Saturday, April 2, 2011

Saturday Sparkle: The Greater George Garter Badge

The Greater George
Garter Badge
Eighteenth Century, English
Diamonds, Sapphires, Rubies, Amethysts,
Silver and Gold
The Royal Collection
Queen Charlotte had her hands full with her husband, King George III. Perhaps this is why she preferred to stay by herself at Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace) while George rattled around on his own. George had shown signs of mental decay for quite awhile before his rumored “madness.” Evidence of that is chronicled in an account from 1805 wherein George III became quite distressed before the annual Installation of the Knights of the Garter on St. George’s Day. You see, in 1804, King George III had asked that the important garter jewels be stored away for safekeeping. He wanted them to be so safe, in fact, that he had hidden them away himself. By 1805, he couldn’t remember what he’d done with them.

It seems, he should have asked his wife. The missing “Greater George” was found in 1819 upon the death of Queen Charlotte. George III had brought the jewels to Buckingham House for safekeeping—perhaps unbeknownst to his wife. This magnificent garter badge was found in a drawer in the Queen’s bedroom when her possessions were being inventoried for auction.

“The Greater George” is of unknown provenance, but most likely dates to the Eighteenth Century, having been made by an English jeweler. Clearly, the piece has been altered over time. It features a diamond-encrusted figure of St. George which is highlighted by rubies and sapphires. The impressive fleur-de-lis of large, brilliant-cut diamonds at the top is a later addition—added in an attempt to make the large piece a little less cumbersome to wear.

These days, The Greater George is guarded and its owners know exactly where it is.

At the Music Hall: “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now,” 1909

Billy Murray
I wonder who's kissing her now,
I wonder who's teaching her how,
Wonder who's looking into her eyes,
Breathing sighs, telling lies;
I wonder who's buying the wine,
For lips that I used to call mine.
I wonder if she ever tells him of me,
I wonder who's kissing her now.

In 1909, in the musical The Prince of Tonight, a new song was introduced which would soon take its place amongst the most popular music of the early Twentieth Century. I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now became a music hall favorite and was a poignant reminder to the men who’d gone to fight in World War I that their young ladies might be finding comfort in other arms.

The music was written by Joseph E. Howard and Harold Orlob, and the lyrics were written by Will M. Hough and Frank R. Adams. Enjoy this 1909 recording by the famed Billy Murray as played on a Victor II Gramophone.

The Art of Play: A Paper Model Kit, 1939

Model of the Empire State Building
Robert Freidus, 1939
The Museum of Childhood
The Victoria & Albert Museum
In the 1930’s, artist Robert Freidus, created a series of paper model sets for children which were based on popular architecture across the world. Building paper models was a beloved pastime for both young and old since the Eighteenth Century. Though it’s largely fallen out of fashion, there’s still a fascination with these delicate models.

This set from 1939 produced a scale model of New York’s Empire State Building. This set, among many others, was part of an exciting exhibit at The Victoria $ Albert Museum which concluded in January wherein the guests were welcomed to create models of their own.

Painting of the Day: “The First Interview of the Divorced Empress Josephine,” Henrietta Ward, 1870

The First Interview of the  Divorced Empress Josephine
with the King of Rome
Henrietta Ward specialized in tender historical scenes. This painting of the Empress Josephine with the King of Rome was based on this passage from Histoire de Napoleon II by Duc de Reichstadt: “At the sight of this child Josephine experienced profound emotion. She fixed upon him her eyes dimmed with tears... The little Prince returned her affection, and gave himself up, and all the gentleness and amiability of his character... The Emperor heartily thanked Josephine for this testimony of her affection. It was a day of happiness to him.”

The painting, created in 1870, was displayed at The Royal Academy and was recently auctioned at Sotheby’s.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 211

Robert laughed and looked helplessly at Marjani.

"I didn’t mean for to shock you, Doctor.” Marjani said softly. 

“Well,” Robert smiled. “You’re correct. They wouldn’t search for us if we were dead, but, we’re very much alive and, frankly, have every intention of staying that way.”

“Marjani,” Mr. Punch grinned. “I think I know what you’re gonna say, I do.”

“I think you do.” Marjani nodded.

“This isn’t some sort of Shakespearean scheme, is it?” Robert asked. “You’re not looking to play Friar Lawrence to our Romeo and…well, Romeo?”

“Honey, I don’t know what that means.” Marjani chuckled, “I ain’t lookin’ to fry nobody. But, I’m just suggestin’ that if you were dead, folk would leave you alone.”

Robert sat down on the bed next to Mr. Punch and sighed. “Very well, explain yourself.”

“Well, Sir, I’m thinkin’ that if Iolanthe were to kill ya, everyone would go on about their business.”

“We’ve concluded that,” Robert nodded.

“So, why not let folk think you three were killed?” Marjani asked.

“Three?” Mr. Punch raised his eyebrows, “Colin, too?”

“Yes, Mr. Punch.” Marjani nodded.

“And, just how would we accomplish that?” Robert asked.

“Remember your plan for the masquerade ball? Mr. Punch and Missus Adrienne staged a little drama. Well, why not have Missus Adrienne dress as Iolanthe again? We could make it seem like ‘Iolanthe,’ in her rage, done killed the two of you and the baby. Then, you could slip away with Colin and be unnoticed.”

“Wouldn’t that cause complications for His Grace?” Robert asked. “When word got out that he’d been killed, that would jeopardize his inheritance and his title.”

“The news would not get back to England before you did.” Marjani said. “And, even if it did, ya’ll could send letters in advance, tellin’ whoever needs to know these things that there’s nothin’ to worry ‘bout and that you’re on your way home.”

Robert narrowed his eyes. “Perhaps I’ve gone utterly mad, but I think it’s rather a good idea.”

“We could do it in public—where folk could witness it. Not only would it be a kind of distraction to allow ya’ll to escape, but it would cast the hand of guilt on Iolanthe who so rightly deserves it.” Marjani smiled.

