Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday Sparkle: The Koh-i-nûr Armlet

The Royal Collection
The Koh-i-nûr (or Koh-i-noor) also known as “The Mountain of Light” is one of the most famous diamonds in the world—housed in the Crown Jewels of Britain. This originally 186 carat diamond and its two companion diamonds have been used in a variety of settings since being given as a gift to Queen Victoria by The East India Company. The stone was displayed in the Great Exhibition of 1851. In 1852, it was given to Queen Victoria who, while she thought the stone was beautiful, was not pleased with the way it was cut. As he always did, Prince Albert happily took on the task of seeing that the stone was cut to its best advantage. After consulting dozens of jewelers and spending over eight thousand pounds, the stone was cut to its present weight of 105.602 carats to maximize its light-refracting properties. Today, the central koh-i-nûr diamond remains in the crown of the late Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. The stone has officially belonged to the crown jewels (instead of privately owned) since 1877 when Victoria was declared Empress of India.

But, what was the setting that so displeased Queen Victoria when she first received these magnificent diamonds? We see here the setting in which the diamonds were housed in 1830 when they were seized by the East India Company. This was the setting displayed at the Great Exhibition and this was the form in which the stones were presented to Queen Victoria. While the setting is original, the diamonds have been replaced with rock crystals which are cut exactly as the diamonds were cut in 1830.

This armlet showcased the three large stones side-by-side, suspended by red silk braid fringed with glass, rubies and pearls. The bezels around the stones are gold and enamel. While the original diamonds will never be replaced into this original setting (they wouldn’t fit anymore anyway), it was wise of the state to keep the setting intact. It’s an interesting reminder of the diamonds’ native state and a nod to the differences in tastes and cultures.

At the Music Hall: "My Old Man," 1900

BBC Television
And my old man
Said, "Run along the van,
And don't dilly-dally on the way."
On went the van with my whole billet.
I'd run along with me old cock-a-linnet.
A-dillying, I dallied;
A-dallying, I dillied.
I lost the way and
Don't know where to roam.
Who's gonna put up
The old iron bedstead
If I can't find my way home?

Written by Fred W. Leigh and Charles Collins, My Old Man (Said Follow the Van) was made popular by British music hall sensation Marie Lloyd. Like many music hall songs of the era which were meant to be sung by women, it was mildly risqué, but most importantly told truthfully of the harsh realities of the lives of women and children at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

In this song, due to an inability to pay the rent, a family must move out of their flat. Told from the point of view of the wife, the song recounts that once the van is packed with their belongings, there’s no room for her. Her husband tells her plainly that she must walk behind the van. She does so, carrying the family’s pet bird.

The song is still popular today and has found itself repurposed as a chant used in a variety of sporting events—with vastly changed and rather vulgar lyrics. Let’s take a look at the song as it’s meant to be sung in this clip from a recent BBS bio-pic of the life of Marie Lloyd.

Masterpiece of the Week: “Sportsmen in the Dunes,” Jan Wijnants, 1669

Sportsmen in the Dunes
Jan Wijnants, 1669
Acquired by King George III
The Royal Collection
King George III’s much-documented love of collecting was not limited to English and French design. He also amassed an impressive array of Dutch paintings. Dutch painters of the Seventeenth Century were celebrated for their dramatic landscape paintings. King George III seemed to favor these epic compositions. Jan Wijnants’ 1669 canvas, Sportsmen in the Dunes is the perfect example of the grand landscape work of the Dutch.

When one thinks of Dutch landscape painting, the mind automatically conjures images of windmills. Windmills were, indeed, a common theme in Dutch painting. However, equally common were depictions of sand dunes. Both windmills and dunes were symbols of Dutch pride in their nationality and their ability to maintain their land. Here, Wijnants emphasizes the importance of the dunes by showing how they block the sea. A toppled tree adds drama to the scene and reinforces the idea that these dunes are protecting the land from the violence of natural forces. The large, dominant tree which rises in the center of the canvas shows that the land has been triumphant against the dangers of the sea. Meanwhile, the figures of the men are painted to show their wealth and prosperous nature—proving that man holds dominion over the land. Wijnants’ strength was the painting of the landscapes themselves and it is well known that he often employed other artists to paint human figures into his scenes.

Such a scene would be attractive to King George III who, himself, worried about issues of domination and threats of many kinds to his kingdom. Such a victorious painting would have offered comfort during trying times. It’s no wonder that he found this painting to be so inspirational.

Toys of the Belle Époque: The Zoetrope

Milton Bradley & Co., 1870
Victoria & Albert Museum
Originally invented in 1834 by W.G. Horner, the zoetrope was popularized in the United States when it was patented by Milton Bradley in 1867. A zoetrope is an optical toy which consists of a hollow drum on a base. The drum features several slits along its perimeter which allow for glimpses inside the drum as it spins on its base. Inside, strips of paper are inserted. On the paper, a series of images are drawn or printed—one image for every slit in the side of the drum.

