Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mastery of Design: An English Citrine and Gold Brooch, 1850-65

Brooch of Citrine and Stamped Gold
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Citrine, a type of quartz can vary in color from the more common yellow to red, brown or orange. Of course, the stone is usually a lemony, sunshiny color—like citrus fruit, hence the name which derives from the French word, “Citron.” The main source of citrine is Brazil.

Here’s a handsome citrine brooch which dates between 1850 and 1865. The brooch is set in stamped gold and was made in England by a now unknown jeweler. 

Saturday Silliness: Chicken a la King, 1937

If a chicken sultan had Popeye's voice, this is what would happen.

Unusual Artifacts: The Hummingbird Spray, 1894

More specifically a floral spray ornament meant for a hat
Made from dead hummingbird feathers, skin and beetles.
English, 1894
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This odd, yet completely Victorian, object is an 1894 creation of millinery wire wound with brown silk thread and adorned with Coppery-headed Emerald Hummingbird feathers and Indian Beetle wings arranged in the form of a floral spray. Gotta love our Victorian forebears and their ability to make something attractive out of anything—even pieces of dead bugs and birds. The feathers have become leaves and seven pieces of iridescent copper hummingbird skin, delightfully cut in the shape of a flower petal form a blossom, with seven pieces of beetle-wing in the center. Fun!

This…thing…was created to be used as an ornament for a hat. The 1880s to about 1921, a lady of fashion enjoyed wearing hats which were decorated with the plumage of exotic birds. This poor birdy was from Costa Rica.

Now, even by Victorian standards, this was a bit extreme since it required the actual killing of the bird. Of course, most of the feathers which made up such ornaments came from birds who were killed, but a case could have been made that the birds were found dead or, perhaps, willing offered up their plumage. You can’t say that about this…thing. It certainly would have required killing the hummingbird since the presence of the creature’s SKIN makes this reality undeniable.

Just before this ornament was made, The Society for the Protection of Birds was formed in 1889 in Britain. The organization passionately protested the killing of Britain's great-crested grebe for use in fashionable dress. By the 1900s, the Society was campaigning against the use of most exotic birds in millinery and other fashions. The V&A tells us that, “the first Anti-Plumage Bill was defeated in the House of Commons in 1908 and finally passed in 1921, preventing any further use of birds as fashionable decoration.” You all know how much I adore all things Victorian. And, I confess, I’m often drawn to the weird bits of aviary taxidermy from time to time because they’re just so darn beautiful. They really are. I would never purchase one, however, since I have a natural aversion to dead things. What appeals to me about such items is the bird itself. That’s what appealed to our Victorian forbears. The birds were attractive--so attractive that they were murdered for it. The Victorians wanted to make beauty permanent, and, in their estimation that was a good way to do it. I don’t fault them for it, but I would certainly not support such a thing. I like birds. I have, truly, about six doves who have made homes for themselves around the protected exterior of my house—quickly making me the Crazy Dove Man of McKinney and turning my porches into a dove factory. I talk to them. I talk to all animals. I’m a little peculiar. But, there must be a middle ground between displaying dead animals in your home and, well, being like me and offering sanctuary to any wildlife which comes my way. Perhaps one day I’ll find a middle ground. The Victorians didn’t. Still, we can enjoy the beauty of these animals which lost their lives so long ago. 

Figure of the Day: Billy Waters, 1823-1830

Billy Waters
Staffordshire Porcelain Factory
The Victoria & Albert Museum

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

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

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

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

History's Runway: A Hat by Balenciaga, c. 1960

Hat of Woven Green Straw
Balenciaga, c. 1960
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made circa 1960, this attractive hat of woven green straw is trimmed with a pin which has a bobble on each end. The unlined headwear features a hatband with a grosgrain back and green velvet front.

The hat was made in Paris, France, and is the work of the famed designer Cristóbal Balenciaga, (1895 – 1972). It’s part of the collection of Mrs. Fern Bedaux—the extremely wealthy widow of an American multimillionaire office systems pioneer, Charles Bedaux--whose beautiful clothing was given to the V&A by her niece and heiress Miss E Hanley. Mrs. Bedaux always celebrated for her fashion sense, purchased her entire wardrobe regularly from Balenciaga, amassing an unrivaled collection of the designer’s work.

