Saturday, October 19, 2013

Gifts of Grandeur: The Delisle Snuffbox, 1743-44

France, 1743-44
This and all related images from
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Another snuffbox from the collection of Sir Arthur and Rosalinde Gilbert, this Eighteenth Century snuffbox was made in France at the apex of the fashionable snuff craze. The box features panels of mother-of-pearl which are carved with a scene of a couple in court dress. They are surrounded by cherubs, which, frankly, I would think a little unnerving. 

The mother-of-pearl panels are reverse painted with landscapes which are now substantially faded and worn. Imagine how vivid they must have looked in 1743 when the box was new. The gold mounts have been decorated with a wave pattern. 

This box is the work of Jacques-André Delisle who joined the goldsmith's guild by letters patent in July of 1718, sponsored by the gold-box maker Pierre de Roussy.

History's Runway: A Balenciaga Evening Dress, 1955

Gown of Yellow Satin, Embroidered
Balenciaga, 1955
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

A masterpiece of yellow satin, this gown is embroidered with matching silk thread and gold pailletes (spangles).  It is lined with a matching chiffon with a separate, inner-lining of white silk.

Designed in Paris by Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972) in 1955, the dress features 
 a strapless, boned bodice joined to a skirt which has been tightly gathered at the back in the center as was the style of the time. A bustle effect is achieved with a series of ruffles.

This gown was worn (with matching gloves) by one Mrs. Fern Bedaux who famously always kept several elegant dresses with her at all times, just in case she was invited to a grand party.  Mrs. Bedaux purchased her entire wardrobe from Balenciaga, amassing a huge collection of his gowns.  Bedaux-an extremely wealthy widow of American millionaire office systems pioneer Charles Bedaux, lived at the Sixteenth Century Chateau de Cand in France where the Duke of Windsor was married after the Abdication Kerfuffle ™ of 1936.

A documentary film was produced about Mrs. Bedaux. 
 Entitled "The Champagne Safari,” it follows the Bedauxs on their famous expedition through Canada. It also revealed that Charles Bedaux had some ties with the Nazi party—not surprising given his association with Wallis Simpson and the former King Edward VIII. 

If you want to be as fashionable as Mrs. Bedaux without the Balenciaga price tag and Nazi ties, you might want to visit our online store and take a look at our always-stylish, exclusive designs.  

Film of the Week: Jezebel

Davis as "Julie" in her scandalous dress.

This is a truly superb picture and features one of Bette Davis’ finest screen performances. Directed by William Wyler, Jezebel was released in 1938 and starred Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, George Brent, Fay Bainter and Donald Crisp.

Bette Davis plays the petulant and strong-headed Julie Marsden who has a penchant for breaking rules and behaving in an independent manner that was frowned upon for a young woman in New Orleans’ high society. Still, Julie makes her own rules. After all, as she tells her Aunt Belle, “This is 1853, Dumpling, 1853.”

Her fiancé, Preston Dillard (Fonda), is a young banking executive who believes in being high-minded, proper and respectful. When his business delays Preston from attending their engagement party, Julie retaliates by buying a scandalous and tart-y red dress to wear to the Olympus Ball, an event where unmarried girls always wore virginal white.

Calling Julie’s bluff, Preston escorts her to the Olympus Ball in the red dress and forces her to dance—much to her embarrassment—in front of the disapproving New Orleans elite. Thus ends their engagement, and Preston goes north, leaving Julie depressed.

Julie vows to win Preston back. When the Yellow Fever epidemic forces them to flee New Orleans for Julie’s plantation, Halcyon, Julie is pleased to know that Preston will be joining them. Little does Julie know that Preston is bringing someone quite unexpected with him.

Julie’s manipulations endanger the lives of all the men in her life, causing Aunt Belle to label her, “Jezebel.” When Preston contracts the Yellow Fever, Julie has a difficult choice to make.

Brilliantly directed by William Wyler who was one of the few directors who was fully able to tame Bette Davis, the film is spectacular. With those typically grand Warner Brothers sets, a sweeping score by Max Steiner, 
Jezebel is one of the best, and Bette is never better.

Her performance earned Bette Davis her second Academy Award for Best Actress with Fay Bainter (Aunt Belle) winning Best Supporting Actress. By far, one of the most outstanding films of the late 30’s, this picture is a favorite of mine for many reasons. This is, of course, my time-period of interest. Also, I am very much interested in the Yellow Fever epidemics that struck Louisiana in the late 1800’s.