The images in the series only slightly differ from one another to give the illusion of motion as the drum is spinning. This type of animation relies on the same optical principles as flipbook animation. Images when seen in rapid succession are registered in the eye as a single image which is moving. After all, that’s the core of cinema.

In 1877, Emile Reynaund patented the Praxinoscope which worked in much the same way as a zoetrope except that the images were viewed by looking in a mirror. The addition of the mirror made the animation appear to be smoother.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 96

Ulrika Rittenhouse grinned at Arthur and Barbara as they walked into her bedroom with Agnes Rittenhouse.

“We shouldn’t be here.” Barbara whispered. “Your mother and father are downstairs with the children. They almost spotted me. Don’t you understand? They think I’m dead.”

“They’ll find out soon enough that you’re not dead.” Ulrika laughed. “I know you were with your lunatic brother. Don’t you think that the little French woman is going to mention to Mother that you were in her home? Our servants are already talking about how that wicked Barbara Allen is rumored to have stolen some expensive silver from the Halifaxes. You know how subordinates talk…”

“I still shouldn’t be here.” Barbara frowned. “Iolanthe is expecting me.”

“She can wait.” Ulrika spat. “She may own your body, but I own your soul.”

“The only thing of mine that you have possession of is my diamond!” Barbara snarled.

“Pet, please.” Arthur grabbed Barbara by the wrist.

“So, you told your whore bride that I have the diamond?” Ulrika smirked. “Arthur, I knew you would. You don’t really think that I trusted you?”

“I had to tell ‘er.” Arthur said defiantly.

“Did you tell her how important it is to me to see that she and her daft sibling live no longer?”

“Why?” Barbara asked angrily.

“You signed your life away to me. Remember? We have an arrangement. As my maid, any of your property reverts to me upon your death as long as you have no living family. Who remains? Your father is dead—murdered because of your careless intimacy with that ogress. Who else? Just loony Lord Julian.”

“My mother.” Barbara said. “She is alive and well.”

“Are you so sure?” Ulrika grinned. “Can you be certain that the Duchess of Fallbridge isn’t slumped over her Christmas pudding as we speak?”

Barbara lunged toward Ulrika, but Arthur held her back.

“Let her at me,” Ulrika rose from her chair. “She’d regret it if she came near me.”

Ulrika looked at Nanny Rittenhouse. “Agnes, cousin, get the box.”

Agnes walked to the chiffarobe and retrieved a small silver box from the lowest drawer. She handed it to Ulrika who opened it and removed two small pieces of some organic material—a woody substance of yellowish green.

“I want you both to chew on this.” Ulrika said.

“No.” Barbara struggled to break free of Arthur’s grasp. “Why should we?”

Ulrika laughed and sat down in her chair again, removing a pistol from behind the cushion which leaned against the arm of the chair.

“Because if you don’t, I’ll shoot you both in the heart.” Ulrika smiled. “Nanny, dear, didn’t these two monsters break into our house to try to steal from us as they did from Mr. and Mrs. Halifax?”

“Yes, Miss, they did.” The Nanny nodded her head.

“That’s all I’d have to say.” Ulrika wagged the pistol at them. She rose from the chair and extended her left hand, offering the hunks of foul-smelling wood to them.

“What is it?” Arthur asked.

“It’s a root.” Ulrika said. “St. Dymphna’s Root—very powerful. Chew on it.” Ulrika’s eyes widened. “Take it!”

Arthur took a piece and forced it into Barbara’s mouth. He put the other in his own mouth.

“Now, you, Agnes.” Ulrika grinned. “Leave us.”

“Yes, Miss.” Agnes nodded.

“I want you to take this note to The Halifax House.” Ulrika handed a folded page to the nanny.

“They won’t let me in again, Miss Ulrika.” Agnes shook her head.

“Find a way!” Ulrika snapped. “Take it to Lord Fallbridge’s room and leave it somewhere out of sight. And, be quick about it!”

“Yes, Miss.” Agnes said, taking the page and hurrying from the room.

“I want the two of you to sit on the bed.” Ulrika motioned to the bed with the pistol.

“This tastes vile.” Barbara said.

“It won’t for long.” Ulika winked. “Soon, you’ll grow to like it.”

Meanwhile, down the red hill, Mr. Punch lay sprawled out on the floor in the parlor of the Halifax house. His new puppet lay across his stomach. On his right, Toby nestled against his master and on his left, Fuller lay with his head on Julian’s arm.

“You’re quite popular, Mr. Punch.” Robert smiled at his friend.

Mr. Punch nodded. “Never thought I’d have a day like this one.”

