Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mastery of Design: A Pair of French Gemstone Earrings, 1820-1830

The Victoria & Albert Museum
In June of 2011, we looked at the necklace that forms a suite with these earrings. Fashioned of gold filigree with cannetille (thin gold wires) and grainti (bumpy grains of gold) decoration, these earrings are set with emeralds, citrines, sapphires, garnets, rubies, aquamarines, peridots and pearls.

I’ll repeat what I said when I discussed the necklace. I believe that these earrings were made later than the necklace. The necklace was created around 1820—a fact very much reflected in the style of the piece. However, I’m guessing the earrings came about a decade later. There’s something about the workmanship that doesn’t exactly match. However, they’re quite attractive and very nice examples of the style of the early to mid Nineteenth Century. This is the sort of thing that a young Queen Victoria would have worn—or at least admired.

Saturday Silliness: The Russian Boy, 1959

I was introduced to this animated short from Russia over my Christmas vacation and it is now amongst the other beautifully horrid and bizarre cartoons which top my list of things to watch over the holiday.

It's known as "The Christmas Visit," "The New Year's Visit" and "The Russian Boy," depending on the translation and who is distributing it.

And, it defies explanation in a variety of ways.  


Painting of the Day: Ballroom at the Shire Hall, 1940

Ballroom at the Shire Hall
Bayes, 1940
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This relatively modern watercolor painting dates to 1940 and depicts the grand English tradition of an opulent ball. Here, we see a luxurious celebration in the County Room of Chelmsford's Eighteenth-Century Shire Hall.

This is the type of scene which would have been readily seen at the Shire Hall--men in white tie and tails and women in elegant evening dresses. However, there are strong, individual personal scenes of interaction as well. For example, in the left foreground, a woman in a green gown appears to be either shouting at someone or laughing loudly—not uncommon in either case at such an event.

Designed in the Neoclassical Style, the County Room in Chelmsford's Shire Hall was a frequent location for balls throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Here, the artist Walter Bayes depicts the sort of event which characterized the location.

Shire Hall is also famous for being the scene of one of the strangest events in Early Twentieth Century Society history. In 1938, a woman departing such a dance was killed when her crinoline caught fire on the steps. Curiously, the Coroner's inquest was unable to find the cause of the fire and under subsequent tests, the same dress failed to ignite. Thankfully, we don’t see that scene depcited here.

Gifts of Grandeur: An Enameled Figural Snuffbox, 1760-65

English, 1760-65
The Victoria & Albert Museum
We’ve looked at many snuffboxes at Stalking the Belle Époque, but this is the first portrait head we’ve seen. This box of enamel, gold-mounted hardstone and soft-paste porcelain is formed as a girl's head atop a base of agate mounted in gold.

The words, “Je te connais beau masque” (“I know thee, beautiful mask”) are enameled around the base with a scrolled thumb-piece at the front. The mount is chased with scrolls and flowers. The enamel work shows a masterful hand as the head is painted with red lips, flesh tones, black patches and mask. Her eyes are set with diamonds.

The English preferred snuffboxes of precious metals or stone, so very few porcelain and pottery snuffboxes were ever made, making it exceptionally rare. Though it’s labeled as a snuffbox, others have conjectured that it was made, instead, to hold sweetmeats or pills. Though the porcelain box itself implies German (Meissen) manufacture, the mounts were made in England, possibly Birmingham.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 222

Chapter 222 

As Good a Time as Any 

I heard walkin’ ‘round out there.” Punch said as Robert came into his bedchamber. “Were it you?”

“In part,” Robert smiled. “Don’t worry, my dear. Everything is as it should be.”

“Good.” Punch sighed, lying back on the bed.

“Charles was just going in to visit with Gerard.” Robert continued.


“Speaight is watching the entry hall.” Robert interrupted with a wink.

“Oh.” Punch nodded. “As long as someone’s keepin’ watch.”

