Saturday, May 7, 2011

Saturday Sparkle: Queen Mary’s Stomacher, circa 1920

Queen Mary's Stomacher
Circa 1920
Gold and Diamonds
The Royal Collection
I love the word “stomacher.” The term often refers to a decorative fabric panel of a triangular shape that fits into the front of a woman’s gown at the bodice. It also refers to a similarly shaped piece of jewelry which is worn in the same spot on a gown.

This stomacher was made for Mary of Teck around 1920, possible by Garrard’s. This magnificent work of gold and diamonds is actually three brooches that can be worn as one piece or individually. It was constructed from the large diamonds from two of her wedding presents: the “Kapurthala” stomacher and the ‘Town of Swansea’ crescent, both given in 1893. Queen Mary wore the stomacher frequently and made it a gift to her granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) on her wedding day in 1947.

Painting of the Day: Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee Service at Westminster Abbey, 1887

Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee Service at
Westminster Abbey
William Ewart Lockart,, 1887-1900
The Royal Collection
To commemorate the first fifty years of her illustrious reign, the people of Britain gathered to watch Queen Victoria enter Westminster Abbey on June 21, 1887 as she attended a regal service in her honor.

The event was captured by photographers and painters alike. This scene from within the abbey is the work of William Ewart Lockart (1846-1900) at the request of the Queen. The painting took three years to complete, delivered to Victoria in 1890.

The Art of Play: The Stuff of Nightmares

Mechanical toy cat, German 1900-1910,
and mechanical toy monkey, probably Schuco, 1920s
The Museum of Childhood
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Until February, 2012, The Museum of Childhood at the Victoria & Albert Museum, welcomes you to a magical and somewhat sinister world of unusual toys in their recently transformed Front Room Gallery.

Celebrated artists worked with school children to create this interesting installation which shows the innocence of a child’s playthings against a backdrop of fairytale mystery. Among the items on display are these mechanical German toys—a cat and a monkey respectively—which date between 1900 and 1920. The stuff of nightmares, indeed. But, an opportunity to find the innocence in superficial fear.

At the Music Hall: “I’ve Got Rings on My Fingers,” 1909

Sure, I've got rings on my fingers,
Bells on my toes,
Elephants to ride upon,
My little Irish Rose
So, come to your Nabob
And next Patrick's Day
Be Mistress Mumbo Jumbo Jijjiboo J. O'Shea

Written in 1909, with lyrics by Weston and Barnes, and music by Maurice Scott, “I’ve Got Rings on My Fingers,” quickly became a popular song of the late Edwardian era. The song tells the tale of an Irishman, Jim O’Shea who finds himself a castaway in the East Indies. The natives are delighted by O’Shea’s ginger hair and bright smile and make him their leader whereupon he writes to his girlfriend to invite her to join him there.

The lyrics borrow a line from a popular nursery rhyme:

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes.

The song debuted in the musical comedy, “The Midnight Sons” and was popularized by stage star Blanche Ring. Enjoy this rendition of the song by Miss Ring, and also, a clip from the Second Series finale of Upstairs, Downstairs from 1972. In this clip at about 4:20, Rose Buck references the song while discussing Miss Lizzie’s latest romantic conquest with Mrs. Bridges and Roberts on the eve of the death of King Edward VII.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 239

He agreed to that awful fast,” Mr. Punch grumbled as he settled into his favorite spot in front of the fire in the parlor.

Cecil stumbled into his preferred arm chair and groaned. “Are you surprised?”

“Not ‘specially—dirty rotter.” Punch mumbled, patting his leg so Toby would join him by the fire. Toby trotted forward, wagging his tail at Mr. Punch who couldn’t help but smile at the terrier. His smile faded a bit. “Arthur will do anything what benefits Arthur.”

“Do you think we can trust him?” Cecil asked.

“No.” Mr. Punch sighed. “But, what have we got to lose? I wonder if he’ll have his way with that wretched Ulrika. She’s not too keen on us, she isn’t.”

“We’re going to have to do something soon.” Cecil barked. “People are going to begin to realize you’re not dead.”

“True,” Punch nodded, rubbing the dog’s stomach. “Not as if I’ve done a very good job of hidin’. ‘Sides, Ulrika and Edward know and I’m sure they ain’t gonna keep their silence—specially Ulrika since we didn’t hear her out.”

“No.” Cecil shrugged. “This didn’t quite go as we planned.”

“I’d say not,” Punch yawned.

Cecil bolted upright and slammed his fists on the arms of the chair. “Damn it!”

“What?” Punch responded, quite startled.

“Where are Adrienne and Robert?” Cecil bellowed. “For once, I’m at a loss. I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, you’ll get no help from me, I’m ‘fraid. Me head is all full of nonsense and chatter. Julian’s got a lot to say ‘bout all this, he does.”

“I have no doubt.” Cecil grumbled. “Perhaps he might have something constructive to add.”

“From what I’m hearin’, there ain’t nothin’ goin’ on inside us what’s worth repeating.” Punch shrugged.

“Pity,” Cecil sighed.

