a known animal lover and always enjoyed the companionship of her dogs and the occasional cat and parrot. As often as she had portraits painted of her human family, Victoria commissioned paintings (and photographs) of her beloved pets.

This 1885 painting by Charles Burton Barber shows three scrappy dogs and a rather well-mannered cat belonging to the queen. I’m not quite sure which of the Royal dogs these were, but, they were no doubt very loved.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: “Pulcinella” by Jean-Ernest-Louis-Messionier

Jean-Ernest-Louis Messionier
Circa 1860
French Classicist painter and sculptor Jean-Ernest-Louis-Messionier was best known for his monumental scenes of battles, military figures and of Napoleon. However, he did the occasional genre painting and sometimes painted other artists.

This painting of Pulcinella shows one of Messionier’s rare non-military subjects. An actor is dressed in the guise of Italy’s “Pulcinella,” Mr. Punch’s ancestor. In a brightly-hued costume against a theatrical backdrop, the subject looks cheerfully out at the viewer, resting his hands upon his grotesque stomach.

Messionier seemed to have a fascination with the idea of “Pulcinella.” This theme appears also in some of the artist’s attempts to create engravings.

Antique Image of the Day: Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, c. 1890

Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands
Circa 1890
The Royal Collection
At the age of ten, Queen Wilhelmina succeeded to the throne following the death of her father, William III.  Five years later, at the age of fifteen, the young Dutch queen traveled to England where she was introduced to Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle.  Victoria was so impressed by the teenage monarch that she acquired this photograph of Wilhelmina that year. 

Friday Fun: Last Year’s May Fayre in Covent Garden

The Punch and Judy Fellowship
Each year, Punch & Judy Professors from around Britain gather in Covent Garden (Punch’s U.K. Birthplace) to celebrate all things Punch and puppetry in general. My friends at the Punch & Judy Fellowship have videos from May Fayre’s past on their Web site. Take a look at last year’s event. It’s an interesting glimpse at several different Punch performers including an interesting French Pulcinello.

“That’s the way to do it.”

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 180

Mala stumbled backward and grunted as Ulrika shoved her. “Now, you listen to me, you little troll, I want to see Iolanthe.”

“I ain’t gonna let you nowhere near Miss Iolanthe,” Mala hissed like a cornered animal.

Ulrika thrust Mala against the wall of the plush hallway and pinned the woman with her arms.

Mala shrieked.

“Unhand my creature!” Iolanthe shouted as she came down the stairs.

Ulrika released Mala from her grip.

“Mala!” Iolanthe bellowed, “Go to your room and wait for me to call for you. On your way, send two of the boys to me.”

Mala nodded and skittered off.

“It isn’t very nice of you to be so rough with such a pitiful soul.” Iolanthe sighed as she descended the stairs.

“You? You’re going to tell me what’s ‘nice’?” Ulrika grunted. “Where’s Arthur?”

“Oh, you want your man back?” Iolanthe grinned.

“You know that I do!” Ulrika spat.

“That can be arranged,” Iolanthe laughed. “Did you bring what I asked for?”

“The diamond? No!”

“Well, then, clearly you don’t want your man back that badly.” Iolanthe shrugged. “Them’s the terms of the trade.”

“Where is he?” Ulrika shouted.

“Where’s the diamond?” Iolanthe chuckled.

“You’ll never get it.” Ulrika answered firmly.

“It’s a good thing, then, that your man has strong arms.” Iolanthe winked. “He’ll do well at sea.”

Ulrika raised her knife and lunged toward Iolanthe who howled with laughter, raising her leg and kicking the knife out of Ulrika’s hand.

“Girl, spilling my blood ain’t gonna get your man back. There’s only one way to do that. You just gotta decide what’s more important to you.”

Ulrika rubbed her hands together and squinted at Iolanthe.

“Stupid child,” Iolanthe grinned. “You stole somethin’ precious from me, and I took somethin’ precious from you. It’s only fair.”

“I’ll find him.” Ulrika growled.

“You could save yourself a lot of trouble if you’d just cooperate.” Iolanthe responded plainly.

“I loathe you,” Ulrika whispered.

“That’s not helpful.” Iolanthe smirked. “You thought you could get the better of ol’ Iolanthe. I don’t want you thinkin’ that you can. No one can. I always win.”

“You would think so.” Ulrika shook her head.

“I don’t just think it.” Iolanthe winked. “It’s true.”

“I’ll give you want you want,” Ulrika answered softly.

“I knew that you would.” Iolanthe laughed.

Meanwhile, Charles Van Eyck made his way into Julian’s room.

“Hullo,” Mr. Punch nodded. “Did Dr. Halifax tell you ‘bout your duties?”

“Yes, Your Grace.” Charles smiled.

“Good. When will you be startin’?”

“First thing tomorrow.” Charles said. “I’ll need to take my leave at my previous place of employment.”

Punch took a deep breath. “That’ll be fine. Here, this is me dog. His name is Toby. And, this is me puppet. His name is ‘Puppet.’”

“And, what’s your name?” Charles asked.

Mr. Punch smiled. “You been introduced to me already.”

“I was introduced to the Duke of Fallbridge.” Charles grinned. “But, I suspect that’s not who you are.”

“You’re perceptive.” Punch answered. “But, Barbara already told you ‘bout me, didn’t she? You know that sometimes I’m not always the same person.”

“You alluded to it yourself.”

“True.” Punch laughed.

“So, what do I call you?” Charles asked.