“Nor I.” Robert sighed. “We’ve weathered quite a lot, haven’t we, Punch?”

“Sure.” Mr. Punch answered.

“Here, we got all this happiness. So many other people don’t.” Mr. Punch said.

“True. We should count our blessings.”

“Don’t like to count.” Mr. Punch grunted.

“It’s a figure of…” Robert shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. We won’t count anything. We’ll just enjoy the moment.”

“Chum,” Mr. Punch began. “You know how you humans like to worry ‘bout things?”

“Yes.” Robert chuckled.

“Well, I got a worry, I do. Least, I think that’s what it is.”

“You’re worried about Barbara and Arthur?”

“Well, I ‘spose. And, that Iolanthe woman, too. And, ‘bout that poor child what’s in the Cages’ house. ‘Spose I got a lot of worries. Only none o’ them are what I were just thinkin’ ‘bout.”

“What were you thinking about, dear Punch?”

“Marjani.” Mr. Punch said, careful not to move so as not to disturb neither dog nor baby. “She’s been so kind to us, but she’s sufferin’ awful what with her daughter and her daughter’s husband bein’ so sick.”

“Naasir was just there yesterday with our gifts.” Robert said. “She knows we’re thinking of her. Sadly, there’s not much we can do to help her. I’m afraid that the illness that they have isn’t curable.”

“I don’t understand why that’s gotta be so. Seems to me that if a person’s sick, he oughta get better like what you did.”

“My illness, though serious, wasn’t as grave as the fever Marjani’s family has contracted.” Robert explained.

“Just ain’t right.” Mr. Punch frowned.

“No, dear Punch. It isn’t.” Robert nodded.

Mr. Punch sighed. “Here, when are Adrienne and Cecil comin’ back?”

“Soon, I’m sure. They’ve just gone to give their gifts to the staff. Apparently, they don’t keep the tradition of Boxing Day around here.” Robert responded.

“Good, cuz, I think Toby and Fuller want to sing more songs and we need Adrienne to play the piano.”

“Is that so?” Robert laughed. “And, they told you this?”

“Yep.” Mr. Punch grinned. “You oughta know by now that somethin’ don’t have to talk to say somethin’.”

“Just one of many things I’ve learned from you.”

Mr. Punch sniffed the air. He wrinkled Julian’s nose.

“What is it? Does Fuller need some attention? Babies do that, you know.”

“No.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “Ain’t that. I smell rotten roses. You know who smells like that…”

“I do.” Robert stood up. “Stay here with the baby.”

“Where you goin’?” Mr. Punch asked.

“If that woman is in this house, I’m going to make sure that she leaves.” Robert said firmly.

Robert followed the scent of old rose water toward the back staircase. He spotted a flicker of lavender fabric and heard light footsteps on the stairs.

“She is here.” Robert muttered to himself, racing up the stairs.

Several minutes passed. Mr. Punch lay on the floor motionless with Fuller and Toby. He strained to hear if Robert was safe.

He heard footsteps walk into the parlor—a woman’s footsteps. He didn’t smell the nanny’s scent, so when he looked up, he expected to see Adrienne standing over him.

“Lady Chum,” Mr. Punch began. “I think that nanny has…” He paused.

“Hello, lunatic.” Iolanthe Evangeline smiled, looming over Mr. Punch and his charges. “Merry Christmas.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-95? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, November 15 for Chapter 97 of Punch’s Cousin.

Goal for the Day: Get Ready for the Holidays

It always sneaks up on me—the holiday season.  It’s hard to believe that in the U.S., Thanksgiving is just around the corner.  Harder still to comprehend is the fact the Christmas and Hanukkah are also close at hand.  Many of you have already begun to decorate your home for the season.  I’m not willing to put the Christmas trees up until after Thanksgiving.  But, this is the perfect time to get ready for your holiday entertaining.  Invariably, our silver needs a good polishing, our crystal could use a cleaning and we need to locate the tablecloths, serving dishes and other sundries we only use once a year.  Today, make a mental inventory of what you’ve got and what might need attention.  The more prepared you are for your celebrations, the easier the preparation will be on the day of the event. 

Object of the Day: An Unusual English Landscape on a Wooden Panel

Though not signed by the artist, this landscape painting is dated “1793.” The scene appears to be English with its stately trees and charming chapel. At first glance, the composition seems a bit gloomy, however, on closer examination, it’s really quite a hopeful scene. It’s a portrait of change—as one season fades, another will begin and soon the same fields will be green. This theme is reinforced by the lighting—the amber glow of a sunrise.

What makes this painting so unusual is the fact that it’s painted on a rather thick plank of wood which is beveled and finished with a raised panel on the reverse. This piece of wood clearly was a cabinet door at one point in its life. For whatever reason, this door was used for this painting. Given the thickness of the wood and the heftiness of the frame, this piece weighs quite a but more than most paintings. Presently, it’s hanging from four hooks.

