Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mastery of Design: The Froment-Meurice Coral Bacchus, 1854

This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

We've looked at several pieces by the Nineteenth Century French jewelers Froment -Meurice.  This piece in coral, gold, silver, pearls and a shimmering rose-cut diamond is one of the most exceptional. 

 Coral has long been valued, used as a jewel since antiquity and believed to be an amulet which could protect against the evil eye.  For the latter reason, it was was often worn by children or used in rosaries.

Froment-Meurice, like other jewelers of the era, looked back at historical designs.  This piece is a perfect example of that mentality.  This pendant  with a coral cameo depicting Bacchus has a sculpted gold frame decorated with winged mermaids and hung with pearls and diamond sparks.  It was probably one of the last sets of jewelry to be sold by the Paris jeweler François-Désiré Froment-Meurice before his death in 1855

Painting of the Day: The Charles Conder Train, 1903

Design for the Train of a Woman's Gown
Charles Conder
Watercolor, 1903
The Victoria & Albert Museum 

Charles Conder, made a name for himself in the early Twentieth Century for the elaborate decorations that he would paint on the long trains of evening gowns and ball gowns.  He would use watercolors to adorn the trains—sometimes even while the gown was being worn.

Conder created this watercolor design for a train around 1903.  We can’t be certain about the dress for which this design was created.  We do know that it was finished for one Mrs. Florence Humphrey, an enthusiastic guest of many a fancy dress ball.  At this time, Conder was at the height of his popularity and his work was very much in demand. 

The fashion of this era had moved away from the stiffly corseted dresses of the Nineteenth Century in favor of “The New Reform Dress” which was a “princess style” which hung from the shoulders without a waistline.  Long full sleeves and dramatic trains defined this new style—giving condor many a canvas for his much-desired work. 

Gifts of Grandeur: A Silver and Bone Amulet, c. 1750

Amulet of Silver, Bone and Shell
1750, Germany
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the days when the same person cut your hair, pulled your teeth and performed surgery, it was pretty much a given that you’d want something on your person to protect you from dangerous illness.  Anything could be a death sentence before modern medicine.  Fevers, splinters, toothaches, and, especially childbirth, all could mean an early end to a life. 

So, amulets were created  by superstitious persons to protect them from…well, everything, but especially the all-encompassing, “evil eye.”  Amulets were often made from organic materials which were thought to have protective powers, stones, jet or horn.  Now, we should point out that the Catholic and Anglican churches frowned on such practices.  Still, did you think that they’d approve? Come on.

Here we see a German amulet of later creation that most.  It dates to the mid Eighteenth Century.  It is comprised of a ring hung with three individual amulets--a bone fist (Neidfeige), with a thumb protruding between the first and second fingers; an operculum shell in a silver setting (Schneckendeckel) which was meant to  generic promote fertility; and a small filigree case (Walburgisbüchse) with the letters S, W and B incorporated into the pattern. The case was meant to hold oil which was called “Walburgis oil.”  Why?   St Walburga was a British missionary to Germany in the 8th century. When she died, her body was buried at Eichstätt, where a liquid (Walburgis oil) was collected from her bones. Yum.  This oil was considered highly effective against all kinds of infection and wounds.

Unusual Artifacts: A Medicine Pot and Cover, 1540-55

Apothecary Pot and Cover
Italy, 1540-1555
The Victoria & Albert Museum

During the Middle Ages, as the art of creating medicines become more prominent and standardized, books of the ingredients of medicines were shared by apothecaries, and soon, an increasing demand for appropriate storage vessels for medicines developed.

Pharmacies were, subsequently, a major source of income for makers of maiolica.  As the V&A tells us, “The pharmacies and dispensaries of monastic orders, hospitals and noble families required large numbers of jars to store their various herbs, roots, syrups, pills, ointments and sweetmeats. These were sometimes marked with coats of arms or other heraldic devices.”

