Saturday, August 18, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Bloodstone Etui, c. 1750


Bloodstone Etui and thimble Case
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum




This set consists of an etui and thimble case, each of which is beautifully created of bloodstone mounted in gold and adorned with brilliant-cut diamonds and enamel.

While the maker is unknown, it’s clear that the pieces were made in London, England, probably around 1750. The case is inscribed in French, “May you always be faithful.” 










Unusual Artifacts: The Pierrot Inkwell, Early 20th C.


Click image to enlarge.

Pierrot Inkwell and Liner
France, Early Twentieth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum


A work of hard-paste porcelain, the cover of this inkwell takes the form of Pierrot’s head. The base of the inkwell is formed by his ruff. Enamel colors adorn the inkwell the whole of the piece which also features a detachable liner and a small hole in the ruff for the pen.

Made in Becquerel, France, in the early Nineteenth Century, the underside is marked:

“BERCQUEREL”
“ALADDIN, MADE IN FRANCE”


Print of the Day: Gilles, a Pierrot by Watteau, 1718-1719

Gilles, a Pierrot
After Watteau, c. 1718
The Victoria & Albert Museum



This engraving is of a portrait of “Gilles, a Pierrot” by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). Not only is Pierrot pictured, but, at his feet, we can see a variety of the other stick characters which were featured in the tradition of the Commedia dell'Arte, including a Doctor on his donkey, Léandre, Isabelle and the Capitaine.

The work of an unknown engraver, the engraving was published between 1718 and 1719.


At the Music Hall: “Parisian Pierrot,: 1923

Gertrude Lawrence


Parisian pierrot, society’s hero
The lord of the day, the Rue de la Paix
Is under your sway
The world may flatter but what does that matter?
They’ll never shatter your bloom profound
Parisian pierrot, your spirit’s at zero
Divinely forlorn, with exquisite scorn
From sunset to dawn
The limbo is calling, your star will be falling
As soon as the clock goes round

Parisian pierrot, your spirit’s at zero
Divinely forlorn, with exquisite scorn
From sunset to dawn
The limbo is calling, your star will be falling
As soon as the clock goes round 



This popular song with music and lyrics by Noël Coward is known to many of us from its appearance in the film “Star!” which starred Julie Andrews as Coward’s longtime friend, Gertrude Lawrence. However, the song was one of Coward’s most memorable long before Miss Andrews turn in the biopic. Coward debuted “Parisian Pierrot” as well as a host of others in the 1923 musical revue “London Calling!” which was produced by André Charlot.

“London Calling!” opened in London's Duke of York's Theatre on September 4, 1923. It was famous Noël Coward's first publicly produced musical. The revue caused quite a sensation, not only for its music, but also for incorporating a 3-D stereoscopic shadowgraph during the opening act.

"Parisian Pierrot", as sung by Gertrude Lawrence, was Coward's first huge hit and, consequently, it became one of his signature tunes—a song which her performed himself until his death. We have two versions here. One as performed by Coward and, the other, a clip from “Star!”





Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 117


Chapter 117: 

Trade 


I don’t think so, Finlay.” Georgie Pepper shook his head.

“What wrong, George?” Finlay asked. “Can’t handle the your spirits?”

“I can ‘andle ‘em just fine,” Georgie replied. “It’s just that I’m lookin’ out for the girls. They’re young ladies and it ain’t right for ‘em to go off with two men to take drinks in private.”

“Their virtue is safe with me, George.” Finlay teased.

“It’s still not right.” George said emphatically.

“Come on, Georgie,” Ethel piped up.

“No.” George said. “I made a promise to Mr. Speaight and my mum. I told ‘em I’d look out for you two tonight. You heard what Mr. Speaight said. What we do tonight is a reflection of the household of the Duke of Fallbridge. His Grace gave us this night as a gift and let us be here with all these fine lords and ladies. What kind of gratitude would it be if we just went off to drink spirits with Finlay? It’s one thin’ to have a good time, but it’s ‘nother all together to be irresponsible. Don’t we owe it to the Duke and the doctor to act proper?”

“Georgie’s right.” Jenny said quickly.

“But…” Ethel began.

“No, Ethel. I’ll go right to Dr. Halifax right now.”

“Oi.” Ethel moaned. “Fine.”

“What’s the problem?” Finlay asked. “I won’t tell anyone. We’ll only be off for a mo’. Ain’t gonna make a difference to no one. I’ll bet His Grace would tell ya to go.”

“I don’t think so.” George said.

