Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mastery of Design: A French Speaking Trumpet, 1738

The Victoria & Albert Museum

A Speaking Trumpet is, really, just a megaphone. But, somehow the word, “megaphone” doesn’t do this object of engraved brass justice. It bears the monogram” SMA,” ensigned with a coronet and a crest suggesting ducal ownership.

The trumpet is signed by French metalworker Jacques Vincent Fecit, 1738. Adorned towards the larger end with three broad bands of foliage, the middle band includes the monogram and crest (depicting a windmill). These are enclosed in frames supported respectively by two lions and two dogs.

History's Runway: The Jacques Fath Swag Dress, 1949

Day Dress
Jacques Fath
Made for Lady Alexandra Howard-Johnston, 1949
The Cecil Beaton Collection at
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This dress was part of the monumental wardrobe of Lady Alexandra Howard-Johnston (later Lady Dacre). Lady Alexandra was the wife of the Naval Attaché to Paris from 1948-50. In this capacity (or perhaps she used it as an excuse to shop), Lady Alexandra required an extensive wardrobe since she was constantly attending state dinners and important events which required formal gowns.

A woman of Lady Alexandra’s rank would have been a fixture at the debuts of a couturier’s fashion collections where she would have been seated in the front. After the show, the lady’s 
vendeuse (personal saleswoman) would have taken her orders and started the fittings for the “calico toile” which was essentially a muslin version of the finished gown.

Lady Alexandra’s preferred couturier was the house of Jacques Fath (1912-54). Fath was no fool and knew that the Lady’s patronage was good publicity, and, so, the designer lent her a huge assortment of evening and day dresses each season.

She later wrote: “If there was a Fath dress I wanted to keep, I could pay sale price at the end of the season. I was not allowed to go to any other couturier, but I did not want to – Fath was perfection.”

This fitted, v-neck day dress in a green and violet foliage printed viscose rayon boasts a matching swag. This was one of the creations which Fath lent to Lady Alexandra and which she subsequently purchased. The swag, stiffened with net, features a posy of paper violets.
The dress’ form-fitting style is a hallmark of Fath’s work as was the swag. Fath was known for his expert draping and was said to be the best at draping fabric around his models in order to create his designs.

Lady Alexandra gave this dress to celebrated photographer Cecil Beaton to include in the fashion collection which he assembled for the V&A.

Unusual Artifacts: A Shagreen Pocket Book and Stylus, 1680

Click image for detail.
Shagreen Pocket Book with Gold Mounts and Stylus
English, c. 1680
This and all related images from
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This Seventeenth Century pocket book is just that—a pocket book. While we tend to think of a purse when we hear that term, this object is actually a small book with a matching gold stylus which would have fitted into a person’s pocket to use as a diary or notebook.

The cover of the book is covered in black shagreen (shark or fish skin) which has been adorned with rounded gold studs. The inside of the cover is lined with a thick paper which has been painted with gold foliage on a purple ground.

Four bands of engraved gold create a holder for the stylus. When first used, this book would have been filled with paper which had been coated in wax. The metal stylus would have left a track or mark in the wax which could be later smoothed out and used again. We know to whom this lovely little item belonged. The end of the stylus is mounted with a seal which depicts the arms of Burnet impaling those of the See of Salisbury. In this case, “impaling” refers to two coats of arms which appear on a shield which has divided vertically into two. Gilbert Burnet (1643-1715) was a prolific politician of the Late Seventeenth Century in Britain and Europe. He was, as many were at the time, staunchly anti-Roman Catholic. This bias caused his dismissal from his post as King's Chaplain under Charles II (ruled 1660-1685). Burnet was then exiled to The Hague in The Netherlands where was appointed as an adviser to William of Orange (1650-1702), and, later William III of England. This led to his commission as the Bishop of Salisbury. Known also as a writer and historian, Burnet is best known for his book “History of My Own Times,” which is ostensibly an amalgam of anecdote, history and autobiography.

Gifts of Grandeur: The Louis-Guillaume Cassé Snuffbox, 1761-1762

French, 1761-1762
The Victoria & Albert Museum

While we’ve seen snuffboxes take many shapes and forms, during the rise of the Rococo, boxes tended to be rectangular. The shape provided ample room on each side for additional adornment during a period when the fashion for boxes painted with intricate scenes was at an all-time high.