“Robert would say that it’s only right to address me as you would any man with a title. He’d say that you should call me, ‘Sir,’ and ‘Your Grace.’”

“What would you have me call you?”

“Mr. Punch. That’s me name.” Punch sighed. “Now, I got a question for you. You ain’t no Dutchman. Your name ain’t really ‘Van Eyck.’ What’s your real name? What did your mama call you?”

Did you miss Chapters 1-179? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Don’t Overthink Things

Sometimes a story about an Elephant King is just a story about an Elephant King and meant to be enjoyed as such. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a political commentary about neocolonialism and an endorsement for dictatorship. Overall, I think we all need to stop dissecting and analyzing everything and just sit back and appreciate things for what they are. When I was researching the first publication date for the Babar stories I happened across all of this ponderous criticism about the political nature of the stories. Honestly, they’re just children’s stories trying to espouse positive behavior. We don’t need to tear everything to pieces.

Now, I’m all for finding the deeper meaning in a work of art. I’m a fan of studying the artist’s motivations and I understand that every author and artist is trying to communicate something. However, I also recognize that some works are created quite innocently for the purpose of entertainment and beauty.

So, let’s stop trying to find reasons to be offended and just enjoy life a little bit more. There’s enough injustice and horror in the world, let’s not go looking for it.

Object of the Day: A Haviland Limoge Babar Plate

It’s sort of unnerving to think that objects from your childhood are considered vintage, but here we go. This beautiful Haviland Limoge plate from my childhood is the culmination of two important historical geniuses

Haviland Porcelain developed in the 1840’s with American businessman David Haviland who moved to France and opened a successful porcelain enterprise in Limoge. The works of the Haviland company continue to be cherished today with over 60,000 different patterns. One of them is a series of dinnerware for children which features scenes of Babar the King of the Elephants.

Babar the Elephant was created in 1932 by French author and illustrator Jean de Brunhoff and concerns the adventures of a young elephant who travels to an unspecified big city, lives among men and learns their culture before returning to his native land to become King of the Elephants. Babar introduces Western culture to his fellow elephants and serves as a benevolent dictator. Since his creation, Babar has enjoyed a long popularity which spans across many different media.

The Babar series by Havilland is beautifully colored and designed and has been cherished for many years. This marriage of ideas is the quintescential representation of French artistry and, hopefully, will continue for many years to come.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Boys at the Window

“Could you shove over a little, window hog?”

Image: Boy at a Window, Flemish School, First Recorded in the Collection of Henry, Prince of Wales (Son of James I), 1550-60. The Royal Collection

Painting of the Day: The Grocer’s Shop, 1672

The Grocer's Shop
Gerrit Dou, 1672
Acquired by King George IV, 1803
The Royal Collection
Dutch painters were masters of illusionistic painting. This gem of a canvas by Gerrit Dou shows the triumphant cleverness of Dutch trompe l’oeil painting.

On first glance, the painting is so neatly finished and so crisp that it almost appears to be a true bas relief. This sense is heightened by Dou’s use of a “stone” archway and ledge which frames the composition. This was an unusual presentation in 1672 and set the path for many similar artists to follow. A painting of a stone relief of children playing with a goat (below the ledge) only heightens the realistic effect.

Not only is this painting a masterpiece of illusionistic art, it is also an excellent narrative. Dou was known for his narrative paintings of every-day life. Here, he shows a scene of a high-end grocer’s shop with china jars and expensive produce. The figures appear to be interacting with one another in a manner which makes the viewer wonder what they’re discussing. The mystery of the scene is further expressed by the shadowy figure of an older woman in the background.

The influence of French fashions on Dutch society is evident in the costumes of the figures. It’s easy to see why this painting appealed to King George IV who purchased the painting in 1803 while still Prince of Wales.

Mastery of Design: The Thistle Badge of the Prince of Wales

Thistle Badge
Blue-Grey and White Onyx,
Diamonds, Gold, Silver, Enamel
Miniature on Ivory
Originally made for King James II
The Royal Collection
The onyx cameo of St. Andrew set into this badge dates to the early Eighteenth Century and was originally carved as a garter badge for King James II. Over the centuries, the badge was altered considerably. Its present condition owes to a redesign from around 1764 when the reverse of the cameo was layered with an enamel design of a thistle. In 1772, a locket was embedded into the enamel. The locket housed a portrait miniature of Princess Louise.

There’s some debate about the origin of the opulent diamond mounting. Some records indicate that this garter jewel was set in a frame of large diamonds as early as 1703 with its presentation to King James II. However, other records show that the diamond mounting was added with the enamel backing in the mid-Eighteenth Century. It could be that the badge has had several settings though the cut and quality of the diamonds suggests creation in the Eighteenth Century.

In 1807, the Cardinal of York, bequeathed the Thistle Badge to the Prince of Wales. Later, the Thistle Badge (having become symbolic of Scotland) was displayed by King William IV as part of the “Honours of Scotland.”

Unfolding Pictures: The Dutch Marriage Fan, 1770

Dutch Marriage Fan
Vellum with Mother-of-Pearl Guards and
Carved Battoire Sticks Featuring Painted Medallions
Created: 1770
Presented to Queen Mary: 1893
The Royal Collection
When we think of antique hand fans, we usually think of those produced in France or England. However, fan-makers in the Netherlands in the Eighteenth Century were producing high quality fans which rivaled those of the French. Dutch fans often had a golden glow about them because of the use of yellow-toned vellum for the leaves. Such is the case of this fan made in Holland in 1770. The vellum leaf is supported by carved sticks and protected by identical mother-of-pearl guards. The fan’s leaf is painted with a mythological scene of Mars falling in love with Venus.