“Fine.” Finlay sniffed, adjusting the band around his head which held up his “horns.” “More for me, then.” He smiled. “Your loss. Enjoy your ladies, Georgie.” With that, he walked off.

Ethel frowned. “You know, you ain’t my dad.”

“Maybe so. But, I am goin’ to make sure that no harm comes to ya and that we keep the promise what we made to Mr. Speaight. I care ‘bout this job. I need it. But, most of all, I think we should show our respect to the Duke what’s been kind to all of us. No one ever treated my mum with such kindness as the Duke and Dr. Halifax and, well, even if the Duke treated me poor, cuz he’s good to ma, I’d fall on my sword for ‘im.”

“Well said, Georgie.” Jenny smiled.

“Thanks, Jen.”

“Fine, you’re right, then.” Ethel said. “But, can we least have some more wine?”

“I think so.” Georgie winked.

“Well, hurry up then.” Ethel laughed.

Meanwhile. across the Great Hall, Mr. Punch and Robert excused themselves from an rather dull and low-spirited conversation with two of the older aristocrats who lived at one of the nearby estates. They, like Countess Hamish, did not seem to approve of Mr. Punch’s speech and his toasts, and, clearly felt he was too friendly with his staff. Neither the Duke nor the doctor let themselves be bothered, but, as they walked to a quieter spot, Robert couldn’t help but notice that their child looked not only tired, but as if he was going to become a little fussy.

“I think our Colin has had all he can take.” Robert said softly.

“He’s been such a good boy,” Punch smiled, looking at the baby in his arms. “But, sure, I reckon he needs to get his sleep, our boy does. Pity. I’ll miss ‘im.”

“He has been an angel.” Robert smiled. “But, even angels need rest.”

“Me arms need a bit of a rest, they do.”

“You’ve been carrying for hours.” Robert chuckled. “I’m surprised you’ve not handed him off to me.”

“Oh, I like carryin’ him. He don’t weight nothin’ at all. It’s like holdin’ a bit o’ suchine, it is.” Punch replied.

“You’re really too lovely.” Robert grinned.

“Course, I am. Everyone loves Mr. Punch, what.”

“There’s Mrs. North.” Robert pointed.

The two walked over to Mrs. North who looked quite tall and strong in her fancy dress—her face still obscured by the many petals of her large bonnet.

“I think, Mrs. North,” Punch began in his best Julian voice, “that our boy should probably go to bed.”

Mrs. North nodded, reaching out to take the child.

Punch reluctantly handed the baby over.

“Perhaps,” Punch began, still speaking of Julian, “Dr. Halifax and I should take him up for you. We can prepare him for his slumber.”

Mrs. North shook her head, the fabric of her headdress glittering as it swished across her face, hiding her features. She said something, but neither Punch nor Robert could hear it.

“Now, now, Your Grace.” Robert smiled. “If I recall correctly, you told me that Mrs. North carried you up to bed more than once when you were Colin’s age.”

Mrs. North nodded.

“I’m sure she’ll be fine.” Robert continued.

“I’m sure, too.” Punch sighed. “Thank you for looking after him. We’ll be up to wish him sweet dreams in a few minutes.”

Again, Mrs. North nodded, bowing her head slightly and, without a word, turning to walk to the grand staircase.

Robert and Punch watched as the housekeeper carried the baby upstairs.

“That thing’s all in her face,” Punch whispered in his own voice. “What if she can’t see where she’s goin’ and trips?”

“She won’t.”

“Charles tripped and he’s forty years younger than Mrs. North.”

“You mustn’t worry so, dear Punch.” Robert said softly.

“Right,” Punch nodded.

“Now, my dear, let’s go see how our guests are doing.” Robert smiled.

“Sure, sure,” Punch said, glancing up the stairs once more. Mrs. North and the baby had disappeared from view.

Punch took a deep breath and followed Robert, all the while wishing he had gone with his child and the housekeeper.

Had he done so, he would have seen that the woman in Mrs. North’s costume was not Mrs. North at all, but, rather, Ellen. Beneath her ornate bonnet, Ellen grinned as she walked toward an open window, holding the child tightly in her arms.



Did you miss Chapters 1-116? If so you can read them here. Come back Monday to read Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 118.



Figure of the Day: The Höchst Pierrot, 1750



Figure of Pierrot
Germany, 1750
The Victoria & Albert Museum


Made in Höchst, Germany, in 1750, this hard-paste porcelain figure depicts Pierrot on a gilt-edged plinth near a tree stump. Bent-kneed Pierrot is leaning backwards a bit. He wears the brim of his black hat upturned, patches adorning his face. A turquoise jacket with gilt detail contrasts his white collar. Unlike most pierrots, he’s not in the traditional white pajamas with black buttons, but, instead wears a costume more akin to that of Harlequin with a lozenge-pattern. He’s playing cards—as pierrots do.

