Saturday, November 9, 2013

Mastery of Design: The Fabergé Pear, 1903

Pear by Michael Perchin
Acquired by Edward VII and Queen Alexandra
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection 
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

I wish the tree in my backyard grew these. Created for Fabergé in 1903 by Michael Perchin (or, Mikhail Evlampievich Perkhin, depending on your language of choice) (1860-1903), this pear is made of nephrite mounted with gold and diamonds.

The object is actually a small box and cover. Fabergé and his craftsmen took great pride in elevating the simplest of items as well as offering realism in their designs. For example, this pear even features a reeded gold stem which terminates in a diamond as well as leaves of gold which have been accentuated with “dewdrops” of diamonds. The rim of the box’s base is also densely set with a band of rose-cut diamonds. 

This box was part of a large suite of Fabergé desk accessories which were acquired by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The Home Beautiful: The Tristan and Isolde Casket, 1350-1370

Click images to enlarge.
Jewel Casket
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made in the Fourteenth Century, the carved figures on the lid of this jewel casket depict a scene from the fabled medieval romance of Tristan and Isolde. In the story, the adulterous lovers arrange a clandestine rendezvous at a fountain where they are spied upon by Isolde's husband, King Marke, and a dwarf who are hiding in a tree—as one does.

The sides of the casket are adorned with hunting scenes as well as depictions of a lady and a “wild man,” and a couple playing chess.

When this casket was purchased by the Museum in 1855, it had been over-painted in a dark color which obscured the original bright colors with which the figures were painted. It took twenty years to strip away the layers of dark paint to reveal the original polychrome color scheme which was, remarkably, well-preserved beneath.

Such a jewel casket, in the Fourteenth Century, would have been presented to a bride as a wedding gift. They often were emblazoned with scenes of courting and affection. This one, with its cautionary tale of adultery, is quite unusual.

At the Music Hall: Down by the Old Mill Stream, 1908

My darling I am dreaming of the days gone by,
When you and I were sweethearts beneath the summer sky;
Your hair has turned to silver the gold has faded too;
But still I will remember, where I first met you.

The old mill wheel is silent and has fallen down,
The old oak tree has withered and lies there on the ground;
While you and I are sweethearts the same as days of yore;
Although we've been together, forty years and more.

Down by the old mill stream where I first met you,
With your eyes of blue, dressed in gingham too,
It was there I knew that you loved me true,
You were sixteen, my village queen, by the old mill stream.

Known to many today as a punch-line or comic Barbershop song in the style of Moe Howard, “Down by the Old Mill Stream” was written in 1908 by Tell Taylor and remained one of the most popular songs in the U.S. in the first decades of the Twentieth Century.

As the story goes, Taylor was sitting on the banks of Ohio’s Blanchard River. Taylor was advised by friends not to try to publish the song which they deemed simple and of little value. Taylor took their advice, but, two years later decided to go ahead and publish the song. It debuted in 1910, performed by the vaudeville quartet known as “The Orpheus Comedy Four.” It quickly became a hit.

Figure of the Day: The Thomas Parr Spill Vase, 1852

The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the early to mid Nineteenth Century, matches were rather costly, and, so, alternative ways of lighting candles (and cigars) were employed. Spills—thin pieces of wood or rolled paper) were kept on the mantle in spill vases. These bud-vase-like pieces allowed for easy access to the spills which were used to transfer fire to other, smaller uses such as candle lighting.

Here, we see a spill vase depicting popular actors Jenny Marston and Frederick Robinson as Perdita and Florizel from Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale.” The couple is standing on a base styled like a mound of earth, behind them is a tree in the shape of a spill vase.

Celebrated Nineteenth Century stage stars were often depicted as ceramic figurines, especially by Staffordshire factories who specialized in molded earthenware portrait figurines. Marston and Robinson were favorite subjects. They are seen here in Scene iii of a revival of “The Winter's Tale,” which was performed at Sadler's Wells Theatre in July of 1851.

History's Runway: The Tree Dress , 1955

"The Tree Dress"
Charles James, New York, 1955
From the Cecil Beaton Collection at
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Inspired by the cuircase bodices and bustles of the 1870s, this gorgeous and unusual evening dress was designed for Mrs. Ronald Tree by Charles James (1906-1978) in 1955. The British-born, New York and London based designer was intrigued by the cut of historical dress and sought new ways to create gowns inspired by historical pieces. He excelled in the creation of sumptuous, full-skirted evening gowns which were masterpieces of modern construction.