Queen Mary (of Teck) amassed a tremendous collection of antique. Many of them were purchased from auctions, others were given as gifts, and others still came from Mary’s favorite occupation of admiring her friends’ possessions and then waiting for the friend in question to give her the object she admired. This fan, however, came to Mary as a gift on her wedding day to the soon-to-be King George V. It was presented to her in 1893—as a symbol of her love for the Prince—by the Honorable Mrs. Halford.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 179

Robert helped Mr. Punch back up the stairs.

“You’ve got to realize that this man is dangerous to us,” Robert said as he supported his friend.

“Is he?” Mr. Punch smiled.

“Think about it, dear Punch,” Robert said firmly, “he was sent by Barbara who has allegiances to both Iolanthe and Marie Laveau.”

“Precisely.” Mr. Punch answered.

“So, how could you possibly allow him to be a member of our household staff?” Robert asked as they turned the corner toward Julian’s room.

“It’s easy, it is.” Mr. Punch said cheerfully. “Listen, Chum, I don’t think that fella down there is a bad one. Sure, maybe he’s been swayed by Barbara’s charm, but I think his reasons for wantin’ to be my valet are honest enough. He’s lookin’ to improve his life. He don’t know what Barbara nor any of them others might want from him. But, see, it’s his alliance with me master’s sister what makes him the perfect one to be here.”

“How exactly?” Robert sighed.

“Cuz, Chum.” Mr. Punch chuckled. “If he were sent here by Barbara, that means that she’s not going to be far behind. Now, look, we come here to bring Barbara home to me master’s mum. Now, the Duchess is dead. But, that don’t mean our obligation to take her away from the bad decisions she made is dead. With this Charles in our lives, we got a better chance to convince Barbara to come back to England with us. Besides that, what’s it that Cecil always says? ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’”

Robert grinned.

“What’s more,” Mr. Punch continued, “Maybe he can help us get the Molliner Blue back. I still want it, you know. No, not for the money what it’s worth, but cuz it were me pa’s and it were somethin’ what he cared ‘bout. It should come home with us. If this Charles is loyal to Barbara, too, he might know what’s become of the diamond. We come all this way, I’d hate for us to come this far and have nothin’ but bullet holes and pain to show for it. Wouldn’t it be somethin’ for this journey to end with us on a ship with Barbara goin’ home to Fallbridge Hall, the diamond in our pocket and maybe, even, Barbara’s child—me nephew—comin’ home to inherit what he deserves? When me and Julian are gone, what’s to become of our name? No, not the Fallbridge title, but me pa’s name? Don’t we owe it to Sir Colin to see that there’s more Molliners? We could give this child my name, give him his title, give him the land and the wealth what he should have. It’d be easy enough to hide his paternity, it would. We could say that he were a child what you and I took as our ward while in America. All the while, he’d have Molliner blood in his veins. We’d know. That’s all what matters. Wouldn’t it be beautiful?”

“Mr. Punch,” Robert shook his head. “Forgive me. I’ve done you a disservice.”

“How ya figure?” Mr. Punch asked.

“I underestimated you.”

“No.” Mr. Punch smiled. “You were just lookin’ after me. That’s good.”

“But, in doing so, I treated you as if you were delicate and fragile. You’re not. You’re no longer the child-like creature that I first met. You’re a very wise man.”

“Oh, I don’t know ‘bout none of that. I know only what I think. And, that’s what I thought when I met this Charles…maybe he’s the key what we need to get to Barbara. I’ve been learnin’ a thing or two ‘bout keys since Naasir left us. I’m learnin’ that they open doors sometimes what open with effort and loud creakin’, but they still need to open.”

“Has Julian used the ‘key’ that Naasir left for him?” Robert asked softly.

“No.” Punch shook his head. “Not yet, but it’ll come…and soon, I think. But, we can only use one key at a time. Let’s use this Charles as a key, too, Chum. If I turn out to be mistaken, then we can clean up the mess like what we clean up all the messes ‘round us.”

“Sometimes you overwhelm me, dear Punch.” Robert grinned.

“Don’t mean to.” Punch said, coughing slightly.

“Now, if you’ll allow me to be something of a tyrant, you really do need to go to bed.” Robert smiled.

“I understand.” Punch nodded. “And, I agree.” Punch sat on the bed and leaned back, allowing Robert to cover him up. Toby trotted in behind them and leapt on the bed, snuggling up to Mr. Punch.

“Here’s your puppet,” Robert nodded, handing the figure to his friend.

“Thank you, Chum.” Mr. Punch sighed.

“I’ll go back down and finalize the arrangements with Charles.” Robert continued.

“Good.” Mr. Punch nodded.

“Just know, however, that I’ll be keeping a close eye on him.” Robert winked.

“I would expect nothing less.” Mr. Punch chuckled. “But, don’t worry, this ain’t gonna be a repeat of what happened with Arthur. This is a different kind o’ bloke. Very different.”

Robert nodded, “I hope so.”

Meanwhile, Ulrika Rittenhouse was pushing her way into Iolanthe Evangeline’s house. Mala shrieked as Ulrika angrily brushed past her.

“Try to stop me!” Ulrika spat, pulling a knife from her apron. “And, I’ll cut you, too.”

“You lunatic!” Mala screamed.