“Wouldn’t a doctor need to be employed to examine our bodies once we’d ‘died’?” Robert asked.

“Not necessarily.” Mr. Punch answered. “Not if it happened all too fast. Cecil could quick-like make arrangements.”

“Cecil would never go for this.” Robert shook his head.

“Don’t be so sure.” Mr. Punch grinned.

“I could go tell Mr. and Mrs. Halifax ‘bout our plan. I know Meridian would help, too.” Marjani said.

“Before you do that,” Robert sighed, “we’d best work out all the details.”

“So, you’ll do it, Chum?” Mr. Punch asked.

Robert frowned. “Yes.” He chuckled to himself. “I’ll do it.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-210? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Give Yourself the Credit You Deserve

So often, we spend our days crafting the litany of our failings. We’ve become so adept at this that we lose sight of our accomplishments. Our triumphs don’t necessarily need to be grand. They can be as simple as the things you do every day—those uneventful and wonderful things that keep your life running smoothly.

It’s perfectly acceptable to take pride in yourself and what you’re able to accomplish. Remember that you’re doing the best that you can and give yourself the credit you deserve.

Object of the Day: “Memories of Ninety Years,” Henrietta Ward

Renowned English painter Henrietta Ward penned two memoirs during her long life. The first was Mrs. E.M. Ward’s Reminiscences which was published in 1911 and recounted her exciting life with her husband, also an accomplished and celebrated painter as well as their relationships with such luminaries as Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. In her second memoir, Memories of Ninety Years, published before her death in 1924, Ward spoke plainly about her life as a painter, her friendship with Queen Victoria and told tales from her scintillating life and family. She speaks fondly of her son, Sir Leslie Ward, and chronicled her time as tutor to the children of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Included in the book are several attractive plates of reproductions of her works as well as intimate photographs from her own collection. These include personal photos as well as images of her friends and family.

Difficult to find, it’s a fascinating book and a rare glimpse into the life of one of Britain’s most prolific artists.

memories of ninety Years

Friday, April 1, 2011

Antique Image of the Day: A Royal Frame-Up, 1905

Frame with Photo of King George V
and Queen Mary while Prince
and Princess of Wales,
The Royal Collection
This gorgeous frame of two-color gold, turquoise enamel, seed  pearls, rubies, mother-pf-pearl and rose-cut diamonds was created by Viktor Aarne of Fabergé.  The frame was a gift from husband to wife.  In July of 1905, the future King George V (still Prince of Wales) presented this frame to his wife, Mary of Teck.  The future Queen Mary filled the frame with one of her favorite photos of herself and her husband where it has remained for nearly one hundred and six years. 

Mr. Punch in the Arts: Drunk Punch, 1990

Drunk Punch
Richard Slee
Victoria & Albert Museum
Contemporary studio potter Richard Slee was inspired by English ceramics of centuries past and their relationship to British culture. Driven to create a modern adaptation of English “Tobies” (jugs, or large drinking mugs in the form of a stout man), Slee inverted the popular phrase, “Punch Drunk” and created this figure of Drunk Punch. What’s more British than Mr. Punch?

Here, we see Mr. Punch, clearly in his cups, made of coiled earthenware and colored glazes. He is surrounded by spent cobalt blue bottles which refer to Slee’s famous modern reworking of vase shapes.

Located in the Victoria & Albert Museum, Drunk Punch is usually exhibited at the end of a display of antique Tobies which show the progression of the vessel over centuries.

Pets of the Belle Époque: Jet of Iada, Liverpool’s Famous Rescue Dog

"Jet of Iada"
Edna Rose, 1946
The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
This bronze bust by Edna Rose from the collection of Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery shows the proud, smiling face of Jet of Iada. Jet was the brave black dog who rescued dozens of people during the Second World War. Jet, who attended “War Dog School” at the age of nine months, is forever remember as Liverpool’s bravest canine. A memorial to Jet was erected in Liverpoole’s Calderstone Park. The daughter of Jet’s owner, Lilias Ward, said, “It was a very very satisfying day, sad, but satisfying, because he was a special person.”

A very special person, indeed. Three cheers for Jet and long may he be remembered. To hear more about jet, visit the Walker Art Gallery’s Web site to hear portions of an interview with Lilias Ward.

Friday Fun: Glyn Edwards’ Wonderful Punch & Judy Show

Glyn Edwards
Ever wonder what Mr. Punch would do if teaching the baby to walk was suddenly his responsibility? Well, Professor Glyn Edwards, one of the most celebrated Punch & Judy men in the U.K. gives us a chance to find out. Edwards calls himself, “a Punch & Judy activist.” I like that concept. It’s certainly a cause that’s close to my heart.

Take a look at this video clip on Mr. Edwards’ Web site. It’s certainly worth the visit.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 210

Ulrika grinned at Charles. “You’re a nice looking boy.”

“Thank you, Miss.” Charles nodded.

“Why waste your time with the likes of Miss Allen? I can give you so much more.” Ulrika purred.

“Do you ever shy away from stealing my men?” Barbara spat.

Even in the darkness, the women could see that Charles was blushing.

“I’m quite content where I am,” Charles said firmly.

“I could make you more so content.” Ulrika said. “I can give you the world. All I ask is that you do something for me.”

“Go to Blazes, Ulrika!” Barbara shouted.

“I will.” Ulrika laughed. “And, I’ll see you there.”

Charles rose, “I’m sorry, but Miss Allen has suffered too much today, I must ask you both to leave.”

“How gallant.” Ulrika chuckled. “Really, Iolanthe, isn’t he gallant? So chivalrous.”

“He’s a prince among paupers.” Iolanthe frowned. “And, he’s wasting my time. Come along, Ulrika, we don’t need him. Nor her. We know what we’re after and we’ll find it.”

“Isn’t it curious?” Barbara smirked.

“What’s that?” Ulrika asked.

“When the last I saw the two of you, I could have sworn that Iolanthe was about to toss you into the sea, Ulrika.” Barbara replied. “Now, you’re as thick as thieves.”