“Charles looked a little rattled,” Robert explained. “I told him I didn’t mind if he went up to spend some time with Gerard.”

“Poor man,” Punch shook his head, propping himself up on an elbow. “He’s been doin’ too much. Even with Georgie’s help.”

“I don’t think it was fatigue.” Robert squinted thoughtfully. “He looked as if there was something weighing on his thoughts.”

“He’s sensitive though he tries not to show it, he does.” Punch nodded.

“The other footsteps you heard were likely mine. I went to kiss Colin goodnight.”

“How’s our boy?”

“Sleeping quite soundly.” Robert smiled. “Gamilla’s watching him. I told her to get some sleep. She seems so thrilled with her room in the nursery.”

“I ‘s’pect she is.” Punch grinned. He chuckled.

“Yes?” Robert asked.

“I was just thinkin’, ain’t it too bad that it ain’t really Christmas?” he gestured toward their “Christmas tree” with his chin.

“Rather.” Robert nodded.

“Then, we could tell Gamilla to leave little toys and such for Colin and we could tell him that Father Christmas came for ‘im.”

“By the time Christmas comes, our Colin will be better able to appreciate the notion of Father Christmas.”

Punch sighed. “True. But, then, I could give you a present, too.”

“Oh? Well, I wouldn’t mind that. What have you got for me?” Robert laughed.

“Nothin’.” Punch sank back onto the bed.

The two laughed.

“You’re present enough for me, dear Punch.”

“Gonna have to be.” Punch chuckled. He rolled over. “And, then, see, it would be a New Year and such. Eighteen hundred fifty-four.”

“It’ll be here before you know it.”

“Imagine,” Punch continued his chatter. “It won’t be long before our Colin is a man himself. Maybe he’ll marry.”

“Perhaps he will.” Robert nodded.

“Or maybe he’ll be like us.”

“Maybe. Only time will tell.”

“Do ya think he’ll have babies?” Punch asked.

“Who could say?” Robert shrugged. “Did you ever think you’d have a son?”

“Well, chum, I never thought I’d be livin’ life this long. Remember, I’m newer than Julian.”

“Still.” Robert smiled.

“I reckon I never did think of it.” Punch admitted. “Maybe Colin will take in a child like we done. I’d like to think he would. He’ll be the tenth Duke of Fallbridge, you know.”

“I know.”

“Maybe he’ll give us an eleventh, and so on.”

“We shall just have to see.”

“He could take care of us when we’re old.” Punch continued.

“That would be pleasant.” Robert replied as he climbed into bed. “However, dear Punch, we have quite awhile before we must worry about it.”

Punch nodded. “Still, it’s be nice if we could have a new year now—just to rid ourselves of all the old rubbish and trouble.”

“Chaos doesn’t fade when the calendar changes.” Robert answered, settling in next to Punch.

“No.” Punch answered softly.

“Cecil, when he and I were quite young, always looked forward to the changing of the year.” Robert began. “I imagined that it was because he was anticipating something grand to happen when the date changed.”

“Is that so?”

“No. He confessed to me…I imagine I was about ten years of age at the time…”

“He was what? Fifteen?”

“Thereabout.” Robert replied, “He told me that it wasn’t so much that he was anticipating a renaissance, but that he liked to have the chance to celebrate all that he—that we—had survived.”

Punch smiled. “That sounds like Cecil.” He put his head on Robert’s shoulder. “I guess we don’t need a special day to do that.”

“No. We can do that whenever we wish.” Robert answered.

“How ‘bout now, Chum?”

“As good a time as any other.” Robert winked.

Did you miss Chapters 1-221? If so, you can read them here

I’ll be taking a brief hiatus over the holiday, so the next chapter will be available on January 3, 2013. 

Happy New Year!