The box pictured above is painted with a scene on the lid which is after an engraving of François Boucher's “Le Concert Chinois.” Paintings by François Boucher and David Teniers were often replicated on the lids of snuffboxes.

Now part of the collection of Sir Arthur and Rosalinde Gilbert this snuffbox dates between 1761 and 1762 and is made of varicolored gold with the cover and base enameled en plein with grisaille chinoiserie scenes of a mother and child with a musician against a dark red ground. The typical Rococo adornment of chased fluting, shells and foliage make an unsurprising appearance. More interesting, the sides of the box—consisting of chased, multi-colored gold—are beautifully decorated with chinoiseries of birds and figures bordered by bright-cut straps and paterae.

This is the work of the goldsmiths at the French firm of Louis-Guillaume Cassé.

The Home Beautiful: Sèvres Sauçières, 1780

Sauce Boat
Soft-paste Porcelain and Enamels, 1780
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection 
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Dating to about 1780, this sauce boat, is the work of the Sèvres Porcelain Factory. The piece is crafted of soft-paste porcelain, and features a deep green enamel ground with gilded decoration.

The sauce boat of oval shape terminates in a spout at each end. Raised foliage and berries adorn oval and kidney-shaped recesses which are decorated with polychrome butterflies and birds—some with worms.

The boat was purchased by George IV from the auctioneer Harry Phillips for £5 5s 6d 20th in March of 1805. It’s part of a set which includes a matching dessert se

Figure of the Day: Winter and Spring, 1759-1769

Figure Group
Chelsea, England
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This figure group in soft-paste porcelain, enamels and gilding, depicts a skating man—a representation of Winter—and a woman who gathers flowers into her apron. Of course, she represents Spring. The holly bush behind them, an evergreen, joins them together.

The group, made by the Chelsea Porcelain Factory between 1759 and 1769 demonstrates the fine quality of the masterful porcelain pieces which were produced in England during the mid-Eighteenth Century. Mimicking the French fashion, manufactures such as the Chelsea Factory were able to create exceptional pieces with the brilliant-hued enamels which were so fashionable at the time. In true Rococo style, the base features graceful curves and applied foliage.

This group was a pair with another representing Summer and Autumn.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Magnificent Watch by Markwick and Markham, 1750-75

Markwick and Markham
The Victoria & Albert Museum
From the Eighteenth-Century makers of luxury “clock-watches,” Markwick & Markham, we see this glorious specimen with quarter-repeating movement, verge escapement and and enamel dial. It features gilt-metal cases, with an embossed outer case, adorned with chased gold and decorated with gold piqué work on leather

Signed Markwick-Markham, London, it is is numbered 14103. James Markwick and Robert Markham created elegant clocks and watches for the Turkish market, as well as formed a partnership under their joint names to operate a London shop-front from about 1725 to 1805.

The specific term, “Clock-Watch” refers to the oversized watches which were in vogue at the time. Not only could they be carried on a person, but they could be displayed in a room on a hook (usually from a necessaire) and employed as a clock while traveling. This model, made for export, is fitted with Turkish gradations and strikes the hours and quarters on a silver bell. This beautiful watch uses three cases: a gilt-metal case which is pierced and engraved with foliage, another outer case which is similarly decorated, and an extra outer case which is pierced in openwork with Rococo scrolls and foliage and with panels of shagreen (leather of rough, un-tanned skin) decorated with piqué in gold.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Mastery of Design: A Doll's Earrings, 1690-1700

Earrings made for the Lady Clapham Doll
England, 1690-1700
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This set of mismatched earrings belonged to a doll.  The 
Lady Clapham doll--the be exact.  The Lord and Lady Clapham Dolls were made in the Seventeenth Century for the Cockerell Family--descendants of the famed diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) who first recorded Mr. Punch's presence in Covent Garden.

The dolls were outfitted with complete wardrobes and furnishings befitting full-size nobility.  Among Lady Clapham's accessories were these earrings.  The stud is made of brass and backed in silver while the more formal drop is a paste set in a silver mount.

Drawing of the Day: A Costume Design for Judy, 1861-1934

The Victoria & Albert Museum

What might Judy (Mr. Punch’s lovely bride) look like were she a human lady? Well, here’s your answer. She’s stunning, yes?