This is one of those objects which makes you wonder. What happened to the piece of furniture to which that door belonged? Why use a door as a “canvas”? Who was the artist? These are questions that will never be answered. However, the mystery is part of its appeal.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Fun: Punch and the Dog

Salvatore Gatto
We once again visit Mr. Punch’s Italian ancestor, Pulcinella, in this recent video of a live Pulcinella show performed in Italy. Entitled Pulcinella e il cane, we see the comic anti-hero behaving in a very Punch-like manner (complete with swazzle-enhanced voice) and interacting with a rather wide-mouthed canine. Unlike the British version of Mr. Punch, Pulcinella seems to have something of an antagonistic relationship with the dog. Whereas Mr. Punch and his doggy chum, Toby, usually got along well together (unless, of course, there are sausages to fight over), Pulcinella and the dog are having some difficulties. British Punch shows assign the role of the biting antagonist to the crocodile (also a fan of sausages). The crocodile is known to snap at Mr. Punch. Here, the dog and Pulcinella have a similar relationship.

What’s fascinating about this video, aside from seeing the roots of Mr. Punch, we also see behind the tent and get a glimpse of the puppeteer performing his art. Enjoy!

Pets of the Belle Époque: “Victoria, Princess Royal, with Eos” by Sir Edwin Landseer, 1841

Victoria, Princess Royal, with Eos
August, 1841
Sir Edwin Landseer
Commissioned by Queen Victoria on the
event of Prince Albert's Birthday
The Royal Collection
On Wednesday, we examined a painting by Sir Edwin Landseer from 1841 which depicted Prince Albert’s favorite greyhound, Eos, in a very dignified pose. Here, we see another painting by Landseer from the same year. This time, Eos is peacefully curled up with Victoria, Princess Royal. Queen Victoria commissioned Landseer to paint this portrait of their eight-month old daughter with Prince Albert’s beloved Eos as a gift for the Prince’s birthday on August 26, 1841.  This tender scene shows the child to be alert and bright, her foot resting on the nose of the patient, loyal hound.

Also included in the painting is a barbary dove—perched on the arm of the green silk bergère chair upon which the infant princess rests. This dove was a symbol of childhood innocence, but also represented the vast assemblage of birds which Queen Victoria and Prince Albert houses in the Royal Aviary in the Home Park of Windsor.

By all accounts, Prince Albert was thrilled with the portrait which was displayed near the painting of Eos protecting his master’s belongings.

Antique Image of the Day: Princess Alice of Albany, 1886

Princess Alice of Albany
George Piner Cartland
April, 1886
A gift to Queen Victoria
The Royal Collection
The eldest daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Albany, Princess Alice married Prince Alexander of Teck (brother of Mary of Teck, Queen Mary, the wife of King George V) in 1904. Prince Alexander would become Earl of Althone thereby making his wife Princess Alice, Countess of Althone—a title which she maintained until her death in 1981.

Here, we see Princess Alice as a young girl of three in this photograph taken in April of 1886. The photograph was presented as a gift to Queen Victoria who had a special fondness for the girl. The little princess poses in her wee coat, holding an umbrella. She is joined by her favorite companion, a little terrier.

Until her death, she was the only remaining grandchild of Queen Victoria, having lived through six reigns: Victoria (her grandmother), Edward VII (her uncle), George V (her cousin and brother-in-law), Edward VIII (her nephew), George VI (her nephew) and Elizabeth II (her grand-niece).

Mr. Punch in the Arts: “Punch and Judy” by Arthur Boyd Houghton, 1860

Punch and Judy
Arthur Boyd Houghton, 1860
Oil on Canvas
Tate Britain
Painter Arthur Boyd Houghton (1836-1875) was well-known for his small scenes depicting everyday life in Victorian London. His intimate compositions often were teeming with figures meant to show a cross section of the population of London. In this painting from 1860, Houghton uses a scene of a Punch and Judy Show (barely visible on the right) to demonstrate the universal appeal of this form of entertainment to people of all classes. Such public shows were a leveler—uniting individuals from all walks of life—with humor and good-natured political and social satire.

While the show itself is the draw, the crowd is the real theater of this scene. Here, we see a typical mix of the residences of the many sections of London. Two smartly-dressed children stand with their caregiver, should-to-shoulder with a street urchin in rags. A laborer carries a wicker-bound parcel toward an unconcerned gentlewoman. Dressed in fine clothes and a tall silk hat, a well-to-do young gentleman is being chatted up by someone of a different class. Standing out like a character from the pantomime is the uniformed lamp-lighter in his blue and red attire—symbolic of the state’s protection of society from the evils of darkness.

