Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mastery of Design: The Garnet Fishing Locket, Eighteenth Century

Memorial Locket
Eighteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Human hair had long been employed in the making of sentimental jewelry, usually for memorial purposes, but sometimes to mark a deep love for someone still living.  By the Eighteenth Century, jewelers, and even amateurs, had mastered the art of using hair in jewelry and the medium took on a new prominence—forming the centerpiece of a jewel.  

This drop-shaped gold frame features an openwork bow which has been set with garnets.
  The frame encloses a painting on ivory which is adorned with pieces of hair to create the pattern of a man fishing.  The reverse of the piece is set with agate

This piece was probably made as a memorial.
  It comes from England and is rather difficult to date.  Most likely, it was created in the Eighteenth Century given the skill with which the hair was incorporated into the painting.

Painting of the Day: “Home (The Return from the Crimea)” by Sir Joseph Noël Paton, 1859

J. Breese, 1855
Personal Collectio
of Queen Victoria
The Royal Collection

The Crimean War lasted from 1853 until 1856 and was, essentially, a struggle of the great European powers for control over the lands of the failing Ottoman Empire. Queen Victoria was very much affected by the atrocities of the Crimean War and had great sympathy for the British soldiers who were killed or wounded during the battle. Victoria often commissioned photographs of soldiers who returned home to England—broken and battered. She kept these photographs as reminders of the sacrifices made by her people and the hideousness of war.

Home (Return from the Crimea)
Sir Joseph Paton, 1859
Commissioned by Queen Victoria
The Royal Collection
In 1859, Queen Victoria commissioned painter Sir Joseph Paton to produce a commemorative, monumental work in honor of those soldiers who returned from the Crimea. The painting depicts a wounded soldier lovingly welcomed home by his wife and mother. The composition suggests something of a Pieta scene or image of Christ being removed from the cross. While the scene is filled with comforting images of home such as a sleeping infant and a fishing rod, they are in conflict with the more grisly elements of the scene—the solider’s wounds and the gruesome souvenirs he has brought with him. Victoria was clearly upset by the war and kept this painting in a prominent place. Today, it is displayed as part of the Royal Collection.

Saturday Special: An Animated Scene by Jean-Marie Phalibois

Another work by Phalibois--
a monkey-like fisherman

Jean-Marie Phalibois (born 1835) began his career in the cardboard industry. However, he soon began producing simple scenes encased in glass. These scenes featured automata which worked in conjunction with music boxes. Soon, the scenes became increasingly complex and ornate with figures which were able to reproduce intricate movements.

After a time, Phalibois began creating complicated free-standing automata. After his retirement in 1874, his son took over the family business.

This intriguing scene of a monkey magician is typical of Phalibois' early work.  


History's Runway: A Double-Breasted Sporting Suit, 1904

Double-breasted Sporting Suit
England, 1904
The Victoria & Albert Museum

By the 1890s, light-colored suits such as this one were fashionable for men to wear for summer sports, boating, bicycling, and during visits to the seaside. These suits were comprised of a matching coat, trousers and waistcoat in pin-striped flannel (known as “dittos”) and the outfit was often completed with a straw boater.

The cut of the flannel jacket pictured above is derived from the earlier “reefer” coat—a style which was usually worn for sailing. However, by the end of the Nineteenth Century, fashions were relaxing a bit for men (certainly not to the extent that they are now) and this style was acceptable for social wear at informal, outdoor events.

A gentlemen's etiquette book wrote:

There are special suits for all kinds of outdoor amusements, such as shooting, golfing, tennis, boating, driving, riding, bicycling, fishing, hunting, &c., but into the details of these it is unnecessary to enter. It may be remarked, however, that it is easy to stultify the whole effect of these, however perfectly they may be 'built' by the tailor, by the addition of a single incongruous article of attire; such as a silk hat or patent boots with a shooting-suit. (Mrs Humphry, Manners for Men, London 1897)

This particular pinstripe suit is of exceptional quality with buttons made of mother-of-pearl and a fine cotton lining. It was made in London around 1904.