“I’m not the lunatic.” Ulrika shouted. “That witch upstairs—she’s the lunatic! Now, tell me, you hideous cow—where is my Arthur?”

Did you miss Chapters 1-178? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Just Get it Over With

As I’ve often pointed out, we have much to learn from the wisdom of dogs. This morning, I learned another lesson from Bertie. We’re in the midst of some nasty thunderstorms this morning. Unfortunately for Bertie, he still needs to go outside to do the things that dogs do outside. He was not thrilled by the cracking thunder and driving rain. When we went out on the back porch, he sat down on the bench and looked at me with wide eyes which said instantly, “Why did you let this happen?”

My response was, “I’m sorry, but you’ve got to do your business.” With a brief tail wag, Bertie jumped from the bench and scurried down the back stairs, took care of business and ran back up. He was quite thrilled with himself when he was finished and did a little dance before we went back inside.

How many times throughout the day do we have to do things that we just don’t want to do—things that we know will be uncomfortable? Unlike dogs, we have the abilit to procrastinate. And, by doing so, all we do is prolong our agony. We could all take a page from Bertie’s book. Simply charge into a situation, no matter how wet and gloomy it might be and get the job done. Afterwards, run back home and celebrate your triumph. By simply getting the unpleasantness over with, we allow ourselves much more time to enjoy the rest of the day.

Object of the Day: A Glittering Bristol Glass Vase

We’ve talked about several Bristol glass pieces here at Stalking the Belle Époque. My fondness for the medium is evident and I’ve collected many examples over the years. Bristol glass allowed designers to have a newfound freedom with the shapes of their objects and afforded households with an opportunity to display unusual art glass that they previously had no access to.

This Bristol glass vase dates to about 1870 and represents a favorite shape of vase with a delicate base and scalloped top. What sets this piece apart is the hand-painted design. On one hand, the pattern is quite typical—an organic scene of flowers contrasted against the milky-white background. However, the design has been elevated by the inclusion of pearlescent paint and raised gilding which gives the pattern a sparkle and dimension not evident in other examples from the time period. Even on a shelf in a rather dark corner of the room, this vase always catches the light and glitters brilliantly. Our Victorian forebears were very interested in making the most of low-light conditions and allowing natural colors and forms to show through. Pieces such as this one show their triumph over the dark.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sculpture of the Day: A Bust of Thomas Jefferson, 1789

Thomas Jefferson
Jean-Antoine Houdon
The National Gallery of Art
Washington, D.C.
Since we’re talking about Thomas Jefferson today in a sort of post-President’s-Day salute, let’s take a look at this exceptional marble bust of Jefferson by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon.

Houdon was considered the “Sculptor of the Enlightenment” and espoused Neoclassical ideals in his crisp, attractive work. This bust of Jefferson was created in 1789 while Jefferson was still Minister to France. Today, the bust is housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Precious Time: Thomas Jefferson’s Astronomical Clock, 1812

Thomas Voight
Mahogany, Walnut
The third President of the United States was a scientific kind of guy and liked to be as precise about everything as possible—this included the time of day. He didn’t feel that everyone needed to be as precise as he was. For example, the clock on the outside of Monticello only has an hour hand because Jefferson didn’t think that the field workers needed to know the minutes, but that’s another issue.

Jefferson always wanted an Astronomical Clock—like King George III, darn it! In fact, he even commissioned a young clockmaker, David Rittenhouse (no relation to Ulrika) to make one for him. But, there was a little historical hiccup which prevented the swift completion of the clock—that pesky Revolutionary War.

It wasn’t until 1812 that Jefferson finally got his Astronomical Clock. This tall-case mahogany and walnut clock by Thomas Voight told the time, the lunar phase and the day of the week. It was purposely made without a striking mechanism so that it could be used in Jefferson’s bedroom without distrubing his sleep. It’s pretty, but not too exceptional. However, it seemed to please the President a great deal.

Unusual Artifacts: Thomas Jefferson’s “Wheel Cipher”

"Wheel Cipher"
Thomas Jefferson
(Reproduction from original design)
Aside from being the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the Third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson was a rather clever fellow who enjoyed tinkering with things and coming up with his own little inventions. While working as George Washington’s secretary, Jefferson devised a tool which could be employed to encode and decode secret messages.

When compared to our spy technology of the present, the “wheel cipher” looks like something one would get in a box of cereal (perhaps, “Frosted Colonial O’s”), but is nonetheless rather brilliant for its time. The cipher was ostensibly a threaded metal spindle upon which twenty-six wooden cylindrical pieces were fitted. Each of the wooden pieces contained all of the letters of the alphabet.

To use the device, a short message would be spelled out across one line of the letters. Then, the sender of the message would write down the corresponding gibberish which the recipient would then use to decipher the message by fiddling with the wheel. So, to use the example of the Monticello Web site, if one were to spell out “Cool Jefferson Wheel Cipher,” the line below it would read "NKYG NSUS NXML CQYO TYUH HFTD.” This is what would be sent to the recipient of the message who would align the letters on the wheel to break the code. Time consuming, but effective.

The wheel fell out of use in 1802 because it was kind of—kind of…silly, frankly. But, it had a good run and it did serve to revolutionize (no pun intended) the way in which secret communications were sent.

Building of the Week: Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Virginia, United States

The West Front Facade
To begin with, Jefferson’s famous Virginia estate is quite a bit newer than I originally thought. I’ve become so accustomed to buildings and objects from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries that I had mentally categorized Monticello as falling into the latter era of building. However, the Palladian mansion that stands today was actually built in the Nineteenth Century.

