Saturday, February 2, 2013

Gifts of Grandeur: The Eugène de Beauharnais Bonbonnière, 1809-1819

This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This mighty fancy candy dish was made between 1809 and 1819. The portrait atop the lid depicts Eugène de Beauharnais, the stepson of Napoleon Bonaparte through his first wife Josephine. Eugène remained a staunch supporter of his step-father, engaging on the Emperor’s behalf in a number of notable battles. Eugène was viceroy of Italy for many years, but following the overthrow of Napoleon, he took refuge in Munich where he died at the age of 43.

The cameo that we see was carved by Giovanni Beltrami (1779-1854) who trained as a stone-cutter under the celebrated Giovanni Pichler. Beltrami was so skilled that he was said to be able to cut twenty figures on a single stone and is known to have created a miniature version of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper on a topaz. Beltrami was favored by a number of European monarchs, but none more so than the Empress of Austria, Elisabeth.

This attractive vessel, in addition to the cameo features a base of pierced and chased gold, and, on the lid, a frame of  pearls, turquoise, agate, enamel, and glass.

At the Music Hall: Ain't it Grand to be Bloomin' Dead

Lately there's nothing but trouble, grief and strife
There's not much attraction about this bloomin' life
Last night I dreamt I was bloomin' well dead
As I went to the funeral, I bloomin' well said,
Look at the flowers, bloomin' great orchids
Ain't it grand, to be bloomin' well dead!

And look at the corfin, bloomin' great 'andles
Ain't it grand, to be bloomin' well dead!

I was so 'appy to think that I'd popped off
I said to a bloke with a nasty, 'acking cough
Look at the black 'earse, bloomin' great 'orses
Ain't it grand, to be bloomin' well dead!

Look at the bearers, all in their frock coats
Ain't it grand, to be bloomin' well dead!

And look at their top 'ats, polished with Guiness
Ain't it grand, to be bloomin' well dead!

Some people there were praying for me soul
I said, 'It's the first time I've been off the dole'
Look at the mourners, bloomin' well sozzled
Ain't it grand, to be bloomin' well dead!
Look at the children, bloomin' excited
Ain't it grand, to be bloomin' well dead!

Look at the neighbours, bloomin' delighted
Ain't it grand, to be bloomin' well dead!

'Spend the insurance', I murmered, 'for alack
'You know I shan't be with you going back.'
Look at the Missus, bloomin' well laughing
Ain't it grand, to be bloomin' well dead!

Look at me Sister, bloomin new 'at on
Ain't it grand, to be bloomin' well dead!

And look at me Brother, bloomin' cigar on
Ain't it grand, to be bloomin' well dead!

We come from clay and we all go back they say
Don't 'eave a brick it may be your Aunty May
Look at me Grandma, bloomin' great haybag
Ain't it grand, to be bloomin' well dead!

Well, that's lovely.  This jolly music hall song is the work of Leslie Sarony (1897-1985).  Sarony rose in prominence during the 1920s and proved himself to be a popular and durable performed well into his eighties.

Precious Time: A Magnificent Clock by Vulliamy & Son, 1807

Egyptian Revival Clock
Vulliamy & Son
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Early Nineteenth Century discoveries of Egyptian artifacts caused an interest in the style of ancient Egypt and a spate of objects designed in England in the Egyptian taste. This style was especially dominant in objects with an inherent architectural quality such as clocks and tombstones.

This gorgeous clock in the Egyptian style in the work of English clockmakers Vulliamy & Son. The case is supported by figures of the god, Horus and is adorned with patinated bronze and ormolu.

Before being donated to the Victoria & Albert Museum, this clock was in the collection of Queen Mary prior to her marriage to King George V.

Saturday Silliness: Cleopatra's Nightmare

This rare music hall film from about 1920, showing a routine by the variety act of Wilson, Keppel and Betty certainly lives up to its name--"Cleopatra's Nightmare."

