Saturday, November 2, 2013

Gifts of Grandeur: The Mennecy Cat Snuffbox, c. 17526

Snuff-box in the form of a cat.
Mennecy, France, c. 1756
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Here we see a snuff-box and cover of soft-paste porcelain.
  This rather small, unusual figural piece is painted with enamels and with a hinged silver mount.  It takes the form of a cat with three kittens.  The whole of the interior of the case is enameled with flowers. 

We don’t know too much about this snuff-box except that it was made in Mennecy, France between 1756 and 1762 by a staff worker at the Mennecy Porcelain Factory.

The Home Beautiful: A Cat Stand, 1760-1820

Cat Stand
English, 1760-1820
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Called a “Cat” because it always landed on its legs, this type of stand was composed of six radiating spokes. Three spokes faced down and three faced up. So, if it were dropped in any direction, it would always land in its “feet.” 

Small stands such as this English one were convenient is an much as they were portable. They had many uses. This example, dating to between 1760 and 1820, was used to hold plates. Other examples of “cats” were probably used to support bowls of flowers, keeping them off of easily-marred tabletops, or ladies' work baskets.

Drawing of the Day: A Seated Cat, 1920

A Seated Cat
Gwen John, 1920
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The artist Gwen John (1876-1939) actually made several drawings and watercolor paintings of cats. The watercolor pictured above is doubtlessly the best known of the lot.

John’s body of work is clearly based on an appreciation of the figure. Each of her pieces focuses on the shape of a single figure—usually a woman in an interior. However, John was fascinated by the shape of any single being, taking exquisite care to replicate the curves and planes of each individual in intimate studies. By mirroring the shape of the subject, she endeavors to show its characteristic. Here, Gwen John uses the shape of the cat to reinforce the idea of feline isolation and aloofness.

The Art of Play: Princess Elizabeth and her Toy Cat, 1935

Princess Elizabeth
With Her Toy Cat
Marcus Adams, 1935
The Royal Collection
Even little princesses like to play with their toys. This 1935 photograph of a nine-year-old Princess Elizabeth is evidence of that. Taken to “The Children’s Studio” by Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and King George VI, Princess Elizabeth gladly posed for Royal photographer Marcus Adams. Her only demand—that she be photographed with her favorite toy, a small, stuffed cat.

What’s most amazing about this photo, however, is the fact the she looks exactly the same then as she does now that she’s Queen Elizabeth II. I wonder if she’s still got that cat. Maybe it’s what she keeps in her ever-present handbag.

Pets of the Belle Époque: Cat and Dogs Belonging to Queen Victoria, 1885

Cat and Dogs Belonging to Queen Victoria
Charles Burton Barber, 1885
The Royal Collection
Throughout her entire life, Queen Victoria was a known animal lover and always enjoyed the companionship of her dogs and the occasional cat and parrot. As often as she had portraits painted of her human family, Victoria commissioned paintings (and photographs) of her beloved pets.

This 1885 painting by Charles Burton Barber shows three scrappy dogs and a rather well-mannered cat belonging to the queen. I’m not quite sure which of the Royal dogs these were, but, they were no doubt very loved. 

Antique Image of the Day: A Menu from HMY Victoria & Albert, 1905

Menu from HMY Victoria & Albert
Signed by all those in
attendance, including Mac
and the cat.
The Royal Collection

Among the possessions of Princess Victoria of Wales, this menu was found. At a dinner party aboard Her Majesty’s Yacht, The Victoria & Albert, in 1905, each person in attendance signed the menu. At the top of the page, someone—presumably Queen Alexandra herself—has sketched two of the most frequent guests aboard the yacht, Mac the Terrier and Queen Alexandra’s cat.

Mac and the cat were constantly at odds. Their rocky relationship is demonstrated in the sketch by the fact that the cat is hissing (as indicated by the red flames coming from his mouth) at the intrepid terrier. The two sketches are labeled, “My Cat –Mother Dear” and “Mac.”

I find this souvenir of a fun dinner (and, by the looks of the menu, quite tasty) to be extremely charming. I’m glad the Princess Victoria saved it.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Cruikshank's "Punch and the Cat," 19th C.

Engraving depicting "Punch and the Cat"
George Cruikshank
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Some of the earliest, most accurate and famous drawings we have of the Nineteenth Century Punch & Judy shows in Britain are those created by the celebrated illustrator George Cruikshank (1792-1878).

