Saturday, October 5, 2013

To Serve and Project: The Minton Phoenix Dish, c. 1825

Click Image for Original Size Picture
Dish, c. 1825
Minton &  Co.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made at Minton’s Stoke-on-Trent factory, this porcelain plate is painted in enamel colors and adorned with fine gilding. Dating to about 1825, this oval plate features a high, shaped rim which frames the oval panel in the center which depicts flowering plants.

Two birds, based on Chinese paintings, adorn the plate. I’d guess they were meant to represent the phoenix. The sides come alive with panels of cloud ornament while the high rim is decorated with rosettes and a pattern of dots on a blue ground. Eight floral scenes punctuate the rim.

The 1820s, especially in England, saw a stylistic turn, a stylized nod to Asian themes, which found a comfortable spot in the home. Such Asian-inspired motifs adorned everything from porcelain to furnishings and offered an interesting counterpoint to the heavier, darker pieces which had long been in fashion. 

Mastery of Design: The Schlichtegroll Necklace, 1855

Necklace from a parure
Vienna, c. 1855
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Austrian jeweler Schlichtegroll showed an impressive parure at Paris Universal Exhibition of 1855. The suite was purchased by the V&A after the exhibition as an example of a handsome and important-looking parure which was made inexpensively. The set includes a bracelet, brooch and earrings which were inspired by Seventeenth Century jewels. Schlichtegroll specifically designed the suite to be massed produced cheaply from parts which were interchangeable and standardized. 

It does look quite expensive, doesn’t it? It’s not junk, after all. Take a look at the necklace. It’s made of silver gilt, painted in imitation of enamel. The piece is set with almandine garnets, emeralds and green pastes, pearls and imitation pearls. So, there are some real gems, and some fakes, not unlike some of the less expensive jewels available today. It was meant for the merchant class who wanted to give the impression of being more prosperous than they really were—not quite aristocrats and not laborers. I think it serves its purpose quite handsomely and elegantly. 

Her Majesty's Furniture: A Chinoiserie Settee, 1760-1770

Click image to enlarge

England, 1760-1770
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the mid-Eighteenth Century, wealthy English homes often featured pieces of furniture in the popular Chinoiserie style which was, at the time, associated with the work of famed cabinet maker Thomas Chippendale. Though Chippendale championed Chinoiserie, furniture in the delicate style was produced by a variety of furniture designers and makers. Chinoiserie saw a revival in the Nineteenth Century during which, between 1850 and 1900, a host of newer pieces were created using Eighteenth Century designs as models.

The piece pictured above, a settee, is likely to have been built during the earliest rise of the Chinoiserie look, perhaps sometime between 1760 and 1770. Since this settee has been made in one of the more prolific designs of the Nineteenth Century, some historians suggest that it’s a later piece. However, the carving and construction all point to Eighteenth Century creation.

The two-chair-back settee is made of carved mahogany, and features open arms and an upholstered seat raised on six square legs. The two raked chair backs boast one wide and two narrow panels of open fretwork which are framed by moderately splayed back stiles and a top rail carved with blind fret and a pierced pagoda cresting.

The Home Beautiful: Chinese Wallpaper, c. 1810-1830

China, c. 1810-1830
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Alive with the colors of ripe fruits, flowers and birds, this wallpaper was made between 1810 and 1830 in Guangzhou, China. This was part of a set of exotic wallpapers which was designed for export to Europe to satisfy the growing demand at the time for Chinoiserie. Though this Asian-inspired style enjoyed new popularity in the early Nineteenth Century, the export of this kind of hand-painted wallpaper wasn’t new. The first painted papers exported to Europe from China arrived in the 1690s. Chinese craftsmen purposely included European ideals and fashions into their papers—combining their native styles with themes which they knew would appeal to European tastes and fashions. 

Figure of the Day: A Chinese Man and Boy, c. 1766

Figure Group
Germany, 1766
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made in Ludwigsburg, Germany, this figure group is meant to depict an East Asian man and boy. However, their costumes owe more to European fancy dress than they do actual Asian garments. Created in 1766, this work of hard-paste porcelain painted with enamels and gilding, this piece is one of the early nods to Chinoiserie that made the style so popular.

