Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mastery of Design: An Amazing Enamel and Diamond Spray Ornament, 1780-1800

Spray Ornament
Enamel, Gold, Rose-Cut Diamonds
The Victoria and Albert Museum
Flowers have always been considered the perfect adornment, but they’re not very long-lasting. In the late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries, jewelers perfected the art of the “spray ornament” which would achieve the look of a floral decoration, but last forever and be markedly more luxurious (and sparkly).

We’ve already had a look atanother spray ornament of diamonds. This one is a variation on the theme, showing the skill with which enamel was used in jewelry making. A bouquet of multi-colored flowers set with rose-cut diamonds and bound by a diamond and blue enamel ribbon is the centerpiece of this astoundingly beautiful and intricate bodice ornament. It could be worn independently or attached to a removable gold hook which served to elevate the ornament.

Saturday Silliness: Popeye the Sailor in "Never Kick a Woman"

Yes, I colored it.

This 1930s Max Fliescher “Popeye” cartoon is entitled, ‘Never Kick a Woman” which is a fair enough instruction. It seems that Popeye has decided that Olive Oyl needs some lessons in self defense and, so, as one does, he brings her to a languid, blonde, Mae West type who appears to be constructed entirely of cartilage and saline. Despite Mae’s curious chemical composition, she attempts to seduce Popeye, much to Olive’s chagrin. Chaos and spinach theft ensue.

History's Runway: Lady Gladwyn's 1957 State Visit Gown

Gown by Pierre Balmain
French, 1957
The Cecil Beaton Collection at
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Lady Gladwyn’s name is synonymous with “high fashion.” She was the wife of the British Ambassador to Paris from 1954 to 1960. Lady Gladwyn famously hosted the state visit of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the French Embassy on Tuesday April 9, 1957, at which this dress was worn.

This floral masterpiece was designed by Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain (1914-82), and showcases, on the bodice, the appliqué technique which was characteristic of his work. The full-length evening dress of cream warp printed silk is emblazoned with an oversized pink rose pattern. The strapless, boned bodice, scalloped at the waist, is trimmed with appliqué roses below the bust line and to the waist.

Lady Gladwyn wrote in her diary that night:

The supper was, I think, just right for the occasion: cold salmon, chaudfroid of chicken, a salad, oranges and lemons filled with sorbet, and a wonderful Bollinger... The difficulty was to get rid of all the guests. They lingered on, and at half past one in the morning Cecil Beaton was still sketching Diana Cooper in the Ionian Room.

Speaking of Cecil Beaton, the celebrated society photographer and bon vivant collected several of the dresses worn during this state visit so that he could donate them to the V&A. Among the gowns which Beaton managed to add to his collection from this 1957 state visit are the Queen's embroidered ivory gown by Norman Hartnell (1901-79), Lady Gladwyn's lilac lace gown by Jacques Fath, and Baroness Alain de Rothschild's spotted tulle gown by Christian Dior (1905-57).

Saturday Sparkle: A Display of Pins and Gem Settings, 1864

Pins and Settings
John Whenman of Clerkenwell
The Victoria and Albert Museum
We often look at jewelry here at Stalking the Belle Époque, and every so often, I give you a look at my collection of antique stickpins. Gentlemen’s stickpins were a major source of business for jewelers well until the early Twentieth Century, and, as we’ve seen, the care and creativity that went into their manufacture was as great as the efforts put into women’s jewels. Jewelers took pride in their unique designs and their innovations in settings and cuts.

Here, we see one jeweler’s efforts to advertise his skills from the jewel collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. This unusual display shows three specimens of gem setting, preserved under a glass dome. A silver shield below the specimens is inscribed, “Specimen of Gem Setting Executed by John Whenman of Clerkenwell London 1864, No. of Stones 451.”

The display is surmounted by a lavish stickpin in the form of a bust of St. George bedecked in a plumed helmet. This masterpiece of gold and silver is set with rose-cut diamonds, rubies, pearls, and pavé-set turquoises. Another stickpin of gold, silver and precious stones with pearl accents, shows a bust of a man, also wearing a helmet, with a pivoted crest and cuirass. His torso has been ornamented with a star shaped decoration. And, finally, we see the silver feathers of the Prince of Wales set with diamonds which forms a third stickpin.