The underside of the piece is marked with “I E” and “G.” The whole is painted in brilliant enamels.

Object of the Day, Caption Contest: Roller Skating Pierrots






Click image to enlarge.

UPDATE:  Sorry everyone, when I originally posted this, I put the images for tomorrow's card up.  If you've already looked, you got a sneak preview of tomorrow.  And, to Darcy, your comment was incredibly clever, so I invite you to make a new one on this card.  Sorry for the mistake.  

We’ve seen many a card from my collection which falls into the category of single-color ink over a metallic background. This phenomenon of the late Nineteenth Century found its way into many a home. Selected from a catalog, these trade cards were ready for anything—except safety.

As you already know, for some reason this style of card usually showed children at dangerous play, typically resulting in some sort of hideous injury.

Here—just to add to the fun—the children are dressed as roller skating pierrots. Why? Who can say? Depictions of characters from the Commedia dell’Arte were quite popular in the Nineteenth Century when their depictions graced many an object. But, why roller skating children dressed as pierrots?

You tell me. Let’s have a caption contest. What’s happening here? Why are they dressed this way? What could this be advertising? As usual, leave your captions in the comments section.



Friday, August 17, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Athene Noctua Brooch, 1983

Click image to enlarge
Athene Noctua
Kevin Coates
London, 1983
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum



I tend not to write about modern pieces, but, in my exploration of the world’s beautiful things, it’s inevitable that I’ll come across a recently-made item which requires further study.

This brooch is one of them. Made in 1983, this is the work of London goldsmith and musician Kevin Coates (b. 1950) who suggests “'the figurative element almost always exists within a larger abstract context.”

Coates showed a daringness to use the human form which, with the exception of cameos and portrait miniatures, is rarely seen in jewelry. He also incorporates a rhythm and poetry in his jewelry which is unusual and engaging.

In 2008, in a book written about his work, Coates elaborates on his philosophy, saying: “If jewellery has become jewel, then jewel must become poem. I realize that this is a personal philosophy, but it is at the very heart of what I seek in my work; I understand, too, that it requires the conspiracy of others to approach what I do in terms of connotation and not denotation, in other words to "read" it in terms of poetry not prose.” 


We see how jewel can become poem with this brooch depicting the goddess Athena (known as the patroness of the arts). She is shown with a mask-like visage. She rests on a base which has been inscribed with her name in Greek. 

Much of the brooch is, appropriately, Platinum—a metal from the Palladian group which borrows her name, Pallas Athena. Behind the goddess' head, like a halo, a circle of sapphire blue titanium is etched with gold stars to mimic the night sky, suggesting the time of night when Athena's sacred bird, “the Little Owl,” or “Athene Noctua,” spreads its “damask wings to do the bidding of its mistress."




Drawing of the Day: La Gran Tragedie di Ariosto, 19th C.

Non e un si bello in tante altre persone, Natura il fece, e poi roppa la stampa.

(There never was such beauty in another man. Nature made him, and then broke the mould.)
                --From "Orlando Furioso" by Ludovico Ariosto


La Gran Tragedie di Ariosto
Naples, Nineteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This illustration comes from Naples and dates to the Nineteenth Century. It’s remarkable to me in that it shows the development of the The Punch and Judy tradition. As we know, Mr. Punch came to the U.K. from Italy where he had his roots in the Italian character, “Pulcinella.” 

The drawing depicts a Pulcinella-type show, however, we can clearly see that the puppets, to me, more so resemble the look of the popular Nineteenth Century Mr. Punch than they do Pulcinella. So popular was Punch that many Italian “Professors” styled their own puppets after the British Red Nose as opposed to their own masked Pulcinella.  

I can't say for certain that this crowd in Naples is watching a variation of a Pulcinella character.  The puppet on the left's costume is that of Arlecchino or "Harlequin." However, I would like to note that he clearly exhibits Mr. Punch's attribute of a humpback--not something usually associated with Harlequin.
The title of the performance (as depicted on the front of the fit-up) is "la gran tragedie di Ariosto.” The title refers to “Orlando Furioso,” an epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto. This poem was a popular subject for traveling puppet shows.


Mr. Punch's Puzzles: The Riddle of the Week






Once, again, Mr. Punch, with my help, is offering up a true Victorian riddle.  The first person to answer correctly--by posting in the comments--will receive public congratulations.  