Unusual Artifacts: A Top Hat Box, 1890-99

Hat Box of Leather and Silk
Containing two fine hats
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This hatbox, dating to about 1890 to 1899, is made of brown leather, and boasts two leather straps with snap fastenings and a handle for transportation. The box is lined with red grosgrain—essentially, a heavy, corded silk which is primarily used for ribbon.

The case contains two fine hats. Inside the bottom part of the hatbox is a top hat of black silk plush, lined with white satin. The V&A notes, “The top of the hat has a ventilation hole marked 'Extra Quality Trade Mark Dunlop & Co Reg. US Patent Office'.” The top portion of the hatbox contains a gibus (a top hat with a collapsible crown, which came into fashion in the 1840s and was worn with evening dress) of black silk grosgrain lined with black silk marked 'Extra Quality Trade Mark Dunlop & Co., Copyrighted CBH'.  Sadly, we have no pictures of the hats.

While this box contains two hats, some hatboxes included a storage space for a the type of brush which was used to keep the hats shiny and smooth by bushing the nap. These brushes were often used for advertising by hatters and were given away with new hats. 

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Mrs. Church Hat, c. 1960

Straw Hat
Aage Thaarup
c. 1965
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Inspired by casual Victorian designs, this natural straw broad-brimmed hat is adorned with fabric poppies, cornflowers, daisies, and wheat stalks. The hat was made in the mid-to-late 1960s by the celebrated milliner Aage Thaarup (1906 - 1987).

The hat was once worn by one Mrs. Blair Cook whose sister Mrs. B. Church donated the hat to the V&A. A hat such as this was perfect for a warm day in country. When it was made, softer, more feminine styles were taking the place of the more severe looks which preceded it in the post-World War II years.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Mastery of Design: The Heneage Jewel, c. 1595

The Heneage Jewel
Circa 1595
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Known both as the Heneage Jewel and "The Armada Jewel,"  this glorious locket of enameled gold is set with table-cut diamonds and Burmese rubies.  The obverse displays a bust of gold under rock crystal depicting Elizabeth I.  This depiction is apparently an early version of the Garter Badge, which, alone dates to about 1585.

The inside of the locket is set with a miniature of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) painted by Nicholas Hilliard.

Meanwhile, the hinged reverse of the locket is enameled with the Ark of the English Church on a storm-chopped sea--representing the Protestant church steered by Elizabeth through religious turmoil. The interior of the reverse is enameled with a Tudor rose encircled by leaves.

Tradition tells us that the  jewel was given by the queen to Sir Thomas Heneage, a Privy Counsellor and Vice-Chamberlain of the Royal Household.  The important jewel remained in the possession of the Heneage family until 1902. 

Often, the jewel is referred to as the "Armada Jewel," though it was probably made in about 1595, some seven years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. 

The jewel is inscribed in Latin:

(Elizabeth, by the grace of God Queen of England, France and Ireland)

(peaceful through the fierce waves) 

'Hei mihi quod tanto virtus perfusa decore non habet eternos inviolata dies' 
(Alas, that so much virtue suffused with beauty should not last for ever inviolate)

Unusual Artifacts: Will Judge's "Judy," 1900

Judy, circa 1900
This and all related images from:
The Victoria and Albert Museum

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at a jolly Mr. Punch in a golden suit.  I found the little fellow most charming and appealing.  He was once operated by "The Norfolk Comedian," Will Judge (1882-1860) who was billed as a "Refined Comedian and Patterer."  Judge is best known in East Anglia and England's northern lands where he was a pantomime star known for his "Dame" portrayals.  At no point, does any record of Judge's life, as I mentioned before, contain a reference to his career as a Punch & Judy Man, yet, Judge's son donated a stunning set of puppets to the V&A.  Judge the Younger suggests that his father worked with these puppets, but, still, no record can be found.

Nonetheless, she's a pretty Judy, yes?  

The glove puppet sports a carved wooden face with painted brown eyes and is crowned with hair of white wool.  She has been adorned with an emerald green skirt of silk and a floral cotton blouse.  Her apron is of white broderie anglais with a cream cotton lace trim upon her bonnet.  

She is said to have been made in the early Twentieth Century.  

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...

Where are kings usually crowned?

And, the answer is...

On his head.

Kudos to all for not actually answering this very obvious riddle.  I continue to be amused by your collective cleverness.  Come back next Friday for another of "Mr. Punch's Puzzles."  Maybe it'll be more difficult.  Maybe not.