This assortment of his wares was shown by the maker at the North London Working Classes Industrial Exhibition of 1864, and earned John Whenman a first prize certificate.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square Will Continue on Monday

Good morning, everyone.  You were expecting the usual Saturday chapter of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square to be posted here.  However, I've had a rather strenuous week, so, the next Chapter will be posted on Monday.  In the meantime, let's catch up a bit.

Well, well...we've had quite a lot happen in the household of No. 65 Belgrave Square.  In addition to already existing issues with Orpha Polk and the missing children of Lady Lensdown and Lady Constance, it seems that Mr. Punch and Robert had to host a whole new batch of crazy.  Actually, to be more accurate, it was an old batch of crazy.  Ulrika Rittenhouse!

Readers of Punch's Cousin as well as my novel, The Garnet Red, are familiar with this red-headed woman--a legendarily vicious and sadistic weirdo.  Our heros thought they'd heard the last of her when the left America, but, sadly, they were mistaken.  She's come to England (bringing her lover, Giovanni Iantosca--Charles' murderous brother who killed Punch's papa with her) and, one of her first stops was to Mr. Punch's door.  


Well, Ulrika has long had a history of being eager to join whatever cult is popular in New Orleans.  Her association with a new cult has decided that the new Messiah was born in London--a strange baby called Marduk.  And, Orpha wants to see him.

We met Marduk this week.  He's the son of brother and sister act Orpha Polk and the Baron Lensdown.  Today, we'd call him a conjoined twin, but in 1853, he was best described as a two-headed baby with three arms.  Let's just say mid-Nineteenth Century medicine wasn't too sympathetic to such things.  Orpha, of course, is quite thrilled with Marduk and calls him "Mummy's little monster," alternating between referring to him as "him" and "them."

Lady Constance as so shocked that she passed out when she saw Marduk.  This worked to her advantage as a repentant Eudora Stover hatched a scheme for Constance to escape with Fern.  But, I have a feeling that won't go as planned.  

Speaking of plans...Gamilla and Gerard posted their marriage banns.  But, the road to the altar isn't going to be easy for them.  They'll have to rely on Punch and Robert for help.

Of course, Punch and Robert certainly have their hands full.  They'll find help from two unlikely people (and I don't mean Johnny Donnan and his jailbird pal).  Look for a change in Ethel, and an awakening in Georgie.

There's a lot in store for you.  You won't want to miss a chapter, but if you do, you can always catch up in the Chapter Archive.  

Thanks for reading!

Sculpture of the Day: A Wax Bust of Queen Victoria, c. 1837

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Wax has been a favorite medium for centuries due to its ease of use and versatility. Portraits in wax portraits became quite fashionable in the Eighteenth Century in Britain. As opposed to the life-sized wax figures seen at waxworks such as Madame Tussaud’s, miniature figures and busts were often created as keepsakes. The tradition continued well into the Nineteenth Century, especially before the advent of photography.

These miniature figures were modeled from the life. The waxes were not only quite portable, but due to the nature of the medium, they had an attractive, naturalistic look which was warmer than figures in stone or metal. Often, these waxes were tinted and embellished with textiles, seed pearls or colored glass eyes, to augment the life-like appearance of the portrayal. Best of all, for a more permanent figure, a mould could be made from this initial model, from which further copies could be cast in bronze or spelter.

Here, we see a wax bust depicting Queen Victoria who is shown turned to the right wearing a V-necked dress with sleeves decorated with ribbons and a sash. This figure was created in 1837 upon Victoria’s accession by sculptor William Le Grand. Not much is known of Le Grand and it’s unclear if he not only sculpted by published copies of such waxes.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Bust of Young Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria
Marble Bust 1843
The Victoria & Albert Museum
We tend to always think of Queen Victoria as the Dowager Queen in her mourning dress, looking quite grim. Though she was never heralded for her enormous beauty, the Queen, as a young woman, was quite handsome, and images of her such as this one remind us of that.

This marble bust of Queen Victoria shows her in the simple, feminine attire she favored. Her royal status is indicated by the royal coat of arms on the front of the plinth.