Meridian knocked on the parlor door and poked her head inside. “Gentlemen, there’s a man named Jedidiah at the back door with dresses for Missus Adrienne.”

“Just collect them and bring them upstairs.” Cecil said, waving his hand at Meridian. “Please.”

“He wants to see you, Sir.” Meridian explained.

“Wants payment, does he?” Cecil scowled, standing up.

“I think it will be worth seein’ him.” Meridian smiled. “Mr. Punch, too.”

“What do I care ‘bout dresses?” Mr. Punch shrugged.

“You’ll care about these, Your Grace.” Meridian winked.

“If you say so,” Mr. Punch rose and followed Cecil and Meridian to the back of the house.

Jedidiah Routhe was a lean, dark man with a pinched face and calloused hands. He didn’t smile when he saw Cecil and Punch, but he didn’t grimace either.

“Which one of you two is Mr. Cecil?” he asked as the men approached.

“I am.” Cecil nodded.

“These are for you.” Jedidiah nodded to the bundle of gowns which hung over his arm.

“What is the bill?” Cecil asked.

“Here.” Jedidiah responded, forcing a scrap of paper into Cecil’s hand. He then handed the gowns to Meridian and turned to leave, muttering “See you ‘round” as he walked away.

“But…” Cecil began, unfolding the paper. He read it. Relief passed over his face. “They’re safe, Mr. Punch. They’re safe!”

Meanwhile, Arthur and Gerald were lingering around the back garden of Edward Cage’s house, hoping to catch a glimpse of Ulrika.

“So tell me ‘bout this one,” Gerald whispered. “She ain’t your wife.”

“No, she’s some ginger bitch with too much money and too much time.” Arthur laughed. “But, she fancies me and she’ll be able to give us the help we need.”

“And, she’s got this diamond what that Halifax bloke wants?”

“She does.” Arthur smiled. “Among many other valuable things.”

A flash of red near the house caught Arthur’s attention and he sprung into action, calling, “Ulrika.”

Ulrika gasped as she rushed toward Arthur. “You’ve returned.”

“I have, Miss.” Arthur grinned. “And, I’m all for you.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-238? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, May 9, 2011 for Chapter 240 of Punch’s Cousin.

Goal for the Day: Commemorate Your Milestones

While most of us don’t have the opportunity to celebrate fifty years as Sovereign of a major world empire, we can celebrate the small victories that we achieve each year, and even each day. Whether it’s seniority in a job or the anniversary of moving into a new home, each week brings reminders of our triumphs. These can be honored and observed in a variety of ways.

Whether you cut some flowers from your garden to create a pleasing arrangement in honor of the day or finally begin that scrapbook you’ve been talking about, by doing something to remind yourself of the wonderful things you’ve accomplished, you’re also giving yourself a chance to realize even more great moments.

Object of the Day: A Souvenir of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, 1887

In 1887, all of Britain celebrated the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria and honored her fifty years on the throne with a procession that as Mark Twain described it, “stretched to the limit of sight in both directions," a lavish banquet and a service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey.

English merchants produced a variety of souvenirs marking the occasion. Images of the queen, sculptures, china and glass items were available for the public to have a lasting reminder of the historic event. Among them, pressed glass items such as this dome were produced. Long separated from its mate, it’s certainly the lid to some kind of vessel—either a candy dish or a biscuit jar. The dome is all that remains of the original object. But, after nearly a century and a quarter, it’s amazing that this even remains at all.

It reads, “The Queen’s Jubilee, 1837-1887,” with the initials of “V.R.” and decorative Maltese crosses. A similar cross forms a handle at the top.

Recently found at a North Texas antique store, looking quite lonely, it came home with me. While it’s bottom half is no longer with us, it now sits atop a crystal compote and catches the colored light from the hallway window quite beautifully. When I walk by it, I am reminded of Queen Victoria, and, so, after all these years, it once again serves its purpose.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Gifts of Grandeur: Queen Mary’s Diamond Bangles, 1893

Pair of Gold and Diamond Bangles
Presented to Mary of Teck in 1893
The Royal Collection
In 1893, as a wedding gift, Mary of Teck (after 1911, known as Queen Mary), was presented with a gorgeous pair of gold and diamond bangles by the Bombay Presidency. Knowing how much Mary loved sparkly things, I’m pretty sure she liked them.

There were two things that Queen Mary cared for more than art and jewels—her family and her country. In 1947, she presented these bangles to her granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) on the occasion of her marriage to the Duke of Edinburgh.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: The Piccini Punch

"Piccini Punch" by Chris van der Craats
As we approach the beginning of Covent Garden’s May Fayre on Sunday and Mr. Punch’s 349th birthday on Monday, May 9, it’s the perfect time to revisit the work of “Piccini.” In the early Nineteenth Century, a travelling puppeteer known as Giovanni Piccini was attracting enthusiastic audiences to his Punch & Judy shows. His work was recorded by artist George Cruikshank who made the image of Mr. Punch famous. It is this variant of Mr. Punch which often comes to mind when thinking of good old Punch.