So, here's this week's riddle.  We ask that you don't Google the answer.  Mr. Punch would not find that sporting at all.  Give it a shot and see what you can come up with.  Here we go... No cheating...

Why is a fashionable woman not wholly made by Providence?

And, the answer is...

“Providence shapes her ends,” but corsets shape her middle.

Ahhh...corsets.  The best way to keep your girlish figure while deforming your intestines.  We had a lot of good answers with special mention to Matt, Gene, Book Gurl, Angelo, Darcy and Dashwood!  Thanks for playing and come back next Friday for another of Mr. Punch's Puzzles.  



Mr. Punch wants you to always know “the way to do it,” so why not check out our “That’s the way to do it!” products which are available only at our online store.  

Friday Fun: The Garden of Your Mind





The clever minds at PBS Digital Studios who brought you the video of 1980s television painting instructor Bob Ross, started with this charmingly auto-tuned tribute to Mr. Rogers.  I think most of us have a warm spot in our hearts for the late Fred Rogers, his neighborhood and his enchanting Land of Make Believe.  I think, certainly, that Mr. Rogers helped develop my natural love of puppets and puppetry. 

Enjoy this bit of Friday Fun!



Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 116



Chapter 116: 

In the Details 



Ethel and Jenny giggled loudly as they spun around to the pipers' music. Linking arms with Georgie Pepper, the girls whooped as the sound of the bagpipes grew louder and faster. When the music stopped, the three of them teetered off to the long tables of gleaming silver trays and gilt-tiered stand which held the opulent food which the Duke had brought in for the event.

“I never been so hungry,” Ethel laughed.

“You never moved ‘bout so much.” Jenny teased.

“Come on, then, Jenny.” Georgie interrupted. “Our Ethel is a very active girl. Just before we left for Scotland, I saw her climbin’ up and down the service stairs.”

“That’s right.” Ethel nodded her head emphatically.

“Course, she were stoppin’ for a wedge of cheese each time she passed through the kitchen, so she’d have somethin’ savory with all them chocolates what she nicked from the Duke.”

“I never.” Ethel pouted, feigning offense.

“Never stopped eatin.” Georgie grinned proudly.

“I don’t see you starvin’ yourself, George Pepper.” Jenny chimed in.

“I’m a man.” Georgie winked.

“No, you ain’t.” Ethel laughed. “You’re a boy.”

“I’m older than you.” George laughed.

“You’re an old boy, then.” Ethel smiled.

“Cor,” Jenny put her hand to her forehead and giggled. “Me head’s spinnin’.”

“How much wine have ya had?” Ethel whispered.

“Not any. Honest.” Jenny mumbled.

“Ha!” Georgie shook his head.

“Don’t go listenin’ to private conversations.” Ethel said firmly.

“What’s so private ‘bout it? You think you’re whisperin’, only you’re so drunk you’re shoutin’.”

“I ain’t never been drunk, Georgie Pepper.” Jenny replied.

“Me neither.” Ethel nodded.

“Nah—and I ain’t never eaten a whole chicken in one sittin’.”

“You’re disgustin’.” Jenny laughed.

“Least I ain’t drunk.” George grinned.

“I ain’t. I only had four cups.” Jenny snapped.

George laughed. “Thought you ain’t had any.”

“Well…” Jenny blushed. “Maybe a little.”

“I had five.” Ethel sighed.

“Seven.” Georgie chuckled.

“No, only five.”

“I’m talkin’ ‘bout me.” George howled. “I had seven.”

“Figures.” Jenny clucked her tongue. “I’ve a mind to tell your mum.”

“Who do ya think gave me the wine?” George winked.

The three laughed loudly.

“I say, but didn’t your mum make a good cake?” Ethel said finally. “It were like heaven. She’s…what ya call ‘em? One of them…”

“Cooks?” George asked.

“No.” Ethel shook her head. “Genius. That’s it. She’s a genius. Ain’t no one can make a cake like your ma.”

“Here, I helped her. She didn’t do it all on her own.”

“What’d you do? Break some eggs? And, not even when you was s’posed to.” Ethel teased.

“Only which of us broke the big brown bowl when she was washin’ it with her fat fingers?”

“My fingers ain’t fat!” Ethel laughed. “And, Mrs. North didn’t care none when I told her.”

“Mr. Speaight weren’t so pleased.” Jenny shook her head.

“Ain’t his bowl to fuss ‘bout.” Ethel tittered. “Mrs. North and Mrs. Pepper both told me not to worry one tick ‘bout it.”

“Sure,” Jenny looked up. “They’re so nice. You’re all such fine folk. Ain’t never knew such fine folk.”