“We are thieves, Barbara.” Ulrika smiled. “All of us.”

“I find it peculiar that you two now have this allegiance.” Barbara answered.

“We have an arrangement.” Ulrika smiled. “It’s none of your concern.”

“I hope you enjoy your arrangement.” Barbara said. “How long will it be before one of you betrays the other? Again.”

“Ulrika knows what will happen if she does.” Iolanthe answered curtly.

“As does Iolanthe.” Ulrika frowned.

“Ah, there’s already distrust.” Barbara grinned.

“Barbara, we’ve banded together in a crisis. A child’s best interest is at stake. All other things pale when compared to that.” Ulrika said.

“Well, how touching.” Barbara chuckled.

“Enough chatter!” Iolanthe stamped her foot on the ground. “We’ve business! Come, Ulrika.”

“You’d better go with your mistress,” Barbara clucked her tongue.

Ulrika’s rage was evident.

“Come, Ulrika.” Iolanthe repeated.

Ulrika grunted. “By the way, Barbara, if we see Marie Laveau—and I’m sure we will—I’ll make a point of telling her where you are. I’m sure she’s looking for you—probably so very concerned, really.”

“Do what you want,” Barbara shrugged.

“I always do,” Ulrika winked as they walked off.

Once they were alone again, Charles settled onto the bench next to Barbara again. “This isn’t good.”

‘No.” Barbara shook her head. “You don’t suppose they’ll find my brother?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.” Charles answered plainly.

“We have to stop them.” Barbara replied. “While I’m not a proponent of the idea of Julian raising my son, I’d much rather Colin lives with him than be returned to Edward Cage—or worse, falling into the hands of any of those three women.”

“How can we get word to His Grace and Dr. Halifax?” Charles asked.

“You’re his valet. You’re bound to find out where he is.” Barbara sighed.

“I just want you to know, Miss Allen, that my first allegiance is always to you.” Charles replied softly.

“Call me Barbara.” She answered.

At that very moment, in the hull of a dark, rocking ship, Arthur screamed as his fist struck a much larger man.

“You make a huge mistake,” The man laughed, coming toward Arthur.

Arthur shrieked wildly. “You ain’t gonna stop me! I’m gettin’ off this ship and goin’ back to my wife!”

“Not if you die!” The man smirked.

“Listen to me!” Arthur pleaded. “I got connections. My wife’s brother—he’s a duke. Let me go and I’ll make us both rich beyond our wildest dreams. He owes me—the lunatic.”

Meanwhile, in their musty hotel room, Robert raised his eyebrows. “What is it, Marjani?”

Marjani picked up the baby from Robert’s lap and began pacing the floor with the child in her arms.

“You’re worried that them folk will try to get this poor baby back.” Marjani said quietly. “There’s a way to get them to stop looking for you.”

“Coo…what?” Punch asked.

“Well, Mr. Punch, folk can’t look for what’s not there no more.” Marjani said.

“But, we are here. We missed the ship and there’s not another for quite some time.” Mr. Punch replied. “There’s no other way out. They’re gonna keep looking.”

“Not if you’re dead.” Marjani smiled.

Did you miss Chapters 1-209? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Talk to the Animals

Our pets live in an unfair world. They understand our language far better than we can translate theirs. While we’re never going to be able to fully understand what our pets are saying to us, we can pay attention to what they’re trying to communicate.

For example, this morning, as I’m writing, Bertie has come into my study half a dozen times and butted me with his head. He would walk to the armchair in the corner and snort at me. I asked him, “Do you want to sit with me?” He barked his response. So, I unplugged the laptop and settled into the chair next to him. Now, he’s contentedly asleep next to me, kicking me every once in awhile to let me know he wants his ears scratched. It’s these non-verbal ways of communication on which Bertie relies, and it’s up to me to decipher them.

Though you may feel a little silly at first, take some time to “talk” with your pets. Actually speaking to them helps to improve their vocabulary and to train them. Meanwhile, they can train you by teaching you their subtle cues. You’ll find that the more you and your pet can “talk,” the happier you’ll both be.

Object of the Day: A Gothic Revival Sideboard

Gothic Revival architecture and furnishings began to flourish in the 1740’s in England and enjoyed a prolific life well into the Twentieth Century. As decades passed, Gothic Revival (or Neo-Gothic, or “Victorian Gothic”) became more stylized and simplified in terms of the decorative arts, relying on geometric pattern and sturdiness.

This walnut sideboard dates to the late Nineteenth Century to early Twentieth and features turn-of-the-century Gothic Revival details such as incised ornaments in the shape of Gothic ogival arches and carvings which lean as much toward the Tudor as they do the Gothic. Not as formal as many Gothic Revival pieces, a sideboard such as this one would have found itself put toward more utilitarian use than it did decorative.

I purchased this sideboard many years ago for my dining room, replacing it in time with a much more formal and ornate étagère. For quite a long time, this piece waited patiently in my laundry room, hoping for the day it would be able to be front and center once again. Now, it’s found a new life in the central corridor of the house, proving once again that there’s nothing quite as enduring as the Gothic Revival.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Bertie of Shalott

“Cheer Up, Ophelia.”

Image: The Lady of Shalott, John William Waterhouse, 1888, Tate Britain

Mastery of Design: A Commesso Pendant with a Female Bust, circa 1550

Commesso Pendant
Italian, circa 1550
From the collection og Queen Caroline
Gold, amethyst, ruby, garnets, emerald, carnelian
The Royal Collection
A commesso is a piece of jewelry which incorporates a cameo figure onto a gold background. The word is often used to refer to Italian gems which were later combined with other pieces.

This commesso was found in 1755 in a drawer of a jewel cabinet in Kensington Palace. Made around 1550 in Italy, the piece almost certainly belonged to Queen Caroline, the consort of King George II. Here, we see a female bust in profile. She’s “dressed” in a gown of amethyst. Her face is comprised of carnelian, surmounted by chased gold tendril for her hair. Also sparkling against the punched gold background, is the brooch which fastens her robe, set in gold. He turban is adorned with a ruby, two garnets and an emerald.