The bottom of the piece shows an incised mark of “Elbs” which serves to record the name as the workmaster.  The figures were modeled by Joseph Anton Weinmüller (born 1743 - died 1812).  

Sculpture of the Day: Two Chinese Figures, 1752-1754

Two Chinese Figures
French, 1752-1754
Acquired by King George IV while Prince Regent
The Royal Collection
This soft-paste porcelain figural group is considered one of the most ambitious sculptures ever attempted by the artists at Vincennes. Not only is the group large—standing at almost nineteen inches tall—but it’s extremely complicated and heavily detailed.

The scene depicts a young boy standing on a coral-strewn beach who approaches a regal young woman, reclining on a tasseled pillow. Minor imperfections can be seen in the sculpture, upon close inspection, showing the difficulty the artists faces in creating the complex central basket and the intricate folds and patterns of the figure’s costumes.

King George IV was drawn to chinoiserie and works with an Asian influence and purchased this piece while still Prince Regent. At some point in the Nineteenth century, the group was incorporated into an elaborate French clock case. At the time, the group was painted with gold details to match the clock case. While the clock is no longer in existence, the gold details remain, making the group appear to have even more depth. 

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Clock Biscuit Tin, 1877

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This beautiful clock, on first glance, appears to be the real deal. However, it’s one of the many clever biscuit tins produced in Britain at the end of the Nineteenth Century after the Licensed Grocer's Act of 1861 allowed groceries to be individually packaged and sold. Biscuit tins were made in increasingly complex and elaborate designs—not only making them appealing to shoppers who might choose one brand of biscuits over another because of an attractive package, but also ensuring that they’d remain beloved collectibles for centuries to come.

This tin was produced in 1877 for the Christmas season and depicts a tall-case clock in the chinoiserie style which was so popular at the time. A remarkable job of shaping the tin with raised details is only made all the more beautiful by the chromolithography.

P.S.  The hands move and everything!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Mastery of Design: The Hull-Grundy Garnet and Pearl Necklace

Garnet and Seed-Pearl Necklace
Circa 1830
The Hull-Grundy Bequest
This and all related images from:
The British Museum

A delicate necklace, designed in the form of leafy entwined flowers, this work of seed-pearls and gold-set diamonds was made in England in the 1830s in the Naturalistic style which was rising in fashion at the time.

Given to The British Museum as part of the Hull-Grundy bequest, the necklace is displayed in its original presentation case though the satin lining of the lid was replaced in the 1970s.

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...

What lives in its own substance and dies when it devours itself?

And, the answer is...


Very good answers from all today, and, atypically political.  Well done!  I'll see you here on Friday next 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.  

Drawing of the Day: A Puppet Showman, Seventeenth Century

A Puppet Showman
Jean Berain
The British Museum

This work of watercolor is one of a series of eight which depicted Commedia dell’Arte characters.  Attributed to Jean Berain (after a century of being attributed to Marcellus Laroon II), the series dates between 1640-1711.  It’s likely that these drawings were made as studies for larger-scale paintings.  We do know that the series was used as inspiration for a set of engravings which were published in the Eighteenth Century.  

The image above depicts a puppet showman posed on a platform.
  He holds a wand or flute to which he points and is costumed in a wide-brimmed hat, a doublet, petticoat breeches and a pink cloak.  Curiously, he wears a necklace of teeth around his neck.  We see behind him, his fit-up and two puppets.  They are, of course, Mr. Punch and his wife, Judy.
The British Museum acquired the series in 1852.

Painting of the Day: Young Man Playing the Violin, c. 1750

Young Man with Violin
From the "Scaramouche Parlour" at Belvedere House
Andien De Clermont, c. 1750
The Victoria & Albert Museum

If you were a wealthy land owner in Britain in the Eighteenth Century (rather as it is now—anywhere), you wanted the people around you to know just how rich and prosperous you were. Your house, your carriage, your horses, your clothes, your jewels—these were all status symbols. But, the real indicator of wealth was your ability to decorate your house. The more you could spend on your interiors, the better you looked. And, the real icing on the decorating cake was the paintings you displayed in your home. Portraits—sure, they were great. But, the best thing of all was to commission a painting of your family in your home. And, even better—a mural, right there on the wall, forever.