History's Runway: A Theatre Costume by Dior, 1958

Costume, 1958
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This fully-fitted, front-fastening jacket of carmine wool and mohair fastens edge to edge at bust level and is embellished with false buttonholes and self-covered buttons to either side of the V neckline which is trimmed with ivory lace. It features full-length sleeves trimmed with self covered buttons. The jacket is worn over a curved skirt adorned with bold satin bands in sand and beige silk which cascade to floor level. The ensemble is finished with a small natural straw hat trimmed with beige and reddish net.

While this outfit looks like a true Nineteenth Century gown, it is, in fact, a theatrical costume which was designed for the role of Paola in “Duel of Angels” in 1958. It was originally created by the celebrated couturier Christian Dior for the noted French actress Edwige Feuillère. The gown was recreated for Vivien Leigh when she took over as Paola in the London production of the show. By the time Leigh took the part, Dior was dead and so the costume was recreated by the London costume firm Bermans.

Dior was careful to imbue the costumes with the accurate details of the period in which the play was set - 1859 - while reinventing the period style in his own taste. Dior incorporates touches that could only be of the 1950s. For example, the box pleats in the skirt are solely characteristic of the mid-Twentieth Century. Care was taken to assure the actress’ comfort. Instead of forcing them into actual period corsets, Dior devised the jacket to have a built-in shaping structure which gave the illusion of corseting without actually binding the performers.

Object of the Day: New Year's Eve at the Savoy Hotel, 1925

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Here, we see a menu card from London’s famed Savoy Hotel which days to 1925. The front bears an illustration depicting a group of clowns emerging from behind a curtain which is presently being drawn open by a chubby cherub, flying above. The drawing is signed “Kennedy North.”

The menu was printed specifically for the Savoy’s opulent New Year’s event and was meant to be taken as a souvenir.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Mastery of Design: “The Oriental Circlet,” 1853

The Oriental Circlet
R. & S. Garrard & Co., 1853
Commissioned by Prince Albert
Gold, Diamonds and Rubies
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Following the Great Exhibition in 1850, Queen Victoria was presented with magnificent jewels from the East India Company. Both Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert were enchanted by the exotic designs of the gems she was given. Those gems inspired Prince Albert to commission the Royal Jewelers at R. and S. Garrard and Co. to create this diamond and ruby tiara for his wife. The circlet features a design of diamond-encrusted “Moghul” arches in an Indian style which surround diamond lotus flowers set with rubies.

Prince Albert often supervised the design of Queen Victoria’s jewels. She once wrote in her diary, “Albert has such taste and arranges everything for me about my jewels.” Having researched Queen Victoria’s enormous collection of jewels for many years, I will concur with the Queen’s assessment. Albert did an excellent job.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: G. Hadfield’s Sheffield Champion Punch & Judy

G, Hadfield's Sheffield Champion Punch & Judy
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This print is a mid-Nineteenth Century reproduction of a pen and ink sketch titled “G. Hadfield's Sheffield Champion, Punch and Judy.” Depicted is a Punch and Judy fit-up (booth), within which are suspended a row of gentleman hanged from their necks--evidently unconscious or , worse, dead. Well, that’s not very cheerful. Is it?

No, but it is somehow fitting. After all, Punch was able to beat Jack Ketch, the hangman, as well as the Devil, but these gents seem to have not been so cunning. Oh, speaking of the Devil…

To the left of the chandelier of corpses is the Devil himself with his lovely pitchfork. Before the Devil, downstage, we see another figure. This bloke wears our Mr. Punch's cap and has affected the famous “punchinello hump” which has been marked “TELEGRAPH.”

Ah, we’re making a statement, are we? It seems we are. You see, this is also fitting. Despite his slapstick antics and anarchic glee, Mr. Punch has always been a way of communicating social issues and a need for reform of one sort or another. In fact, the basis of the show has always been something of a satire on current conditions.

So, let’s look at our faux-Punch a little more closely. This ersatz Punchinello carries a club marked 'Truth and Honesty under his left arm. He is depicted smoking a cigar as he states "We have settled them all, Tear'em.”