Drawing of the Day: The Yellow-Breasted Chat and the Turk's Cap Lily, c. 1765

The Yellow-Breasted Chat and The Turk's Cap Lily, c. 1765
Mark Catesby
Purchased by King George III
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

From the Royal Collection, we have this handsome watercolor by Mark Catesby (1682-1749). Catesby created the painting of a small bird (known as a Yellow-Breasted Chat) with a Turk’s Cap Lily. To give emphasis to the bird, Catesby has only faintly sketched-in the plant with it’s maple-shaped leaves. 

The painting was created for one Thomas Cadell from whom it was purchased by King George III in 1768.

Flashback: At the Music Hall: Goodbye Little Yellow Bird

This post first appeared on October 16, 2010.  I thought that it would be a nice companion to the day's posts.

Yellow Warbler
© Joseph Crisalli

The snow was very plentiful
And crumbs were very few
When a weather-beaten sparrow to a mansion window flew
Her eye fell on a golden cage
A sweet love song she heard
Sung by a pet canary there
A handsome yellow bird
He said to her, “Miss Sparrow, I’ve been struck by cupid’s arrow.
Will you share my cage with me?”
She looked up at his castle
With its ribbon and its tassel
And in plaintiff tones said she:
“Goodbye, little yellow bird, 
I’d rather brave the cold
On a leafless tree, 
Than a prisoner be,
In a cage of gold.”

British composer Clarence Wainwright Murphy, an extremely prolific creator of theatrical and music hall songs, teamed with lyricist W. Hargreave in 1903 to write Little Yellow Bird (also known as Goodbye, Little Yellow Bird). The song is a sentimental tale of the decision to choose freedom over love and a commentary on the classes.

Angela Lansbury as Sybil Vane in
The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1945
Turner Home Entertainment
The lyrics describe a scene of a poor sparrow who is tortured by the elements, but would prefer to shiver than to be trapped in an opulent cage. Little Yellow Bird was immensely popular in the music halls of England. It’s popularity led to its use in the 1938 film, Alf’s Button, and later in the stunning 1945 version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. In the latter, a young Angela Lansbury sings Little Yellow Bird as sweet music gall girl Sybil Vane. This is Dorian’s first encounter with the girl and he quickly falls in love with her. Had Sybil taken the advice of the sparrow in her song and stayed out of that gilded cage, she might not have met the end that she did. Enjoy this clip from The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Miss Lansbury, in Murder She Wrote, as Jessica's cousin, Emma, performs the song again.  I searched and searched, but could not find a clip of it.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Yellow Dwarf, 1820

The Yellow Dwarf
English, 1820
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This hand-colored sketch dates to about 1820 and depicts a character from “The Yellow Dwarf” which ran at the Drury Lane Theatre.

The popular play was based on the French fairytale of the same name. If you’re not familiar with the story of “The Yellow Dwarf,” let me see if I can summarize it for you. Once upon a time, etc., there was a princess who was so beautiful that every king in the land vied for her hand. However, she was so beautiful that each man knew he’d never have her, and, they gave up. The princess’ mother feared her daughter would never marry. Since this seemed to be an unacceptable thing at the time, the Queen went to see “The Fairy of the Desert” in order to arrange for a groom for her daughter.

The Fairy of the Desert was guarded by lions. The Queen, fearing, she’d be torn apart by the giant cats, allowed The Yellow Dwarf (named Gam-Bogie) to protect her. In exchange, she agreed to let the dwarf marry her daughter. The Queen was lying, however, just to keep from being killed by lions, and was, oddly enough, shocked when The Yellow Dwarf showed up looking for his new bride. To make matters worse, while her mother was out bothering fairies, the princess found a husband in the form of the King of the Gold Mines. The Queen tried to send the dwarf away, but, the dwarf was understandably annoyed, so, he went to get the Fairy of the Desert to help him. The dwarf took the princess. The fairy took the King. Everyone cried. Lots of weird stuff happened. The King finally escaped, but the dwarf killed him and the princess died of grief. A mermaid turned them both into trees—as one does.

And, the moral of the story is: Don’t tick off a magic dwarf.

I imagine that the play was quite a lot like that. This promotional image was intended for use on posters and is the work of one H. Brown. 