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 248

Chapter 247
A Peculiar Task 

Do come and sit, Lennie.” Robert said as Punch’s sister entered the morning room. “You look exhausted.”

“I rather am.” Lennie nodded weakly.

“Any improvement in Ethel?” Punch asked. “’As she…at least…calmed down?”

“No, not really, though she finally fell asleep. A fitful sleep, whimpering and thrashing, but sleep nonetheless.” Lennie shook her head as she sat next to Mr. Punch on one of the floral-covered settees.

“Poor, sad thing.” Punch sighed. “At least she’s sleepin’ now.”

“She wouldn’t say a word,” Lennie continued softly. “She wouldn’t even look at me. It’s tragic. For such a spirited girl to…well, it’s as if she was also…” She stopped. “We must hope that she’ll improve. I did manage to get her…soiled apron off of her. I gave it to Violet and told her to just throw it away.”

“That’s for the best,” Robert replied.

“Violet told me that Mrs. Pepper is concerned that we’ve not eaten upstairs.” Lennie continued. “And, that I’m to tell you, Punch, that we need to keep up our strength. I wasn’t sure if you’d given Mrs. Pepper a menu for dinner or not.”

“No.” Punch shook his head. “For once, I ain’t thinkin’ ‘bout me stomach.”

“I suppose we should tell Mrs. Pepper something. You know how she worries.”

“I can’t see havin’ dinner in the dinin’ room—not tonight. Not with poor Jenny lying upstairs in her coffin. I’ll ring for Speaight in a bit and tell ‘im that we’ll just have something cold on trays in the library.”

“Frankly, Mrs. Pepper should be relieved by that.” Robert nodded.

“Dunno how she’s gonna manage to get meals for downstairs let ‘lone up here what with Jenny…gone…and Ethel the way she is.”

“That’s something which I’ve been reluctant to mention, dear Punch.” Robert spoke up. “It’s rather awkward to say it, given our present situation, but we’re going to need to get some assistance for Mrs. Pepper.”

“Violet’s already volunteered to help in any way she can.” Lennie replied.

“Well, for today, that’s fine. However, Violet is already over-taxed. Since Gamilla’s gone to the nursery, Violet’s taken on all of her former duties in addition to her own.” Robert nodded.

“Not to mention acting as my lady’s maid.” Lennie sighed.

“Should we advertise for a permanent maid for you, Lennie?” Robert asked.

“I don’t need a maid at all, Robert.” Lennie shook her head. “I was, as such, a maid myself caring for Fath…Mr. Barrett…and Roger all that time. I can look after myself.”

“No.” Punch frowned. “You’re the sister of the Duke of Fallbridge. You will have a maid.”

Robert smiled at Mr. Punch’s firmness.

“If I must have one, I’d prefer to have Violet.” Lennie replied.

“In that case, we’ll advertise for a house maid and a parlor maid.” Robert said. “And, Violet can be yours.”

“And…” Punch said softly. “A kitchen maid.”

“Yes.” Robert nodded.

They sat in silence for awhile, each thinking of Jenny.

Finally, Lennie spoke. “I almost forgot to ask. Did you see Mr. Donnan?” She winced as she said the name of her natural father.

“We did.” Punch answered.

“Did he ask after me?” Lennie asked shyly.

“No.” Mr. Punch replied. “Not in so many words, he didn’t, though he did mention you. Said, you was the best thing he ever did, and, rightly, I’m sure it’s true.”

“Thank you, dear Mr. Punch.” Lennie answered.

“Knew better than to ask to speak to ya.” Mr. Punch continued. “He knows you don’t fancy ‘avin’ ‘im in your life.”

“Not presently.” Lennie agreed. “Was it, at least, a fruitful conference?”

“In a way,” Robert answered. “Frankly, the man spoke too much. He seemed bent on unburdening himself of a lifetime of cruelty. Meanwhile, the other one, Mr. Stover, didn’t speak one word. It was all very peculiar.”

