Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mastery of Design: The Emerald Parure of the Empress Marie-Louise

Image courtesy of the Louvre Museum
This magnificent emerald and diamond parure, on display with the collection of the French Crown Jewels at the Louvre, was originally part of a suite presented by Napoleon I to Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria on the occasion of their wedding in 1810. The necklace and earrings were later bequeathed to Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany.

The necklace is a stunning collection of 32 emeralds (the center emerald weighs 13.75 carats), 874 brilliant cut diamonds, and 264 rose cut diamonds. The emeralds exhibit a rare clarity and alternate between oval and lozenge-shaped stones, surrounded by diamonds. The emeralds are separated by palmettes, each of which encloses a small round emerald. A pear-shaped emerald surrounded by diamonds hangs from each large emerald. The centerpiece of each earring is a large emerald surrounded by brilliant cut diamonds.

The original parure consisted of the necklace, earrings, a tiara and a comb. The diadem and comb no longer exist in their original states. This masterpiece was designed by François-Regnault Nitot of the celebrated jeweler, Etienne Nitot et fils.

The parure has a rich and colorful history. In 1953, the descendants of the Grand Duke sold the necklace to Van Cleef & Arpels. The tiara was broken apart and the emeralds were sold individually. The tiara’s framework was sold to an American collector who set turquoise in the place of the missing emeralds. That piece now resides in the Smithsonian, though it can hardly be considered part of the original set anymore. The comb was completely destroyed. Fortunately, the necklace and earrings remain in tact and were donated to the Louvre in 1988. Thankfully, we can continue to enjoy this beautiful work of the jeweler’s art. If only stones could talk…

Drawing of the Day: Eddie Stidder by George Cooke, 1917

The V&A
Caricature of Eddie Stidder
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This caricature is from the fourth album that the commercial artist George Cooke used for his caricatures of music hall and variety performers which were popular during the early reign of King George V, spanning the years 1910 to 1919.

This drawing of ink, watercolor and bodycolor depicts the head of the music hall performer Eddie Stidder.  Here, Stidder is seen in white-face pierrot make-up with a white neck frill, and a cello with legs in the bottom left-hand corner. The caricature was drawn in 1917.  At some point, the sketch was cut out and glued to the orange sketch paper that we see here. 

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!”

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.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 264

Chapter 264 
What We Feared 

Charles was surprised to see the bell for the front door sway and jingle in the tidy row of bells above the servants’ hall archway. He looked to Mr. Speaight who shrugged.

“Now, who could be wantin’ to see His Grace at such an early hour?” Mrs. Pepper snapped from her kitchen.

“I hope it ain’t that horrible woman again.” Gamilla muttered, mostly to herself as she passed through the servants’ hall. She carried a neatly folded pile of the baby’s linens.

“Which one is that, dear?” Mrs. Pepper called to Gamilla through the pass-through. “There’s a host of ‘em these days.”

“That woman from America.” Gamilla answered. “Miss Rittenhouse.”

“You know her, then?” Violet asked from the corner where she was sewing a lace collar to one of Miss Lennie’s new tea gowns.

“Oh, we know her.” Gamilla frowned. “Don’t we, Charlie?”

“That we do.” Charles replied stiffly. “Gerard, Gamilla and I are very familiar with her.”

“I’d like to see her,” Violet said softly. “I’ve never seen an American woman before.”

“What about Gamilla?” Georgie Pepper laughed. “She’s American.”

“Are you, Gamilla?” Violet asked innocently. “I thought you were from Africa.”

“I am.” Gamilla answered quickly.

“See.” Violet smiled at Georgie.

“But, she came here from America.” Georgie replied.

“I did. I’m from everywhere and nowhere.” Gamilla nodded. “But, I’m happy to say that I’m an English woman now and gonna be a real English wife.”

“That you are, dear.” Mrs. Pepper replied firmly from her kitchen.

“While we’re all very happy about that,” Mr. Speaight said, “it doesn’t open the door, does it?”