The bust is the work of Johann Jacob Flatters (1786-1845), a German sculptor known to Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, who trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) in Paris, under the French artists Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828) and Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825). It is believed that Albert commissioned the bust of his beloved young wife.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mastery of Design: A Brilliant Jeweled Clock-Watch, 1738

Medallion: 1738
Gold, Enamel, Agate, Diamonds, Garnets, Emeralds
Watch Movement: 1690
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This interesting piece of art isn’t quite sure if it’s a watch or if it’s a clock. The curators at the V&A call it the “Clock-Watch,” with good reason. The object consists of a medallion created of a gilded copper alloy and mother-of-pearl which has been mounted with agate cameos of the Roman Emperors Augustus and Vespasian and a carnelian bust of Minerva. The helmet and armor are rendered in gold. The medallion is further adorned with settings of diamonds (predominately brilliant cut in an early appearance, but some are table-cut), almandine and hessonite garnets, emeralds and ornate enameled plaques. This medallion has been fitted with a separate gold watch movement which is accessible by removing the gold backing on the piece as a whole.
The watch movement dates to about 1690, predating the medallion by almost half a century. The movement, which was most certainly the work of a London watch-maker, was possibly set in another case before being set into this medallion which seems to have been made expressly for the purpose of housing it. The movement’s top plate bears the name of Du Thuillay of Halle. The medallion is the work of goldsmith Johann Salomon Mëyer of Zerbst. His signature is on the reverse of the medallion, together with the date, 1738.

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...

They can be harbored, but few hold water,
You can nurse them, but only by holding them against someone else, 

You can carry them, but not with your arms,
You can bury them, but not in the earth.


The answer is...A GRUDGE.  Congratulations to Shawn of Missouri for concluding the answer.  And, also, many thanks for the many clever and amusing responses from the rest of you!  What a wonderful group.  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: A Gaggle of Punches

The Punch & Judy Fellowship
What would one call an assembly of Mr. Punch puppets from all over the world? A gaggle? A gang? A murder, like crows? Regardless of the correct term, this wild gathering of Punch Professors (and even a Guignol and a couple of Pulcinellas) comes to us viaThe Punch & Judy Fellowship and their footage from 2010’s annual May Fayre at Covent Garden.

There’s no way that you can watch this herd of puppets singing, “I do like to be beside the seaside,” without smling. Happy Friday!

The Art of Play: Albert Smith’s Mr. Punch

Mr. Punch
Albert Smith
Britain, Late Nineteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Dear Mr. Punch always looks basically the same from puppet show to puppet show. Each professor’s figures are slightly different from one another. Of course, he has his large nose, jutting chin, round belly and hunchback. But, sometimes his hair is white, sometimes its brown or ginger, and his expression and costume depend on the wishes of his “master.” Typically, he is outfitted in crimson with gold details, occasionally, he also wears blue. But, he’s always recognizable as Mr. Punch.

This Mr. Punch is one of a set of figures created and used by late Punch and Judy Man, Albert Smith who performed throughout London. This puppet, as was the rest of the set, was made in the late Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century. He wears a suit of red corduroy with blue velvet sleeves and metallic gold trim. Beneath his “hunch,” a sleeve of red velvet conceals the professor’s arm. His hands, legs, feet and head are carved from wood which has been painted.

This figure is a little battered, but he would be. Punch gets about some very rough business. In light of that, it’s rather amazing that he’s in such fine condition. Clearly, this puppet was well used and well cared for.

He came to the Victoria & Albert Museum—with his original slapstick as well as his other puppet companions—in 2001 as a gift from the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 258

Chapter 258 


The first face Lady Constance saw when she opened her eyes was the weary, worn countenance of Eudora Stover.

“There’s a girl,” Eudora nodded.

Constance sat up with a start.

“No use you gettin’ upset again.” Eudora gently pushed her back onto the filthy sofa.

“I…” Constance began.

“Now, you just be quiet,” Eudora replied with a gentleness which surprised Constance. The emotion was visible on her face.

“I ain’t all bad,” Eudora cackled. “I’m just greedy, but it ain’t like I don’t have a heart.” Eudora took a deep breath. “It’s me heart what’s gotten me in trouble. I want what I want. Love, money. Pleasure. Ere, I made some mistakes, but I ain’t gonna hurt ya. I can see now what ‘appens when a body let’s ‘er greed take ‘er too far.” She gestured with her chin toward the door to the room. “That one…Orpha. She killed me brother. I didn’t want ‘im killed. I just wanted to worry ‘im so’d he’d get somethin’ from that Dr. Halifax. Look how I live.” She shrugged. “Ain’t a sin to want better. Is it? Not when you want it for your little ones.”