Painting of the Day: “Diana and Calisto,” Richard Wilson, 1757

Diana and Calisto
Richard Wilson, 1757
The Lady Lever Art Gallery

Painter Richard Wilson adapted the ideals of French Seventeenth Century landscape painting into his canvases which were celebrated for their majesty and tranquility. Here, Wilson depicts a landscape of Lake Nemi in Italy, not far from Rome. Lake Nemi long had an association with the goddess Diana. Diana was said to have seen her reflection in the still lake, and a temple was erected at the spot in her honor.

Wilson alludes to the goddess by including a small figural scene of Diana casting her maid, Calisto, out after discovering the young woman’s pregnancy by Zeus. The figural scene is secondary to the grandeur of the landscape which was applauded wildly when exhibited.

Unfolding Pictures: The Trompe-l’oeil Lace Fan, 1750

Trompe-L'Oeil Lace Fan
French, 1750
Prvisouly owned by Queen Charlotte
Presented to Queen Mary, 1939
The Royal Collection
Queen Mary (of Teck) in addition to her usual curiosity about all art and artifacts and her overall passion for collection, had a keen fascination with Queen Charlotte (the consort of King George III) who had a similar penchant for collecting gorgeous objects. Whether or not Queen Mary knew about the existence of this fan in advance of it being given to her is unclear, but what is known is that she was thrilled with the gift of the magnificent piece was it was presented to her by the Honorable Claude Yorke, in 1939. She was even more overjoyed upon learning that the fan with mythological scenes once belong to Queen Charlotte and was one of the objects which had been stripped from the Royal Collection by the auction of Charlotte’s possessions in 1819.

The fan is an exceptional work of art in the style of mid-Seventeenth-Century French fan-makers who took great care in creating their fans. The French preferred that fans were mounted with two leaves, instead of one as was the custom with English fan-makers. Carved tortoiseshell sticks and guards with a silver, garnet-head pin support the leaves which have been painted in a trompe-l’oeil style (literally, “fool the eye”) which is meant to give the impression that the entire piece has been overlaid with a sheet of delicate lace. The lace has been painted onto the fan as if it had been applied and glued and is rendered in such a way that it appears to have been carefully cut around the two painted scenes. The scenes may depict Dido and Aeneas, but their exact subject matter is unknown.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 209

You’ve been very naughty, Barbara.” Iolanthe taunted.

“Not now,” Barbara sniffed, sitting up again. Charles kept his arm around her and the feel of him made her feel a bravery that she would not have possessed had she been alone.

“Not now?” Iolanthe hissed.

“Really, Barbara,” Ulrika grinned. “I hardly think you’re in any position to make demands. The law doesn’t look too kindly on abduction.”

“Nor does it have a high opinion of young ladies who order people’s murders, or, even those round-heeled lasses like you whose recreation leads to procreation.” Barbara spat.

“There, we’re very much alike, aren’t we?” Ulrika frowned.

“Only you give your ‘comfort’ away for free, don’t you? With you, it’s not a profession as much as it is a hobby.”

“Miss Allen,” Charles whispered. “This isn’t helping.”

“Your handsome young man is correct,”” Iolanthe growled. “That’s all I ask—just a little assistance.”

“With what, exactly?” Barbara asked.

“You may not put much stock in the sanctity of a business arrangement, but I do. I’m not here to school you in the importance of keeping your word. To be sure, part of me is quite proud of your loose code of moral conduct. I certainly can’t fault you for that. But, you see, dear girl, I made a deal with Edward Cage. Coins exchanged hands and a product was delivered as promised. Now, think ‘bout that for a minute. If I were selling dresses, I’d be tarred and feathered if I snatched the very dress I just sold off the back of the woman to whom I sold it. Wouldn’t I?”

“You’re comparing my son to dry goods?” Barbara responded stiffly.

“Ain’t nothin’ dry about him.” Iolanthe smiled. “Nevertheless, a deal is a deal. I’ve got to make sure that Mr. Cage gets what he paid for. Now, Barbara, you don’t have the child anymore. Do you? So, what does it matter to you where he is if you’re not the arms he falls asleep in at night?”

“I don’t want him with the Cages.” Barbara answered.

“It ain’t up to you.” Iolanthe replied. “And, I don’t want you thinkin’ that it is.”

“Of course it’s my decision!” Barbara said angrily. “I want my son to be in a good home.”

“They don’t get much better than the home of one of the wealthiest men in the state of Louisiana.” Iolanthe answered cooly.

“Wealth isn’t the determining factor of quality.” Barbara said in frustration. “If that were the case, don’t you think I’d have turned out differently?”

“You were born a wild whore.” Iolanthe winked. “Just like me. Ain’t nothin’ to change that. But, not this boy, he was born a prince and deserves to be treated as such.”

“I agree.” Barbara nodded. “And, so, that’s what he shall have.”

“With Edward Cage.” Iolanthe said firmly.

“No.” Barbara shook her head.

“The Cages were good enough when you first wanted to sell the boy!” Iolanthe hissed again.

“That was before I knew him!” Barbara said furiously.

“Knew him?” Iolanthe laughed. “You mean the two hours you spent running around New Orleans with the child? I don’t think that quite qualifies as knowin’ him!”

“A mother knows her child. Don’t you?” Barbara smiled.

Iolanthe’s face flushed. “You don’t go talkin’ about my child!”

“Isn’t your boy as much of a prince as mine? Would you want him raised by the likes of an irrational and angry man such as Edward Cage?”

Iolanthe pressed her hands together.

“Miss Allen,” Charles cautioned Barbara.

“It’s fine, Charles,” Barbara murmured.

“Listen, you.” Iolanthe croaked. “I’m going to return that child to his owner!”