“Me neither.” Ethel nodded. “We ought to make a toast to ourselves like the Duke done. See, we can toast that we’re friends forever. The three of us. Whew, Georgie—what’d we ever do ‘fore you came? That Tom were a pain, he were. But, you—you’re right nice. Gotta nice face, too.”

“You ain’t so bad neither.” Georgie raised one eyebrow.

“What ‘bout me?” Jenny asked.

“You ain’t bad yourself.” Georgie nodded.

“She’s pretty Our Jenny is. Ain’t she?”

“You both are.”

“I’ll toast to that, too.” Ethel chirped.

“I’ll get us some cups.” Georgie nodded.

“Hold on,” A voice came up from behind them. They turned to see a make figure dressed as the Devil.

Ethel gasped.

“Come on, it’s just Finlay.” Georgie laughed.

“Oh. Cor!” Ethel sighed.

“Look at our Finlay!” Jenny giggled. “He’s a proper devil! Are ya that wicked, Finlay?”

“I am.” Finlay grinned.

“What you after Finlay?” Georgie said protectively. “These ladies is with me.”

“You think I’m after your girls, Pepper?” Finlay laughed.

“Oh…right.” George blushed.

“I heard ya want a toast, then?” Finlay grinned.

“Maybe we do.” Ethel nodded.

“We’ll get our own wine,” George replied.

“I’m not suggestin’ wine, lad. You and your lasses deserve somethin’ stronger.” Finlay answered.

“What you thinkin’ of?” Jenny asked.

“I got some whiskey out in the Servants’ Hall.” Finlay nodded. “Come with me.”



Did you miss Chapters 1-115? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 117 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.



Print of the Day: Blowing up the Pic Nic's, or, Harlequin Quixote attacking the Puppets, 1802

Blowing up the Pic Nic's, or, Harlequin Quixote attacking the Puppets
April, 1802
James Gillray
This version is in the Victoria & Albert Museum.




James Gillray (1757-1815), a popular British printmaker and satirist, was, perhaps, one of the most prolific in his field during the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries. Here, we see one of his cartoons from 1802. The image depicts English theater manager Richard Brinsley as Harlequin. He is shown leading a group of professional actors including the famed performer David Garrick (who was, at the time dead), rising from the grave. Also pictured are the actors Mrs. Billington, P. Kemble and, of course the renowned Sarah Siddons. The troupe is protesting members of the Pic Nic Society—an amateur acting group which had been performing at London’s Tottenham Street Concert Rooms. Apparently, they were in the midst of performing the then-popular show, “Tom Thumb.”

Professional actors and theatre managers at the time considered this amateur gang to be a nuisance—taking away revenue from the professionals with their extravagant and decadent displays. Sheridan was among those who launched an aggressive campaign against them. Here, his mask and pen indicate that he has been writing anonymous complaints about the group.

Gillray has cleverly composed this scene to resemble a page from Migel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” wherein the famed title character attacks “Master Peter’s” puppet show because he is convinced that the performance is real. In doing so, he has cast his judgment on the futile actions of Sheridan and his band of protestors. The print was published in April of 1802. The version above is in the collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Another is in the British Museum
.



Version in the British Museum.



Object of the Day: A Trade Card for Laundry Soap

Click on image to enlarge.





This poor lass. She’s being a helpful girl and helping Mummy with the washing. What does she get for her troubles? Animated clothespins attack her.

They crawl from every nook and corner of the room—bounding at her from all angles, above and below. They titter forward on their stick legs, their little crescent mouths pulled up in blank grins of hungry ecstasy. In an effort to make peace with her tormentors, the girl has allowed one to stand in her hand—its sharp little feet leaving splinters in her tender flesh. She smiles hesitantly, hoping to show them that she’s no threat. Meanwhile, a group of the monsters bathes in a box of Kendall Manufacturing Company’s French Laundry Soap.

One of the scoundrels naps on a washboard as his comrade tears apart a bug that it found in the grass. The girl—she has no chance.

Or, that’s how it seems to me. What do you think?

Attractively printed with a metallic gold background, this is actually a pretty nifty card. But, as many of these Victorian cards are, it’s a little bizarre. Still, if you think about some of the monstrous mascots that hawk their wares to us, we’re no better today.

White letters across the front of this custom-designed and custom-printed card read: 



KENDALL MFG. Co.
                  P
ROVIDENCE 
                       R.I. 


Let’s see what the back says. I’m sure it’s a truly unbiased and honest account of what this soap can do for you and your sad, tormented child.