“I’ll go, Mr. Speaight.” Charles rose from the table. “However, if it’s Ulrika Rittenhouse returned for the Duke, I’m afraid I won’t be too kind.”

“You have my permission, Charles.” Speaight replied. “Furthermore,” he set down his newspaper and scratched his thin, carrot-colored hair. “I’ll be the first to help you boot her out.”

Charles smiled. “I shall be delighted.” Putting on his coat as he climbed the stairs, Charles hurried through the foyer to the vestibule and opened the front door.

He thought for a moment that whomever had rung had already departed and then he looked down. There stood a little girl with a filthy face and stained pink dress. Her hair was disheveled about her face, cropped crudely at the nape of her neck.

Charles knew at once who the girl was.

“Fern?” He asked.

The girl nodded.

“Where’s your mummy?”

“Gone.” Fern whispered.

“Did she send you here?” Charles asked.

Again the girl nodded. She held up a letter addressed, in Lady Constance’s hand, to the Duke of Fallbridge.

Charles looked around to see that the girl wasn’t followed and said quickly. “You must come in.”

Fern entered the house, looking around with wide eyes. Charles followed her eyes as they traveled up the banisters to the sunlight streaming through the glass dome, five stories above her.

“I used to live in a house like this.” Fern said.

“Don’t you still?” Charles asked softly.

“I haven’t been there in a long time.” Fern said. “I’ve been in a dirty place.”

“I know,” Charles answered gently. “I’m glad to see that you are no longer there. We’ve all been very worried. I can take your letter for you.”

“No.” Fern shook her head. “Mummy said to give it to His Grace.”

“I’ll take it to His Grace.”

“No.” Fern repeated. “I’m to give it to the Duke of Fallbridge myself.”

“Very well.” Charles nodded. “I will go upstairs and tell the Duke that you’re here. I’m sure you must be hungry. Why not go downstairs and tell the nice lady in the kitchens that Charles said to make you a nice breakfast. Her name is Mrs. Pepper and…”

“No.” Fern sighed. “I am here to see the Duke of Fallbridge.”

“Still, I know you’ve been away from your home for…”

“Sir,” Fern shook her head. “I’ve been in a terrible place with horrible people and a mean woman who had a…baby…with…two…” She began to cry. “Two heads.”

Charles went pale.

“Now, may I please see the Duke of Fallbridge?” She asked, wiping her eyes and regaining her composure.

“Wait here, Miss.” Charles nodded, gesturing to a plush chair beside the entry hall fire. “I will bring His Grace to you.”

“And, Dr. Halifax, too?”

“Certainly.” Charles nodded before racing up the stairs.

Upon reaching the floor of the Duke’s chamber, Charles knocked softly on the Duke’s door before opening it and entering the dark room. The sun had not yet fully risen and he was sure that the masters would still be asleep.

Dog Toby looked up from the foot of the bed and barked softly.

“Dog Toby?” Punch snuffled. He bolted upright. “Charles?”

Robert, too, began to stir.

“What’s…” Robert squinted.

“I’m sorry to wake you this way, Sirs, but,” Charles began.

“Oh, no…not more trouble.” Robert rubbed his eyes.

“Fern is in the hall.” Charles explained.

“Fern?” Punch squinted.

“Lady Constance’s daughter, Your Grace.”

“Where’s her mother?”

“The girl says she’s ‘gone.’” Charles answered.

“I wonder how she managed to get free of Orpha.” Robert climbed out of the bed.

Charles hurried over with the doctor’s dressing gown.

“The child has a letter with her, Dr. Halifax. I offered to take it to the Duke, and she insisted upon giving it to His Grace herself.”

Mr. Punch also climbed out of the bed, and was given his dressing gown by Charles. “There was no sign of Lady Constance at all?”

“No, Your Grace.”

“Oh dear,” Punch muttered. “I’ve a feeling something is terrible wrong, Chum.”