Now part of the Cecil Beaton collection at the V&A, this evening dress is constructed of silk taffeta, consisting of an outer taffeta shell of a bodice, and two form-hugging ruched skirts over a full lower skirt. The hem has a deep facing of bright peacock blue silk taffeta which would have been seen only when the wearer of the dress was in motion.

Painting of the Day: Charles I of England and Queen Henrietta Maria, 17th C.

Click image for larger size.
Charles I of England and Queen Henrietta Marie
Gonzales Coques after Anthony van Dyck
Seventeenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

A handsome and unusual double portrait, this canvas by Gonzales Coques (1614-1684) depicts King Charles I of England. He is shown wearing the Order of the Garter. At his side is his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, depicted with the peaceful symbols of a laurel wreath and an olive branch. Set against a lush landscape revealed behind a drape, the Royal couple is presented in an interior with a table upon which sits the crown, scepter and orb.

This painting is one of two double portraits of Charles I and his Queen Consort. The first, dating to 1632, by Anthony can Dyck, now in the collection of the Archiepiscopal Castle and Gardens in the Czech Republic, was much larger. Gonzales was commissioned to paint this smaller version, making his painting as much of a scaled-down copy of van Dyck’s as possible.

Van Dyck’s original was proudly displayed above the drawing room mantel is Somerset House in London—Queen Henrietta Marie's private residence since 1628. Records show that the commission had originally been granted to Daniel Mytens (sometimes recorded as Mitjens), but Queen Henrietta found his work to be unsatisfactory and van Dyck was contacted. The painting, he was told, must create a pleasing sense of the union of the King (making his sovereignty obvious) and the Queen who should show that she offered herself and her power peacefully to the King. The Queen’s father, King Henry IV, was often shown with a laurel wreath, and so, van Dyck chose this as the Queen’s attribute. He added the olive branch of peace as a means of also demonstrating the influence of Charles I’s father, famously peaceable King James I. 

Gonzales’ small-scale copy of van Dyck’s original is decidedly faithful to its source. While the original remained in Royal ownership for many centuries, this version was purchased in the Nineteenth Century by the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend who is well known to readers of this site not only for his impressive collection of art, but, especially for the massive assortment of jewels which the ultra-wealthy, fashionable and not-too-religious reverend amassed over his lifetime. 

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Duesbury Canary, 1780-1785

Soft-Paste Porcelain
William Duesbury & Co., 1780-1785
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made in soft-paste porcelain and painted with enamels, this figure of a canary perched on the stump of a tree is the work of William Duesbury & Co. and dates between 1780 and 1785. The work of the Duesbury Company is always quite fine. Take, for instance, the details here of the foliage and flowers. Surviving figures by the Duesbury factory are quite collectible and considered some of the most attractive porcelain works of the Eighteenth Century. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Taking a Day Off

Bertie and I are taking Veteran's Day off early.  I'd planned for the usual posts for today, but it's rather shaped up to be busier than I'd expected.  Terribly sorry about that.

However, I've already got posts for the weekend scheduled for you.

We'll be back in full swing next week.  See you then.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Sicilian Bertie

"So, does this mean you're not going to make red-sauce for me anymore?"

Image: A Sicilian Bride, Creator: Jan Frans Portaels (1818-95) (artist), Creation Date: 1861, Materials: Oil on canvas, Provenance: Given to Prince Albert by the Queen on August 26 at Phoenix Park, the Prince's last birthday that they spent together, Crown Copyright, The Royal Collection, via The Royal Collection Trust, Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

To learn more about this painting, visit its entry in the catalog of The Royal Collection Trust. 

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 White Lady and Her Dog Cameo, 1799

Cameo Pendant
Italian Cameo
Set in Gold in 1799
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection 
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Made in Italy in 1799 this brooch features a cameo which dates to the Sixteenth Century. The brooch unusually light gray and translucent white onyx is mounted in an open, gilt-brass setting with a suspension loop.

The piece was originally recorded as being part of the Royal Collection in 1872, presumably collected by Queen Victoria, but thought to have been worn by the Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra).

The cameo depicts a bust of a nude woman in three-quarter view, her hair cascading in curls over her shoulders. As was the style of the Sixteenth Century, the young woman—though naked—is wearing a veil over the back of her head. She holds a small dog in her arms.

Small dogs like the one we see here—of indeterminate breed—were popular subject of Italian Sixteenth Century art and jewelry, especially in compositions of young, virginal ladies. They were meant to symbolize loyalty and innocence—two traits which one admired in a young woman. 