How odd. What could it mean? This comment is addressed to a dog-like who is meant to be Punch’s canine chum, Toby. But, he’s no more Toby than this fellow is Punch. This grotesque figure is smoking a pipe and wears a collar marked “TEAR'EM.”

The two figures perform for I a group of living gentlemen in top hats and caps who have gathered to watch. Some of them comment, "Look at Bobby Stainton and Little Nadin" and "It's all o'er lads".

So, what’s it all about, Punchy? The Punch-like figure marked TELEGRAPH is meant to resemble the editor of the “Daily Telegraph” newspaper, Edward Levy-Lawson, 1st Baron Burnham (28 December 1833 - 9 January 1916). Levy-Lawson acted together with Thornton Leigh Hunt, as editor of the paper from 1855-1873.

To be quite honest, I’m not sure to precisely what this is referring because it’s undated and by an unknown artist. My guess, however, is that it is an editorial cartoon which makes light of the change of the “Daily Telegraph” from a Liberal point of view to a Conservative point of view in 1879 under the leadership of Levy-Lawson and Thornton Hunt. I could be wrong. Similarly, this seems to involve the alignment of the Telegraph with radical politician George Hadfield who had a reputation for being a troublemaker. I don’t quite know about the reference to Bobby Stainton.

This print, like most of the Punch & Judy ephemera at the V&A, is part of the George Speaight Punch & Judy Collection.

Friday Fun: “Popeye in Goonland,” 1938

In this early Popeye cartoon by Max Fleischer, we learn some valuable information about our favorite squinty sailor. 

To begin with, he’s forty years old in 1938. Next, we learn that his father abandoned him at birth. Poor Popeye. In search of his “Pappy,” he travels to Goonland—something that does not seem to faze him at all. There, he encounters some unusual beings with extremely large ribcages. Enjoy!

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...

Of flesh and blood sprung am I ever; But blood in me that find ye never. Many great lords bear me proudly, With sharp knives cutting me loudly. Many I've graced right honorably: Rich ones many I've humble made; Many within their grave I've laid

And...the answer is...

A pen, presumably a feather quill.

Angelo was right, it was too long. Matt was close. Darcy, April and Dashwood were humorous and, the rest of you were typically clever. Many thanks. Make sure to come back next Friday for Mr. Punch's first riddle of 2013.

Happy New Year...that's the way to do it!

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.  

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 221

Chapter 221 

Needing a Place 

Do you require something, My Lady?” Charles asked from his spot beneath the sweeping staircase. He’d spied Lady Constance from his station in the foyer of the grand townhouse. Instructed by the Duke of Fallbridge to keep watch in case Lady Constance tried to leave the house, Charles was not shocked when he heard her dainty footsteps from three floors above him.

“Who said that?” Constance grumbled, leaning over the banister.

“It is I, Your Ladyship, Charles.”

“Ah, the footman.” Constance muttered as she descended the stairs. “Spying, are you?”

“Not exactly,” Charles smiled politely. “His Grace asked if I would keep watch tonight.”

“For what? Desperate ladies?”

“No, My Lady.” Charles shook his head. “Simply because, as I understand it, there are forces outside of the house who wish harm upon its occupants, both permanent and visiting.”

“The Duke told you I might try to go out on my own.” Constance sighed.

“He suggested that you might.”

“Do you know what it’s like?” Constance asked.

“My Lady?”

“Knowing your own child is out there somewhere, in the grip of someone who is, at her best, demented?”

“No, not personally. However, I once had a friend who was the mother of a child. She fretted that she had not made the best decisions for her son and feared that she’d put him in the hands of someone who might, ultimately, do him harm. I helped her as best I could, and, in the end, she did her part to liberate that child. I know such a venture can be grueling, but, that it also takes time.”

“Lady Fallbridge? The Duke’s ‘dead’ sister. You and she…”

Charles’ eyes widened in shock.