Here, we see an engraving after one of Cruikshank’s renowned drawings.  The print crisply depicts not only the Punch & Judy performance, but also, the audience.  Here, we see Punch and the Cat in a booth in the upper center. Some Punch & Judy Professors in the Nineteenth Century used a cat in lieu of the Dog Toby.  At the time, many Punch & Judy men still employed real animals as Punch’s companion as opposed to puppet counterparts.  If a dog was unavailable, Mr. Punch was joined by a cat. 

This trimmed piece of paper has, on the reverse, part of a music score entitled “The Magistrate.” “Old G. Cruickshank” is inscribed in pencil on the upper left center.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Mastery of Design: Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown

Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Via The Royal Collection Trust and
Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Click on image above for larger size.

Made by R.S. Garrard & Co. in 1870 for Queen Victoria, this is the crown most associated with Her Majesty.  Comprised of a silver frame, this pice is set with 1,187 brilliant-cut and rose-cut diamonds in open-backed collet mounts. 

The band of the crown is formed of a frieze of lozenges and ovals in oval apertures--set between two rows of single diamonds.  This forms the support for  four crosses-pattée and four fleurs-de-lis, as well as the four half-arches above.  These arches, as is the tradition of such crowns, are surmounted by a monde and a further cross-pattée.

This crown, made several years after the death of Prince Albert, was specifically designed to be worn by Queen Victoria on top of her widow's cap.  Queen Victoria wished for the crown to be light and wearable, as one does.  

The curators of The Royal Collection suggest:

...the crown may have been based on Queen Charlotte's nuptual crown which had been returned to Hanover earlier in the reign. 

One February 9, 1871, Victoria debuted the crown at the opening of Parliament, and thereafter wore it for State occasions and for formal receptions.  She favored the headpiece so much that she's depicted in a variety of portraits from her later reign wearing it.  For less formal occasions, the removal arches were taken off.  

The crown had become so iconic of Queen Victoria, that upon her death, it was placed on her coffin at Osborne House.

Queen Alexandra often wore the crown following Queen Victoria's death, and, then, Queen Mary did for awhile.  After the his coronation, King George VI added it to the regalia at the Tower of London, although, I should note that it has never been used at a coronation ceremony.

Print of the Day: Gioco de Burattini al Mole

Gioco de Burrattini al Mole
The George Speaight Punch & Judy Archive
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This attractive engraving is entitled “Gioco de Burattini al mole.”  It depicts an Italian Pulcinella (Mr. Punch’s Italian cousin) puppet show being performed in the traditional white booth or “fit-up.” 

Hand colored in watercolor and printed by an unknown publisher, it’s difficult to say when this image was produced.  The V&A dates it between the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Centuries.  The print was part of the collection of George Speaight, the famed theatre historian, whose collection of Punch & Judy ephemera was bequeathed to the V&A.  

Painting of the Day: A Chinese Puppet Show, c. 1790

Click on image to stand on a coffee table.
Souvenir Watercolor Painting
Guangzhou, China, c. 1790
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Painted in Guangzhou, China, around 1790, this painting is just one of a set of 100 which show various tradesmen from Canton engaged in their work. The set was made for export to the U.K. where, at the time, a growing interest in Asian culture was becoming prevalent.

This particular scene depicts a traveling puppeteer at work. Unlike the fit-ups to which we’re accustomed, here, the puppeteer himself becomes the fit-up. Look closely. You can see that the puppet theatre sits on the performer’s shoulders. He raises his arms above his head to work the puppets and a colorful cloth conceals his body—tied at the ankles.

Being no stranger to the mechanics of puppeteering, I confess that I don’t think I’d like to work this way. First of all, it’d be rather a bitch to get yourself set-up for a show, but, worse still, is how to get out of it afterwards. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem to be worth the effort. The only people in attendance are an old man and a child contortionist. And, who carries the coffee table?

Antique Image of the Day: George Speaight in Performance, 1951

Hello, all...sorry, but there won't be a "Punch's Puzzles" today because I've got a busy schedule.  But, not to worry, we'll be back with the usual riddle nonsense next week.

In the meantime...let's have a look at one of Mr. Punch's staunchest supporters.

So, for a few years now, we’ve looked at images from the George Speaight Punch & Judy Archive at the V&A. But, who was this Mr. Speaight and why did he have so much Punch-related stuff?

George Victor Speaight (1914-2005) was a theatre historian and the foremost expert on toy theater and the history of puppetry in Britain, if not in the world. In the 1930s, George (brother of the Shakespearean actor Robert Speaight) began performing his own puppet shows on Oxford Street.

His first book, Juvenile Drama: The History of the English Toy Theatre came out in December of 1946. Following this, he became manager of Pollock's Toy Theatres. He pursued theatrical endeavors throughout the following years. In 1955, he released his next book, “History of the English Puppet Theatre” and, thus, began a long career in reference publishing.