Of course, even mural painting was subject to levels or pretension. If you could get a foreign painter—you were the top dog! Painters from France, Italy and the Netherlands were brought into the stately homes of England to adorn the walls with scenes from mythology, allegorical motifs, fantastic designs and bucolic views—most of which would incorporate the visages of the homeowner and his family.

Here we see one such mural which was carefully removed from its original location. Thankfully, the murals were painted on canvas which had been applied to the walls, conveniently allowing them to be removed two centuries later. This is one of a series of 16 panels which were commissioned by Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore, in 1742 to decorate the “Scaramouche Parlour” in his house, Belvedere, in Kent. Each of the panels depicted scenes from the Italian Commedia dell'Arte and showcase the knock-about comedy’s most famous characters: Capitano, Arlecchino, Pulcinella (who, as we know, inspired the English Punch), Pedrolino (later Pierrot) and Colombine. 

The mural group is the work of Andien de Clermont (active 1716-1783), a French artist who arrived in Britain in 1716. Clermont was, certainly, the most avant-garde and highly-inventive decorative artist working in Britain during the Rococo period.

This mural sets the scene for the antics of Pulcinella and his friends. An unnamed young man is depicted playing the violin. He stands in profile in the foreground of a landscape with a grand building showing in the background. To his right are two dancing figures. The whole is en-framed by foliage border.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 393

Chapter 393

Many quiet days had passed--peaceful, yet, busy, as the household prepared for the impending trip to Yorkshire.  Speaight coached Hulda and Dolly as to their duties while the masters and the rest of the staff were away.  A temporary cook, just a simple cook, was employed to feed those who remained in the house during Mrs. Pepper's upcoming absence, and the new scullery maid--a pouty, but pleasant-enough, lass settled into her spot at the basin.

Upstairs, Charles and Georgie were dragging the trunks from the storage room in the attic and sorting through Robert's and Punch's clothes.  Violet tended to Lennie who was nervously packing for her first family trip.

While Mr. Punch labored over finishing the jewels which he'd promised Prince Albert for the new South Kensington Museum, Robert perused medical tome after tome to decide which ones he wished to take with him in order to have the research materials he needed for his book.

A letter arrived each day from Fern who made a show of saying how she was enjoying her time at school, but Punch could see through the bright and happy words, and deeply felt the girl's sense of desperation and loneliness.

Those days passed without interruption from wicked forces, and they were as close to perfection as anything which they'd known since the earliest days of settling into No. 65.

Mr. Punch was reluctant to speak of the journey to Fallbridge Hall, coyly changing the subject whenever Robert or Lennie mentioned it.  Still, they both knew that when he was ready, he'd talk.   Despite her sense of Punch's nervousness regarding the trip, Lennie was excited about it.  Her time with Matthew was spent planning picnics and walks along the countryside.  These intimate chats brought them closer together.

The only obvious gloom which truly hung over the handsome house was the absence of Gamilla and Gerard.  Though they'd sent cards and letters from their various stops throughout Europe, the residents of No. 65, both above and below stairs, missed them keenly.

Finally, the day of their return from their wedding trip arrived.

Punch set aside his diamonds and emeralds, Robert his books and Lennie her lace collars and bonnets so that they could be downstairs with the staff to welcome the newlyweds home.

The cheer which arose in the servants' hall when the pair entered, hand-in-hand, must have been heard throughout the square.

A barrage of happy questions greeted Gamilla and Gerard who blushed and laughed as they tried to answer each.

Finally, Mr. Punch stepped forward--beaming.  He looked Gamilla squarely in the eyes and nodded.

Gamilla looked away shyly, finally returning his look and nod.

"She's got life inside her."  Punch said proudly.

"I believe that I do, Your Grace."  Gamilla smiled.  "I am quite sure of it."