“Don’t look so surprised, Charles.” Lady Constance shook her head. “London is a large city and a very small town.”

“Yes, My Lady.”

“So, this man who had the boy…he was bad?”

“Yes.” Charles nodded.

“Bad enough that Barbara would have preferred him to be raised by…two such different men.”

“It’s my masters’ differences which make them so magnanimous. They have suffered for their differences and, therefore, have the greatest compassion for all.”

“You’re very loyal.” Constance smiled. “I didn’t mean to impugn the names of your masters. I’m rather fond of them.” She leaned against the gilt newel post. “Did you know…no, of course you didn’t. My mother had a scheme. She insisted that I should give Fern—that’s my daughter—to His Grace and his companion. She absolutely loathed them both. You see, that’s the rub, Charles. She hated them. Utter contempt and damnation. However, she hated Fern more. And, me.” She shook her head. “She thought it best to give her own granddaughter to two men she loathed than to keep her…”

“Is that why you killed your mother?” Charles asked bravely.

“In part.” Constance nodded. She grinned. “I can’t believe that I told you that—you, a footman.”

“I shan’t say a word, My Lady.” Charles replied. “Nor, shall I judge you.”

“I believe that you won’t. You’ve kind eyes. I trust you. I imagine that it’s your lack of condemnation which caused His Grace to take you on?”

“No.” Charles smiled. “The Duke took me on, despite the doctor’s protestations, because I needed a place. I’d been estranged from my family. I couldn’t return to Italy. No familyin New Orleans would take me after I’d betrayed my mistress. I had nowhere to go. I needed a place—there was nothing. His Grace took pity on me even though I had been quite unkind to him previously. Terribly unkind. You see, My Lady, I had been known to condemn, and condemn I did. The Duke showed me that such behavior was only going to condemn me in the end.”

“Interesting.” Lady Constance replied softly, looking into Charles’ eyes. “I can see what Lady Barbara saw in you.”

“She was not Lady Barbara when I knew her.” Charles answered quietly.

“Barbara and I were often together when the Duchess came to London. Barbara never cared for me much. She thought I was plain and looked down on me for it.”

Charles was silent.

“Do you think that I’m plain, Charles?”

“No, Lady Constance, I do not.”

“I find you very handsome, Charles.” Constance smiled slightly. “If I’m doomed to stay in this evening, perhaps…perhaps I can find a way to amuse myself.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-220 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 222.

The Art of Play: The Laughable Game of What D'ye Buy by Professor Punch

Professor Punch's Laughable Game of "What D'Ye Buy?"
The Victoria & Albert Museum

“The Laughable Game of What D'ye Buy by Professor Punch” was a boxed card game with a picture of Mr. Punch and Dog Toby on the lid. The game is comprised of ten cards which depict people of various professions, and 67 cards which have objects written on them that would be sold by the people depicted on the other cards.

The game is described as being played by giving each player a profession and the cards that are specific to that Profession. One player is elected as the “conductor.”  This player reads out a story, as found in the rule book.  At various points within this story there is a blank space in the text and the conductor looks to one of the vendors who must read out one of the items they sell to fill the gap in the story.

In this example from 1890, five of the printed object cards, and two of the vendor cards are missing.  These have been replaced with hand-written cards. The original rule book is missing but there is a hand-written transcript of it in the box.  Obviously the game was beloved and played to the point that it fell apart.  This version may have been made by the Edwin Wallis Co.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Mr. Punch and the Constable

"If I hit you, will you promise not to hit me?"
The George Speaight Archive
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This late Nineteenth Century postcard illustrates Mr. Punch and the puppet character od the  Constable.  Part of the George Speaight Punch & Judy Collection at the V&A, this postcard is one of a series portraying Mr. Punch in various scenes from his traditional puppet play.

Each of the postcards in the series features Mr. Punch as an independent cut-out which can be manipulated by moving a paper handle on the reverse. In this scene, he is fighting with the Constable who also holds a wooden stick and a candle holder.