By centering this boiling pot of different circumstances around the common central theme of the appeal of Mr. Punch, Houghton shows us that everyone is equal where it counts.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 95

With Fuller nestled in Adrienne’s arms and Cecil napping by the fireplace—full of the delectable breakfast that they had enjoyed, Robert surveyed the drawing room. The floor was strewn with bits of colored paper and ribbon. Mr. Punch sat in the middle of the floor playing with his new puppet and having a grand time entertaining Toby with a personal pantomime. Punch was muttering in his usual way as he played, making the puppet dance awkwardly with his injured hands. The dog didn’t seem to mind the fact that Mr. Punch’s soft chatter was barely recognizable as actual words. Toby could tell that his master was happy, and that was enough for him. Robert hoped the Mr. Punch’s master was just as joyful—wherever he was, somewhere inside the body that they shared.

So as not to disturb Mr. Punch and Adrienne, Robert rose slowly and walked to the sideboard at the rear of the drawing room where Cecil had placed the basket of “treats” that Agnes Rittenhouse had brought earlier that morning.

He studied the contents of the basket. Oranges, walnuts, hard biscuits and sticky cakes were tucked inside. Some of the contents were wrapped in tissue. The fruit gleamed with an unnatural sheen as if it had been coated in oil. Robert ran his finger across the surface of one of the oranges and sniffed it.

He was startled when a wooden head crept around his shoulder and tapped him on the neck with a cool, hard nose.

“Whatcha doin’, Chum?” Mr. Punch said either as himself or in an attempt to make the puppet talk. Robert wasn’t sure which.

“I’m just inspecting this so-called gift.” Robert smiled.

“Not thinkin’ ‘bout eatin’ it, are ya?” Mr. Punch asked.

“Hardly.” Robert grinned. “I’ve already been poisoned once in the last six weeks, I don’t fancy another go at it.”

“Let’s just get rid o’ it.” Mr. Punch shrugged, still holding the puppet aloft.

“We will,” Robert said softly. “In time. But, first, I’d like to examine it a little closer. I’m going to take it up to my room.”

“Here, what for?” Mr. Punch asked.

“Because, dear Punch, if the contents of this basket are poisoned, I’d like to discover with what they’ve been poisoned.”

“What’s it matter? Bad stuff is bad stuff.” Mr. Punch said, tapping Robert again with the puppet’s wooden head.

“That’s true,” Robert nodded slowly. “However, perhaps by figuring out what this is, we can use the same weapons to fight our enemies.”

“Not gonna do nothin’ bad, are ya?” Mr. Punch frowned. “We know how that goes, don’t we? Look at what happened with Arthur. Eaten up with pain, we both was—thinking I’d hurt him.”

“I don’t intend to harm anyone physically, dear Punch.” Robert smiled. “However, this could be just the thing we need to see that those who have harmed us are brought to justice.”

“But, we’re playin’.” Mr. Punch frowned. “It’s me first Christmas. Can’t we play for a spell?”

“We’ll play.” Robert nodded. “Just let me take this out of this room. I’ll return.”

“Good, cuz look at all them lovely toys what Fuller got for himself today. We gotta help him play with them when he wakes up. And, Toby wants some attention, too, he does. Ain’t no good just me playin’ with him, he wants his Uncle Robert, too.”

“We’ll have a grand time. I promise.” Robert said reassuringly. He picked up the basket and headed for the entry hall. “I will return forthwith.”

Mr. Punch grunted and went back to his spot on the floor.

“What is he doing?” Adrienne whispered.

“Dunno ‘xactly.” Mr. Punch said quietly so as not to wake Cecil or the baby. “Doctor stuff, I ‘spose.”

Adrienne looked concerned.

“Here, Lady Chum, while Cecil’s snorin’, let me say how sorry I am that Barbara stole them things from ya.”

“I knew the risks when I invited her into this house. I’d so hoped I could help her.”

“She always stole things, she did.” Mr. Punch continued. “When she were a little thing, Nanny took her to the village. That’s before me master moved to London and still stayed at the Hall—before our pa went on all his voyages. Me master were ‘bout twenty –somethin’ then. Barbara went into one of the shops in the village with Nanny and she stole chocolates and licorice. But, what was the shopkeep to do? Couldn’t scold little Lady Fallbridge. Just let her take what she wanted and Nanny said nothin’ ‘bout it at all. Not a word. Barbara bragged to me master, she did. Julian were ever-so angry. He scolded her, but Her Grace told him not to. That’s when it started. First licorice, then other things. Silver brushes and shiny things. Don’t know why I’m surprised she stole the diamond from her own brother. She’s always been a bad lot.”

“Even the worst of us can be redeemed.” Adrienne sighed.

“You really believe that, then, Lady Chum?” Mr. Punch asked softly.