The Home Beautiful: The Hamilton Palace Screen, 1670-1700

Japanese Eight-Panel Screen, 1670-1700
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

I call dibs on this in case the V&A ever wants to unload it. This six-paneled screen is adorned with a landscape design featuring buildings, figures, trees, birds and monkeys. The figures depicted are: men fishing at a river; a man walking with a stick; a man carrying a bag on a stick and women in brightly colored clothing sitting by a river. The scene comes alive with gold houses on hills, trees with shining monkeys nestled in the branches, a wise owl in a tree, birds in flight, and flowers with their glistening petals inlaid with gleaming shell. The images all glimmer in gold, silver and red on a dark lacquer ground in the fashionable technique of japanning. Each panel is attached to the next with metal foil and stud hinges.

This decorative screen, used for privacy or to divide a portion of a room (or simply to look pretty) was made in Japan between 1670 and 1700. It is believed that the screen may have come from the collection of Hamilton Palace. This important collection included many pieces previously owned by William Beckford (1760-1844) including the Van Diemen box and the Mazarin Chest.

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: A Trade Card for Newman and Levinson

Click Image to Enlarge

Here’s an excellent example of a “stock” trade card which has been used by a business as an advertising tool. The card, likely selected from a catalog from a local printer, features a comic drawing and caption which, it seems appealed to the advertiser.

The drawing depicts “Simple Simon” who seems to either have a tooth-ache or is deceased, and, in the style of Jacob Marley, has his jaw bound. Simon wears his dressing gown and is fishing. The caption at the above right reads:


This is the way the card looked when it was selected from the catalog. As you can see, there’s a white space to the left of the caption which was meant to contain the logo or motto of the business who selected this particular model. The advertiser opted not to have that space printed, instead focusing only on adding a custom-printed message to the reverse which would have been entirely blank. Two-sided printing would have been considerably more costly.

Let’s see what the reverse says, and, especially, who the advertiser is. Firstly, I notice that they spell “chenille” with three “l’s.” In fact, it's kind of a mess. I'll try to replicate it here as best I can with limited Internet fonts.

WM. JNEWMAN                                                                                               JOHN LEVINSON 
(Successors to BUYER & REICH,) 
Berlin Zephyrs, German Yarns, 
CANVAS,            HOSIERY,          LACES     
                       CHENILLLE,     EMBROIDERY,      FANCY GOODS, 
                                          FLOSS BEADS,    WHITE GOODS,     TRIMMINGS, ETC. 
Gilt and Silver Trimmings for Theatrical and Society Purposes. 
Decorative Art Rooms Up Stairs 
No. 129 Kearny Street. 
Between Sutter and Post,                                             San Francisco 

I want some "fancy goods!" I’d guess this card dates to about 1880, by the way. The store certainly has an interesting assortment of goods. I wonder, however, why they are so shy about the “Decorative Art Rooms” which are seemingly hidden upstairs. 

Click Image to Enlarge

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mastery of Design: The Meissen Envelope Snuffbox, 1755-c.1880

Meissen Porcelain, Enamel and Gold
Painted Interior--1755
Mountings and possibly exterior panels made in Nineteenth Century
This and all related images from:
The Gilbert Collection at the Victoria & Albert Museum

This unusual snuffbox is one part of a small group of Meissen boxes that were made in the shape of envelopes. The exterior of the box is rather plain, just like an envelope, but, when opened, it reveals a wondrous scene of musical entertainment beside the river Elbe—painted in enamels. Albrechtsburg, the castle outside Dresden, is visible in the scene, in the background behind the musical scene. That castle was the location of the manufacture of Meissen porcelain. Given this, it is highly possible that the scene used in this box may have been made as a souvenir of a visit to the Meissen Factory. While the porcelain and enamel scene was made in Meissen around 1755, the mounts and execution of the box came about much later—likely during the Nineteenth Century. 