Come back on Monday for Chapter 394 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.

Sculpture of the Day: The Commedia dell'Arte Doctor, 1850

The Doctor
Italy, c. 1850
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Here, we see a glazed figurine which depicts a grey-mustached Commedia dell'Arte character, most likely the Doctor. He has donned an elongated, brimmed maroon hat, a cream neck ruff, a black doublet and hose, with a black cape that is lined in yellow. He takes a foppish stance, with his left hand on his waist, and his right hand at his side. He is holding a roll of documents. His pedestal is decorated with two comedy masks and very rococo style shell-like patterns.

This figurine was probably manufactured in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, and is one of a set representing various characters from the Italian the Commedia dell'Arte. The Doctor, or 
Dottore, was traditionally portrayed as a pompous scholar from Bologna, and was essentially an academic version of the greedy Pantalone. He spoke in a haughty manner peppered with malapropisms and gibberish. This stock character was adopted into the Punch & Judy tradition and remains a part of the mythology of Mr. Punch to this day.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Callot Pulcinella Dwarf, 19th C.

Figurine of a Dwarf
French, Nineteenth Century
Based on an engraving by Jacques Callot
The Victoria & Albert Museum

On Tuesday, we looked at one of a series of figurines which were produced in France in the Nineteenth Century and were modeled after images created by Jacques Callot (1592-1635) who was artistically inspired by a troupe of “grotesque” dwarf entertainers known as “Les Gobbi.”

Callot’s other great interest was the Italian tradition of the Commedia dell’Arte. Since Les Gobbi incorporated many facets of the Commedia into their act, the troupe was of great appeal to Callot who was fascinated by their costumes and their melodramatic antics.

This figure of multi-colored, glazed porcelain depicts one of Callot’s drawings of a member of “Les Gobbi.” This little fellow, a masked dwarf musician plucking a violin, is clearly based on the Commedia dell’Arte stock character, Puclinella, who, as we know, is Mr. Punch’s Italian ancestor. The dwarf wears a wee black Pulcinella mask and affects some of the grotesque features which we’ve come to associate with our Old Red Nose. That’s the way to do it.

And, don’t worry. It’s not another day devoted to dwarf-related are. It’s Friday, so it’s a Mr. Punch day! Let’s carry on. Shall we?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Dog Masque

"I'm waiting for the canapes."

Image:  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at the Bal Costumé of 12 May 1842, Sir Edwin Landseer (1803-73) (artist), Creation Date: 1846, Materials: Oil on canvas, D, Provenance:
Commissioned by Queen Victoria (payment dated 12 July 1847, £420).

Landseer’s double portrait commemorates the costume ball held on 12 May 1842 at Buckingham Palace, attended by over two thousand people. Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, dressed as Edward III and his consort Queen Philippa of Hainault, received the guests in the Throne Room.

Crown Copyright, The Royal Collection, Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II via The Royal Collection Trust.  To learn more about this painting, visit the entry at 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: The Prince of Wales Pendant, 1814

Pendant of blue enameled gold, 1814
J. Barber for Rundell, Bridge & Rundell
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This pendant was created as a gift for Sir William Knighton, one of the Prince of Wales's (the Prince Regent, later King George IIV) physicians. Knighton was created a baronet in 1813 and from 1822, he served George IV as private secretary and keeper of the privy purse.

The inclusion of the attributes of peace (olive) and victory (palm) in the design (marking the successful outcome of the wars against Napoleon) suggest an 1814 creation for the pendant which also features a portrait head of the Prince of Wales with a laurel wreath.

J. Barber, a medalist associated with Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, the Royal Goldsmiths, created the medallion of gold and blue enamel. The head was modeled by Peter Rouw (1771-1852).

Bertie's Pet-itations: On the Catwalk, Yeah, I Shake My Carrot Tail on the Catwalk

Here's Bertie's weekly opportunity to share his ideas for creating our new "Beautiful Age."  Bertie's advice, I'm sure, can be applied to many different areas of our lives.

And, so, I happily hand the computer over to him.

Bertie says:

I like to be neat and clean and feel proud when I know I look good.