Punch & Judy Professors occasionally use puppets based on Piccini’s. Australian puppeteer and puppet-maker, Chris van der Craats makes an attractive and authentic reproduction of Piccini’s grimacing hero. He looks good for his age, Mr. Punch does.

(This video shows the puppet in action.  It's an odd size, so don't think it's your computer). 

Schematic for the puppet.
Chris van der Craats

Antique Image of the Day: Princess Alexandra and her Grandchildren, 1897

Photograph of Alexandra, Princess of Wales
(later Queen Alexandra) with her grandchildren.
Frame by Fabergé, 1897
The Royal Collection
Alexandra, Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra, consort of King Edward VII) was known in public as a charming, dignified and sympathetic woman. Her love for her country was great as was her love of the people of England. Despite crippling illness, increasing deafness, much tragedy and a philandering husband, she made frequent visits around England. She spent a good amount of time bringing cheer to those who suffered from illness and was often seen quietly visiting hospitals. On one of those visits, she met Joseph Merrick (not “John” as many people think) who is more commonly known as “The Elephant Man.”

In private, Alexandra was a doting mother and grandmother who loved evenings at home with her children and her dogs. She was considered to be jolly and easy-going as well as fiercely protective of her family.

This 1897 photograph of Alexandra, taken just four years before she ascended as Queen Consort, shows her affection for her grandchildren. Seen here cuddling two of her grandchildren, Lady Alexandra and Maud Duff—the daughters of her daughter, Princess Louise (Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife) and the 6th Earl Fife.

Of note is the frame which is another example of Alexandra’s love of Fabergé. The frame of gold, silver-gilt, guilloché enamel, diamond, mother-of-pearl takes a neo-gothic form which shows a stylistic transition from the ideals of late Victorian design to the soon-to-come sensibilities of the Edwardian.

Friday Fun: Mr. Punch in Australia

“He’s trying to eat you!”  This video clip of Mr. Punch, filmed by Chris van der Craats (“Professor Whatsit”) at the Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland, Australia, demonstrates exactly why the art of the Punch Professor is so wonderful.  The interaction with the children in the audience is remarkable. 

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 238

Barbara Allen handed over the few coins she had in her purse.

“How much is it now?” Barbara asked.

“Enough,” Charles smiled.

“Enough for what?” Barbara sighed

“Enough to make sure that we have food in our stomachs and a roof over our heads for a few nights—providing you’re not after luxury.”

“I’ve long given up luxury.” Barbara chuckled.

“This is only temporary,” Charles said reassuringly. “I’ll soon find employment.”

“No doubt.” Barbara nodded, her smile fading.

“What’s bothering you?” Charles asked.

“I was thinking of Julian.” Barbara said softly.

“I have been as well.” Charles sighed.

“I wish I could have seen him once more,” Barbara began to cry. “My brother. Dead. And, my son…” her tears fell raw and wet as her mind raced with terrible thoughts. Unaware that Julian and her boy were still alive, Barbara’s grief was so substantial that she felt as if she carried another being—draped in black crepe—on her shoulder.

A clap of thunder startled Barbara and she rushed toward Charles who comforted her in his arms.

“I think we’d best find shelter for the night. I believe we’re in for a storm.” Charles said, rubbing Barbara’s back.

“Of course we are,” Barbara wept. “Of course we are.”

As the rain began to pelt down on Royal Street, Cecil and Mr. Punch crept up behind the two men who peered into their windows.

“Course it’s you, you scoundrel.” Mr. Punch growled upon seeing Arthur. “Dressed yourself up in a gentleman’s clothes, but you’re still the same devil.”

“Is that any way to greet your brother-in-law?” Arthur cooed.

“I hate you, I do.” Punch grumbled. “Glad I was when I heard you’d been sent out to sea again. Wish you’d drowned. But, like a bad penny, you keep comin’ back. This time, I see you got another fool to do your bidding. This one’s considerable less attractive than Ulrika Rittenhouse. Gotten desperate, have you?”

“Tsk, tsk,” Arthru clucked his tongue.

“What do you want, Arthur?” Cecil bellowed.

“Just a little cheer from my family. And, maybe some assistance in makin’ a new life for me-self.”

“Gold.” Cecil nodded.

“If you could see fit to give me some, yes.” Arthur grinned.

“Whatever would possess either of us to give you anything?” Cecil snapped.

“Well, Sir, it seems that there’s been news of the death of the Duke of Fallbridge. Can’t help but hear it bein’ talked about on the streets—what with Iolanthe Evangeline bein’ held in custody. It’s quite the scandal.” Arthur winked. “I was so terrible sad to hear it, too. But, imagine how I rejoiced when I spied my old friend and employer alive and well, playin’ with his puppet and his dog like the big infant that he is.”

“So, your game is blackmail now?” Punch shook his head.

“No, Sir. Simply a small fee to keep my mouth closed. It’s not my place to ask you why you want folk to think you’re dead. But, it is my place to make sure that they continue to think it.”

“We’ll give you want you want.” Cecil grunted.

“We will?” Mr. Punch asked, his eyes widening.