The box’s mounts are of a particularly high quality. While the goldwork is rather simply, it is wholly elegant with its two flaring thumpieces and handsome sheen. The top of the box, in keeping with the envelope theme is "addressed" as any package would be.  Inscribed in enamel, the "address" reads:  “à Celui qui le Merite,” or “To the one who deserves it.” Cute.  The reverse is "sealed" in envelope style with an enamel painting of an impressed blob of red sealing wax.  It's a truly splendid piece.  

Click the images to enlarge.

The piece is part of the collection that Sir Arthur Gilbert and his wife Rosalinde amassed during their lifetimes. Theirs is one of the world's great decorative art collections. It includes treasured examples of silver, mosaics, enameled portrait miniatures and gold boxes. Arthur Gilbert donated his extraordinary collection to Britain in 1996, leaving it to the V&A where it remains a centerpiece to this day.

Sculpture of the Day: The Ivory Pulcinella, 1750

Ivory Pulcinella
Technically, "Polizinell"
Germany, 1750
The Victoria and Albert Museum

Here’s something peculiar. This ivory figure of a dancer clearly represents Pulcinella, but, he’s not the work of an Italian sculptor. He comes from Germany, c. 1750. The figure is delicately rendered in a fantastic costume, a conical hat and a ballet skirt.

So, how did this character from the traditional Italian Commedia dell' Arte come to be rendered by a German artist? He was already known in France as Puchinelle and in England as Punchinello or Mr. Punch (first recorded in Britain on May 9th, 1662 by Samuel Pepys). The first sighting of our hero in Germany came in 1649. He was spotted in Nuremberg where he was called “Polizinell.” This was performed by a splashy Maltese showman called Blasius Manfredi who, that same year, had the acquaintance of the Franco/Italian showman known as Brioche who was first noted as performing 'Polichinelle' in Paris. So, they’re all connected.

As we celebrate Mr. Punch’s three hundred fifty-second birthday, it’s important to remember the minor moments over the last three centuries that led to his widespread, global fame. This little ivory figure which could so easily be dismissed is just one tiny piece of the puzzle.

The figure was given by Dr. W. L. Hildburgh, F. S. A. to the V&A where it remains along with a host of other historical items, each of which—when assembled—spell out the Punch family tree and history. Notably, from 1971 to 1977, the figure was on display at the Clawning Castle in Nottingham, England. Prior to 1971, it lived for an unknown time at King George IV’s Brighton Pavilion. How George IV came to own it is unknown.

Friday Fun: Mr. Punch and the Devil

Drawings by George Cruikshank, 1828

This video clip from 2012’s May Fayre and Mr. Punch’s 350th birthday was filmed by Australia’s Chris van der Craats. I’m not sure who the professor is, but he has given us a wonderful recreation of one of George Cruikshank’s famous 1820s illustrations of Mr. Punch. In this scene, Punch is defeating the Devil. That’s the way to do it!

Photo of the Day: Looking back at Mr. Punch at 300

Mr. Punch at 300, 1962

This figure of Mr. Punch was made by Waldo S. Lanchester for the Covent Garden Celebration of Punch's 300th birthday in 1962.  Old Red Nose has held up well, I would say.  Fifty-two years later, he looks just as good.

The carved wooden head on this figure was previously that of “Casper” (Kasperle—Punch’s German cousin) from Hohnsteiner puppets of Max Jacob, Germany.

A Recipe for Punch Will Continue on Monday

Hello all,

It seems we have another week wherein I'm just out of time by Friday.  And, so, we shall continue with our next chapter of "A Recipe for Punch" on Monday.  Thanks for your patience.


Object of the Day: A Scrap of Mr. Punch Riding a Cat

Click image to enlarge.