Painting of the Day: Frederick Robson as Gam-Bogie, The Yellow Dwarf, 1856

The Yellow Dwarf
English, 1856
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This 1856 painting by R. Emery depicts the Victorian actor Frederick Robson in character as Gam-Bogie, the Yellow Dwarf . Robson starred in the second London theatrical production which was based on the French fairytale. The first, produced in 1820, is mentioned in the 
previous post. This retelling of the story was written by James Robinson Planché, and, was met with much acclaim and favorable critical reception, especially for Robson’s performance. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mastery of Design: The Hull-Grundy Coral and Ruby Dove Earrings

The British Museum

Made in England in the 1830s, this pair of earrings is hung with coral drops.  A setting of bloomed-gold leaves is surmounted by doves with ruby-set eyes.  The 1830s saw a rising taste for Naturalistic jewelry, not only designs of flowers, fungus and foliage, but also birds, insects and animals.  While real preserved animals were also employed, most wearers preferred golden representations to taxidermy.

These earrings are part of the Hull-Grundy Gift to the British Museum.

Friday Fun: "That's the Way to Do It" by Red Herring Productions

"That's the Way to Do It"
Red Herring Productions

In 2012, for Mr. Punch's 350th birthday, Red Herring Productions launched a live action, alternative Punch & Judy Show, borrowing its title from Punch's famed exclamation, "That's the Way to Do It!"  It's quite something.  Take a look!

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...

Can you explain how long cows should be milked?

And the answer is...

In the same way you'd milk a short cow.

Bravo for the wealth of amusing, if not salty, answers today.  You're a fine and witty lot, you are.  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.  

The Art of Play: The Webb Punch Puppet, c. 1930-1950

Glove Puppet of Mr. Punch
This and all related images courtesy of
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Edward Charles Webb, of Stepney, England, crafted and used this figure of Mr. Punch.  This is the central figure of one of two sets of puppets made by the beloved professor who was known for his puppet shows in Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Essex and Hertfordshire. The elder Webb would use one set while his son and son-in-law would use the other, working shows simultaneously in different locations.

Made and used between 1930 and 1950, this glove puppet features a head,, legs and hands carved of wood and painted. White rabbit fur makes his hair. He wears a red corduroy hat trimmed with yellow braid and three pompoms, a matching red corduroy gown with two pompoms on his hump and a cream ruff trimmed with blue and red petersham braid.

Both sets of puppets were donated to the V&A by Mr. Webb's granddaughter.

Coming Soon: A Recipe for Punch

On Monday, with its four-hundredth chapter, Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square will come to a conclusion.  Throughout the last four hundred chapters, Punch and his beloved Robert battled foes both old and new, discovered a half-sister, Lennie, about whom he never knew and he and Robert adopted a troubled young girl named Fern.  Meanwhile, downstairs in the handsome Belgravia townhouse, Gerard and Gamilla were engaged, and, then married.  We fell in love with Mrs. Pepper, Ethel, Georgie and Maudie, while Charles and Violet flirted with the idea of romance, and, we mourned the loss of beloved kitchen-maid, Jenny.

On Monday, October 28, we'll follow our friends on a new journey in A Recipe for Punch.  This new online novel will focus on Punch's return to Fallbridge Hall in Yorkshire.  Always magnanimous, our Mr. Punch has volunteered to take his newly-found sister to Fallbridge Hall so she might learn a bit about her heritage and so that Colin can see his future inheritance.

Their plans are quite simple.  Lennie is to be schooled in Fallbridge history and become acquainted with the legacy, both good and bad, of her mother, the late Pauline, Duchess of Fallbridge.  The trip will also give Lennie a chance to spend some time with her fiance, Matthew, Earl of Cleaversworth, before they set a date for their wedding.  Meanwhile, Robert will be working on his book about other like Punch who live with more than one "personality."  The visit to the country is meant to be relaxing and educational--a time for Colin to grow and explore, a time for the staff to have a break from the city and for pregnant Gamilla to enjoy some clean air.

However, beneath it all, our Mr. Punch will be faced with the very demons which created him within Julian, the Duke of Fallbridge.  

The sprawling stately home holds more than just the Fallbridge Family treasures.  It harbors secrets both new and old, and on the outskirts of the estate lurk many dangers which will not only challenge Punch's "sanity," but also the lives of Lennie, Colin and Robert.

Furthermore, the staff will face new challenges as Mrs. Pepper realizes that she doesn't have as much say at Fallbridge Hall as she did in Belgrave Square.  Georgie is tempted by some new voices and Ethel and Maudie discover that they must come together to protect the boy they both love.  While Charles and Violet grow closer, Charles' genetics get the better of him. And, Gamilla's pregnancy reveals some inner powers which she never knew she had.  