“Yes. Of course, Arthur will have to do a little something for us, first.” Cecil nodded. “It’s going to take more than your silence to earn your fee.”

“Now, I don’t know that I feel that it’d be right for me to be workin’ for you anymore.” Arthur frowned.

“This is a task you’ll enjoy.” Cecil responded.

“Can’t imagine what that could be.” Arthur scowled.

“I want you to find your way back into Ulrika Rittenhouse’s bed.” Cecil smiled. “And when you’ve finished, I want you to return to me with a trophy of your conquest.”

“What might that be?”

“The Duke’s blue diamond.” Cecil grinned.

Did you miss Chapters 1-237? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Remember Mother’s Day

The Nest
John Everett Millais
The Lady Lever Art Gallery
Mother’s Day, in the U.S., is this Sunday. It’s a wonderful time to remember all that your mother has done for you from giving you life to guiding you through it. Make sure to honor your mother on this special day.

If you’re not able to be with your mother on Mother’s Day, there are still a variety of things that you can do to honor her or her memory. Today, if you can, take some time to look through old family photos and remember the happy times spent with your family. By remembering where we come from, we’ll have a better sense of where we’re going.

Object of the Day: A Royal Doulton Commemorative Mug

Royal Doulton has been producing exceptional tableware, china and collectables since 1815. The very name is revered for its quality and it has become associated with fine English style and culture. The artists at Royal Doulton have also been known to participate in the tradition of producing Royal souvenirs such as this gold-rimmed China mug made to commemorate the 1911 coronation of King George V and Queen Mary.

I’ve written at length about my appreciation of Mary of Teck. In fact, as I write this, she’s glowering down at me from a lovely photograph. She’s beautifully represented on this mug as is George V who looks far more handsome than he really was. A notable bit of trivia is that the artist has taken great pains to represent the Royal badges and insignia worn by the King and Queen Consort. For example, the Badge of the Order of Victoria and Albert is clearly identifiable amongst the jewels on Mary’s sash.

Queen Mary's Badge of the Order of Victoria and Albert
The Royal Collection

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Enchanted Bertie

“You call this an enchanted garden?  Where are the sandwiches?”

Image: The Enchanted Garden, John William Waterhouse, 1917 (unfinished at the time of the artist’s death), The Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool.

Gifts of Grandeur: The Queen Mother’s Diamond Chandelier Earrings, 1918

Pair of Diamond Chandelier Earrings
Cartier, 1918 and 1922
Commissioned by The Hon. Mrs. R. Greville
Bequeathed to the Queen Mother, 1942
Presented to Queen Elizabeth II, 1947
The Royal Collection
The original owner of these magnificent earrings was the Honorable Mrs. Ronald Greville who asked Cartier to create the pair using every conceivable cut of diamond. In 1918, Cartier presented Mrs. Greville with the earring sans the six large pear-shaped drops. In 1922, the jewelers are Cartier added the drops, giving the finished product an astonishing variety of modern diamond cuts: half moon, trapeze, square, pear, baguette and emerald.

These were among the magnificent collection of jewelry which Mrs. Greville bequeathed to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, upon her passing in 1942. In 1947, the Queen Mother gifted the earrings to her daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth II, as a wedding gift.

Mastery of Design: The Fabergé Mosaic Egg, 1914

Imperial Easter Egg
Mosaic of gold, platinum, enamel, rose and brilliant diamonds,
rubies, emeralds, topaz, quartz, sapphires, garnets, moonstone
1914 Fabergé
Designed by Alma Theresia Pihl
Purchased for Queen Mary, 1933
The Royal Collection
Commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II for Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, this remarkable, three-dimensional mosaic of gold, platinum, enamel, rose and brilliant diamonds, rubies, emeralds, topaz, quartz, sapphires, garnets, moonstone was confiscated by the provisional Russian government in 1917. After being sold, it passed through several sets of hands before being purchased by King George V as a gift for his wife, Mary of Teck.

This imperial Easter egg features five oval medallions filled with a repeating design of miniature flowers. The intricate design was by Alma Theresia Pihl, the granddaughter of August Holmström, Fabergé's principal jeweler. By 1914, August Holmström had retired and his workshop was taken over by his nephew Albert Holmström who acted as the work-master responsible for the production of this egg.

The skill needed to produce this complicated design is almost unfathomable. Each gemstone had to be precisely cut to fit into its proper place in the platinum framework which supports the piece. The dimensions of each stone had to be carefully calculated in advance.

This egg, like the other Imperial Easter Eggs, bears a hidden “surprise” inside of it. When opened, an enamel medallion surmounted by the imperial crown is held in place by two gold clips. One side of the medallion features the profiles of the five imperial children while the reverse shows their names and the dates of their births. An added surprise is the initials of the Tsarina beneath the moonstone at the base of the egg.

Perhaps one of the most difficult of designs produced by The House of Fabergé, the egg was dedicated to Fabergé’s father, Gustav whose initials are included on the reverse of the medallion.