The original structure at Monticello was a more modest two-story mansion that was erected in 1768 and occupied by Jefferson in 1770. After that, Thomas Jefferson was appointed Minister of the United States to France and subsequently moved from the U.S. During his travels, Jefferson became intimately acquainted with the architecture of Europe and saw first-hand the beautiful buildings he’d only seen illustrated in books. It was his viewing of French and Italian Palladian-style architecture which seems to have planted the seeds of his idea for his own home.

The East Front Facade
Beginning in 1794, Jefferson returned to the U.S. and began working on designs for a major overhaul of Monticello which would incorporate the ideals of the architecture he’d seen abroad. The remodeling continued for many years and lasted until 1809.

The "Dome Room"
One of the first orders of business was to double the size of the house by adding a parallel set of rooms and resituating the floor plan of the house. Massive East and West facades in a Palladian style were constructed with perfectly proportioned pediments and columns. The entire full-story second floor was completely removed and replaced with a more utilitarian mezzanine bedroom floor. Thomas Jefferson had two reasons for this. First, he was not a big fan of having too much furniture in the house (we’d not have been good friends) and didn’t feel that it was necessary to waste space with beds and wardrobes and other such nonsense. The bedrooms in the new design amounted to cupboards with sturdy Murphy beds and lots of built-in storage space. Secondly, by removing the second floor, he made room for the mansion’s most famous feature—its octagonal dome which is vaguely reminiscent of the dome of Italy’s Pantheon.

The Entrance Hall
The mansion itself is not as large as it looks. It is, certainly, not a small house—amounting to 11,000 square feet. But, it appears to be much bigger than that. This owes in large part to the perfect scale of the structure. Every detail is perfectly measured and absolutely correct in scale. While the house is somewhat under-decorated, the architecture is superb.

Monticello, after Jefferson’s death, had several different owners before becoming a museum. It is the only private residence in the U.S. which has been designated as a World Heritage Site. Painstakingly restored, Monticello is open to the public. On rare occasions, the public is even allowed in the intimate dome room which has been painted in two of Jefferson’s favorite colors—“Mars Yellow” for the walls and “Grass Green” for the floors. If you’re in the Virginia area, you should visit this magnificent monument which served as the home, and now the burial place, of one of our most intriguing presidents.

"The Tea Room"

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 178

Arthur, darling,” Ulrika purred softly as she slipped back into her bedchamber. She was carrying a crystal carafe of bourbon which she’d snatched from Edward Cage’s parlor. She sashayed over to the bed and peered into the dim room, searching under the covers for the form of her lover.

Ulrika was surprised to see that though the bed was still warm, it was empty—nothing but a tangled mess of blankets. She put down the bourbon and ran her hand across the bed, withdrawing her fingers when they touched something wet. She studied her hand and found her fingers were coated with blood.

Her usual cool nature bubbled away and her heart began to race. She stifled a gulp and knealt down beside the empty bed where she noticed a lone purple feather tied to a folded slip of yellowed paper. Untying the page, she read aloud. “Did you really think that I’d have a short memory? I don’t want you thinkin’ that I do. Your man has a strong back. He’ll make some ship’s captain very happy. I’ll return him to you when you return what you’ve taken from me. –Iolanthe Evangeline.”

“Damn it!” Ulrika croaked. “That witch!”

At that very moment, further up Royal Street, Mr. Punch chuckled as Charles stammered.

“Sir, your sister isn’t manipulating me.” Charles said.

“Isn’t she?” Mr. Punch winked.

“I’ve come here because I decided it was the right thing to do.” Charles said. “Though Miss Barbara suggested that I’d enjoy a place in this household, I’ve come here today of my own volition. I know that I can serve you well, Your Grace. You’ll find me loyal and discreet. I already know of your particular…condition…”

“My condition,” Mr. Punch shook his head. “Here, the only condition I got is the condition of life. Just cuz I live my life as two people only means that I know what this body needs in order to survive. If survival is a condition, then I suppose I’m afflicted, otherwise, I’m not different than anyone else.”

“As you say, Your Grace.” Charles nodded.

“You like dogs?” Mr. Punch asked.

“Love them.” Charles smiled.

“You like babies? There’s a baby here. A nice baby, too. Me nephew—not by blood, but by love. Can you understand that?”

“Yes.” Charles nodded.

“There’s a little girl here, too. A good girl.” Mr. Punch continued. “They call her Columbia and you’re to understand that she’s a free little girl and should be treated as any other member of the household.”

“I see.” Charles answered.

“Can you treat folk what’re different than you with the same respect you’d treat me, a titled man, and this doctor and this artist and his wife?”

“Of course, Sir.” Charles said quickly. “In my eyes, all are equal.”

“He means that.” Mr. Punch smiled.

“Regardless, Your Grace,” Cecil interrupted. “He’s forged his letters of recommendation and comes to us through the interference of people who’d wish to do us ill.”

“You forged your things?” Mr. Punch asked.

“I did.” Charles frowned.

“Yet you admit you did wrong?” Mr. Punch continued.

“I always confess when I’ve sinned.” Charles nodded.

“What more can we ask of a man?” Mr. Punch sighed. “Here, if Barbara Allen or any of them other folk entreats you to work against me, to harm my family or to act in a way that’s unfit, will you comply with them or will you continue to serve us with loyalty and affection?”

“My affiliation is always with you, Your Grace.” Charles grinned.

“I believe him.” Mr. Punch said.