I live in a house full of Punchinellos, so, you can consider me the Jane Goodall of the slapstick set. It's a whole "Puppets in the Mist" scenario.

Aside from their penchant for sausages and for general mischief-making, your average Mr. Punch is prone to chattering, bouts of glee, and, a peculiar desire to see which animals are ridable.

Here, we see a Victorian scrap--technically once cut from a magazine. It depicts our Mr. Punch dressed as a jockey and, riding a cat, as one does.

I bought a huge lot of ephemera just to get this scrap.

Whoever cut this out had a steady hand and a lot of patience. Mr. Punch looks quite content with himself, yes? Frankly, knowing Punchinellos as I do, I can say with considerable certainty that Mr. Punch would very much enjoy riding a giant cat. But, wouldn't we all?

Click image to enlarge.

Happy 352nd Birthday, Mr. Punch!

On May 9, 1662 Samuel Pepys wrote in his famous diary that he had seen, in Covent Garden, “an Italian puppet play, that is within the rails there, which is very pretty."  And, thus, 352 years later, we mark the "birthday" of our delightful Mr. Punch.

Though Punch has been around for far longer and can trace his roots back to the Italian Commedia dell'Arte, today reminds us of his first official record in Britain.  So, on this special day, let's remember "Old Red Nose"--the voice of the people, the lovable rogue, the scamp, the lover and the defeater of the devil.  

Three cheers for Mr. Punch!  
Here's wishing you another happy three and a half (and two years) centuries!

As you know, Mr. Punch is an important part of my life.  If you love the hunch-backed anti-hero as much as I do, show your support by telling others "the way to do it."  Visit our online store to see the many Punch products available.  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Family Picture

"This couldn't possibly be more German."

Image:  A Scene from 'Der Hahnenschlag', Creator: Queen Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom (1819-1901) (artist), Creation Date: Signed and dated 1852, Materials: Oil on canvas, Acquirer: Queen Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom (1819-1901), when Queen of the United Kingdom (1837-1901), Provenance: Painted by Queen Victoria; signed and dated 'VR - 1852.'

Crown Copyright, The Royal Collection via The Royal Collection Trust.  The original image is courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

To learn more about this masterpiece which was painted by Queen Victoria herself, visit the entry for this painting in the online catalog of the Royal Collection Trust.

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: A Bracelet from Queen Victoria's Silver Jubilee, 1862

This bracelet of gold, with enameled decoration, is set with an almandine garnet and pearls and was shown by the Bragg firm at the International Exhibition of 1862, where it was purchased by the Victoria & Albert Museum.

This bracelet coincided with the Silver Jubilee of Queen Victoria and also showed the influence the Queen’s personal style had upon the fashions of the day. This was the sort of jewelry favored by Prince Albert who often designed pieces for his wife in earth-tones and materials which reflected the couple’s love of the country.

Treat of the Week, Part II: Family Favorites

Part II of this week's "Treat of the Week" sees the return of a family favorite dessert, after a beautiful entree.

Lovely tender cheese tortellone were adorned with a thick, creamy sauce of tomatoes and pesto with pancetta and perfectly-seasoned mushrooms.  

Beautiful little salads of fresh greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives and carrots were topped with more pancetta and imported provolone cheese.

It really was a delightful meal, and, I enjoyed a second helping.  However, I made sure to save room for dessert which was the return of my favorite cookie!

Of all the many, many cookies which I adore, if I had to rescue just one kind from a burning building (just go with it), it would be these enormous ginger cookies. Soft and chewy with a delightful tang of ginger, these cookies sparkle with a dusting of demerara sugar. Chewy and thick, these sturdy (not crumbly or crumby like a lot of cookies) cookies both keep and travel well.

Bertie's Pet-itations: Doing Shots

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:

Even though I don't want to go, I know that it's important for me to get regular check-ups from my vet.  Just like a person, I know staying healthy is important--even if it means I have to get shots.