“People aren’t owned like livestock. Thank God, my son is with someone who will teach him that people are free! For all of his faults, my brother…” Barbara stopped, clamping her hands over her mouth.

“So, he is with the mad Duke?” Ulrika chuckled.

“Where is he?” Iolanthe spat.

“Long gone.” Barbara sputtered.

“Couldn’t be!” Iolanthe shouted. “He ain’t the sort of man that travels quickly. He’s here. And, my dear girl, The Quarter ain’t so big that I won’t find him!”

“Just tell us where he’s gone, really, Barbara.” Ulrika cooed.

“Never.” Barbara shook her head.

Ulrika glanced at Charles. “Not to worry, I have my ways of finding the information I seek.”

Meanwhile in their hotel room, Mr. Punch fidgeted with his hands while Marjani fed the baby. The child say happily on Robert’s lap as Marjani fed him. He hungrily consumed the mixture of apples, carrots and milk that Marjani had made for him.

“Poor little lamb’s hungry.” Marjani smiled. “Well, Marjani’s just gonna make sure you get all filled up.”

Robert looked to Mr. Punch. “Are you well, my dear?”

“No.” Mr. Punch shook his head.

“I assure you that we’ll be safe here,” Robert smiled.

“I’d like to believe that,” Mr. Punch nodded. “I would. Only I can’t help but think them folk ain’t done with us.”

“No, Your Grace, they are not.” Marjani said softly, continuing to feed the baby.

“How will we keep them away?” Mr. Punch asked.

“Well, Mr. Punch, there may be a way, but you may not care for it much.” Marjani answered.

Did you miss Chapters 1-208? If so, you can read them here

Goal for the Day: Be Adventurous

At first dismayed by the new arrangement,
Bertie quickly rallied and made his own
adventure with his fluffy friend, "Lambchop."
Sometimes, you’ve got to add a little adventure to your life. But, adventure doesn’t have to mean jumping from an airplane or climbing the highest peak. Sometimes, the best adventures are the simplest ones. Part of an adventure means introducing some change into your life. Yesterday, I made some adventure for myself by rearranging my furniture and assorted bric-a-brac simply to introduce some change and excitement into the house. Since I both live and work here, it’s pleasant to create new visual adventures every so often.

To that end, I’m also updated the look of Stalking the Belle Époque with some new graphics. All of the information that you enjoy seeing is still available to you, just with a rejuvenated feeling.

Today, give yourself some kind of adventure. Do something that you’ve been thinking about for months, but haven’t gotten around to. Or, simply take a jaunt outside to see how your community has changed with the season. Just remember, all adventures come with this clean up. Whether it’s sweeping up the dust left behind furniture or wiping the mud from your feet, you’ll find that a little inconvenience is worth the experience. As Bertie learned this morning when he bounded down the stairs into the fresh Spring mud, sometimes, after your adventure, you’ve got to be picked up and put in the sink to have your feet washed. But, somehow, it’s worth it to enjoy a nice romp.

Object of the Day: An Antique Mercury Glass Vase

Double-walled, silvered glass—known as “Mercury Glass”—was developed in the 1840’s in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). Glassmakers around Europe and in the United States quickly adapted the form and created gorgeous, delicate pieces which mimicked the look of expensive silver pieces, but allowed for colorful painted decoration.

This piece comes from England and dates to the 1850’s-1870’s. This can be deduced by the enclosure of the “pontil scar” (the mark left behind from the glass-blowers rod) with a metal disk covered by a globule of glass. English makers would seal the vessel in this manner after filling it with the mixture of silver-nitrate which gives it it’s characteristic mirrored shine.

As was typical in designs of the era, the vase is painted with a floral scene of bright jonquil-colored flowers with white and green foliage. Mercury glass is very fragile and should be babied, but it’s worth the care.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Precious Time: The Carpenter Automaton Clock, 1780

The Carpenter Clock
William Carpenter, 1780
Clock case, mechanised figures and bells of gilt brass,
with enamelled and glass paste decoration.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This fascinating clock is an excellent representation of the type of brilliant clockwork being produced in England in the late Eighteenth Century. More than just a timepiece, this clock featured six different tunes—a march, a song, two jigs and two dances. Along with the music, the works featured automaton figures dressed in Seventeenth Century costume. Each figure rings a bell in time to the tune which is being played. The mechanical figures are divided into two categories. In the setting of a masquerade ball in a tier above a lavish, painted landscape, the seated figures play the tunes on the bells beneath their feet while the standing figures chime the time.

Clocks such as this were created especially for export to the East. Collectors in Turkey, China and India were fascinated by these Western clockworks and clamored for them. This particular clock is the work of celebrated clockmaker William Carpenter. It was recently restored and resides in The Victoria & Albert Museum.

The Victoria & Albert Museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Building of the Week: The Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Italy

"Il Massimo"
You are familiar with Palermo’s grand Belle Époque theater though you may not be aware of it. Anyone who has seen The Godfather III will recognize the soaring opera house from the film’s final, tragic scenes. The second largest opera house in Italy and the third largest in Europe, the Teatro Massimo was dedicated to Italian King Victor Emanuel II who had expressed a desire to see a large-scale opulent opera house constructed for that region.

In 1864, The Palermo Council sponsored a contest wherein local architects and designers were encouraged to submit their ideas for the new opera house. The design of popular architect Giovan Battista Filippo Basile was selected. Construction began in 1874, ten years after the initial selection of a design. Basile oversaw the construction of the edifice until his death in 1891. Following his death, Basile’s son, Ernesto Basile, a talented designer in his own right, inherited his father’s responsibilities.

The contracting firm, Rutelli & Marchi handled the construction of the building. Rutelli and Marchi developed a host of ingenious ways to safely construct the building’s inner-structure and to install the myriad exterior and interior ornaments such as monumental columns and stonework.

The exterior of the building is punctuated by a gorgeous dome reminiscent of the Pantheon. With its Classical façade marked by a magnificent pediment and Corinthian columns, the Teatro Massimo elicits thoughts of traditional Roman architecture which are heightened by decidedly Belle Époque adornments. Giusto Liva sculpted the exceptional busts of famous composers which line the exterior of the building.