“Then, I may start?” Charles asked.

“Now, if you like.” Mr. Punch nodded.

“Now, just a moment,” Robert interrupted. “My dear, I don’t…I can’t let you…”

“Chum, let’s not have our first argument,” Mr. Punch smiled.

“I cannot agree to this.” Robert said angrily.

“It’s my decision to make.” Mr. Punch said.

“If you cannot see why this is unwise,” Robert growled. “You’re more ill than I…” He paused as he saw the look of hurt rise on Julian’s face.

“Go on, Chum.” Mr. Punch said. “If you got somethin’ to say…”

Did you miss Chapters 1-177? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Appreciate Each Moment

Though we spend a fair amount of time rushing from place to place, and though we are often engaged in activities which are less-then glamorous, we still should make a point of enjoying each moment. It’s easy and cowardly to lean back and complain about everything, but it takes a real hero to find the good in even the dullest of situations.

You’ll find that if you search for something to enjoy every moment that you’re awake, life is a lot more exciting and rewarding.

Object of the Day: An Antique Trestle Table

The Trestle Table is the earliest form of table and is so called because it includes two (or three) supports connected at the bottom by a longitudinal cross-board. The earliest trestle tables were very simple in design, however, over the centuries, they developed into more ornate productions with urn-shaped, turned legs and other adornment. In the Nineteenth Century, the trestle table was still being used in the family dining room while smaller, elongated versions were used as sideboards or hallway tables such as this one.

This piece heralds from England and was made in the late Nineteenth Century from heavy maple. It’s neatly lathe-turned legs and elevated cross-board create an elegant understated silhouette.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Her Majesty’s Furniture: A Pair of Porcelain Vases, 1720

Pair of Vases
Japan, 1720
Adapted and Mounted: 1750, France
Purchased by George IV, recorded 1826
The Royal Collection
These brightly painted vases began their lives as a pair of wide-shouldered flasks designed to hold spirits. They were made in Japan for export to the Netherlands. In the 1750’s the flasks were adapted by a French artist who cut them down and added gilded mounts to them. The mounts—in the form of elaborate scroll-work—were crafted to very neatly match the asymmetrical painted pattern of carp, lions and flowers (three things not typically found together—at least without effort).

King George IV purchased this pair for display at his Brighton Pavilion. They were first recorded in the Royal Collection in 1826 and were simply described as “Japan China Jars.” Royal record-keeping has come a long way.

Film of the Week: Another Man’s Poison, 1951

There came a point in Bette Davis’ career when she really started munching the scenery—more than usual. This happened just after All About Eve, around the time she married the rather simian Gary Merrill. Now, heavy-handed theatrics notwithstanding, her performances were still enjoyable and I love them. They were just not quite as subtle and nuanced—on the whole—as her earlier work. I think, perhaps, it stemmed from most directors’ inabilities to rein her in. She was larger-than-life, after all. Similarly, Davis never wanted the audience to forget that she was “acting.” And, we’ve never forgotten.

This film, however, is all-too-often forgotten. 1951’s Another Man’s Poison was Davis’ second on-screen pairing with her then-husband, Gary Merrill. Honestly, I find Merrill to be largely insufferable. I don’t know why. I think it’s because he’s somewhat primitive. But, his caveman antics work for this film about an adulterous, murderous, authoress (Davis) who finds herself being manipulated by an escaped prisoner (Merrill).

Another Man’s Poison is remarkable for several reasons. First of all, it’s based on a stage play by Emlyn Williams who often wrote of Welsh subjects and was the author of The Corn is Green which proved to be one of Davis’ greatest mid-career triumphs. Williams also co-stars in the film and substantially rewrote the dreadful screenplay version of his original story. Sadly, the script is still weak and strange, but the actors give it their best shot.

The film was produced by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (former husband of Miss Joan Crawford, thank you very much) and directed by Irving Rapper who had directed Davis in Now, Voyager and should have been able to have had better control of her with this picture, but largely seems to have given up.

There’s a lot of opening and closing of drapes, and swaggering around in jodhpurs by Miss Davis. Merrill grunts a lot. Williams looks typically British and perfect for the part of the meddling doctor/neighbor. Of course, we have a beautifully overwrought scene involving Miss Davis’ character’s favorite horse, “There isn’t a man, woman or child I wouldn’t see dead at my feet…” All-in-all, the cast has taken lemons and made a cool, delightful lemonade which may go down a little bitter at times, but when it’s sweet, it sure hits the spot.

In light of the fact that I could not find a real trailer for the film nor could I find a single clip from the picture which had not been peculiarly sped up (look at YouTube, you’ll see what I mean), here’s a nifty little fan-video, set to music, which at least gives you some visuals from the movie.

The Belle Époque Today: The Art of Christopher J. Miller

Christopher J. Miller, 2009
As consumers, we view the end result of the creative process—judging it with a critical eye, placing a value on it and trading it like currency. However, for those who fall into the rather vague and wonderful category of “artist,” very often, the finished product isn’t as remarkable as the process of achieving it.

Painter Christopher J. Miller emphasizes the importance of embracing the artistic process with his latest series of paintings, “Silence between the Sounds.” Urging everyone to look upon the act of creating something remarkable with as much reverence as we consume the finished product, Miller presents works which represent those sacred moments wherein the artist is consumed by his work.

Miller offers a masterful handling of color and a delicacy of hand which reminds one of the works of Paul Klee and Matisse. It’s easy to get lost in the forms and shapes of Mr. Miller’s paintings, and the process by which they were created becomes immediately evident. Here we see the measure of art’s effectiveness as a means of communication, showing that even the most abstract of compositions can have a very clear message.