Unfolding Pictures: Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation Fan, 1937

Queen Elizabeth's Coronation Fan
Ostrich Feathers, Tortoiseshell, gold, diamonds
English, 1937
The Royal Collection
The art of creating large and elegant fans from ostrich feathers reached a pinnacle in the mid Nineteenth Century. Queen Elizabeth, later the Queen Mother, had always admired these antique fans. For the 1937 coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Worshipful Company of Fan-makers banded together to create a special gift for their new queen. As was tradition, they sought to make the fan entirely from materials native to Great Britain.

The result is this magnificent fan of ostrich feathers with blond tortoiseshell guards and sticks. Made in the style of the mid-Nineteenth Century, the fan is the work of Charles Beale Gunner of the Worshipful Company of Fan-makers who included a crowned “Double E” cipher in gold (supplied by R. & S. Garrard & Co.) on the front guard.

Before it was presented to the future Queen, the fan was displayed for all to see—along with many of the other coronation gifts. The Queen Mother never really used the fan. For this reason, it’s in remarkably good condition, retaining its original box.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 237

Adrienne scratched her nose to avoid sneezing. The long, tight upper floor of the house didn’t smell unpleasant, but the aroma of fabric and dye tickled her nose. She studied their new surroundings. They were decidedly modest, but exceptionally clean. The walls were decorated with color prints of fashionable ladies in elegant gowns. The furniture, though threadbare, was comfortable and neatly arranged to make the best use of the space which had been divided by pieced-together drapes suspended from ropes. The drapes were made of high-quality fabrics, and Adrienne assumed that they were a mosaic of the left-over cloth from the dresses which were assembled in the workshop below them. “How little privacy they have here,” Adrienne thought to herself. Yet the residents seemed contented enough.

First there was the woman to whom they were first introduced. She insisted that Adrienne and Robert both call her “Mama.” However, Adrienne overheard Marjani call her by her Christian name—some African-sounding moniker that Adrienne was sure she couldn’t pronounce. The man of the house seemed to be called, “Jedidiah.” Mama referred to him frequently as she quietly insisted to Marjani that though he’d be gruff, he would not mind the intrusion of Marjani and her companions. Three other, smaller, residents sat in that room with them, quietly smiling from a low table in one corner. A small girl named Sophie seemed to be the center of attention as she was tended to an older girl named Hannah. A boy—slightly older—sat near his sisters, but was more interested in the two white people and the baby who had come so unexpectedly into their home.

Adrienne looked to Robert who sat next to her, quietly holding the baby. He smiled at her to quiet her uncertainty. “I’m sure we’ll be quite fine,” he whispered.

Adrienne nodded.

“’Course you will,” Mama Routhe said, coming closer, having overheard Robert’s comment. “We’re gonna help ya. Marjani done tol’ me ‘bout your troubles and we’re gonna help ya.”

“I do appreciate it.” Robert nodded. “But, I’m afraid that we may be bringing danger to your doorstep.”

“Sir,” Mama smiled, “Danger’s always scratchin’ at the door with its claws. Ain’t no matter.”

“You see,” Marjani nodded. “We’re safe here.”

“Thank you,” Adrienne smiled.

“Now, the first thing we gotta do is let Mr. Punch and Mr. Halifax know we’re all right.” Marjani said.

“Yes.” Robert nodded.

“But, how?” Adrienne asked. “Surely Edward Cage will be watching the house. There’s no way that any of us could get back without him seeing.”

“But, I can get there.” Mama Routhe smiled.

“You?” Robert asked. “You would do that?”

“Certainly.” Mama nodded. “Listen, who’s to say this fine lady didn’t order a dress from me? I gotta spare dress that some lady never picked up. I can carry that over to your house and ‘deliver’ it along with a message. No one will think nothin’ of it.”

“That’s quite intelligent.” Robert grinned.

“Course it is!” Mama laughed. “Now, there’s some paper and ink over by the youngsters. One of ya needs to write a note and we’ll set ‘bout getting’ it to Royal Street.”

Meanwhile at the house on Royal Street, Mr. Punch had just finished his sausage and biscuits and sat on the floor of the parlor with Toby and his puppet. In his chair by the fire, Cecil had begun to doze off. Punch tried to be quiet so as not to bother his friend, yet he couldn’t resist chattering to the dog and their wooden-headed friend.

“Oh, everything’s at sixes and sevens, Chums.” Mr. Punch muttered in a hushed voice. “Ol’ Mr. Punch has gone and made a mess of things. I had good intentions, I did. Wanted to protect that fine baby boy what’s got me master’s blood in his veins. Now, what have we got? Nothin’. Don’t know where they are, got that Cage man watchin’ us—waitin’ for us to make a mistake, got that ginger beastie making threats and Iolanthe sittin’ in prison, gettin’ angrier by the second—knowin’ we done her wrong.” He sighed. “Don’t know if I can take one more thing.”

He lifted up the puppet and tapped on its head. “You’re lucky, you are. You ain’t gotta think.”

Toby wagged his tail as Meridian rushed into the room.

“Whatever is it?” Punch asked.

Cecil sputtered awake. “Meridian?”