“Il Massimo” was due to be renovated in 1974. The plan was to quickly update the theater’s safety features and to restore the beauty of the original 1874 plan. Sadly, due to politics and financial concerns, the opera house remained closed for twenty-three years. Finally, it reopened in 1997 to much fanfare.

Still thought to have the best acoustics of any opera house in Europe, “Il Massimo” enjoys a flourishing opera season and once again welcomes people from around the world who have come to experience an evening of beauty. Its majestic proscenium and vivid frescoes once again create the perfect backdrop for the comedy and drama which continue to shape our collective culture.

Sculpture of the Day: A Bust of Ferdinando de’ Medici, c. 1700

Bust of Ferdinando de' Medici
Giovacchino Fortini
circa 1700
The Lady Lever Art Gallery
Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici of Tuscany, like many of the members of this famous Italian family, was a keen patron of the arts with a particular fondness for sculpture. And, like most of the members of his family, he commissioned many portraits of himself from what he considered the best artists in the region.

He certainly got his money’s worth with this portrait bust created by Giovacchino Fortini. Fortini was celebrated for his remarkable ability to render different textures in his marbles. You’ll notice the contrasting textures of Ferdinando’s wig, his fur collar and the smoothness of his armor. De’ Medici was pleased with the bust, and even more so by the inclusion of his emblem (a lightning bolt through clouds) on the armor and his motto on the base. It reads, ET LUCET ET TERRET ('It casts both light and terror”). A fitting motto, indeed.

Unusual Artifacts: Queen Victoria’s Table Fountain, 1853

Table Fountain
R. & S. Garrard and Co, 1853
Silver, partly-gilt, and enamel.
The Royal Collection
Victorian table settings were notoriously formal, but they were also famously imaginative. Tables for lavish dinner parties were adorned with an array of ornaments and decorations to complement the food, the china, the silver and the crystal.

No one had more exceptional table settings than those of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Always looking for a way to create something dramatic and beautiful for their guests, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert commissioned this exquisite table fountain in 1853. The working fountain was made of partly-gilt silver and enamel by the Royal jewelers at R. & S. Garrard and Co. and was modeled after the Moorish architecture of Spain’s Alhambra.

The fountain was exhibited several time to much public acclaim before it returned home to Buckingham Palace where it remains to this day as part of the Royal Collection.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 208

Robert lit the wick of a crystal lamp and squinted as the flame grew. He looked around the room and sighed. “It’s not bad.”

“Not bad.” Mr. Punch frowned, sitting on the bed in the drafty hotel room. The baby snuggled into his lap. “But, it ain’t so good neither.”

“It’s one of the better hotels.” Robert shrugged. “Well, one of the better hotels that wouldn’t question why two men with no baggage and a child have checked in.”

“I’m sure they’ve seen far stranger things here than us.” Mr. Punch said, hugging the child. “I miss me dog and me puppet. And, Adrienne and Cecil and Meridian.”

“We’ll all be reunited, soon.” Robert smiled. “This was our only option.”

“Oh, I ain’t complainin’.” Mr. Punch nodded, “I’ll do whatever we need to do to make sure that this boy gets what he needs.”

“I know you will.” Robert answered, pausing when he heard a faint knock at the door.

He hurried to open it, knowing who was on the other side.

Marjani rushed in. “I had such a time gettin’ in here.” Marjani chuckled.

“How’d you manage it?” Robert asked.

“Came in through the kitchen. Tol’ ‘em I was there for to clean up. That the manager jus’ brought me on. When they weren’t lookin’, I crept up here. Thought I’d have to scrub pots for awhile.”

“Coo, you are somethin’.” Mr. Punch whooped. “That’s the way to do it.”

“I done brought some things.” Marjani said, setting her basket on the table. “I got milk, apples, biscuits and some carrots. Thought I could make somethin’ for little Colin to eat.”

“You’re too much,” Robert smiled. “What would we do without you?”

“You don’t never got to find out,” Marjani nodded. “Now, I done went back to the house and tol’ Mrs. Adrienne and Mr. Cecil what we’re about. Mrs. Adrienne’s gonna get out here soon as she can without Mr. Cage seein.”

“Has he still got the house being watched?” Mr. Punch asked.

“Sure he does.” Marjani chuckled. “I spotted at least four men out there. One of ‘em followed me when I went to get the milk, but I lost him.”

“Thank you, Marjani.” Punch sighed. “Thank you very much for all what you done. For havin’ this idea and all.”

“Well, we had to do somethin’ to protect this boy.” Marjani smiled. “Ya’ll done missed the ship. Gotta wait ‘til the next one’s ready to depart, but that ain’t gonna be awhile. You two are gonna have to make a comfortable place for the baby here where he ain’t gonna be spotted. Meanwhile, I’ll bring your things here little-by-little. I’m sure Charles will help ne. We can do it without no one noticin’.”

“Any sign of Charles at home?” Robert asked.

“No, Dr. Halifax, there wasn’t. I reckon he’s still comfortin’ Miss Allen. Seems to me she’s got him in her sway, that one.”

“Oh, I’m sure she does. Our sister has a way with valets.” Mr. Punch grumbled.

“Can’t help but feel a little sorry for the girl.” Marjani sighed. “Even if I don’t want to. She done lost her mama and her daddy. Her husband’s disappeared and she had to give up her baby. What’s she got?”

“She’s got the life what she made for herself.” Mr. Punch answered.

“I know,” Marjani shrugged her shoulders. “But, it’s still sad.”

“It is.” Mr. Punch nodded. “It’s tragic, it is. I hate that it’s what’s become of her. Julian tried, he did, to make her life different. He tried to give her a sense of pride in herself, but she was too much Fallbridge and not ‘nough Molliner.”

“I do hope she can find something of joy in her life,” Robert added sincerely. “She and I have never been what you’d call ‘friends,’ but I don’t wish her ill.”