To learn more about C.J. Miller and his art, visit his Web site.

Humanitarian of the Week: Dame Judi Dench

Long before she was “M” in the James Bond pictures, long before she was a familiar face on the silver screen, Judi Dench was the queen of the English stage. The daughter of Eleanora and Reginald Dench, young Judi was surrounded by actors as a child. Her mother was a wardrobe mistress and her father was a physician who frequently worked with theater companies. Judi initially considered a career as a set designer, but soon changed her mind when her brother, Jeffery Dench, began studying acting.

Within a few years, Judi Dench had established herself as a leading Shakespearean actor, performing to consistently good notices in productions of Hamlet, Macbeth, and even as Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s stage version of Romeo and Juliet. Curiously, her biggest early West End role was that of Sally Bowles in the 1968 London opening of Cabaret. Dench—with her trademark raspy voice—was terrified at the prospect of singing in front of people, so much so that she auditioned for the part from the wings. However, she won the role and offered performances which were soundly celebrated.

Over the years that followed, Dench continued to be one of Britain’s leading stage actors. She also had developed a loyal following through her television work in programs such as As Time Goes By and A Fine Romance among others.

In 1995, Dench made the first of many notable screen appearances with her work in GoldenEye. Soon after, it seemed she was in almost every film and showed her extraordinary range with roles in Mrs. Brown, Tea with Mussolini, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Shakespeare in Love, Chocolat, and many, many others.

Given her busy career as one of the world’s most in-demand actors, you would think that Dench would have time for little else, yet, she makes the time to lend her support and talent to myriad causes which are dear to her heart. Active in the Quaker faith, Dench is also the patron of The Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, The Archway Theatre, The Questors Theatre, The Royalty Society of Arts, and others. For many years, she has supported Survival International—a group dedicated to the preservation of native cultures who could fall victim to the greed of modernization. In 2011, Dench became a patron of the Dr. Hadwen Trust—an organization which funds medical research and discourages medical testing on animals.

In 1970, Dench was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and was promoted to Dame Commander of the order in 1988. In 2005, she was further honored by an appointment as a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour.

For her glorious career and her invaluable service, Dame Judi Dench is our Humanitarian of the Week.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 177

Get out.” Robert growled.

“Sir, let me explain.” Charles interrupted.

“You’re in no position to explain anything.” Robert spat.

Cecil rose and stood next to his brother. “I suggest that you leave, young man.”

“It’s not what it seems.” Charles argued.

“How could it be anything else?” Cecil answered gruffly.

“Perhaps we should let him explain,” Adrienne said softly.

“Darling, you’re thinking with your heart again. Always trying to find the good in people.” Cecil sighed.

“There is good in all people--some.” Adrienne smiled.

“Even Barbara Allen?” Robert asked.

“Thank you, Mrs. Halifax.” Charles replied. “Yes, you’re correct. My references are forged.”

“And just why did the former Lady Barbara assist you in forging these documents?” Robert asked.

“She’s trying to look after her brother.” Charles said.

“Really?” Robert laughed. “Were it not for that woman, His Grace would not be in the precarious position that he’s in presently.”

“Barbara knows that,” Charles answered. “And, Sir, she feels quite awful about everything that’s come to pass. She’s aware of her culpability. She came to me and quite honestly admitted everything that’s come to pass. Her words were so heartfelt and so honest…”

“And, how did you come to meet Barbara Allen? Do you frequent Iolanthe’s Bawdy House?” Cecil asked.

“No, Sir, she came to dress Miss Heralda’s hair. She’s no longer working for Iolanthe Evangeline. She works for Marie Laveau.”

“Oh!” Robert laughed loudly. “That’s hardly an endorsement for the woman.”

“Sir, she was honest with me. She told me that were I to come and work for His Grace it would be a good opportunity for me and for him. We chatted, she and I. She met me at Jackson Square and we had a long talk. She was very sincere and said she’d help me as long as I swore to help protect His Grace.”

“I understand that Barbara Allen is a comely lass and she can be very convincing. She came to our home with tales of heartfelt regret and heaps of lies about her desire to change and live an honest life. We took her in. And, how were we rewarded?” Cecil grunted. “She robbed us! She robbed us and returned to Iolanthe Evangeline and her lustful relationship with the man she calls her husband—a man who tried to murder both my brother and His Grace. She’s in league with treacherous people—Iolanthe, and, now, Marie Laveau. Because of her destructiveness and selfishness, she’s caused the death of her own mother, The Duchess, as well as contributed to the death of our Naasir. Because of her reckless disregard of human life—including the life of her own child—she’s endangered our entire family including His Grace. Now, she’s seduced you with tales of redemption and a false desire to see you furthered in your career? What does she care about you, Charles Van Eyck? How could she possibly care about you?”

“All of us have made mistakes in our lives, Mr. Halifax.” Charles said softly. “And, all of us have a chance for redemption. If you’ll pardon me saying so, Sir, I’m no fool. I can tell when someone is dishonest.”

They were interrupted by the sound of little paws trotting down the stairs and into the parlor.

“Toby.” Robert said looking to the dog. “What are you doing down here?”

“Perhaps he needs to attend to his natural instincts.” Adrienne said, standing up. “I’ll take him.”

“That ain’t it,” Mr. Punch smiled from the foot of the stairs. “He come down with me.”