Here, from the beautiful George Speaight Punch and Judy Archive at the V&A, we see a costume design for an actor playing Judy. Why? No one knows anymore. The only explanation for this drawing of pencil and watercolor on card is an inscription stating that it was designed by Clarkson Costumes ca. 1861 to 1934. Hmmm… That’s rather a large time range there.

We see that Judy is carrying a stick in her left hand (as one does when married to Mr. Punch) and dragging a doll with her right hand. I would like to interject that the “doll” is actually meant to represent the famed, embattled baby in whatever human version of the Comical Tragedy (or Tragical Comedy) of Mr. Punch for which this costume was designed. It’s all very mysterious. But, that’s the way to do 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.

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...

Why is a bad cold like a great humiliation?

And, the answer is...


I think I rather regret picking this riddle today.  But, you all made lemons out of lemonade...or something...and came up with some really clever answers.  Come back next Friday for another of Mr. Punch's Puzzles.  I'll try to make the next one a little less...stupid.

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.  

The Art of Play: The Apple Peddlar, 1847

I can't imagine that this doll would have appealed to Queen Mary, but it did belong to her and she thought enough of it to donate it to the V&A. How Her Majesty came to own it is unknown. It doesn't really go with her other collections. I suppose we'll never know why she kept it or what its significance is. But, here it is nonetheless.

The head of this doll is made from an apple which has been carved and then preserved. A peeled apple is used. It is either tried or embalmed in a mixture of salt and lemon. Once dried, the apple is painted and given a wig before being mounted on a doll body. Because the apples get a leathery, wrinkled look, apple-headed dolls often portray grotesques and caricatures of the elderly such as this peddlar who is selling apples, presumably to make an army of doll cousins to join her in some odd, folksy quest for world domination.

Apple-headed dolls are still made, predominantly in Canada and the USA. This frightening little lady was, however, made in England.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 390

Chapter 390

"I've an idea as well."  Robert muttered.  He looked up at Mr. Punch affectionately.  "Still, I suspect yours is more generous than mine, dear Punch."

"I think so."  Punch smiled.  "Now, Fern doesn't wanna go off and leave her dolly behind...  Correct?"

"Yes, Uncle Punch."  Fern nodded.

"I don't see any reason why she should."  Punch continued.

Robert raised his eyebrows.  "I can see one 'extra' reason."

Matthew chuckled.

"Go on, brother dear."  Lennie encouraged Punch.

"Fern,"  Punch began.  "What if we were see to it that your 'Myra' was with you, but couldn't be seen by others who might feel that a doll with two heads was...not usual?"

"I don't see how that could be possible."  Fern answered plainly.

"Well, if Myra was concealed inside another doll..."

"Oh!" Lennie exclaimed.  "What a fine idea.  Myra could be sewn inside another, larger doll.  That way, Fern, you'd always have her with you."

"What do you think, Fern?"  Punch asked.

Fern raised an eyebrow and considered the notion.  "It almost seems like trickery somehow, but I can't decide how."  She tilted her head to one side.  "But, if it keeps Myra with me, I can't see how it would be harmful."

"Well, that's settled."  Robert sighed with relief.

"Is it?"  Fern shook her head.  "If I'm to leave for school tomorrow, that doesn't leave much time to make another doll."

"Oh, don't you worry."  Mr. Punch grinned.  "I know just the person to help us."

"Who?"  Fern asked.

"Your friend Dolly."

"I say, what a bit of coincidence.  The maid named Dolly is to help make a dolly."  Matthew chortled.

"Mmmmm."  Punch replied politely.  

"We'll speak with her after dinner."  Robert said.

"Perhaps we should bring up the subject sooner."  Fern said nervously.

"If you like,"  Punch smiled, walking over the fireplace to engage the bell-push.

"Anything that gets her to school..."  Robert whispered as Punch passed him.

"Patience, Chum."  Punch giggled.

"Isn't it interesting."  Fern mumbled.

"What's that, dear?"  Lennie asked.

"Uncle Punch is clever."

"He certainly is."  Robert smiled.

"Yet, he's not wicked.  It seems one can be clever without being wicked.  I never knew that." Fern nodded casually.

"There's much you can learn from your Uncle Punch."  Lennie replied.

"All of us can."  Robert smiled.