Such drug containers , inscribed with their contents, began to be produced in the middle of the Fifteenth Century.  Non-inscribed vessels continued to be made.  The  upside of these were that they could be washed and refused for other tinctures.

The shape of this Italian, Sixteenth-Century pharmacy bottle is based on Fifteenth Century  glassware.  It is made with a lid.  On the front, in a panel enclosed by a decorative band with leafy scrolls scratched through a blue ground, is a half-length figure of a bearded man in profile against a blue sky. Below this panel, a scroll is inscribed in Gothic characters with the name of the contents: “A. Eufragia.”  This was also called “Eyebright water,” a suspension of roses and herbs which was meant to cure illnesses of the eye, and, in doing so, strengthen the head and promote better memory.

This was made in Castelli, Italy, between 1540 and 1555 by the workshop of one Orazio Pompei.

Film of the Week: Suddenly, Last Summer, 1959

Oh, Sebastian, what a lovely summer it's been. Just the two of us. Sebastian and Violet. Violet and Sebastian. Just the way it's always going to be. Oh, we are lucky, my darling, to have one another and need no one else ever.

--Katharine Hepburn as “Violet Venable”

In 1958, Southern playwright Tennessee Williams, debuted a double-bill of one-act plays at an off-Broadway theater. The two plays were 
Something Unspoken and Suddenly, Last Summer and were presented under the titleGarden District (a reference to the elite neighborhood of New Orleans).
Suddenly, Last Summer was a dark play with disturbing themes that concerned a wealthy Southern family. Violet Venable—a domineering widow—was still reeling from the death of her only son, Sebastian. Her niece, Catherine Holly, was the last person to see Sebastian alive when he died “suddenly, last summer.” In order to silence Catherine’s less-than-flattering recollections of Sebastian’s last days, Violet has ordered that the girl be lobotomized. She contracts a gentle doctor, John Cukrowicz, to perfom the surgery. Soon, Dr. Cukrowicz finds himself embroiled in this sick family drama and realizes that it isn’t Catherine who needs the lobotomy.
When Columbia Pictures bought the film rights to the play and began to develop their cinematic production, Tennessee Williams was against the casting of Elizabeth Taylor as the vulnerable Catherine Holly. He stated, "It stretched my credulity to believe such a 'hip' doll as our Liz wouldn't know at once in the film that she was 'being used for something evil.” Nevertheless, Taylor gives one of her best performances—an achievement which brought her a Golden Globe Award for the role and an Academy Award Nomination.
Taylor urged director Joseph Mankiewicz to cast her long-time friend Montgomery Clift as Cukrowicz. Clift, who had been struggling with an addiction to pain killers and alcohol, was deemed too difficult and erratic to be a good risk for the studio. However, Taylor got her way. Joining Clift and Taylor is Katharine Hepburn who gives Violet Venable the necessary bite and wit. Hepburn and Taylor were very protective of Clift who was often mistreated by the director. At the end of the production, Hepburn politely asked if they were finished. When told that they were, she walked up to Mankiewicz and spit in his face, saying, “That’s for Monty.”

The behind-the-scenes drama continued as composer Malcolm Arnold walked off the project after finding the film too upsetting. His work was finished by Buxton Orr. Furthermore, the studio met with resistance from the Catholic Legion of Decency who objected to the many references to Sebastian’s homosexuality. By their command, these references were largely removed or made as vague as possible. Furthermore, you’ll notice that we never see Sebastian’s face nor hear his voice in any flashbacks. This was also due to the Catholic Legion of Decency who ordered that the character not be recognizable as any particular person.

Though it’s a watered-down version of Williams’ original play, the film is gripping and emotional. Spectacularly acted, it’s a film that, while disturbing, is one that everyone interested in cinematic history should see.

Sculpture of the Day: "Filch" from "The Beggar's Opera," 1920

Arnold Pilbeam as Filch from "The Beggar's Opera," 1920
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This Staffordshire figure by an unknown artist depicts early Twentieth Century actor Arnold Pilbeam as the character of “Filch” from Nigel Playfair's celebrated revival of John Gay's “The Beggar's Opera” which opened at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith in June of 1920.  The production was designed by Claud Lovat Fraser with music re-written and supplemented by Frederic Austin.  This ballad opera featuring traditional tunes and took London by storm.