“Oh no, no.” Robert shook his head. “Back to bed with you.”

“What’s that?” Punch pointed to Charles.

“You must be His Grace, the Duke of Fallbridge,” Charles bowed his head.

“Often,” Mr. Punch nodded.

“I am called Charles Van Eyck.” Charles nodded.

“What’s he want?” Punch asked Robert.

“Never mind about that, Mr., er… Your Grace.” Robert shook his head. “Let me help you back upstairs. You’re not ready to be on your feet. And, you, without your dressing gown. Just in your nightshirt. It’s too cold. You’re still feverish…” Robert put his arm around Mr. Punch’s waist and tried to lead him back up the stairs.

“I’m here in regard to the position of valet,” Charles spoke over Robert.

“Valet?” Punch snorted. “Naasir’s just in his grave.”

“I thought you could use my help.” Charles continued.

“That’s quite enough.” Robert interrupted firmly.

“Wait a tick, dear Chum.” Punch whispered.

“Punch…” Robert said softly into Julian’s ear.

“I wanna hear what the man’s got to say.” Mr. Punch smiled. “You said yourself we could use the help.”

“Not from this man.” Robert insisted.

“Why not?” Mr. Punch asked quietly. “He seems pleasant enough.”

“He’s in league with your, with Julian’s, sister.” Robert responded.

“Is he?” Punch grinned. “Well, isn’t that an interestin’ thing?” He looked at Charles and shouted, “Here, what you think ‘bout puppets?”

“I like puppets well enough, Sir.” Charles answered with a smile.

“What’d you say if we was to tell ya that I’m half man and half puppet?”

“We’re all puppets in our own way.” Charles nodded.

“True.” Mr. Punch nodded. “So, then, how is my sister manipulating you?”

Did you miss Chapters 1-176? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Live life unplugged

I love my iPhone. I’m the first to admit that I’m quite attached to it. However, I recognize that it’s not a substitute for reality. Very often, we see people out in the world, walking around, examining their smart phones. Whether they’re texting, reading, taking pictures or talking, our phones have taken the place of our eyes, ears and hands.

Remember, there’s a real world in front of us. It may not always be pretty and perfect, but it’s there and your experience within it is what you make of it. So, put the phone back in your pocket. View the world through your own eyes. Speak to people face-to-face. Learn by experience. Let your curiosity lead you into the tangible. Your phone will always be there, but the world around us changes in the blink of an eye.

Object of the Day: An Antique Pearl and Sapphire Stickpin

With miniature baroque pearls and a princess-cut sapphire set at an angle, this stickpin speaks of early Victorian tastes. Most men these days wouldn’t dream of wearing pearls, but a century ago, and until the 1910’s, it was relatively common for gentlemen’s jewelry to include small pearls. This modified shield-shape is surmounted by an attractively-shaped natural pearl which is balanced by two small pearls on either side of the sapphire and another at the lowest tip of the shield.

Set in 15 karat gold, this pin of British origin also features two naturalistic “sprigs” of gold which almost resemble a wishbone. This stickpin would have been worn during the day as a more casual adornment. Perhaps in another one hundred years, men’s fashions will prominently feature such ornaments. In the meantime, I’ll wait, and continue to collect these beautiful examples.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Painting of the Day: A Girl Chopping Onions, 1646

A Girl Chopping Onions
Gerrit Dou, 1646
Acquired by King George IV
The Royal Collection
King George IV had a special fondness for Dutch painting. In fact, he even designed a room in Carlton House around his collection of Dutch canvases. But, George IV wasn’t just any collector; he was able to amass an exceptional assortment of works from the finest Dutch painters.

Take, for instance, this domestic scene or genre painting by celebrated painter Gerrit Dou (1613-1675). Dou was notable as being the founder of the Dutch Fijnschilders school known for its meticulous brushwork, attention to detail and opulent finishes which give the paintings an ultra-realistic look. Dou often painted the subject of kitchen-maids which, in Dutch vernacular, was symbolic of more lascivious pursuits. The small child behind the table is, in light of this, more than just a “Dutch Baby,” but also a representation of cupid and the maid’s physicality.

This piece had a position of prominence in the collection of King George IV who was probably drawn to the work for both its outstanding artisty as well as its somewhat bawdy undertones.

Person of the Week: Hugh Bonneville

Hugh Bonneville most recently has made in appearance in many of our homes as Robert, Earl of Grantham in the ITV period drama, Downton Abbey. Mr. Bonneville, however, has a long and interesting list of credits to his name and is as notable for his stage performances as he is his television and film work.

Mr. Bonneville began his career on stage, performing in live Shakespearean productions alongside such celebrated actors as Kenneth Branagh and Ralph Fiennes. In the 1990’s he became a familiar face on both U.K. and U.S. television screens with leading roles in everything from comedies to high drama which served to showcase the actor’s talent and exceptional performance range. For a list of Hugh Bonneville’s credits, visit his official Web site where you’ll find not only a curriculum vitae, but also a host of interesting links about the work and life of this remarkable actor.

More so exceptional, Mr. Bonneville is among the few actors who, quietly and without ego, serves his community. He is a patron of organizations such as the U.K.’s international medical charity, Merlin; Scene and Heard, a group dedicated to partnering inner-city children with professional actors; The Giant Olive Theater Company and the Center Stage Academy. In addition, Mr. Bonneville is a devoted husband and father.

For his marvelous body of work, his charitable spirit and his caring nature, Hugh Bonneville is our “Person of the Week.”