The “French Laundry” 
THE BEST SOAP EVER MADE 
FOR ALL PURPOSES 
It is the Oldest Popular Soap in the market, 
Having Outlived all its Rivals. 
It has won its way into public favor solely on its merits and thousands 
of families who are now using it would not be without it. 
It is now offered in a 3-4 Pound Pressed Cake, 
as well as in the old style. Pound Bar for such 
persons as prefer it in that way. 
If you will give it one trial, you will never be without it. 
Kendall Mfg. Co. 
Established 1827 Providence, Rhode Island 



There’s some damage to the reverse of this card as it’s been, at one point in its life, glued in an album. I’d place it as having been printed in the late 1870s. 


Click on image to enlarge.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Bertie Introduces the Bailiffs to Miss Richland as his Friends




"I'm just saying that it's customary to bring a gift to your host."

Click image to enlarge.


Image: Mr Honeywood Introduces the Bailiffs to Miss Richland as his Friends, William Powell Frith (1819-1909), 1850, The Victoria & Albert Museum.













You know you want to have a Bertie Dog mug, tee-shirt, tote bag or water bottle. You know you do. So, take a look at our online store. 
 

Mastery of Design: The White Lady and Her Dog Cameo, 1799

Cameo Pendant
Italian Cameo
Set in Gold in 1799
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II



Made in Italy in 1799 this brooch features a cameo which dates to the Sixteenth Century. The brooch unusually light gray and translucent white onyx is mounted in an open, gilt-brass setting with a suspension loop.

The piece was originally recorded as being part of the Royal Collection in 1872, presumably collected by Queen Victoria, but thought to have been worn by the Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra).

The cameo depicts a bust of a nude woman in three-quarter view, her hair cascading in curls over her shoulders. As was the style of the Sixteenth Century, the young woman—though naked—is wearing a veil over the back of her head. She holds a small dog in her arms.

Small dogs like the one we see here—of indeterminate breed—were popular subject of Italian Sixteenth Century art and jewelry, especially in compositions of young, virginal ladies. They were meant to symbolize loyalty and innocence—two traits which one admired in a young woman. 



Figure of the Day: Billy Waters, 1823-1830

Billy Waters
1823-1830
Staffordshire Porcelain Factory
The Victoria & Albert Museum



In the early Nineteenth Century, it has been recorded that several Britons of African descent worked as street entertainers. These men were well-known throughout London, garnering good reputations for their remarkable talents and many charms. Perhaps the most famous of these was Billy Waters who, among with several of his counterparts, has been immortalized in British art and literature.

Billy Waters had served in the British navy, and, while in service lost a leg. While he received a Navy pension, it wasn’t enough to maintain his family in their home in the London parish of St. Giles. In order to pay all of the family bills, Waters turned to working as a busker. He became quite well-known—immediately identifiable for his peg-leg and feathered hat. He was famously sketched by George Cruikshank who also brought us some of the earliest drawings of Mr. Punch. Waters usually performed outside the Drury Lane Theatre, paying his violin to entertain the posh of London coming and going to the fashionable shows. Waters’ dog, his constant companion, is said to have held a hat in his mouth, entreating passersby to deposit coins in it. He was sketched outside the Drury Lane by Cruikshank who had the drawing published in Pierce Egan’s “Life in London” in 1821.

“Life in London” was transformed into a monumental operatic piece by W.T. Moncrieff. The show opened at the Adelphi Theatre in 1821 with Billy Waters as a character. Sadly, Waters received nothing from being represented in the extravaganza and was given no extra publicity for having his life immortalized on the stage. Had he been compensated for the use of his name and likeness, he might not have died two years later at the age of 45 in a workhouse. Shortly before his death, at least, he was recognized by his fellow buskers and declared “The King of the Beggars.”

Somehow, greater fame found Waters after his death. This Staffordshire figure depicts the Beggar King with his familiar costume. He’s playing his violin while waving his wooden leg in the air. Waters ever-present and loyal canine companion is depicted at his side—holding the hat. The figure was made between 1823 and 1830. 



Painting of the Day: Maria, 1836

Maria
Charles Landseer
England, 1836
The Victoria & Albert Museum



“Poor Maria, sitting under a poplar…with her elbow in her lap…and her head leaning on one side…dressed in white.” 
      --from “A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy” by Laurence Sterne 

Charles Landseer (1799-1879, the elder brother of Sir Edwin Landseer) was inspired to create this painting upon reading Laurence Sterne’s novel “A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy,” 1768. The subject is lifted right from the book, specifically, a character called Maria who lost her true love. At her side is a loyal dog who keeps her company in her grief.