“Peculiar men for a peculiar task.” Lennie inhaled.

“He’s just as disgusted by Orpha Polk as we.” Robert answered.

“Rightly blames ‘er for Finlay’s death.” Punch nodded.

“Isn’t it odd?” Lennie shook her head slightly. “At the same time, I found out that I had two half brothers and one of them died before I could even know him.”

“I knew Finlay.” Punch scowled. “I ‘ate to say it of your kin, but…”

“I understand.” Lennie smiled softly. “I’ve more blessings now than I ever imagined.” She took a deep breath. “So, Mr. Donnan agreed to his task?”

“He did.” Punch responded.

“Did he understand what he was to do?”

“Not at first.” Robert smiled. “However, we made ourselves most clear.”

“When does she die?” Lennie asked.

“Tonight.” Robert answered.

“Jus’ as them poor folk come here to pray over Jenny’s body.” Punch said sternly.

Did you miss Chapters 1-247 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday for Chapter 249.

Sculpture of the Day: A Bronze Sculpture of Aesculapius, c. 1600

Francesco Fanelli, 1600-1650
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The famed Italian sculptor Francesco Fanelli created this bronze statuette of Aesculapius (also spelled Asclepius or, in Britain, Asklepius)  between 1600-1650, possibly while in Florence. Aesculapius was the ancient Greek God of medicine and healing and the son of Apollo and Coronis. His artistic attribute is a staff with an intertwined snake, the rod of Aesculapius--which is still a symbol of medicine today.

 Though he was prolific, we don’t know much about the life of Francesco Fanelli (b: about 1577 - last documented in London c. 1641). Fanelli was first recorded in Genoa in 1608, and presumably stayed there until about 1631. There, he produced religious works in marble, silver, ivory and bronze.

By 1635, somehow, Fanelli was in Britain, working at the English court.   He referred to himself  as the “sculptor to the King of Great Britain,” but, it is unclear if this title was officially conferred or if it’s just something he liked to call himself.

The V&A owns several bronzes which were attributed in the Seventeenth Century to “Francisco, the one-eyed Italian”  as listed in an inventory of Whitehall Palace in 1639.  Okay.  Why did he have one eye?  Was this the same man?  We’ll never know.  But, the works do, in fact, look like the style of Fanelli who relied on detailed musculature and fluidity of pose to make his creations seem more alive.  

When this figure was originally collected by the V&A, he was outfitted with a fig leaf which was meant to prevent our Victorian forebears from accidentally spying anything scandalous.
  That has since been removed since people are slow to scandalize these days.  

Unusual Artifacts: A Set of Jeweled Writing Tablets, 1650

Writing Tablets
Dutch, 1650
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This set of ivory writing tablets has been encased in enameled gold covers set with emeralds and rubies. The covers depict two biblical scenes on the outside. On the front, we see Joseph thrust into a well by his brethren, and, on the reverse, we see the journey into Egypt. The insides of the covers show two landscape scenes.

These were made in 1650 in the Netherlands. While not practical, they’re certainly beautiful.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: An Egyptian Rock Crystal Bottle, 975-1000

Egypt, 975-1000
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This tubular-shape bottle narrows at the neck and foot and is adorned with a broad band of palmette scrolls in the center and plain moldings, at the shoulder and foot. Given the fact that this piece is between 900 and 1000 years old, it has suffered some damage—a chip and a missing foot. Looking through the mouth hole, one can see at the base the mark of a drill—a fascinating technology used to fashion this vessel in Egypt.

Rock crystal vessels were made for the rulers of Cairo during the Fatimid period (969–1171). These were the work of very skilled craftsmen. Enormous skill and paitence was required to hollow out the raw rock crystal without breaking it and to carve the delicate, often very shallow, decoration. Because of this, these were prestigious items that the ruler would have displayed in his treasury.