"If only my mother could have known that..."  Fern sighed.  "Ah, well.  One can't have everything."

Did you miss Chapters 1-389 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back on Monday for Chapter 391.

Toys of the Belle Époque: A Wax “Boy” Doll, 1860

Wax "Boy" Doll, 1860
The Museum of Childhood
Victoria & Albert Museum

Dolls made to look like men or boys have always been rare. Since dolls have always been considered the stuff of girls, most doll-makers and toy manufacturers produce feminine figures, thinking that a girl would prefer to play with something in her own image. It wasn’t until the 1960’s, that dolls were made with different body types for specific genders.

In the Nineteenth Century, one basic style of doll body was crafted that was thought to support any kind of costuming and wig. The predominant body-type featured a thin waist, wide hips and narrow shoulders—all classically feminine characteristics. If a customer wanted a “male” doll, very often the look was achieved by adding a short wig and styling the figure in a “masculine” costume. Only rarely did a toymaker add a specific “make” head to a figure.

This wax doll from the 1860’s from the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, shows one of the typical “cross-dressing” dolls. The body-type is clearly feminine. However, the figure has been costumed in typical male attire. Sometimes, luxurious whiskers were painted onto these female faces to achieve a look of masculinity. Despite its little suit of clothes, we can’t help but notice that this doll would look a little more natural in a nice frilly frock.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Old Pretender Doll, 1680

The Old Pretender Doll, 1680
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Made in 1680, this doll of gessoed and painted wood, leather, and satin trimmed with metallic lace and fringe is known as “The Old Pretender” and is one of the oldest dolls in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum.
The doll was carved from wood which was then covered with gesso (a mixture of plaster and glue) before being elbaborately painted. The doll is fashionably dressed in the style of the time of its creation. It wears a wig made of human hair and has been adorned with “beauty spots” which have been painted on the face. Such beauty spots or “patches” were worn over blemishes and scars from pox during this period and were considered by some to be fashionable, and, by others, to be quite vulgar.

This delicate plaything is associated with the court of King James VII of Scotland who was also known as King James II of England and Wales and was kept at the palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. The doll is throught to have later been given to a family of loyal supporters by James II's son James Edward (acknowledged James VII in Scotland but not James III in England and Wales who was subsequently known as “The Old Pretender”). Hence the doll’s name—an homage to the giver of this unusual gift. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Procrastination

"I know you're stalling.  Just get up and get my dinner."

Image:  Contemplation, Creator: Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873), Creation Date: Signed and dated 1847, Materials: Oil on canvas, Provenance: Presented to Prince Albert by Queen Victoria at Christmas 1847.  Crown Copyright, The Royal Collection, Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

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

You know you want to have a Bertie Dog mug, tee-shirt, tote bag or water bottle. You know you do. So, take a look at our 
online store. 

Mastery of Design: A Trembler by Bulgari, 1958

This and all related images from:
The British Museum

Made in 1958 by Bulgari in Rome, this diamond and sapphire clip brooch revives the late Eighteenth Century fashion of the floral spray ornament.  The stems of the flowers are set with baguette (baton cut) diamonds, and the know of the ribbon at the base is set with rectangular diamonds.  

The signed, platinum mount features a double-pronged clip fitting for wear on the edge of a dress or lapel if desired.  A nod to Victorian fashion, the flowers are mounted en tremblant on spring settings so that they quiver as the wearer moves. 

Unfolding Pictures: The Cecilia Metella Fan, 1790-1820

Rome, 1790-1820
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This semi-circular fan of painted parchment or vellum with a central kidney-shaped reserve depicts the tomb of Cecilia Metella. Metella was the fourth wife of the Roman dictator Lucius Cornelius Sylla (r. 82-79 BC). Metella’s tom was considered one of the most impressive sights along the Appian Way. Despite the morbid scene, the fan’s overall theme is one of as evidenced by the mosaic pattern of amorini and doves which is adorned by scenes of trailing roses, pansies and strands of wheat.
The micromosaic work on the guards is particularly fine, containing more than 5000 pieces per square inch. Overall, there are three oval mosaic subjects on the guards. It is believed that this Roman fan is the work of craftsmen at the Vatican workshop.

The fan comes to the V&A via Sir Arthur Gilbert and his wife Rosalinde who together amassed one of the world's greatest decorative art collections.