Painted in 1836, the canvas shows that Charles Landseer was just as talented as his better-remembered young brother. However, in this composition, like many of his works, it has eben long believed, Charles looked to Edwin for assistance in painting the figure of the dog. Edwin was well-known for his portraits of dogs and animals in general. His handling of animal subjects made Edwin a favorite of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who commissioned the artist to paint their beloved pets.

The painting was exhibited at the British Institute under the title “Sterne’s Maria.” The character of the inconsolable Maria was quite popular in the later 18th century. Engravings of this piece were big sellers.





Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 115


Chapter 115: 

Up Close 


Oh, pardon me,” A plump woman said softly as she wandered onto the veranda. She was dressed in a grand, shimmering gown of sapphire blue encrusted with pale green beads and lush golden embroidery dotted with coral-colored spangles and hung with passementerie of metallic gold and coral threads. On her head she wore an unusual tiara constructed of stalks of coral from the sea and, around her throat hung a necklace of sparking pink topaz and diamonds. Her gloved arms were stacked with bracelets of gold and diamonds and, in her hand, she held a fan painted with a bucolic scene.

Gerard and Gamilla broke their embrace and Gamilla quickly turned away.

“Am I interrupting something?” The woman asked.

“Not at all.” Gerard bowed slightly.

“Young lady,” The woman spoke up. “Please turn toward me so that I might see your gown.”

Gamilla, terribly embarrassed, turned slightly toward the woman.

“Stunning.” The woman smiled. “Truly, stunning.”

“Thank you.” Gamilla nodded.

“How ever did you get your face to be that color? And, your hands? How fascinating. You look so exotic.”

Gamilla looked at the tile of the veranda. “I…” She took a deep breath. “This is the color that I am.”

“Oh.” The woman grinned pleasantly. “You must be His Grace’s governess.”

“Only temporarily.” Gamilla nodded.

“I do hope I’ve not offended you, young lady.” The woman stepped forward. “It’s just that I’ve never seen someone like you before. Not up close. There once was that man with the peg leg who played the violin outside of the Drury Lane Theatre. He had skin like yours. I remember being a young girl and always wanting Mummy to take me past him so that I could put a coin in the hat that his dog held up in his mouth. But, I’ve never seen a woman of your kind before. Your skin is so beautiful—so flawless. I thought surely that it must be some sort of make up. You’re so fortunate to have such beautiful skin. I always struggle so with mine. Would that patches were still in fashion, I’d have them all over my face. So, please accept my apology. I just think you’re simply stunning.”

“Thank you…” Gamilla smiled, realizing that the woman was genuine. “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to address you.”

“That, I’m afraid, is my fault as well.” The woman chirped. “I am the Baroness Lensdown.”

“Oh, my lady.” Gamilla said quickly.

Gerard stiffened his back.

“I don’t mean to interrupt you, truly.” The baroness continued. “I was simply looking for my husband. He tends to slip away from me at events such as this. It’s terribly tiresome. You’ve not seen him, have you? He’s thin and tall with dark hair and a rather stony expression on his face most of the time.”

“I’ve not seen him, Baroness.” Gerard replied.

“You’re the Duke’s man?” Baroness Lensdown asked.

“No, Lady Lensdown. I’m Dr. Halifax’s man, Gerard Gurney.”

“Ah, yes.” The baroness replied. She smiled. “Well, I’ll leave you to your chat. The moonlight is so lovely. You’re very fortunate, Gerard, your companion is, doubtlessly, the most lovely woman at the ball.”

“She is, Baroness. Thank you.”

“Good evening, then.” She nodded. Pausing, she sighed. “If you happen to see the baron, would you please tell him that I’ll be waiting for him near the fireplace?”

“Yes, Lady Lensdown.” Gamilla replied.

“Thank you so much.” The baroness replied politely.

Just as she was about to turn to go into the castle, Robert and Punch—still carrying Colin—emerged.

“There you are, Gamilla, Gerard.” Punch grinned. He had already noticed the baroness and was careful to speak as Julian. “Baroness, good evening. I trust you’re enjoying yourself.”

“Very much so.” The baroness responded. “Thank you so much for including us. Your father, I’m sure, would have been most proud of this evening.”

“I’m pleased to know it, Lady Lensdown.” Mr. Punch answered.

“Oh, now…” The baroness sighed. “Let’s dispense with those burdensome formalities. Do call me Gertrude.”

“As you wish.” Mr. Punch nodded. “You’re welcome to refer to me as Julian. Allow me to introduce you to my companion…”

“Ah, Dr. Halifax.” The baroness smiled. “What a pleasure to meet you finally. I’ve heard so much of you. You’ve become the physician of choice in Belgravia and Mayfair.”