“As do I, dear Punch.” Robert nodded. “Charles, tell the child to go to the kitchens and that she’s to be given her breakfast while we dress.”

“She won’t, Sir.” Charles shook his head.

“Maybe she’s shy. Poor thing’s gotta be scared. Sure, if you tell her that she’s to be our very special guest and to have all the finest we got in the kitchens…” Punch started.

“Your Grace,” Charles interrupted. “I’d thought the same thing, but this child…she’s clearly not well. She needs to see you right away. She said she was being kept in a ‘filthy place’ with cruel people and a…baby with two heads.”

Punch’s eyes widened. “Marduk!”

Robert, without a word, hurried past Charles, and to Punch whom he took by the hand.

They walked out of the room.

“Shall I come, too, Your Grace?”

“Dunno.” Punch mumbled

“Ahhh…” Robert replied as he and Punch descended the stairs. “I think not. Go downstairs and get some milk and toast for the girl. Bring on a tray. We’ll be on the morning room.”

“It’s what we feared, ain’t it, Chum?” Punch whispered.

“Yes, dear Punch, it is.” Robert nodded.

Did you miss Chapters 1-263 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square? If so, you can read them
here. Come back on Monday for Chapter 265.

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, Museum Edition: 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:


Friday, February 22, 2013

Mastery of Design: A Diamond and Ruby Tiara, 1835

Ruby and Diamond Tiara
Western Europe
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This masterpiece of diamonds set in silver on a gold frame is similar in spirit. This one, however, adds shimmering bright rubies to the mix of brilliant-cut and rose-cut diamonds.

For such a tiara to survive is quite rare. Usually floral tiaras were broken apart in the late early Twentieth Century and made into brooches. This one has only had one adaptation. The frame was slightly altered so that it could be worn as a necklace.


Unusual Artifacts: The Punch Seal, 1749-1754

The Victoria & Albert Museum

I was thrilled to stumble across this remarkable item while cataloging images on the V&A site. I’ve never seen a seal like this, and so, I leapt at the chance to share it with you. Made of porcelain sometime between 1749 and 1754, this seal takes the form of Mr. Punch—masked Pulcinella-style, in a striped ensemble. He stands on a base inscribed 'TOUJOURS GAY', above a carnelian intaglio of a bird on a tree with the word 'FIDEL', and set with gold mounting in the base.

The seal comes from Charles Gouyn's London factory and shows no wear in its brilliant enameling. Celebrating eternal happiness and fidelity, just the very sight of this gleaming seal accomplishes its task over two hundred fifty years later.

Painting of the Day: “Punch” or “May Day” by Benjamin Haydon, 1829

Punch or May Day
Benjamin Haydon, 1829
Tate Collection
Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) was a well-respected English historical painter who was plagued by financial difficulties and what he considered the under-appreciation of his work. Despite his troubles, he had a verve and enthusiasm for his work and a deep love of the life of London with its bustle and hubbub. He tried to impart this enthusiasm to the public, and especially to his pupils which includedCharles Locke Eastlake.

One of Haydon’s most cherished works entitled “Punch,” or alternately, “May Day,” was painted in 1829. This brightly-hued and energetic canvas depicts a scene the May Day festivities at Marylebone Road. A flamboyantly-costumed procession parades past a lively Punch and Judy show. This painting, which he originally planned to entitle “Life,” depicts the comingling of many classes and cultures. Just before exhibiting the painting, he added the image of a merchant trying to sell artifacts to a disinterested public—a representation of his feeling of his own life, feelings which, sadly, led to his suicide at the age of sixty-one.

This work, however, belies the demons that Haydon fought. A brilliant scene of frivolity and raw humanity, the mortal condition is personified as fleeting and enjoyable. Once again, Mr. Punch speaks for the people. His very presence in this scene sends an instantly recognizable message—life can be a struggle, but we might as well enjoy it.

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...

What always runs but never walks, 
often murmurs, never talks, 
has a bed but never sleeps, 
has a mouth but never eats?

And...the answer is...