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: Historical Footage of Punch and Judy at the Seaside

The Ceredigion Museum created this montage of historical footage of Punch & Judy at the Seaside in honor of his recent 350th birthday.  As the film shows at the end, our Mr. Punch and his friends are just as appealing today as ever.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 381

Chapter 381

Ulrika followed the sounds of the party, slowly climbing the curving staircase.  She took her time, savoring each sound and thinking how odd it was that often the sounds of joy so much resemble those of pain.

She paused at the landing and inhaled.

Looking around, Ulrika took a moment to sit on one of the long silk-covered settees which lined the passage, punctuated by important-looking busts on pedestals of colored marbles and anchoring the long row of portraits which spread out against the turquoise and coral plaster walls like a dozen suns dotting the morning sky--suns with faces, ruffs and lace.

Running her fingers over the gilt arm of the settee, she settled in and felt for a moment she'd like to take a nap there--like some ginger goldilocks, unwelcome in the cozy home of the bears.

"I could have been the queen of all."  She shook her head, muttering to herself.  She chuckled.  "I suppose Marduk wasn't my salvation.  How odd that I shouldn't..."  She shook her head, delighting in her own pain.  "It's horribly delicious, this disappointment."

She sank deeper into the silk upholstery and looked up at the glass dome which soared over the elongated oval corkscrew of the chairs.

"The Anglicans believe in heaven."  Ulrika continued to herself, peering at the sky through the dome.  "I know Orpha isn't there.   Nor is Marduk."  She shivered, partly with delight and partly with revulsion as she recalled watching the crew of men who had peeled the bodies of the two-headed baby and its mother from the street outside of Hamish House.

A clock chimed, startling Ulrika for a moment.  She hugged herself and moaned slightly.  Giovanni was already waiting for her at the docks--she knew that.  Yet, she couldn't help herself.  She just couldn't let that moment pass--the moment when the Duke of Fallbridge had narrowed his wild eyes at her and said, "It was an accident.  Wasn't it, Miss Rittenhouse?"

No, that couldn't be the last word.  She shook her head.

"How dare they all be so happy?"  Ulrika thought as more laughter wafted from the Drawing Room which waited for her on the other side of the balcony.

She rose and straightened her mannish neck to its full length.  With that, she walked to the Drawing Room door and cleared her throat.

All turned.  All eyes were on here--as she liked it.

"Really, such a lovely, little party."  Ulrika grinned.  "Is it a funeral?"

Come back on Monday for Chapter 382 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.

The Art of Play: The Paul Hansard Mr. Punch, 1939

Paul Hansard, 1939
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Celebrated English puppeteer Paul Hansard originally crafted this handsome Mr. Punch in 1939.  After a long rest, the puppet was resurrected in 1971 when Hansard launched his puppet show, "Sausages" at the Little Angel Marionette Theatre in Islington.  This 1971 show is considered the true origin of Hansard's career as a one-man puppeteer.  Previously, Hansard is famed for working on the 1955 ITV puppet show "Johnny and Flonny" which centered around the adventures as a rabbit and a little boy who were prone to episodic kerfuffles.  

According to the V&A, where this puppet now resides, "Over the course of his career as a one-man puppet show between 1971 and 1994 Paul Hansard created 13 shows, gave 3,971 performances and made over 200 puppets."

One of the earliest of Hansard's creations, this glove puppet sports a carved wooden head with featured augmented by  papier mâché, gray fur fabric makes Punch's hair.  This fine Punchinello is dressed in a white cotton piqué ruff,a red and yellow pointed hat with a bell attached, and a long yellow and red felt costume with six metal buttons.  The costume has been made to cover the puppeteer's wrist and lower arm, as per usual.  However, an unusual detail is that Punch has leather, instead of wooden, hands.  

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Mr. Punch Teething Ring

Teething Ring
The Victoria & Albert Museum

By the Nineteenth Century, Mr. Punch was a true superstar in Britain and images of Punchinello, his wife and friends became a popular iconography for all manner of household items.  

Nursery-related items often sported Punch & Judy themes.  A good example is this teething ring which has recently been added to the Victoria & Albert Museum.  The ivory ring is attached to a pierced silver likeness of Mr. Punch which sits atop a mother-of-pearl handle.  It was created in the mid-to-late Nineteenth Century.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Dutch Deli

"I'll take a pound of each."