The revival ran for over three years to much acclaim and its popularity spawned a surprising number of figurines in porcelain and wax representing moments from the show.  This figure is an excellent example of the type of souvenirs produced during the run of the show.  Here, the character stands in a lime green full-length coat much like the actual costume worn in the show.

Object of the Day: Dr. Arnold's Balsam

Click image for the sake of your bowels.

Well, this is one of the oldest of the trade cards in my collection—dated to 1859. So, what does this pre-Civil War, American card advertise?


Well, not just Diarrhœa, but diarrhea with an extra “œ” thing. Okay, it’s not really as much pro-Diarrhœa as it is against it. It’s an ad for Balsam Tonic. Essentially, this was an Eastern European herbal liqueur which was used for stomach complaints and gave folks a good excuse to get lit--all in the name of happy bowels.

The age of the card is evident. The obverse shows a rather smoky scene of a towered-bridge which is something of a staircase and walkway to an observatory. There’s a figure evident on the stairs. He appears to be going in search of something.

Beneath this image reads:
Where is the Yacht of the Sailor cured by using Dr. SETH ARNOLD’S BALSAM? 

The reverse says:

The Best Remedy for all Bowel Complaints. 

Dr. Seth Arnold                                       Pawtuxet, April 4, 1859

     Dear Sir,--Permit me to acknowledge the benefit of your
valuable medicine. In 1854, while on the coast of Africa, I was
taken with the Diarrhœa, which lasted me sic or seven months, and
then became Chronic Diarrhœa, which lasted me until I got a couple
of bottles of your Balsam, which has completely cured me. This was
in September, 1858. I had been to several doctors and did not
receive any benefit until I took your Balsam. Since that time
I have been perfectly well, and have not taken and medicine since.
                                                Yours, &c., JOSEPH R. SHEPARD.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Mastery of Design: Queen Victoria’s Portrait Bracelet, 1839

Gold Serpent Bracelet with Enamel Portrait of
Queen Victoria
Commissioned by the Queen, 1839
Rundell, Bridge & Rundell
Gold, Diamonds, Rubies, Enamel
The Royal Collection

Over a period of several years, Queen Victoria had commissioned a set of bracelets from the Royal Jewelers at Rundell, Bridge & Rundell. These bracelets—gold, set with rubies (for passion), diamonds (for eternity) and a serptentine design (to suggest “wisdom”)—all featured enamel portraits of Queen Victoria copied by hand by Henry Pierce Bone after the Coronation portrait by George Hayter. The only difference was that Victoria ordered that she not be wearing the Imperial Crown in the enamel portraits on the bracelets since they were to be given as personal gifts.

Bracelet ReverseThe Royal Collection
This is one of those bracelets—one of the originals, in fact, which is housed in the Royal Collection. The reverse of the bracelet shows the queen’s insignia “V.R.” for Victoria Regina and the date of July, 1839. This bracelet, it is believed, was given as a special gift by the queen to her mother, The Duchess of Kent. 

Figure of the Day: Mother Goose, 1890

"Mother Goose"
The Victoria & Albert Museum

From Staffordshire, this figurine represents Mother Goose--the subject of the fairy tale which appeared in a French collection published by Charles Perrault and was translated into English in 1729.

Made in 1890, the figure may have been produced because the fairy tale was a generally popular subject, or, most likely because of a theatrical production which was opening at the time. We should note that much earlier in the Nineteenth Century the clown Grimaldi (who was the model for Mr. Punch’s friend, Joey the Clown) had made his name in the Covent Garden production of Dibdin's pantomime “Mother Goose,” or, “the Golden Egg.”

The figure of Mother Goose is shown on goose-back, on a circular colored base, holding a broom in her right hand. She is wearing a white striped hat, a mauve shawl, a green bodice and an apron over a white shirt.