Well, we had April say "Joan Rivers," which a river.  Sort of.  As always, great, funny answers today, and queries about Bertie.  Yay!  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.  

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 263

Chapter 263 


Marduk’s hungry!” Orpha howled from the front bedroom. “Bring him their breakfast!”

“We caught all we had,” Hortence frowned, shambling down the hallway.  

She could barely see since Orpha attacked her on the night that Jenny was killed.  Only through one eye could Hortence see shapes and shadows...all of them still blurry.  She squinted as she walked.

“Then, go and find some more.” Orpha snarled.

"How'm I to do that?"  She moaned.  "With you leavin' me like I am, all I can do is feel around the rubbish."

"The price one must pay to feed the master."  Orpha smiled.

“Last few bit me.” Hortence snapped. “Can’t the thing drink milk like any other baby?”

“No!” Orpha bellowed. “He’s not any other baby! They’re special.”

“I should say so.” Hortence smirked.

Her smirk, however, was short-lived—wiped away by a sharp slap across the face with the back of Orpha’s hand as she lunged through the doorway.

“Never speak of them again.” Orpha shouted. “Now, go and get my child the rats that they like so.”

Hortence thought of shoving Orpha against the wall, but decided against it, knowing that the woman was unhinged and strong as an ox. Furthermore, being mostly blind, Hortence couldn't tell if she's even reach Orpha.  She nodded obediently.

“Where’s Eudora?” Orpha growled.

“Feeding the others.” Hortence whimpered.

“Is that Constance woman still here?”

“No, Miss.” Hortence replied softly.

“Good.” Orpha nodded. “Go about your work.”

Hortence began to retreat.

“And be quick about it!” Orpha shouted. Suddenly, she had a thought. “Wait!”

“What do ya want me to do, Miss? Get the two-headed master his feed or stand here?”

“Don’t start your insolence again. Before you go out, send Fern to me. She can amuse them until his breakfast arrives.”

“As you wish.” Hortence replied, just happy to be away from Orpha. She scuttled through the parlor into the dank kitchen, feeling her way.

Eudora looked up. “Quite a blot risin’ on your cheek. She hit ya again.”

“She did, the bitch.” Hortence whispered.  "Weren't it bad 'nough to take me sight?"

“You get along well enough.  What’s she shoutin’ ‘bout?” Eudora asked, not looking up from her task of shoveling some sort of mush into the mouth of her youngest child.

“Wants breakfast for it.” Hortence shivered.

“We’re out.” Eudora shrugged. “It’s gonna have to eat what the rest of us do.”

“No, no, the thing is special, says the cow. He needs his fresh meat. She wants me to go catch more.”

“Foul thing.”

“Which one.”

“Both o’ ‘em.” Eudora grumbled.

“You’re the one what brought her to us.”

“She came to me!” Eudora spat. “And, now’s not the time to start pointin’ fingers.” She sighed. “You’d best go ‘bout your huntin’, then.”

“I’ve a task first.” Hortence muttered. “She wants Fern to come and entertain it.”

“Fern?” Eudora looked up.

“Yeah…Fern.” Hortence nodded firmly.


“Where is she?” Hortence asked, looking around the kitchen.  She tried to take inventory of the other small, dirty faces which looked up at her, but she couldn't tell one from another--they were all just dim silhouettes--some of them Eudora's, and two of them belonging to Lady Lensdown.

Eudora was silent.

“Don’t tell me…” Hortence began.

Eudora blinked.

“You didn’t let her mother take her, did ya?” Hortence rasped. “Tell me you didn’t.”

“I didn’t know nothin’ bout it.” Eudora lied.

“Oh, yes you did.” Hortence snapped.

“What if I did?” Eudora replied defensively.

“She’ll kill ya, Orpha will!” Hortence exclaimed. “And, then, she’ll kill me!  You see what she's already done to me!”

“Keep your voice down, will ya!”