“I have to, Punch.” Adrienne nodded.

At that very moment, Barbara Allen was growling at Agnes Rittenhouse.

“I’m not your charge anymore, Nanny.” Barbara spat. “I will not be led anywhere by you—least of all by the command of Ulrika Rittenhouse!”

“Haven’t I supported you?” Miss Rittenhouse said. “Didn’t I accompany you here? Without my assistance, you’d never have rid yourself of that child, you’d never have gotten a place in my cousin’s household. You’d not be where you are today were it not for me.”

“That’s hardly an endorsement for your kindness!” Barbara grimaced. “Look at me! I’m freezing on the streets. The diamond is missing and my husband is…” She frowned at Arthur. “All you’ve done is gotten me into a terrible spot.”

“I’ve gotten you where you wanted to be.” Agnes narrowed her eyes. “You wanted to associate with this Evangeline woman. This was your plan! I’ve helped you. Now, I have orders to bring you both with me.”

“You take your orders from that red-haired bitch now?” Barbara hissed.

“You’ve given me no choice, Lady Barbara.” Agnes responded.

“Don’t call me that!” Barbara said angrily. “My name is Barbara Allen!”

“And a fitting name it is, too.” Miss Rittenhosue responded.

“You know that woman has my…” Barbara began.

“That’s enough, Pet.” Arthur grabbed Barbara’s arm.

“Let go of me.” Barbara struggled.

“You want this to be done with, don’t you?” Arthur continued.

“I want nothing more than to return to New Orleans and to Iolanthe Evangeline—with what I’ve promised her.”

“Then kindly do as the old hag says.” Arthur grinned.

Agnes scowled.

Arthur whispered in Barbara’s ear, “You want the bloody diamond, don’t you?”

Barbara winced.

“Then, come on. This is workin’ out just as I wanted.” Arthur winked.

Meanwhile, in the mansion at the crest of La Colline Cramoisie, Ulrika Rittenhouse sat at her writing table and scribbled furiously on a piece of paper. She tried to disguise her handwriting, making deliberate, child-like letters.

When she’d finished, she grinned and read her work aloud.

Dear Mother,

This madness is too great a burden for me to carry. I am a lost soul. Nothing can save me. You will be comforted to know that I will suffer no more.

With affection.

Julian, Lord Fallbridge

Did you miss Chapters 1-94? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Follow Your Spirit

As you begin your weekend, instead of day-dreaming about the things that interest you, follow your creative spirit and do something about it. If you’re inspired by art, visit a local museum, gallery or art show. If music is your passion, make arrangements to go to a concert. If you’re a “foodie,” take a trip to a farmer’s market or a restaurant that you love. If nature is what fuels your soul, many areas have beautiful botanical gardens which would gladly welcome you.

Even if you don’t leave your house, the Internet can provide you with a look at the most wonderful things in the world. So today, instead of wishing and dreaming, satiate your spirit by exploring your interests. You owe it to yourself to make your dreams a reality.

Object of the Day: “Voix Celeste” by Rancoulet

Voix Celeste (The Celestial Voice) was sculpted by French artist Ernest Rancoulet in 1880. Once again, Rancoulet shows his enormous talent in depicting the female form. The figure is a woman in flowing robes (one of Rancoulet’s specialties) who leans upon a crescent moon, her feet comfortably resting on an undulating cloud. She is the voice of the heavens as she extends her hand outward toward the earth. Her face—just about to speak—is peaceful with wide eyes and a hopeful countenance. We’ll never know what glorious message she’s bringing, but in bringing it, she reminds us that something lovely always exists, often within reach.

Signed by Rancoulet on the front of the moon-shape, this sculpture was painted white—covering its original bronzed finish. As tastes changed, many spelter sculptures such as this one were painted. In the 1920’s and 1930’s when bronze-finishes were considered “old fashioned,” these objects were frequently altered. In this case, the attempt was to make the piece resemble marble or parian. I’ve long debated whether to strip her of her coating of white paint. My conclusion is that doing so might damage the piece. I think she’s lovely as she is.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mastery of Design: “The Oriental Circlet,” 1853

The Oriental Circlet
R. & S. Garrard & Co., 1853
Commissioned by Prince Albert
Gold, Diamonds and Rubies
The Royal Collection
Following the Great Exhibition in 1850, Queen Victoria was presented with magnificent jewels from the East India Company. Both Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert were enchanted by the exotic designs of the gems she was given. Those gems inspired Prince Albert to commission the Royal Jewelers at R. and S. Garrard and Co. to create this diamond and ruby tiara for his wife. The circlet features a design of diamond-encrusted “Moghul” arches in an Indian style which surround diamond lotus flowers set with rubies.