“Sir, there’s two men sneakin’ ‘round on the property.” Meridian said in a frightened whisper. “I done saw them out the back parlor window.”

“Some of Edward Cage’s men?” Cecil asked.

“No, Sir.” Meridian shook her head. “One of ‘em looks an awful lot like that rascal, Arthur.”

“Can’t be!” Mr. Punch moaned.

“Why not?” Cecil grumbled. “Seems that everyone but the Devil himself is after us.”

“Well, Chum,” Mr. Punch rose, “I beat the Devil, and I can beat these folk, too.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-236? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Allow Yourself the Opportunity to Explore

We all have interests and, in our own ways, we’re all experts in a particular field. So often, the details of daily life prevent us from exploring our fields of interest. However, it’s important to foster your expertise and give yourself a chance to learn as much as you can about the things which most excite you.

Make time each day to take a break from your many responsibilities and explore your interests. While some priorities are more pressing, increasing your level of knowledge should always be near the top of the list.

Object of the Day: An Antique Photograph of Prince Albert

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (later The Prince Consort; Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel (1819-1861), is forever known as the beloved husband of Queen Victoria for whom she mourned until the end of her long life in 1901. After their 1840 marriage, Prince Albert was a vital part of the Royal Family and responsible for setting the tone for future generations of Royals who have followed his advise that the Royal Family should always maintain a position above politics. Aside from his role in running the Royal households, Prince Albert was a major contributor to the designs and fashion of the day and showed that he was a talented designer (especially of jewelry) in his own right. An avid sportsman and patron of the arts, Albert was tirelessly devoted to his family and ensuring their education and well-being.

This photograph is Albert dates between 1840 and 1850 and is actually French in origin, most likely sold as a souvenir. On the front mat, the words “Le Prince Albert” have been written in pencil. The same hand has written, “P-ce Albert” on the reverse. The back of the photo bears two stamps. One states it comes from the, “Maison Alph Giroux” and that “William et Cie” was the photographer. Maison Alphonse Giroux was a Parisian dealer of art ranging from sculptures to photographs.

Prince Albert showed a keen interest in photography and enjoyed collecting photos and working with photographers. Images similar to this one are still housed in The Royal Collection.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Precious Time: The Jean-Pierre Latz Clock, 1735-1740

Rococo Clock
Jean-Pierre Latz
The Royal Collection
King George IV collected a variety of different objects, but he was always quite passionate about those which had some connection to France. In 1816, while still Prince Regent, George purchased this clock which was said to have been from the collection of the Palace of Versailles. The clock, designed by Jean-Pierre Latz between 1735 and 1740 in a distinct Rococo style, was actually quite out of fashion by 1816 as Neoclassicism was on the rise.

Regardless of its out-moded (for the time) design, the association with Versailles was too enticing to the Prince Regent. He displayed the clock as the centerpiece of The Grand Staircase at Carlton House.

Place of the Week: Covent Garden, London

Situated on the eastern edges of London’s famous West End, between Drury and St. Martin’s Lanes, lies historic Covent Garden. Since the mid Twentieth Century, this former fruit and vegetable market has been a thriving tourist and shopping attraction, playing host to millions of yearly visitors. In addition to a variety of shops, public houses and restaurants, Covent Garden is also the home of the Royal Opera House, St. Paul’s Church (known as The Actors’ Church), the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the London Transport Museum.

Of special interest (to me, anyway), Covent Garden was Mr. Punch’s first home in England after his metamorphosis from his Italian Pulcinella roots. According to the famous story, Samuel Pepys was the first to make written mention of Punch when he observed a puppet show offered by a “Professor” known as “Signor Bologna” on May 9, 1662. Pepys wrote in his diary on that date, “Thence with Mr. Salisbury, who I met there, into Covent Garden to an alehouse, to see a picture that hangs there, which is offered for 20s., and I offered fourteen—but it is worth much more money—but did not buy it, I having no mind to break my oath. Thence to see an Italian puppet play that is within the rayles there, which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw, and great resort of gallants.” The date of this first written mention of Mr. Punch was adopted as his birthday. So, on Monday, he’ll be embarking on his 349th birthday. Punch will forever be associated with Covent Garden. A plaque commemorates his birthplace, and his presence is evident everywhere from the performances in the square to the pub named in his honor.

Until the sixteenth century, Coven Garden was still a series of connected fields upon which grew fruit trees, flowers and other crops. The area was settled briefly when the land became the center of the Anglo-Saxon trading town of Ludenwic. However, that faded back into fields by the Thirteenth Century when the farm land was acquired by Westminster Abbey as a source of crops of the residents of the abbey. At this point, the land was often referred to “The Garden of the Abbey and the Convent”—casually known as “Covent Garden.” The land remained under the direction of Westminster Abbey until it was appropriated by Henry VIII in 1540. Henry gave the land which crosses into both the Cities of Westminster and Camden to the Earls of Bedford who, wishing the attract wealthy tenants, commissioned famed architect Inigo Jones to design a series of luxurious townhomes on an elegant square which would prove as the model for London’s swankiest squares.