For nearly sixty years he was married to Mary Mudd, an engraver of wood. He died a year after she did. They had one son and one daughter. Upon his death, Speaight left his tremendous collection of puppet-related materials to the V&A. Most of the collection relates to the history of Punch & Judy. The V&A has spent years cataloging this massive and important collection, and, just now, we’re seeing these items for the first time since they were collected by Mr. Speaight.

From his collection, here, we see a photograph of George Speaight posing with a puppet surrounded by an audience. The photo dates to about 1951.

George Speaight (center), 1951
The Victoria & Albert Museum

A Recipe for Punch, Chapter 5

Chapter 5:
Midnight Spider

"William, step back from the window, please."  Jackson snapped at the young footman.

"What'd I do, Mr. Jackson?  I was just watchin' the master and his guests."  William replied.

"Guests?"  An older woman snorted from a nearby chair.  She smoothed her severely pulled-back, graying hair.  "Most of them are servants just like the lot of us."

"Quite right, Ivy."  Jackson nodded.

"And, there's Lord Fallbridge, squirin' them around the estate like they're visitors from the House of Lords."  Ivy continued.  "And, one of 'em an African."

"Oh, don't forget," Another man chimed in as he entered the servants' hall.  "He's not to be called 'Lord Fallbridge' anymore.  He's a Duke, that one."

"He is a Duke, Gregory."  William spoke up.  "And, we ought to treat him as such."

"I'll tell you what 'e is,"  Gregory growled.  "He's a midnight spider."

"A what?"  William asked his fellow footman.

"A margery, a nancy."  Gregory spat.  "In other words--like you."

"Please,"  Jackson barked.  "Gregory, there are ladies present."

"Only Miss Blessum."  Gregory grinned, indicating Ivy.  "And, she knows as well what the little fey Duke is as the rest of us."

"His sainted mother, rest Her Grace's soul, always complained of it."  Ivy sighed.

"And, 'im, comin' in 'ere and takin' 'is Mary-Ann to stay in 'is rooms with 'im."  Gregory howled.

"There's nothing wrong with two men being close."  William argued.

"Here, you would say that."  Gregory laughed.  ""Furthermore, the bugger is mad.  Look at what 'e's done since he's been 'ere.  Cares more 'bout them servants from London than he does us.  You shouldn't be so quick to defend the madman, Willy.  Remember, he threw you over for his own valet."

"Wanting his own valet hardly makes him mad."  William replied.

"Oh, but he is mad."  Ivy nodded.  "Has been since a boy.  Terribly strange little person.  Such a disappointment."

"He's the master of this house and the Duke of Fallbridge.  He could sack the lot of us, so I think we'd best be kinder."  William replied.

"William, get off with ya."  Gregory snapped.

"Gregory is correct."  Jackson replied.  "The others will be in from their duties soon, and as soon as His Grace returns the cook to us, we'll prepare for upstairs tea.  Furthermore, I noticed some tarnish on the morning room candelabrum.  Look alive, lad."

"I'd best be getting to my mending, too."  Ivy stood up.  "I'm strengthenin' the beads on the gown which Her Grace wore to the Huntsman's Ball in '42.  Oh, it is lovely."

"Very good, Ivy."  Jackson replied.  And turned.  "And, you Gregory?"

"I think I'll wait 'ere for them Londoners to come back.  The blonde one's nice to look at."

"You'll do no such thing.  See to it that the drapes in the library are drawn."

"Yes, Mr. Jackson."  Gregory grumbled.

Jackson waited for everyone to leave before retreating to his pantry where he paused before donning a long white cloak over his uniform.

Removing a small silver key from the pocket of the cloak he unlocked a cupboard at the farthest corner of the dim room.

"Your Grace,"  He smiled.  "Forgive me for saying it, but for the first time today, I felt it best that you no longer have life in your lovely body.  If you saw what your son has become..."  He shook his head.  Reaching forward he smiled again.  "Oh, but you are so beautiful today..."

Come back next week when, on Monday, I'll post Chapter 6 of A Recipe for Punch.

Place of the Week: Covent Garden, London

Situated on the eastern edges of London’s famous West End, between Drury and St. Martin’s Lanes, lies historic Covent Garden. Since the mid Twentieth Century, this former fruit and vegetable market has been a thriving tourist and shopping attraction, playing host to millions of yearly visitors. In addition to a variety of shops, public houses and restaurants, Covent Garden is also the home of the Royal Opera House, St. Paul’s Church (known as The Actors’ Church), the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the London Transport Museum.