You'll meet some new characters and learn more about those who have figured prominently in Punch's Cousin.  We'll explore racism, homophobia and changing ideas about mental health, as Gamilla, Robert and Punch realize that though they've made a peaceful world for themselves, others may not share their ideals.  Furthermore, we'll test the notions of genetics as Charles and Lennie, and even our Mr. Punch, worry that the sins of their ancestors will ultimately be their own.

It's going to be a touching, frightening, and wild visit to majestic Fallbridge Hall.  I hope you'll join me as we assemble an intriguing puzzle in A Recipe for Punch.

The Home Beautiful: A Hand-Painted Wedgwood Dish Featuring Mr. Punch

Wedgwood Dish
Painted by Vivian Cooke
Nineteenth Century
All images from The Victoria & Albert Museum

"Mr. Punch," states this cream-glazed Wedgwood pottery dish.  Heralding from Staffordshire, it's been painted in red overglaze with an image of our Punchinello, as he was when performed by Professor Piccini.  He's framed within a handsome scalloped border.

The reverse of the dish  is stamped with the mark: "Wedgwood of Etruria & Barlaston" and painted by the artist: "DECORATED BY VIVIAN COOKE."

Click images for larger versions

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Punch & Judy Nutcrackers, Nineteenth Century

Mr. Punch faces one side of this nutcracker

All Images from the Victoria & Albert Museum

Since it's Friday, let's carry on with some Punch & Judy-themed items.  By the Nineteenth Century, our Mr. Punch was a superstar of huge proportions and he and his wooden-headed family and friends found themselves on a variety of different products, especially those meant for every day use in the home.

This nifty item is a great example of the trend.  Dating to the second quarter of the Nineteenth Century, this brass nutcracker boasts a relief of Mr. Punch on one side and Judy on the other.

I want one, even though I can't recall ever using a nutcracker in my entire life.

And, here's Judy.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: A Princely Buffet

"Which ones are you guys gonna eat?"

Image:  Prince Adolphus, later Duke of Cambridge, with Princess Mary, later Duchess of Teck, and Princess Sophia of Cambridge, Benjamin West (1738-1820) (artist), Creation Date: Signed and dated 1778, Materials: Oil on canvas, Provenance: Painted for George III and Queen Charlotte.  Crown Copyright, The Royal Collection, Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II via The Royal Collection Trust.

To learn more about this portrait, 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: The Cambridge Emeralds

The Vladimir Tiara, 1921The Royal Collection

Like most famous jewels, the Cambridge Emeralds have a long and fascinating history. Originally part of a collection of magnificent jewels belonging to Indian royalty, a suite of flawless emeralds came into British hands and was auctioned off at a charity ball in 1818. 

Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge,
The Duchess of Teck and Mother of
Queen Mary wearing the famed
The winner was The Duchess of Cambridge, the grandmother of Queen Mary. Eventually (and with some difficulty which is the stuff of much debate and dubious scandal), Mary managed to get hold of the emeralds and took no time in having them set into both new and existing pieces of jewelry.

Queen Mary wearing the parure

A Diamond Brooch
with Two of the Cambridge Emeralds
The Royal Collection
Most notably, Queen Mary had a portion of the Cambridge Emeralds installed in the newly acquired Vladimir Tiara—once the crown of Grand Duchess Vladimir, aunt of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II. Mary ordered that the original hanging pearls in the tiara be replaced with fifteen of the celebrated Cambridge Emeralds. I should add that the pearls were retained and can be replaced in the tiara when emeralds just won’t do.

Many of the other emeralds were used in a variety of brooches, necklaces, bracelets and earrings designed by the Royal Jewelers at Garrards. In almost all cases, the emeralds are detachable from their settings so that other stones can be fitted depending on the color of the gown. That was rather an economical idea of Queen Mary. Wasn’t it? 

The Cambridge Emeralds in their various settings are not part of the Crown Jewels, but rather are the personal property of Her Majesty, the Queen and are on display as part of The Royal Collection. Queen Elizabeth II often wears two of the brooches which were set with the Cambridge Emeralds and has worn the Vladimir Tiara on special occasions. Queen Mary would be proud.

Earrings Featuring the Cambridge EmeraldsThe Royal Collection

The Princess of Wales wore the choker as a choker and....