These bottles were probably used for storing perfumes—highly costly materials in their own right.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Mastery of Design: A Good Luck Charm

Good Luck Charm
Unknown Origins
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

I can’t tell you much more about this carved jewel than what it is. When and where it was made are not listed in the archives of the Royal Collection. However, it seems to me to be the sort of thing that Queen Victoria would have liked quite a lot. 

This pendant charm was considered to be “good luck.” Carved ivory takes the shape of an arm wearing pierced gold and enamel bracelets. The hand is posed in some sort of gesture of a crossed thumb and forefinger which must have signified something at one point. The forefinger is styled with a diamond ring on the middle finger and the shoulder is mounted with three pointed rubies. 

Mr. Punch in the Arts: An American Punch from 1937


"Puppet Punch"
Edward Strzalkowski, 1937
Watercolor, Pen and Ink
The National Gallery, U.S.

Mr. Punch’s popularity didn’t stop in England. He traveled across the ocean and found a nice place for himself in the United States—his tradition carried on by immigrant Punch & Judy Men. Mr. Punch’s American persona changed a bit from his British guise, but his antics remained relatively the same.

Here, we see a drawing from 1937 by Edward Strzalkowski which was acquired by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1943. The artist shows an Americanized Mr. Punch with a wooden head, fur wig and costume of fur, velvet, corduroy, and cotton. Unlike the glove puppets which were the fashion in English Punch & Judy shows, many American versions were operated by means of a stick which extended into the figure’s head.

Historical drawings such as this give of a sense of Mr. Punch’s many-centuries-long evolution and show us the influence that has had on all the arts.

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.  Some week, I may offer a nifty prize from our online store.  But, this week, again, I don't feel like it.

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...

Riddle me, riddle me, what is that 
Over the head and under the hat?

And, the answer is...


Anticlimactic, I know.  Many good answers today!  Rice pudding, references to other caption contests, hard-boiled eggs and sausages.  I could ask for nothing more.  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: An American Punch & Judy Show

As an American Punch & Judy Man, I'm pleased to see the art form practiced in other parts of the U.S.  Here's a clip from a show performed in Missouri!  

And, it's really quite nicely done--complete with swazzle!


Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 247

Chapter 247 


I trust you don’t mind meeting in the garden, Mr. Donnan?” Mr. Punch asked as Speaight escorted Johnny and Mr. Stover into the small, walled garden behind No. 65 Belgrave Square. Neither Punch nor Robert stood to greet their visitors, but Punch was careful to speak in Julian’s measured, cautious manner.

Robert nodded at Speaight who returned to the house, but not without first casting one final surveying glance at the Duke and the doctor to see that they were safe.

“I didn’t expect Your Grace to welcome us into your parlor.” Mr. Donnan nodded.

“Ours is a house of mourning, Mr. Donnan,” Robert spoke up.

“Aye, Mrs. Pepper told me, and I truly could no’ be sorrier, Doctor. Poor lass. She was a good girl, Jenny. But, let’s not whitewash it, Dr. Halifax. That ain’t the reason you gentlemen don’t want us in your fine, handsome home. Shall we speak honestly? I’m a bad man and Jonas is a thief. There’s no gettin’ round that, Sirs. I’m a brute and Jonas would pick your rooms clean of their appointments. As it is, he’s sure to steal the very blooms from the garden. He can’t help himself, he can’t. And, if he’d speak, aye, he’d tell ya the same and worse of me, I’m sure.”

“Please, sit.” Mr. Punch gestured to two ornate wrought iron chairs which flanked a bronze sundial.

“Thank you both for taking the time to see us.” Robert began.

“As good and fine as Your Grace and yourself are, we ain’t here for you.” Mr. Donnan said. “We’re here because we’re wronged and we, ourselves, have been wrong. We’re here because we’ll burn in Hell no matter what, but St. Peter’d best see some final bits of good in us before we reach our judgment day. We’re lost men, Doctor. Both of us lost our sons, and both because of the wickedness of Orpha Polk. We aim to see her get her due.”