Constance shook her head. “I understand.”

“Listen, then, your little girl is just fine. I been lookin’ after ‘er me-self. She’s a gentle child. She’s a good soul. She’s in back with me own tots. So, you just lie ‘ere a minute and let your body rest. I know you seen…it. That thing. Marduk.”

“I thought that it can’t be real.”

“Oh, it’s real.” Eudora shivered. “I’ve fed it. I know it’s real.”

“How do you feed…” Constance grimaced.

“A spoonful in each mouth.” Eudora shook her head.

“Is it true that my daughter has seen it?”

“Oh, sure.” Eudora nodded. “Your Fern is good with it. She don’t seem to mind that it’s what it is…whatever it is.”

Constance shut her eyes.

“Don’t worry, Miss.” Eudora responded. “It ain’t gonna hurt ‘er. It likes ‘er. She plays with it. Even the wicked head don’t mind ‘er.”

Constance put her hands over her stomach.

“Don’t think of it too much, Miss.” Eudora smiled.

“I don’t know how I couldn’t.” Constance answered. “Please, can I see my daughter?”

Eudora glanced to the door. “I don’t think I’d better. Orpha’s just in the next room.”

“I must see her. I must…” Constance pleaded, sitting up again. “I’m here before you, I readily confess that I’m no better than Orpha Polk. The sins I’ve committed are mortal and grave. But, I do love my child.”

“I know you do.” Eudora replied. “I wish I could, Miss, but it would mean my…”

“What?” Constance squinted.

Eudora chuckled and placed her hand on Constance’s forhead.

“You’re ill, Miss.” Eudora said quickly.

“I just fainted…I was…”

“No.” Eudora said quickly. “You’re burnin’ with fever! You’re delirious!”

“I don’t…”

Eudora smiled. “You’re so delirious that we can’t let you go. That must be why you fainted, Miss. Your fever. If you’re so ill with fever, we can’t let you out of the ‘ouse. Otherwise…well, there’s no tellin’ what you’d do or say. We can’t ‘ave you goin’ ‘round and tellin’ what you seen ‘ere. Best to keep you right ‘ere.”

“Oh…” Constance smiled slowly.

“Now, we all keep a schedule ‘ere now that she’s brought that…Marduk. We all most get to our beds early so we don’t disturb it. Orpha’s taken my room over there so she can stay with ‘er creature. That way, also, she can see all what goes on at the front of the ‘ouse. I sleep out in the kitchen with me own little ones and Hortence. By the back door, Miss. Tha’ts where Fern sleeps. By the back door. You…you’ll have to stay ‘ere in the parlor, such as it is. Do you understand?”

“I do.”

“We all sleep so sound, we do. I often think if someone were to walk right past me, right to the back door—even carryin’ somethin’ big, I’d not stir a bit.”

Constance nodded.

“Now, don’t ya keep coughin’ like that, Miss.” Eudora winked. “See…now you gone and got a chill. Go sit by the fire. Real close so you get nice and ‘ot ‘til I come back with Orpha.”

Constance forced herself to cough and nodded, rising to go and sit by the fire.

“Oh, Miss, that cough don’t sound good at all.”

“Thank you,” Constance whispered.

“Shhhh…” Eudora shook her head. “We all done wicked things. We can’t change ‘em, but maybe we can maybe, just maybe…”

Constance nodded.

“Eudora!” Orpha called from the adjoining room. “Marduk is hungry. He wants his dinner. Come and feed them.”

“Never thought I’d find salvation at the hungry mouths of a monster.” Eudora whispered. “But, who am I to question it?”

Did you miss Chapters 1-257 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday for Chapter 259.  While the usual posts will continue over the weekend, Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square will take a one day hiatus on Saturday.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: Mr. Punch Meets Mr. Dickens

Charles Dickens is the first name many people think of when recalling Victorian England. Of course, that makes sense. Dickens was one of the most prolific writers of the era. As Punch & Judy shows were one of the major forms of entertainment available to everyone, Dickens would have encountered the fabulous Mr. Punch many a time. It only stands to reason that among Dickens’ colorful cast of characters would be some Punch & Judy men. In The Old Curiosity shop, Little Nell and her grandfather stumble across a couple of Punch & Judy men during their journey. Here, in this lovely illustration from the original printing of The Old Curiosity Shop, we see this encounter as rendered by Dickens’ long-time friend and illustrator, Daniel Maclise. Maclise also provided the illustrations for Nicholas Nickleby and several of Dickens’ Christmas-themed stories.