The Art of Play: The Albert Smith Clown, 1890

"Joey the Clown"
Albert Smith, 1890
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Celebrated Punch & Judy Man and puppet maker, Albert Smith delighted late Nineteenth Century audiences with his enchanting puppets. Here, we see one of the few surviving examples of Smith’s puppets—a figure of “Joey the Clown”—one of the standard characters in the Punch & Judy mythology.

Joey, as has been customary for the last couple of centuries, is a glove puppet with a carved and painted face and hands and painted black hair. Joey sports a red leather pointed hat which is edged with fringe at the front. He wears a multi-colored striped tunic with a red and white ruff, blue cuffs and edging, and a strip of red, yellow and red braid at the front. His wardrobe is adorned with three metal buttons set with artificial jewels (some of which are now missing). On the reverse of the puppet is stitched a long black wired sleeve which was meant to conceal the Professor's arm
The set by Albert Smith from which "Joey" comes. 

Print of the Day: Pulcinella, 1622

Pulliciniello (Pulcinella)
Jacques Callot, 1622
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Despite the rather queer spelling of the inscription, Pulliciniello (which can be forgiven since words foreign to Britain were usually spelled phonetically in the Seventeenth Century), we know this print depicts the Commedia dell’Arte character Pulcinella—the forebear of our Mr. Punch. 

The print, published in 1622, is based on an original drawing by Jacques Callot (1592-1635). 

A Recipe for Punch, Chapter 115

Chapter 115

"Oh, Your Lordship, there you are."  Gamilla panted.  

Robert was just climbing the wide, cascading staircase.  

When he spied Gamilla, he hurried up the rest of the way to the landing.

"Gamilla, what are you doing out of bed?"  Robert frowned.  "I told you to remain in bed for the rest of the day.  Gerard is going to be beside himself when he finds that you've left your room."

"I had to see to Miss Lennie."  Gamilla confessed.  "And, I'm glad I did."

"Is she worse?  Has she lost consciousness again?"  Robert asked, alarmed.

"No, she's still awake, but she ain't in a good mind."

"How do you mean?"  Robert raised an eyebrow.

"She's talkin' nonsense, Sir.  Goin' on about how all that's happened is her fault and sayin' how she's a wicked woman because she takes after her parents."  Gamilla answered.

Robert sighed.  "Of course you told her that none of this is her doing?"

"I did."

"As for the other worry, I'm afraid that it's something which preys upon Her Ladyship's thoughts all the time.  I suppose it rather preys upon many of us--that thought that we're doomed to repeat the sins of our forebears.  I know I give it much thought.  My father was a gambler who cared more for the thrill of his games than he did for us, and, my mother...well, you know what became of her."  He pressed his hands together as he thought.  "His Grace has similar worries.  I imagine that all we can do is continue to reassure one another that such concerns are irrational.  We are each our own individual spirit.  I've had this conversation with Lennie many a time before."

"Perhaps, Sir, you can have it again."  Gamilla said softly.  "I've known Miss Lennie to have these moments when she done let herself fall into sadness with such thoughts.  But, I never seen her so lost to it before.  She even spoke of Orpha Polk.  Seems she's goin' through each memory of everything she's ever done or said in her life and makin' herself suffer for what she thinks are her mistakes."

"I'll speak with her.  I was about to fetch my boots so I might go out looking for His Grace, Charles and Lord Cleaversworth.  I'm terribly concerned that they've not returned and I'm..."  He paused.  

"I understand, Sir.  You also gotta be worried they've fallen into danger, and that Miss Morgana may be worse off than...than she was before.  Not to mention poor Mr. Perkins who's still lost."

Robert nodded.  "Perhaps you could find Gerard and have him get my boots and such at the ready."

"I will."  Gamilla nodded. 

"Then, back to bed with you."  Robert said firmly.

"Lord Colinshire, I'm not feelin' poorly no more.  Besides, Master Colin needs me.  Poor Ethel's been at my post for..."