Mr. Stover nodded silently.

“Now, I’m not here to sanctify our lads. Neither was a prize. Finlay was greedy and sly, and William was what he was…as you know well, Doctor.”

Robert frowned and began to speak, but Mr. Donnan continued.

“Yet, I got one bit of good. One fine thing what I made--Lennie. Though I spoke but a few words to the girl in Scotland, I knew at once she were a fine lass, a clever lass with spirit. I’m grateful to ya, Sir, that you gave her your fine father’s name. I bless ya for takin’ her in like she was your sister. Poor thing saddled with a pa like me and a ma like yours.”

“To begin with, Mr. Donnan, Lennie IS my sister, no matter who her father was. Furthermore, Mr. Barrett was the only father she ever knew. Had the name not been tainted by Orpha Polk’s lies, I’d not have even suggested she take my name. I’d have felt a kinship to her regardless of what she was called. Yet, I do take comfort in that we now share a commonality which allows society to know that we’re related and that I’m proud of her.” Mr. Punch answered.

“Aye, that’s why Your Grace is so well-loved. Your kindness. Nary a soul loves us. My son would have been the first to speak of his hate for his da’. Now, he’s drowned with only the story of my beatin’s to his history. Sure, but he never knew that I loved him.” Johnny looked at Mr. Stover. “And, what’s the thief got left? A daughter who’s a harlot and a brood of bastard grandchildren. Eudora’s as loose a woman as…”

“Yes.” Robert held up his hand.

“Yet, you showed her kindness in the past, Doctor.” Mr. Donnan continued as if his whole life hinged on that moment in the sunshine—that one moment in his life when he might confess everything he ever thought or felt, his only opportunity to ever unburden himself. “And, how’s she repay ya? By workin’ wickedness into your home. I’m guilty of the same. Your Grace never done me harm. Your pa was kind to see me girl go to a better home. And, I, too allowed meself to be tricked into workin’ evil against ya. I dunno why. Maybe I was tryin’ to punish your ma through you. She was a wicked one, your ma. Beautiful, but wicked. Aye, she…”

“I am aware, Mr. Donnan, of my mother’s…personality.” Mr. Punch said firmly.

“I beg your pardon, Your Grace.” Mr. Donnan nodded. “As does Mr. Stover.”

Mr. Stover, again, nodded.

“Here I am, goin’ on like a fool when yours is a house in mournin’. And, so soon after poor Mrs. North was sent to God…another cruel act of that woman, Orpha.”

“That’s why we’ve asked you here.” Robert spoke up, hoping to regain control of the conversation.

“How might we help you in stoppin’ this witch?” Mr. Stover asked.

“At first,” Punch explained, “we hoped you, with Mr. Stover’s help, could convince Eudora to abandon her alliance with Orpha and, also, to see to it that Orpha was frightened enough to stop her campaign against not only us, but also Lady Lensdown whose children, along with another girl called Fern, have been taken by the woman.”

“At first?” Mr. Donnan grunted. “And, now?”

Robert and Punch exchanged glances. Robert nodded.

“Now, we want you to kill her.” Punch answered.

Did you miss Chapters 1-246 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 248.

Drawing of the Day: Children Watching a Puppet Show

Children Watching A Puppet Show
Stefano della Bella
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Oddly enough, here’s another drawing which I’ve not seen before. This one is by an Italian artist with a sing-song name, Stefano della Bella (1610-1664). The work of black chalk, pen and ink was purchased by King George III from Consul Joseph Smith in 1762, and depicts a group of children watching a puppet show. A young mother holds her child on her lap so that the baby can see the show, too.

I am familiar with a similar drawing by Della Bella which is housed at the British Museum. While the subjects are similar, the example in the British Museum includes a bagpiper accompanying the show.