Her Majesty’s Furniture: An Italian Baroque Armchair, 1690

Gilded softwood, silk velvet,
Silver Embroidery
The Royal Collection
In furnishing Windsor Castle, King George IV’s taste for continental designs became even more apparent. His selections included ornate French and Italian furnishings with elaborate scroll-work and heavy ornamentation.

This armchair in one of a set of ten purchased by King George IV for Windsor Castle. The epitome of Italian Baroque style, these chairs feature scroll legs adorned with up-turned faces. The rich crimson upholstery is masterfully embroidered with a pattern which mirrors the carved legs and finials. King George paid £18 each for these chairs. They are, certainly, worth much more than that today.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Via the Royal Collection Trust
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Bertie's Pet-itations: Word to the Wise

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:

You should really listen to me.  I very often know better than you do.

A Recipe for Punch, Chapter 9

Chapter 9:

"I'm quite glad,"  Lennie laughed as she entered the library to join her brother and Robert, "that you convinced me to have as many new dresses made as you did, brother dear.  I had no idea that I would be changing more often in the country than I did in London.  Apparently, you had already thought that through."

Punch nodded.

"When Violet showed at my door to tell me that it was time to change for tea, I thought, I could at least slip on a comfortable tea gown, but, it seems, she'd been sent up with a 'sugesstion' from our late, lamented mother's former maid that I should dress for the occasion."

"Everything was an event."  Punch said dryly.  "Whether a grand ball or tea.  As we've seen, the place still runs under Pauline's rules, it does.  For today maybe, at least.  I'm surprised Jackson complied with the change in tea time and location.  I wonder how poor Mrs. Pepper and Maudie are farin' down there.  And, what's more--if it'll be Charles who brings up the trolly as I asked or one o' the native footmen."

"William seems pleasant enough."  Lennie commented.

"He ain't been here long."  Punch shook his head.  "Not long 'nough to be corrupted.  In fact, he weren't even hired by Mother.  As far as I know it, he were a temporary replacement for my vile former valet Arthur.  You know 'bout 'im, right?"

Lennie nodded sympathetically.

"Well, since he died 'round the same time as Mother, I think William were brought in temporary-like, and, then they sort o' forgot 'bout 'im and just left 'im on."

"I suppose that's why he hasn't been corrupted yet."  Robert shrugged.

"As far as we know."  Lennie sighed.

"I hear footsteps."  Punch pointed.  "Best straighten me-self up--just in case."

They all paused to wait to see who was going to enter.

"Mrs. Pepper."  Punch smiled as the cook and Maudie followed Charles and the tea cart into the library.

"What a nice surprise."  Robert stood up.

Punch rose, too.  "Only though it's nice for us to see 'em, I don't think it's glad tidings they bring.  You had a time gettin' up 'ere, too.  Didn't ya?"

"Never before was there such a time, Your Grace."  Mrs. Pepper answered honestly.  "But, we got past that awful Mr. Jackson."

"I'm glad you did."  Robert nodded.  "However did you manage?"

"You should have see it."  Charles smiled proudly.

"I told 'im that I had the masters' permission to speak to you anytime I pleased.  That finally shut his gob, if Her Ladyship will pardon me."

"Do go on,"  Lennie smiled.

"Yes, I can see by the look in your eyes that something's troubling you."  Robert said.

"Has Jackson been that bad?"  Punch asked.

"Well, yes, but that ain't we we're here."  Mrs. Pepper said.  "Go on, Maudie--show His Grace."

Maude unwrapped the glittering notebook which she had concealed in her apron from Mr. Jackson.

"Oh dear."  Mr. Punch squinted.  "Where'd you find that?"

"In the larder, Your Grace."  Maudie answered.

"That's odd."  Punch frowned.  "That's one o' Mother's...special..."  He sighed.  "You were right to bring it to me."

"Are you quite all right, Your Grace?"  Mrs. Pepper asked.

"I will be, Mrs. Pepper."  Punch replied.  "Here, why don't the three o' you sit for a moment.  If you like, I'll tell ya what this is."

Did you miss Chapters 1-8 of A Recipe for Punch?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back tomorrow for Chapter 10.  

Unfolding Pictures: An Italian Piqué Fan, 18th C.

Italian Hand Fan
Naples, 18th C.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Folding fans, like the one pictured above, were highly costly luxury items which became popular throughout Europe in the mid-18th-century. In Paris at the time, there were almost two hundred master fan makers working at any given moment. However, equally impressive examples were created in Italy and Britain during the Eighteenth Century. Let’s take a look at this one which heralds from Naples, Italy.