"No."  Robert interrupted.  "If Ethel needs assistance, Violet can help her for the remainder of the day, or,  we can even pull Maudie from her post.  I want you to rest.  If you don't do it for your own good, consider the child inside of you."

"Yes, Sir."  Gamilla nodded.  "Just after I find my husband."

"Thank you.  And...thank you for letting me know about Her Ladyship.  I'll go to her anon."

Gamilla smiled with relief before hurrying off to find Gerard who was, no doubt, already in the chambers shared by His Grace and His Lordship.

Robert wound his way through the echoing corridors to Lennie's suite.  As he opened opened the door, he had a sinking feeling in the pit of his thorax--a queasiness which told him that something was terribly wrong.

Upon entering the room, he knew at once that the feeling was accurate.

Gazing in panic at the pool of blood which had spread out across the floor near Lennie's bed, he gasped.  "Lennie, what have you done!"

Did you miss Chapters 1-114 of A Recipe for Punch?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back on Monday for Chapter 116.

Antique Image of the Day: Punch's Puppet Show, or, The Humours of Bartholomew Fair, 1792

Punch's Puppet Show, or, The Humours of Bartholomew Fair
Robert Sayer, 1792
This and all related images from:
The George Speaight Punch & Judy Archive.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

“Punch's Puppet Show, or, The Humours of Bartholomew Fair” is a fold-out flip book depicting sixteen scenes from a Punch & Judy show as well as other entertainments.
  This unusual book was published by Robert Sayer in London, 1792.

The book is sandwiched with two sheets of paper and a book plate is stuck to one of these sheets which features a crest on it and reads: "Be Just and Fear Not, Ex Libris, Edward Arnold, Andrew W. Arnold, The Grove, Dorking, Surrey".

Eight scenes are clearly visible when the book is flat and each of these individually folds down to show another image beneath.

Object of the Day: A Trade Card for Universal Stoves and Ranges


I especially like this trade card, and I’m sure you can guess why.  As is typical of these little Victorian advertising cards, there’s a little, pink-cheeked tot in a scene which has nothing whatsoever to do with the product being sold.  In this case, the little girl (I’m fairly certain this one’s a girl) is cuddled up on an ample silk pillow, holding a doll of our Mr. Punch.  He wears a colorful costume, and though he does not have his usual large, red nose, he is clearly Punch.

At the corner of the obverse is printed, “Universal Stoves and Ranges.”  There’s no connection between this scene and the product.  But, who cares? These cards were meant to appeal to the people who could afford to buy a stove.  They were meant to be collected for their attractiveness and serve as a reminder of what was being marketed.  So, I would say it was a job well done.

The reverse shows an image of a globe (to reinforce the universal aspect, I suppose) which bears the company’s logo.

It reads:

Wolf’s Furniture House
Carries a Complete Stock of


150, 152, 154, 156 Blue Island Ave.

Chicago, Ill.

Well, that was a pretty big store; it seems to have covered a large span of the street.  Let’s see if we can find a picture of what it looked like. 

Here’s the street—Blue Island Avenue—about the time this card was printed.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Too Close For Comfort

"All right, Jm. J.  We get it, it's your cart.  But, Mr. Rush isn't going to love you any more just because you're taunting the cows with a conductor's baton."

Image:  The Bullock-Cart, near Lichtenthal, Baden-Baden, Creator: Johann Grund (1808-87) (artist), Creation Date: Signed and dated 1872, Materials: Oil on canvas, Acquirer: Queen Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom (1819-1901), when Queen of the United Kingdom (1837-1901), Provenance: Acquired by Queen Victoria.

Crown Copyright, The Royal Collection.  Via The Royal Collection Trust.  Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  To learn more about this masterpiece, visit the entry for this painting in the online catalog of the Royal Collection Trust.

You could have some gratuitous Bertie Dog every day.  Just pop over to our online store to check out our exclusive Bertie Dog Designs.