For awhile, Covent Garden was an elite address, however, the introduction of the Fruit and Vegetable Market in 1654 met with the disapproval of the square’s fashionable residents who quickly moved to newer parts of the City of Westminster. The area soon became disreputable, becoming the home of artists and prostitutes alike. Theaters and pubs became commonplace, and though the market continued to thrive, Covent Garden became known as a less-than savory part of town.

By Queen Victoria’s reign, Parliament had vowed to clean up the area. Charles Fowler’s large neoclassical structure enclosed and organized the market and the theaters began to operate under Royal decree. From 1830 onward, Covent Garden thrived—regaining its status as a gathering place, but also affording a welcoming atmosphere for artists and street performers.

In the 1960’s, traffic in the area made it unsafe. By 1974, the decision was made to move the Fruit and Vegetable market, converting the space into a shopping and recreation area. It remains so today. Covent Garden is one of the iconic spots of London. Visitors to the area flock to this wonderful assortment of buildings and venues to soak up the best of London’s culture.

Unusual Artifacts: The Burnous of Napoleon I

Felt, Silver Thread, Silk
French, 1798
The Royal Collection
Napoleon I was not without his little affectations and he had a bit of a tendency toward theatrical dress. During his campaigns in Egypt, Napoleon I admired the North-African-style cloak known as the burnous and commissioned one to be made in his size. Napoleon was often seen wearing the flame-red cloak with its dramatic hood and embroidery.

The burnous was taken from Napoleon I’s carriage at the Battle of Waterloo and presented to King George IV as a symbol of victory. Since that time, this garment has been neatly preserved in the Royal Collection.

Sculpture of the Day: Two Chinese Figures, 1752-1754

Two Chinese Figures
French, 1752-1754
Acquired by King George IV while Prince Regent
The Royal Collection
This soft-paste porcelain figural group is considered one of the most ambitious sculptures ever attempted by the artists at Vincennes. Not only is the group large—standing at almost nineteen inches tall—but it’s extremely complicated and heavily detailed.

The scene depicts a young boy standing on a coral-strewn beach who approaches a regal young woman, reclining on a tasseled pillow. Minor imperfections can be seen in the sculpture, upon close inspection, showing the difficulty the artists faces in creating the complex central basket and the intricate folds and patterns of the figure’s costumes.

King George IV was drawn to chinoiserie and works with an Asian influence and purchased this piece while still Prince Regent. At some point in the Nineteenth century, the group was incorporated into an elaborate French clock case. At the time, the group was painted with gold details to match the clock case. While the clock is no longer in existence, the gold details remain, making the group appear to have even more depth.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 236

What is this place?” Robert asked as he descended from the carriage.

“It’s the home of my friend.” Marjani said as she smiled up at Robert. “I knew her when we came to this country. She’s now a free woman and lives her with her husband. They make dresses. They’ll look after you until we can get you reunited with your loved ones.”

Marjani helped Adrienne and the baby out of the carriage.

“What should I do with the carriage and horses?” Robert asked.

“I’ll take care of that in a few ticks of the clock,” Marjani said. “Come with me.”

Adrienne and Robert followed Marjani around the back of the building and into a messy courtyard which was littered with dress forms and mannequins. Adrienne soothed the baby who began to fuss, wondering why he was again being brought out into the cold.

Marjani knocked on a thick wooden door and was greeted by a plump woman with a cheerful face.

“Marjani!” The woman chortled. “What you doin’ here, Love.”

“Mama Routhe,” Marjani smiled. “I come here lookin’ for shelter with these fine folk.”

“Come in!” The woman said gleefully. “All are welcome here!”

Meanwhile, Cecil and Mr. Punch walked into their borrowed house on Royal Street. Cecil threw himself into a chair in the parlor.

Meridian hurried in as she heard the men’s voices.

“What’s happened?” Meridian asked nervously. “Where are the others, Sir?”

“Dunno.” Mr. Punch sighed. “They took me nephew and ran off—had to do it, they did, to get away from Edward Cage.”

“Oh, I’m terrible sorry.” Meridian frowned sympathetically. “They’ll find their way back to ya.”

“I know,” Mr. Punch nodded. “I just hope they can do it soon.”

“How’s my son?” Cecil asked.

“Sleepin’ like an angel,” Meridian smiled. “As is Columbia. Gamilla’s up and about and feelin’ better. She’ll be back to her old self in no time.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Mr. Punch answered. “Any sign of Charles?”

“No, Sir.” Meridian frowned again. “I thought he’d be back by now, but I don’t know where he’s gone to.”

“No telling,” Cecil grumbled. “I knew that man would be nothing but trouble.”

“You two men must be starved. Let me bring ya somethin’.” Meridian offered.

“Just some whiskey for me.” Cecil grunted.

“Mr. Halifax, you’re gonna have to eat something.” Meridian began, but stopped herself when Cecil’s eyes flashed with anger.

“As you wish, Sir,” Meridian nodded quickly. “Mr. Punch, I got some fine sausage and biscuits. Would ya like that?”

“I would.” Punch nodded.