Image:  A Boy and a Girl with a Guinea-Pig and a Kitten, Adriaen van der Werff (Kralingen 1659-Rotterdam 1722) (artist), Creation Date: c.1680-1722, Materials: Oil on canvas, Acquirer: George IV, King of the United Kingdom (1762-1830).  Crown Copyright, The Royal Collection, Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

To learn more about this painting, visit The Royal Collection.

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: A Scotch and French Clock, 1610-1615

Scottish Works, French Case
Gold, Silver, Enamel
1610-1615 with alterations from the Nineteenth Century
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Here’s a rather unusual timepiece—the work of a Scotch clockmaker and a French case designer. While the case is much the same as it was in the early Seventeenth Century when it was created, the movement of this spring-driven, striking table clock has been drastically changed over the centuries.

One of the most intriguing features of this domed clock is that the base plate—which no one would ever see—is extensively decorated and engraved--signed by David Ramsay. Additional decoration added to the clock was carried out by the French clockmaker Louis David as evidenced by a brass plate bearing his name. This plate cleverly was placed to cover Ramsay’s signature. Though unusual to modern eyes, the case was typical of a particular type of domed clocks from France. A variety of French clocks from this period have similar square bases and domed bell-covers, pierced with such openwork.

The scene on the engraved base shows King James I with his two sons Henry and Charles. They are holding the Pope's nose to a grindstone—as one doees. Also pictured on the right is a Cardinal accompanied by three friars who watch the scene in terror. This queer little scene is inspired by a settlement made in 1609 between Spain and the Estates General of the Netherlands which formed an alliance between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant state.

The top of the clock—which holds the dial, seen from above is set with silver and enamel which matches the four inset silver panels which adorn the ornate sides of the case.

Painting of the Day: The Grocer’s Shop, 1672

The Grocer's Shop
Gerrit Dou, 1672
Acquired by King George IV, 1803
The Royal Collection
Dutch painters were masters of illusionistic painting. This gem of a canvas by Gerrit Dou shows the triumphant cleverness of Dutch trompe l’oeil painting.

On first glance, the painting is so neatly finished and so crisp that it almost appears to be a true bas relief. This sense is heightened by Dou’s use of a “stone” archway and ledge which frames the composition. This was an unusual presentation in 1672 and set the path for many similar artists to follow. A painting of a stone relief of children playing with a goat (below the ledge) only heightens the realistic effect.

Not only is this painting a masterpiece of illusionistic art, it is also an excellent narrative. Dou was known for his narrative paintings of every-day life. Here, he shows a scene of a high-end grocer’s shop with china jars and expensive produce. The figures appear to be interacting with one another in a manner which makes the viewer wonder what they’re discussing. The mystery of the scene is further expressed by the shadowy figure of an older woman in the background.

The influence of French fashions on Dutch society is evident in the costumes of the figures. It’s easy to see why this painting appealed to King George IV who purchased the painting in 1803 while still Prince of Wales.

Masterpiece of the Week: “Sportsmen in the Dunes,” Jan Wijnants, 1669

Sportsmen in the Dunes
Jan Wijnants, 1669
Acquired by King George III
The Royal Collection

King George III’s much-documented love of collecting was not limited to English and French design. He also amassed an impressive array of Dutch paintings. Dutch painters of the Seventeenth Century were celebrated for their dramatic landscape paintings. King George III seemed to favor these epic compositions. Jan Wijnants’ 1669 canvas, Sportsmen in the Dunes is the perfect example of the grand landscape work of the Dutch.

When one thinks of Dutch landscape painting, the mind automatically conjures images of windmills. Windmills were, indeed, a common theme in Dutch painting. However, equally common were depictions of sand dunes. Both windmills and dunes were symbols of Dutch pride in their nationality and their ability to maintain their land. Here, Wijnants emphasizes the importance of the dunes by showing how they block the sea. A toppled tree adds drama to the scene and reinforces the idea that these dunes are protecting the land from the violence of natural forces. The large, dominant tree which rises in the center of the canvas shows that the land has been triumphant against the dangers of the sea. Meanwhile, the figures of the men are painted to show their wealth and prosperous nature—proving that man holds dominion over the land. Wijnants’ strength was the painting of the landscapes themselves and it is well known that he often employed other artists to paint human figures into his scenes.

Such a scene would be attractive to King George III who, himself, worried about issues of domination and threats of many kinds to his kingdom. Such a victorious painting would have offered comfort during trying times. It’s no wonder that he found this painting to be so inspirational.