“Maybe the Holy Mother will look after her.” Marjani smiled. “I’ll ask her to.”

“You’re kind,” Robert grinned.

“No, Sir, just honest.” Marjani shrugged again.

Meanwhile, Barbara and Charles sat on a bench in Jackson Square—out in the open, yet shrouded by the darkness. Charles kept his arm around Barbara as she sobbed into his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Miss Allen,” Charles said. “But, you must realize it’s for the best.”

“Must I?” Barbara moaned. “Do you know what it’s like to have your child ripped from your arms?”

“I do.” Charles nodded.

Barbara lifted her head and cast her bleary eyes on Charles’ face.

“I was married once.” Charles said. “My wife and child were killed.”

“How?” Barbara sniffed.

“I don’t wish to discuss it presently,” Charles shook his head. “Perhaps another time.”

“I’m sorry,” Barbara said, putting her head back on Charles’ shoulder.

“So am I.” Charles whispered.

A flash of fiery orange and blue in front of them in the dark startled Charles and as his eyes adjusted, he realized that Ulrika Rittenhouse was approaching them.

“Ah, Barbara,” Ulrika hissed. “Arthur’s barely out to sea, and you’ve already found another pair of arms to comfort you.”

“Go away, Ulrika.” Barbara said, without looking up.

“Who’s watching your baby?” Ulrika grinned. “Have you found an au pair already? However can you afford it on your wages? You do receive wages, don’t you? What is your profession these days? Are you still a whore or have you moved on to light housework and occasional kidnapping?”

“Miss Rittenhouse,” Charles said, “Can’t you see that Miss Allen is heartbroken? I’m going to have to ask you to move along, please.”

“I’ll move along,” Ulrika nodded. “But, I can’t guarantee that my associate will be as cooperative.”

From the shadows, Iolanthe Evangeline revealed herself.

“We had an arrangement, Barbara.” Iolanthe hissed. “I don’t take kindly to people breaking promises to me. And, I don’t want you thinkin’ that I do.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-207? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Build Yourself Up

We exercise our bodies so that we’ll look and feel our best, but how often do we exercise our minds and spirits? Through the daily drudgery, we often find ourselves focusing only on what’s directly in front of us. It’s necessity more than it is anything else. However, our thoughts and emotions need stretching, too.

Take a few minutes today to examine how you’re really doing? Are you content? Are you at peace? If something is lacking in your life, try to identify it, so that you can feed your hungry mind and soul. Remember to nourish yourself with peaceful thoughts and information that pleases you. By continually building yourself up, you’ll find that your mind and body will work in perfect harmony.

Object of the Day: An Antique French Portrait

This beautifully rendered portrait was found, unframed in a Dallas antique store. Signed M. Antoine, the painting has all the hallmarks of late Nineteenth Century portraiture which often relied on Classical themes.

Here in startling vivid colors, we see the visage of a young woman—her blonde hair bound in a ribbon which elicits images of ancient Rome. She’s dressed in a simple, embroidered robe. Seen in profile, she is at once both dignified and vulnerable. She gazes ahead with her mouth set in determination and a playful look in her eye.

I can’t really find anything about the identity of the artist. Several painters of the era have combinations of “M” and “Antoine” in their names. Regardless, the artist’s hand and personality are forever preserved in this charming portrait.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Film of the Week: A Place in the Sun, 1951

When George Stevens suggested to Paramount Pictures that he wanted to direct a film version of the 1925 Theodore Dreiser novel, An American Tragedy (which had also been adapted into a play of the same name by Patrick Kearney), they swiftly disapproved the idea on the grounds that the studio had already produced an adaptation of the property. Stevens, relatively new to Paramount fumed that he was unable to direct the picture (that he knew would be a tremendous success) and was forced to sue the studio. Stevens was triumphant, as, thankfully for Paramount, so was A Place in the Sun—the title Stevens gave to this screen version.

Paramount Pictures
The story concerns the pursuit of the “American Dream.” Here, it has been updated from the 1920’s to post-war America and tells the tale of a handsome, intelligent young man, George Eastman, who has struggled against poverty his entire life. George dreams of “the good life.” To him, this means a beautiful wife and wealth. He entreats a wealthy uncle to employ him and ends up with a job in the family factory where he encounters a shy, plain young woman named Alice.

Paramount Pictures
George is bored and restless—filled with youthful energy and passion. To pass the time, he engages in a flirtation with Alice despite the company policy against fraternizing with the factory girls. Through George’s hard work, he garners the attention of his uncle and finds himself introduced to the lifestyle about which he’d always dreamed. At a swanky party, he meets a dazzling debutante—Angela Vickers. George falls madly and instantly in love with Angela and vows that they will be together. However, the cost of his love will be more than he had imagined. When Alice announces that she’s carrying George’s child, the young man’s thoughts turn quickly toward finding a speedy means of erasing his problems without Angela’s knowledge.

Clift and Taylor enjoyed each others company
both on and off set.
Paramount Pictures
George Stevens was quick to cast twenty-nine-year -old Montgomery Clift as George Eastman. Clift had already had success in films and showed that he was a versatile and sensitive performer. For the key role of Angela Vickers, Stevens selected a seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor had only starred in family films. “Angela” would be her first adult role and she proved that she was more than up to the task. With her striking features and clad in Edith Head’s chic, yet virginal wardrobe, Taylor showed that she was ready to work with a leading man who wasn’t a horse or a dog. She and Clift developed a deep friendship during this period which would last until his premature death at the age of forty-five.

Stevens had a bigger task in casting the role of “Alice.” Shelley Winters—known for her platinum locks and glamour girl ways—was interested in the role, but Stevens deemed her to be too much of a beauty for the part. By dying her hair brown, dressing in frumpy clothes and acting shy and reserved, Winters was able to fool Stevens when he arrived to meet her. Upon finally recognizing her, he agreed to test her for the part. Thus began a new chapter in Winters’ career and the first of what seems like many movies in which she drowns.