Of special interest (to me, anyway), Covent Garden was Mr. Punch’s first home in England after his metamorphosis from his Italian Pulcinella roots. According to the famous story, Samuel Pepys was the first to make written mention of Punch when he observed a puppet show offered by a “Professor” known as “Signor Bologna” on May 9, 1662. Pepys wrote in his diary on that date, “Thence with Mr. Salisbury, who I met there, into Covent Garden to an alehouse, to see a picture that hangs there, which is offered for 20s., and I offered fourteen—but it is worth much more money—but did not buy it, I having no mind to break my oath. Thence to see an Italian puppet play that is within the rayles there, which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw, and great resort of gallants.” The date of this first written mention of Mr. Punch was adopted as his birthday. So, on Monday, he’ll be embarking on his 349th birthday. Punch will forever be associated with Covent Garden. A plaque commemorates his birthplace, and his presence is evident everywhere from the performances in the square to the pub named in his honor.

Until the sixteenth century, Coven Garden was still a series of connected fields upon which grew fruit trees, flowers and other crops. The area was settled briefly when the land became the center of the Anglo-Saxon trading town of Ludenwic. However, that faded back into fields by the Thirteenth Century when the farm land was acquired by Westminster Abbey as a source of crops of the residents of the abbey. At this point, the land was often referred to “The Garden of the Abbey and the Convent”—casually known as “Covent Garden.” The land remained under the direction of Westminster Abbey until it was appropriated by Henry VIII in 1540. Henry gave the land which crosses into both the Cities of Westminster and Camden to the Earls of Bedford who, wishing the attract wealthy tenants, commissioned famed architect Inigo Jones to design a series of luxurious townhomes on an elegant square which would prove as the model for London’s swankiest squares.

For awhile, Covent Garden was an elite address, however, the introduction of the Fruit and Vegetable Market in 1654 met with the disapproval of the square’s fashionable residents who quickly moved to newer parts of the City of Westminster. The area soon became disreputable, becoming the home of artists and prostitutes alike. Theaters and pubs became commonplace, and though the market continued to thrive, Covent Garden became known as a less-than savory part of town.

By Queen Victoria’s reign, Parliament had vowed to clean up the area. Charles Fowler’s large neoclassical structure enclosed and organized the market and the theaters began to operate under Royal decree. From 1830 onward, Covent Garden thrived—regaining its status as a gathering place, but also affording a welcoming atmosphere for artists and street performers.

In the 1960’s, traffic in the area made it unsafe. By 1974, the decision was made to move the Fruit and Vegetable market, converting the space into a shopping and recreation area. It remains so today. Covent Garden is one of the iconic spots of London. Visitors to the area flock to this wonderful assortment of buildings and venues to soak up the best of London’s culture. 

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Cut-out Punch and Judy Theater, 1967

Characters from "Punch & Judy"
for use with a paper theatre
Barry Elphick, 1967
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Printed in 1967, this card depicts Punch and Judy characters which accompany a cut-out Punch and Judy theatre.
  The theatre and little figures are meant to be cut out and used to create individual puppet plays.  The design is by U.K. illustrator Barry Elphick for Nordiska Ltd.

Depicted are Punch, Judy, the Devil, the Constable, the Dog Toby and the Crocodile. 

This playful bit of ephemera is part of the George Speaight Punch & Judy Collection at the V&A.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Creepy, Kooky, etc.

"You must meet Cousin Bertie.  He has the most remarkable singing voice.  Barbershop Quartet  minus three."

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.

Unusual Artifacts: A Crystal Memorial Slide, 1700

Memorial Slide, 1700
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Though rather unsettling at first, this gold slide with an enameled skeleton holding an arrow is quite attractive. Within the slide, the initials “IC” are shown on a background of hair under rock crystal. The reverse is engraved, “IC OBT 6 JUL AETA 3 YE 8 MO.”

This is the perfect example of a Seventeenth Century commemorative memorial jewel. Such memorial jewels were a staple of the Eighteenth Century in more romantic forms, but these early examples take a more realistic look at death. Imagery such as skeletons, skulls and winged hourglasses were frequently used for such jewelry and hair from the deceased was almost always incorporated.
From the inscription on the reverse, which is partially in Latin, we can see that it was made in memory of a child with the initials “IC” who had died on the 6th of July (in an unknown year) who was aged three years and 8 months.

The slide is fitted with two flat loops at the back through which a ribbon of silk or woven hair would be threaded, enabling it to be worn around the neck or wrist.

Bertie's Pet-itations: I Want Candy, But...

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:

Though I see everyone eating it, and I want it, too, I can't have chocolate because it would hurt me.