Given the age of the piece, the paper has deteriorated a bit and the other sketches on the verso are visible.

Obviously, the drawing is incomplete, and, is clearly a study for another work—perhaps a painting.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Tail Piece from “Points of Humour”

Tail Piece from "Points of Humour"
George Cruikshank, 1824
The British Museum

Good morning, all! I’m a bit under-the-weather again today, so, I’m all the happier that it’s a “Punch” Friday. I thought we would begin our puppet-fest with a look at piece that I’ve not seen before. It’s been tucked away in the British Museum for quite some time, and I find it quite charming.

Another of Cruikshank’s drawings for the 1824 publication of “Points of Humour,” we see here a very simple, but dynamic image of Londoners watching a Punch & Judy show. Gathered around the fit-up, we see a guardsman, a butcher boy and several children.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Bert and Jeff

"So…do you have a tail?” 

Image: Jeffery Hudson (1619-1682), Daniel Mytens (c. 1590-1647) c. 1628-30, Painted for Charles I, Crown Copyright, The Royal Collection, Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

You, too, could have a cup of tea with Bertie. Or, you could wear his picture proudly. Visit our online store to see our range of Gratuitous Bertie Dog products.

Mastery of Design: The Queen Mother’s Ruby Necklace, 1907

Boucheron, 1907
Rubies, Diamonds, Gold
The Royal Collection

A close friend of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and King George VI, the Honorable Mrs. Ronald Greville was known for her beauty, style and impeccable taste. Mrs. Greville was a keen collector of jewels, and during her life amassed an unprecedented assortment of diamond and gemstone pieces.

Upon her death in 1942, Mrs. Greville bequeathed her amazing collection to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The Queen Mother presented her daughter (now Queen Elizabeth II) with many of the pieces from Mrs. Greville’s collection on the day of her wedding in 1947.

This magnificent necklace was among those jewels given to Her Majesty on her wedding day. Created specifically for Mrs. Greville by Boucheron in Paris in 1907, the necklace of diamonds and bold red rubies is the epitome of Edwardian style with its floral pattern and dense settings.

The only change to the necklace since being presented to the Queen in 1947 is that it has been shortened by the two smallest, uppermost, flower clusters.

Her Majesty’s Furniture: The Tulip and Crown Cabinet, 1780

Gobelins Workshop, Adam Weisweiler
The Royal Collection
From the Gobelins (an interesting name) Workshop in Paris, this remarkable hardstone inlay cabinet is the work of famed cabinet maker Adam Weisweiler. An intricate puzzle of Oak, ebony, hardstones, tortoiseshell, brass, pewter, mahogany, boxwood, purplewood, gilt bronze, brocatello marble, this handsome cabinet caught the eye of King George IV while still the Prince of Wales.

It is said that the Prince of Wales was drawn to the pattern of tulips and crowns. However, it’s more likely that he was attracted to the cabinet because of his love of French craftsmanship. Regardless of his reasons, it was a smart purchase, and though it was packed away for many years, it now is one of the centerpieces of the furniture exhibit of The Royal Collection.

Sculpture of the Day: A Figural Group with Birds and Strawberry Leaves, 1755

Figural Group
Unknown French Maker
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Finding an Eighteenth Century French figural group such as this work of glazed porcelain and gilt metal in its original condition is quite rare. Most of them seem to have been made into lamps. And, most of those lamps have been surmounted by ugly shades for the last forty years or more. I blame Joan Crawford.

This delicate sculptural group features a pair of birds—facing each other--upon a tree stump next to a peculiarly small dog. The group is mounted in gilt metal and fitted with white hard-paste porcelain flowers. As was the fashion of the time, the stump is encircled with leaves and flowers applied in relief. The metal mounting consists of supporting structure of curved and pointed stems to which are attached flat strawberry leaves of gilt metal, five roses and a tulip which serves as a candle holder.