The clicking of little nails on the wooden floor made Mr. Punch smile as Toby appeared in the archway, wagging his tail. The dog ran up to Mr. Punch and put his paws on the man’s knees. Punch bent down to stroke the dog. “Hullo, Chum. I missed you, I have.” He picked up the dog and cuddled it.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” Meridian smiled.

“No hurry,” Cecil growled. “I don’t think we’re going anywhere.”

“Now what?” Punch asked after Meridian left. He settled onto the sofa with the dog.

“Now, we wait, I suppose.” Cecil sighed. “I’ve never been good at waiting.”

“Me neither.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “Surely, they’re gonna send word where they are.”

“I hope so.” Cecil grumbled. “If they can.”

“At least we got some peace and quiet—even if it’s just for a short spell.” Mr. Punch said, a hint of hope creeping into his voice.

“Yes, yes.” Cecil answered.

Unbeknownst to them, two pairs of eyes peered at them through the window of the parlor.

“Who are they?” Gerard whispered from outside the house.

“That’s my brother-in-law,” Arthur smiled. “Won’t he be glad to see me?”

Did you miss Chapters 1-235? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Set Long-term Goals

We all have dreams and aspirations, but sometimes they seem terribly out of reach. We tend to get mired in the setbacks, the day-to-day hassles which seem so incredibly urgent, and we let those take priority and divert us from the path on which we wish to travel.

However, we mustn’t lose sight of the things we desire. It’s important to envision ourselves rising above the daily diversions and achieving far greater things. Though there will always be impediments, we can adapt with each of them and find ways to incorporate the inconvenient realities into our dreams. By setting long-term goals, we will always have a map by which we can make our journey infinitely successful.

Object of the Day: A Pressed Glass Dish Commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

Goofus glass—a form of pressed glass which has been reverse-painted with predominantly gold paint—is a distinctly American art form unique to the early Twentieth Century. However, the medium does have predecessors which were created in England at the end of the Nineteenth Century.

British glassmakers produced a form of pressed, reverse-painted glass which features crisp patterns. This was often used to create objects to commemorate special occasions. This sparkling dish is an excellent example of that wonderful art. Here, we have a beautiful dish created in honor of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897—marking sixty years as Monarch.

Reading, “1897, Diamond Jubilee,” the dish bears the image of Queen Victoria, reverse-painted in gold. Around her, a border of symbolic thistles, roses and clover reminds us of the countries in her realm. This lovely dish was made for British subjects wishing to have a souvenir of the long reign of their beloved queen. Victoria’s reign ended with her death in 1901. She will forever be remembered as the monarch under which Britain experienced a period of exceptional growth and development.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Film of the Week: The Queen, 2006

Almost ten years after the tragic and unexpected death of Diana, Princess of Wales, director Stephen Frears and writer Peter Morgan joined forces to create a film based on the aftermath of Diana’s death and the people that her loss most deeply affected—her family.

In many ways, The Queen, at its core, is the story of any modern family who must find their way through a tragic event. We have a close-knit, but splintered family led by a strong matriarch who must coach her family through the death of a loved one. This matriarch is set in her ways and her beliefs and she finds the death of her former daughter-in-law to be a private matter, choosing instead to focus on the feelings of the two young boys left behind. At odds with this matriarch is her rather ineffectual son who struggles with the death of his ex-wife. Throughout their rocky marriage, though they couldn’t make it work, they developed a grudging respect for one another. The head of the family is also torn by the constant commentary of her stuffy, overbearing husband (James Cromwell as The Duke of Edinburgh). Thankfully, she has the advice of her ancient mother to help her through the crisis.

However, this isn’t any ordinary family. This is Britain’s Royal Family. And, there’s one more contingency of the family that needed attention—the people of Britain. The Queen’s subjects were thrown into a period of deep sorrow upon the death of Diana, wondering why the Queen made no public statement of grief. And, so, it is a family that is globally divided, torn by the usual personal politics, but further whittled away by matters of state.

This is the heart of the film—the struggle. Similarly, the struggle between the Queen’s belief in the oath she took as monarch and her faith in her ideals are contrasted against an ever-changing world which is represented by the then-new Prime Minister, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). Blair’s scenes, in fact, are shot on a different film stock, giving them a visual quality which contrasts sharply with the more painterly world of the Queen’s home at Balmoral.

Helen Mirren, OBE, plays the title role with subtle grace and no trace of mimicry despite the fact that she recreates the Queen’s voice and appearance without flaw. While most actors would appear to be doing an impression of a real figure, Mirren makes you believe that she is Queen Elizabeth II, giving the inscrutable monarch a depth of feeling which we suspect she has, but have never seen.

It’s a brilliant film that hits all the right notes. Sensitive to both sides of the argument, the filmmakers have not cast judgment on anyone, but rather report the facts with relatively good accuracy. They’re also to be commended for keeping the two young Princes—William and Harry—out of the equation, only referring to their feelings and showing them from a distance so as to give their real-life counterparts privacy and respect.

The film opened to excellent reviews—for good reason. It’s an important film for any anglophile or anyone whose family has ever endured a tragedy.