Everything from the costumes and Franz Waxman’s famously haunting score work harmoniously in this glorious film which is punctuated with long, slow dissolves, and deep, loving close-ups. It’s part art-film and part love story with a lot of tragedy thrown in. The centerpiece of it all are the performances of the three main characters. Winters is surprisingly convincing as dull, whiny Alice while Taylor gives the first truly good performance of her career. Clift, as always, is appropriately tense and completely absorbed in his character. Plus, Clift and Taylor are just so darn pretty that it’s hard to resist the picture.

This is the ideal 1950’s film and is sure not to disappoint.

Humanitarian of the Week: Jenna Elfman

Jenna Elfman
Through her work in television and in films, Jenna Elfman has made us laugh and kept us entertained since she began her career as an actor in 1990. However, Miss Elfman has also been making us think for as long as she’s been in the public eye.

Jenna Elfman, in addition to her two full-time careers as a wife/mother and an actress, has a third occupation—fighting for the rights of people and animals. Applauded for her philanthropic efforts as often as she is her excellent comic timing, Jenna Elfman is a patron of numerous charities which touch her heart. She has long supported youth and education programs and has dedicated her time and efforts to these causes.

Miss Elfman is a staunch supporter of criminal rehabilitation and has tirelessly assisted efforts to create programs which will allow former inmates a chance to start new and better lives after leaving prison.

Her generous spirit does not end with humans. Miss Elfman is a longtime champion of animal rights as well—donating her energies to helping The Human Society of the United States raise funds to rescue the nation’s abandoned or abused animals through television appearances and a variety of charitable events.

For all of the joy that she’s brought to the hearts of many a creature, Jenna Elfman is our “Humanitarian of the Week.”

Her Majesty’s Furniture: A Chippendale Dressing Table, 1762

Dressing Table
Thomas Chippendale, 1762
The Lady Lever Art Gallery
Furnishing such as this Chinese-inspired Rococo piece grace the Royal residences—many of which are decorated in a modified Rococo style. This particular piece is the work of Thomas Chippendale—perhaps the most celebrated name in English furniture design.

When Chippendale first arrived in London from Yorkshire in the 1750’s, he came without any connections or opportunities and made a name for himself by publishing catalogs of his designs. By the third edition of this publication, he had already built several of the example designs that he presented. This dressing table was created for Lady Arniston and features inlays of rosewood, mahogany and maple with gilt pine and ormolu mounts. The shelf beneath the moveable mirror would have been hidden behind a curtain which is now lost.

As styles changed from the Rococo to the Neoclassical, so did Chippendale’s designs. This Rococo style, however, remained a popular model and Chippendale would create modified versions of this piece throughout his career.

The Belle Époque Today: Hitched! Wedding Clothes and Customs at Sudley House

"Traveler's Wedding Dress," 2010
Hitched: Wedding Clothes and Customs
Sudley House, Liverpool
Liverpool’s gorgeous Sudley House—the Nineteenth Century mansion of a wealthy corn merchant—has been neatly maintained as a museum of cultural trends. Sudley House is currently featuring an exciting exhibition of wedding clothes from the Victorian to the ultra-contemporary and everything in between.

The collections shows how the styles of wedding gowns and suits from era to era as well as focuses on the customs and wardrobes of different cultures and community groups. This fascinating exhibit runs through May 2, 2011. If you’re near Liverpool, I think it would a lot of fun to visit. If, like me, you’re nowhere near Liverpool, Sudley House’s nifty Web site will give you a glimpse at these beautiful items.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 207

Marjani panted as she caught up with Robert, Mr. Punch and the baby.

“Was that Marie Laveau over there?” Robert asked.

“Yes, Sir.” Marjani coughed.

“Can’t we never have no moment without them folk interferin’?” Mr. Punch grumbled.

“No one’s got peace with the likes of Marie and Iolanthe about.” Marjani sighed, catching her breath.

“What did she want?” Robert asked as they walked briskly.

“The baby.” Marjani said softly.

“Ain’t that grand?” Mr. Punch muttered, glancing at the child in Robert’s arms and then, briefly over his shoulder to the spot in the distance where Barbara still stood, sobbing in Charles’ arms.

“However did you subdue her?” Robert asked.

“Well, Sir.” Marjani said breathlessly. “I hope you don’t mind, but I borrowed some of them chemicals from your case.”

“Did you?” Robert raised his eyebrows.

“See, I learned a thing or two ‘bout how certain things go together and how they don’t. You know, when I’m mixin’ my colors for the dye I use on my textiles? I knew if I mixed some things in a certain way, when they hit the air, they’d make a smoke. I thought it’d scare anyone who thought they’d need for to bother us.”

“Good thinking,” Robert nodded as the baby reached for his face. “It seems to have worked.”

“Well, Sir, it did at that. But, I didn’t count on Marie gettin’ cut by the glass I done used to hold the liquid.”

“Ah,” Robert sighed.

“She’s fit to be tied.” Marjani sighed.

“She would have been for one reason or another anyway.” Robert mumbled. “We’ll cope with it.”

“We got bigger problems, Chums.” Mr. Punch said, pausing.

“I know.” Robert answered. “Let’s stop in here.” He pointed to a small café.

“Sir, I can’t go in there with you,” Marjani whispered.

“You…” Robert’s eyes widened. “Oh.” He shook his head. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“What about the mews?” Punch asked.

They ducked into an alley between two long, shot-gun buildings.

“Now,” Mr. Punch began. “Edward Cage has got his men’s eyes trained on our house. We had such a time gettin’ out of the house without bein’ followed. Adrienne had to distract them. Only, I don’t think there’s anyway we can get back in without bein’ noticed. ‘Specially carryin’ Colin.”

“We certainly can’t all go in at once.” Robert frowned.

“I got an idea, Mr. Punch.” Marjani grinned. “That is, if you’ll let me do it.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-206? If so, you can read them here.