I love this image. It truly captures a moment in time. I think it’s grand that Mr. Punch is draped over a tombstone as the men inventory their tools. You can see Judy still in the suitcase. Mr. Punch has had a significant influence on all forms of art. Here’s hoping that he continues to do so for centuries to come.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Drawing from the George Speaight Punch & Judy Collection

Watercolor over Printing Ink
Late Nineteenth Century
Part of the George Speaight Punch & Judy Collection
The Victoria & Albert Museum
In 2010, George Speaight bequeathed his impressive and comprehensive collection of Punch & Judy artifacts to the Victoria & Albert Museum. This drawing was among the objects in the collection, one of a series by the same unknown artist.

A hand-colored, water color over printing ink drawing, it depicts Mr. Punch, his wife, Judy, and their ill-fated baby in the moment in the puppet show when Judy urges her husband to spend some time with the tyke. As we know, Punch’s parenting skills are lacking, and he eventually tosses the uncooperative child out of the window. For the briefest of moments, however, they appear to be a happy family. The scene, of course, turns sour rather quickly.

The other drawings in the series depict Punch’s discarding of the baby, Judy’s violent reaction, Punch’s overtaking of Judy, Punch’s escape from the Constable, his introduction to Toby and Joey the Clown who taunts Mr. Punch with sausages, and Punch’s inevitable encounter with Jack Ketch, the hangman.

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: L' Bertie-tine

"They're gaining on us."

Image:  L'Allegro, 1848, Charles West Cope, (1811 - 1890), oil on panel, given by John Sheepshanks, 1857 to The Victoria & Albert Museum.  

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.

Saturday Sparkle: A Pair of Diamond and Enamel Earrings by Chaumet, 1920

Diamonds, Platinum, Gold, Enamel
Chaumet, c. 1920
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Platinum, gold, enamel, and baguette-and brilliant-cut diamonds hang in sheer elegance with these impressive earrings by Chaumet. They date to the early 1920s.

Long earrings were the height of fashion during the 1920s. The September 1925 edition of “The Illustrated London News” attributed this fashion trend to changing hairstyles, stating, “As the fashion for ‘Eton’ cropped heads grows daily, long, decorative ear-rings are becoming increasingly fashionable.'

Some jewelers, however, decided that the new short hair was not good for business. After all, gone were the days of jewelled hair ornaments. “Queen Magazine” noted that same year, “now no ornament is worn in the hair for dances.”

Though long earrings were selling well, for many jewelers, the this fashion did not compensate for the decline in demand for the more expensive larger jewelled combs, hair ornaments and hair slides.

Treat of the Week: A Pre-Valentine’s Day Feast

Since we weren’t going to be together for Valentine’s Day, my mother prepared a special feast when last we visited so that we could enjoy a pre-Valentine’s Day celebration as a family. Of course, when next we gather, we’ll relish in our annual Valentine’s Tea—my favorite treat of all. You’ll be seeing that in coming days. 

This fabulous dinner was an ideal reminder of family-togetherness. Heart-shaped red and white cheese raviolis were smothered in a delectable sauce brimming with flavor and made all the more special with sautéed baby Portobello mushrooms and lovely eggplant. A fantastic, cooling, salad was a neat counterpoint to the spicy meal, and, of course, there was a beautiful, crusty bread to sop up the sauce.

My father commented that the shape and color of the ravioli reminded him of the cover of my novel, The Garnet Red. I found that amusing, and, especially so when I saw that day’s dessert which was made in a fleur-de-lys pan—emblematic of the book’s New Orleans setting. 

And, what a cake! One of my favorites, in fact, this moist, luxurious dessert is a symphony of cardamom and spices. This is the sort of cake that only gets more flavorful after it sits for a day, becoming all the more moist and delicious. Served with whipped cream and fresh berries, it was a truly lovely end to a magnificent meal.