“You saw what she done to that girl…Jenny.”  Hortence sniffed.  "And, me poor eyes.  They still bleed, Eudora.  They still burn.  But, I wager I'm lucky...Jenny...gone now.  Gone."

“I know.”

“That’s gonna be us.” Hortence whined. “You know that she thinks the monster likes Fern.”

“I know, I know.” Eudora mumbled.

“She sittin’ in there waitin’ for the girl. What am I to tell ‘er.”

Eudroa shook her head. “I don’t know. I hadn’t thought of it yet.”

“No?” Hortence barked. “You let Constance take the girl, but you didn’t think ‘bout after.”

“Listen, you.” Eudora warned. “I…I did what was best. You don’t have no babies. You don’t know what it’s like to…well, I just couldn’t let the woman leave without her girl. Motherhood, Hortence…”

“That don’t help us any.” Hortence sighed.

“Hortence!” Orpha’s voice could be heard from the front of the house.

“She’s gettin’ impatient.” Hortence trembled.

“Go get the rats, I’ll talk with ‘er.” Eudora said quickly.

“What’ll you tell ‘er?”

“I don’t know yet.” Eudora mumbled. “I’ll think o’ somethin’. Best you’re not here though. Just go.”

“She’ll kill ya.” Hortence shook her head. She looked up and squinted. “Someone’s knockin’ on the door.”

“I’ll wager it’s that ginger giant.” Eudora nodded.

“Who is she, anyway? That American…”

“Whoever she is, she’s gonna help us bide our time. You can count on it.” Eudora answered.

Did you miss Chapters 1-262? If so, you can read them here. Come back tomorrow for Chapter 264 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.

Mr. Punch in the Arts: John Anthony Puller’s “Punch and Judy”

John Anthony Puller
The Royal Academy

English genre and landscape painter, John Anthony Puller, was born in London in 1799. Puller showed at the Royal Academy at the young age of twenty-two, and from 1825 to 1867 exhibited over eighty paintings at the Royal Society of Artists. Known for his sensitive and colorful scenes, Puller always demonstrated an easy manner in depicting everyday life. His particular forte was showing natural scenes of the way people really lived.

This circa 1850 painting entitled, 
Punch and Judy, shows observers of a small village, “Punch” show. Young and old of varied classes have gathered to watch Mr. Punch and his wife. Even a dog sits passively by to watch. To mirror the mischievous Mr. Punch, Puller has included children sneaking a look into the rear of the performance tent in an effort to see the puppeteers. This sort of painting is what set John Anthony Puller apart—his skilled hand was able to combine the human-themes genre scenes that he so loved with the beauty of landscape painting.

I find this work particularly enjoyable. It gives us a sense of the visual style of a “Punch” show of the era. 

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: “Punch and Judy” by Arthur Boyd Houghton, 1860

Punch and Judy
Arthur Boyd Houghton, 1860
Oil on Canvas
Tate Britain
Painter Arthur Boyd Houghton (1836-1875) was well-known for his small scenes depicting everyday life in Victorian London. His intimate compositions often were teeming with figures meant to show a cross section of the population of London. In this painting from 1860, Houghton uses a scene of a Punch and Judy Show (barely visible on the right) to demonstrate the universal appeal of this form of entertainment to people of all classes. Such public shows were a leveler—uniting individuals from all walks of life—with humor and good-natured political and social satire.

While the show itself is the draw, the crowd is the real theater of this scene. Here, we see a typical mix of the residences of the many sections of London. Two smartly-dressed children stand with their caregiver, should-to-shoulder with a street urchin in rags. A laborer carries a wicker-bound parcel toward an unconcerned gentlewoman. Dressed in fine clothes and a tall silk hat, a well-to-do young gentleman is being chatted up by someone of a different class. Standing out like a character from the pantomime is the uniformed lamp-lighter in his blue and red attire—symbolic of the state’s protection of society from the evils of darkness.

By centering this boiling pot of different circumstances around the common central theme of the appeal of Mr. Punch, Houghton shows us that everyone is equal where it counts.