The text reads:

“Punch: If I hit you, will/ you promise not to hit me?”

Reasonable, and very Punch-like logic there.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Bertie and Phillis

"Something I said?"

Brunetta and Phillis (Steel, 'The Spectator', no. 80), Thomas Stothard (born 1755 - died 1834), late 18th century to early 19th century, Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857, to 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. 

History's Runway: The Duchess of Devonshire's Schiaparelli Gown, 1953

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1953
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Celebrated designer Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was born in Rome and, as a young woman, studied philosophy. After she married, she traveled to Boston and New York, moving to Paris in 1920.

The design which first cast the spotlight on Schiaparelli was a black sweater knitted with a trompe l'œil bow in white. The sweater was spotted by a store buyer and the orders she received put her into business. By 1928 she had launched her own boutique called Pour le Sport. An exclusive salon would open a year later where Schiaparelli garnered much acclaim and attention for her witty, smart, sophisticated, theatrical and elegant evening ensembles. Her eccentric designs earned her many loyal fans, among them, a good many popular artists. Many of these artists collaborated with Schiaparelli to create sumptuous, innovative new looks. Among these artists were Salvador Dalí, Christian Bérard and Jean Cocteau who each designed fabrics and accessories for her lines. Cubism and Surrealism influenced Schiaparelli's work considerably. She also loved to experiment with color, dying furs and textiles unusual colors. She favored shocking pink--like the gown we see here.

This dress from the Summer of 1953 was worn by the Duchess of Devonshire and now is part of the Cecil Beaton Collection at the V&A. The under dress of her trademark pink is crafted of Thai silk. It features short sleeves and a pleated off-the-shoulder neckline with a dropped waist and flared skirt with an over-lain white silk organza pattern of apple blossom embroidered in pink, green, yellow and white on velveteen appliqué. 

Mastery of Design: The Charles Boit Miniature, 1720

Charles Boit
Enamel, Gold, Diamonds
1720, France
The Victoria & Albert Museum
 This oval miniature bust length portrait depicts an attractive young lady wearing a pink shawl, her hair adorned with several blue ribbons. The portrait on enamel is set into a frame of rose-cut diamonds which dates to approximately the 1720 creation of the miniature.

Portrait miniatures in enamels became quite popular in the Eighteenth Century. They developed from the decorative work of goldsmiths and watchmakers in the French cities of Blois, Châteaudun and Paris and are a continuation of the fashionable portrait plaques which had been made in the enameling workshops of Limoges in central France during the Sixteenth Century.

In the 1630s, Jean Toutin adapted new techniques of enameling which produced subtle, translucent colors. These techniques are still in practice today and allow for an impressive delicacy of detail. These portraits often were applied to small objects such as watches or snuffboxes, but usually stood alone in jeweled frames such as this.

This particular example is the work of enamel artist Charles Boit who was well respected for his ability to create light and shade in his miniatures. Boit’s subjects often showed an openness of expression due to their large eyes. Though this miniature is not signed, we can tell by the figure that this was the work of Boit’s hand.

Painting of the Day: A Watercolor of The Queen Mother as a Girl, 1907

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
Mabel Hankey, 1907
The Royal Collection

When Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) was seven years old, her mother had a delicate pink dress made for her which had been based on a gown from a painting by the Spanish master Velázquez. At the time this special gown was completed, the young lady was photographed in it several times.

Miniature painter Mabel Hankey was commissioned to create a watercolor portrait of Lady Elizabeth in this gown. Two pictures were created—both of them done from photographs rather than painted from life. Both of these miniatures by Hankey are now in the collection of Queen Elizabeth II who cherishes these images of her mother.

Mabel Hankey was born in Bath--the daughter of artist Henry Eddington Hobson. She was the first wife of the painter William Lee Hankey, and, after many years of study, exhibited with the Royal Society of British Artists, the Royal Miniature Society, the Society of Women Artists and the Royal Academy.