Prince Albert often supervised the design of Queen Victoria’s jewels. She once wrote in her diary, “Albert has such taste and arranges everything for me about my jewels.” Having researched Queen Victoria’s enormous collection of jewels for many years, I will concur with the Queen’s assessment. Albert did an excellent job.

Gem of the Week: The Ravishing Ruby

Ruby and Diamond Bracelet
Lang Antique and Estate Jewelry
A member of the corundum family of minerals, rubies are the red sisters of sapphires and one of the four precious stones (the others being sapphires, emeralds and diamonds). Like diamonds and emeralds, the value of a ruby is determined by color and clarity. The most valuable rubies are those which exhibit a deep red color—often called “pigeon blood rubies.” While still valuable, rubies which display a pinker, orange or brown hue are not as prized as those which are the deepest red. Rubies often display a cloudiness due to mineral inclusions. Rubies which have excellent clarity (meaning that they are more readily translucent) fetch a higher price.

Modern jewelers often chemically treat rubies to change the color. When buying rubies, make sure to ask if the stones have been color-treated. You should not be paying natural-color prices for artificially enhanced stones.

Rubies have always been a popular gemstone. They were used with brilliant results in the 1930’s and 1940’s in magnificent over-sized brooches, rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces set in platinum and dramatically surrounded by diamonds.

Unfolding Pictures: The Osborne House Fan, 1861

The Osborne House Fan
Commissioned by Queen Victoria, 1861
Painted by Emma Roberts
Paper Leaf, Tortoise Shell, Albumen Prints
Silver, Gold, Amethysts
The Royal Collection
This fan was painted in August of 1861 by Emma Roberts (daughter of the artist James Roberts) for Queen Victoria who commissioned the fan as a souvenir of their many happy days spent at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. The paper leaf on the front of the fan is painted in a deep blue with gold scrollwork at the center of which is a cartouche showing Osborne house surrounded by putti (cherubs). The reverse of the fan leaf shows a trellis and central cartouche of a floral scene upon which the word “souvenir” appears. The tortoise shell sticks have been inset with miniature photographs of Prince Albert, the five princesses and four princes set in small silver frames.  The fan's pin is gold set with foil-backed amethysts.

It is believed that Queen Victoria commissioned this fan to present as a gift to Princess Alice on the occasion of her wedding. However the fan remained un-presented as the wedding was postponed due to the death of Prince Albert.

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: "The Little Country Bertie"

“Is it just me, or do you two feel like the floor might be uneven?”

Image: The Little Country Maid, Camille Pissarro, 1882, National Gallery, Britain.  On loan from Tate.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 94

Adrienne answered the front door since she didn’t want to disturb the servants’ celebration.

She forced herself to smile when she saw Miss Rittenhouse standing there in her pale lavender bonnet. In her hands she held a basket which was overflowing with cakes and fruit. Her withered face was bruised on her left cheek.

“Miss Rittenhouse,” Agnes said to the Nanny. “To what do we owe this visit?”

“Begging you pardon, Mrs. Halifax, I’ve brought some sweeties and things that His Lordship always enjoyed for all of you to share on this fine morning. I hope you don’t mind my coming to the front of the house. I stopped around the rear and saw that the staff was in the midst of a little party. I didn’t wish to disturb them.”

“Do come in,” Adrienne said plainly.

From within the parlor, Mr. Punch sniffed the air.

“No.” He grunted, pulling Toby closer to him and clutching his new puppet with his other hand.

“What is it, Pun…” Robert began to say as he noticed Adrienne leading the nanny into the room.

“Miss Rittenhouse has brought some gifts for us.” Adrienne said, glancing quickly at her husband to indicate that she wished him to help her hurry Miss Rittenhouse out of their home.

“How kind of you,” Cecil said. “We’ll most happily accept them.” Cecil walked hurriedly toward the woman and took the basket from her hand.

“It’s all your favorite things, Your Lordship.” Nanny Rittenhouse said to Julian/Mr. Punch who remained seated on the floor with his dog and his puppet.

Robert, who was cradling baby Fuller, raised one eyebrow at the nanny. “I’m so surprised to see you again so soon after your last visit. You’ll recall the chat we had last night.”

“Of course. Everyone was quite excited. I’m sure it owed largely to the holiday today.” Miss Rittenhouse said. “I just couldn’t miss the chance to bring these special treats to His Lordship as I used to do when he was a boy. Oh, how you used to love little puddings and cakes.”

“You know what I like?” Mr. Punch grinned. “Sausages. That’s what I like.”

Cecil chuckled.

“I suppose one’s tastes do change as one becomes a man.” Nanny Rittenhouse responded, slightly flustered. “What have you got there? Is it a Mr. Punch like the one you had when you were a laddie?”

Punch grunted. “Havin’ a good time, we were.”