“That’s very kind of you, Gertrude. My Christian name is Robert.”

“My friend the Countess Hamish—oh, she can be such a burden sometimes—does not care for you at all, Robert. But, truly, I can’t see why. Even in this brief amount of time, I find you most agreeable.”

“Most people do.” Mr. Punch spoke up.

“Don’t let Hamish bother you.” Gertrude clucked her tongue. “She’s really a bore and, frankly, her only delight is complaining and gossiping. If I didn’t feel so obligated to her, I wouldn’t bother with her at all.”

Robert and Punch both nodded.

“And, you son, Julian.” Gertrude grinned. “What a beautiful boy. How wonderful for you to have found him.”

“Thank you.” Punch smiled proudly. “He’s our greatest joy.”

“I can see why.” Baroness Lensdown cooed. “Oh, but listen to me prattle on when you’ve clearly come out with purpose. I’ve already intruded on your handsome valet and this gorgeous young lady. You see, I’ve been looking for the Baron. Have you seen him?”

“Not in the last hour or so.” Robert shook his head. “However, I’m sure he’s in there somewhere. With everyone milling about, it’s difficult to keep track.”

“I think I last spotted him talking to Finlay Donnan—the footman here at the Grange.” Punch said.

Gertrude’s pleasant face fell into a frown. “Oh?”

Robert noted her change in attitude. “Yes. They were standing near the wine cooler. I suspect the Baron was trying to convince Finlay to show him how it works.”

“Oh, Victor is always so slow with new things. I’m sure that’s it.”

“We’re about to gather everyone so we can cut the great cake.” Mr. Punch smiled. “I’m sure you’ll find him, then. In fact, that’s why we came out to find Gerard and Gamilla.”

“The cake is so beautiful.” The baroness began to smile again. “And, it smells so delightful.”

“Please join us,” Robert nodded.

“I think I shall.” Gertrude replied.

“If you’ll allow us, Colin and I will escort you inside,” Mr. Punch volunteered.

“How kind. You’re all so kind.” Gertrude nodded, joining the Duke.

With his back to the baroness, Robert smiled at Gerard and Gamilla.

Gerard shrugged as Robert stifled a chuckle.

“Shall we?” Robert asked.

“Yes, Dr. Halifax.” Gamilla answered.

“You can get back to your moonlight after the cake is cut.” Robert winked.

“Sir…” Gerard blushed.

“Come now…” Robert laughed. “We want you two and Charles to have the first pieces.”



Did you miss Chapters 1-114? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 116 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.


Unusual Artifacts: A Pip Squeak and Wilfred Lampshade for a Child's Room, c. 1930

Lampshade featuring Pip, Squeak and Wilfred
England, 1930s
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum



This adorable lampshade was made in the 1930s. The shade was marketed for use in a child’s bedroom, and, in fact, it was used for that purpose until it was given to the V&A. The adornment on the shade is based on characters created by Bertram Lamb of Chesterfield, England and illustrated by Austen Bowen-Payne. They are the dog called “Pip,” a penguin named “Squeak” and one Wilfred, a baby rabbit. These plucky animals were some of the most popular cartoon characters of the 1920s to 1950s. They were favorites of many a household, and were so well known that the three main commemorative Great War medals were nicknamed after them.

The lampshade of white glass is made in a hexagonal form with Pip, Squeak and Wilfred painted in pastel colors on the sides. The original purchasers of the shade were the parents of Peter Gerald Lamb (born March 30, 1933). Lamb kept the lampshade in his room until 1967 when he was married. Afterwards, the lamp found its way into his children’s bedrooms. 






Object of the Day: An Antique German Fairing of a Westie Driving a Car




I saw this fairing online recently and thought it was, for obvious reasons, something I should have. I’m very grateful that my parents made a gift of it to me. As you can see, this porcelain fairing depicts a Bertie Dog (West Highland White Terrier to the rest of you) driving a wee, green car and wearing a Tuscan red scarf. This kind of item was given out a Victorian fairs as prizes. 

While predominately an English practice, fairings of this sort were often handed out at American fairs of the Nineteenth Century. The majority of them were produced in Germany, mostly by Conta and Boehme of Pössneck in Saxony. As this one has no marks—they seldom did, in fact—I am not sure if this is by Conta and Boehme, but it sure looks to be. That particular olive green car was also used in designs with driving pigs produced by Conta and Boehme. I’d place this as having been made around 1900-1910.