The leaf of this example is supported by tortoiseshell sticks which are inlaid with tiny gold pins and strips (an artistic technique which is called piqué). Piqué was originally a specialty of Italian workshops who produced such stunning examples for export throughout Europe.One side of this fan’s lead is painted with a fishing woman adorned in elaborate Rococo dress. The reverse depicts the goddess Diana who is accompanied by three maidens.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Sicilian Lion Ring, 1100-1200

Gold Ring
Sicily, 1100-1200
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Large in size, this ancient ring was made for a man with a motif of a lion passant (a lion in profile facing to the right), a theme which was often used in heraldry. In this case, the lion symbol may possibly indicate a particular family's arms, but is most likely purely decorative.

This gold ring is cast and chased with shaped shoulders decorated with an interlace pattern. The flat rectangular bezel into which the lion is set is decorated with incising. It was made in Sicily between 1100 and 1200.

During this era (as now), rings were often exchanged as gifts, or bequeathed to friends and relatives. If a ring did not fit the new owner, the custom was to wear it on a ribbon around the neck, or secured to the finger by a ribbon tied around the wrist.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Mastery if Design: A French Gold and Diamond "Aide-Mémoire," 19th C.

French, Nineteenth Century
The Hull-Grundy Gift to
The British Museum

Known as an "aide-mémoire", this notebook with hinged covers of blue enamel on a guilloche ground is decorated with applied four-color gold trophies of gardening implements on one side and doves, and bows and arrows on the other. 

Each trophy is entwined with a gold ribbon and an inscription in rose diamonds set in silver.

The piece is clasped with a sliding gold pencil.  The interior sports three ivory leaves, each containing writing in French from its original Nineteenth Century owner.  

The Art of Play: Toy Silver Saucepan, Tea Set and Cover, 1720-1750

Toy Saucepan, Tea Set and Cover
Silver, Wooden Handles, Fabric
The Victoria & Albert Museum

For as long as there have been children, there have been toys. Children have always liked to play with miniature versions of the objects that they see their parents use every day. So, it was only natural that a child in the early Eighteenth Century would have a miniature saucepan and silver tea set to play with.

Crafted of silver and wood, this set features small versions of a traditional tea set in addition to a cozy, a saucepan and, oddly, a silver swan. Curiously, this set of objects was intended to be buried with their owner who passed away as a small child. It was taken from her casket before burial.

Print of the Day: Blue Cross Tea, 1900

Hoarding Poster for Blue Cross Tea
England, 1900
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This British chromolithograph was designed as a hoarding poster. In essence, posters on hoardings were tiled repeatedly so that the image was recurring many times over and seen in full. This design which focuses on the trademark and brand on an uncluttered and brightly-colored ground would have been quickly identifiable and easily read.

The poster was designed in 1900 for Blue Cross Tea. The design features a grocer’s shop which also advertises for Blue Cross Tea, a clever way of reinforcing the brand. A well-dressed man leaves the shop with a package of biscuits on the end of his umbrella. He appears to be saying:

“The Best for Me, It’s Blue Cross Tea.” This is the work of Stewart Browne for The British & Beningtons Tea Trading Association Ltd.

Painting of the Day: A Family of Three at Tea, 1727

A Family of Three at Tea
Richard Collins, 1727
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This type of painting is what is termed as a “conversation piece,” essentially meaning relaxed portraits of family groups or gatherings of friends. Wealthy families commissioned such conversation pieces to show their family and friends in their finest clothes and jewels along with the most valuable possessions of the household. In short, they were a way of recording the sitters’ importance and social status.

This painting is the work of Richard Collins and was painted either in Lincolnshire or Leicestershire. Collins (active 1726-1732) was trained under the Swedish-born, London-based portrait painter Michael Dahl (born about 1659; died 1743), and worked as a portrait painter in both Leicester and Lincolnshire.

The canvas we see here is one of two paintings by Collins of the same family drinking tea. The other is called “The Tea Party is at Goldsmiths' Hall, London.” The identities of the sitters aren’t known, but obviously, they are a highly fashionable family. They are depicted, as the V&A says, “sitting around a tea table, obviously proud of their up-to-date and valuable silver and porcelain, and also of their knowledge of the correct manner of taking tea. The tea equipage is a typical one of the first half of the 18th century. It includes a sugar dish, a tea canister, sugar tongs, a hot-water jug, a spoon boat with teaspoons, a slop bowl and a teapot with a lamp beneath it to keep the contents hot.”