“And, so we shall,” Cecil said. “Thank you so much for your gift, Miss Rittenhouse.” He took the woman by the arm and led her to the entry hall.

“Oh, I’m not in a hurry.” The nanny protested.

“I’m terribly sorry to be so abrupt, however, as you can see, our infant son is sleeping. We don’t wish to wake him. I think he’s already been tired out by the festivities.”

“I know all about sleeping, babies, Sir.”

“I’m sure you do. And, you must be eager to return to little Afton and Master Rowan. I’m sure they’re missing their nanny on this fine Christmas morning. Good day to you and Happy Christmas.”

With that Cecil opened the door and ushered the woman out.

“Happy Christmas.” The nanny replied as the door closed in her bruised face.

Cecil sighed and walked back into the parlor. “Well, then. What shall I do with these?” He held the basket aloft. “Give them to the servants?”

“No ‘less you want ‘em to die.” Mr. Punch shook his head. “No doubt the lot of it is poisoned.”

“You don’t think that she’d do anything to harm us, do you?” Adrienne asked.

“Know she would.” Mr. Punch nodded. Julian’s shoulders slumped. Mr. Punch whispered to the puppet in his lap. “You know she would, don’t you me wooden-headed chum? You know what they’re like—them folk with their secrets.”

Adrienne looked nervously at the piano. “Shall we sing some carols?”

“Sing?” Mr. Punch raised Julian’s eyebrows. “I like to sing.”

“I think you should lead us, then, Mr. Punch.” Adrienne smiled, sitting at the piano.

“Don’t mind if I do,” Mr. Punch grinned, rising from the floor—puppet in hand. “Do we need to sing ‘bout just Christmas or will anything do?”

“Let’s start with Christmas and see where it takes us.” Cecil chuckled.

And, so, they began to sing. As they did, Robert eyed the basket which the nanny had brought. That’s when he had an idea.

Meanwhile, Nanny Rittenhouse hurried through the corridors into Ulrika’s room.

“Your quick arrival must mean you’ve failed again.” Ulrika said, looking up from the book she was reading.

“I gave them the basket.” Agnes Rittenhouse said shakily.

“I suppose that’s sufficient for now.” Ulrika frowned. She pointed to the book in her lap. “Do you know what this is?”

“No.” The nanny shook her head. “It’s quite interesting, really. It’s the writings of a German physician—Franz Anton Mesmer. Fascinating. It seems there’s a Scottish surgeon named James Braid. You see, he employs Mesmer’s teaching to influence people—to alter their thinking and their minds. Mesmerism, they call it.”

“Very interesting,” The nanny nodded, unsure of what Ulrika was talking about.

“This is something that I’d very much like to try.” Ulrika grinned.

“You don’t wish to do something to me, do you?” The nanny asked.

“You?” Ulrika laughed. “You old rotten sack, what good are you to me?” She shook her head. “No, bring me Arthur. He’ll do quite nicely.”

“I wouldn’t know where to find him.” The nanny answered.

“La Rue de la Marchands—with his whore bride. Bring them both here. I think this may just be the answer to all of these annoying little problems.” Ulrika grinned.

“You’d risk bringing Miss Allen into this house with everyone thinking she died in the fire?” The nanny asked.

“You’re clever. Find a way to do it.” Ulrika shouted. “Just don’t get caught. Or you’ll find yourself with a matching purple welt on the other side of your face, you stinking hag.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-93? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for Day: Get Ready for Cold and Flu Season

With the winter coming, we all need to be prepared to combat the inevitable colds and flu-bugs. Getting a flu shot is always a good idea, particularly if you’re predisposed to catching the flu. With your doctor’s consent, a flu shot can be gotten inexpensively at many drug store chains.

The use of hand sanitizer will prevent you from picking up a variety of germs on your hands. Meanwhile, you can arm yourself in advance by taking advantage of pharmacy sales of over-the-counter medicines. Being prepared now will save you some chaos and misery if you do actually contract a cold.

Let’s hope everyone has a happy and healthy winter.

Object of the Day: An Antique Tea Trolley

With its graceful cabriole legs and deep walnut sheen, the drop-leaf tea trolly dates to the early Nineteenth Century. The lower shelf would have provided ample room for cake stands and platters of little buttered sandwiches while the upper surface expanded to create a moveable dining table—perfect for tea-time in the drawing room.

Trolleys such as this were staples in English households in the Nineteenth Century. One could say that they were the ancestors of TV trays, but that just doesn’t seem proper. I wish we lived in a world with more tea trolleys.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Precious Time: Queen Victoria’s Mantel Clock from Balmoral

Mantel Clock
French, 1847-1855
Purchased by Prince Albert
The Royal Collection
During her state visit to France in 1855, Queen Victoria became enchanted by the figural clocks designed by Parisian clockmakers, The Miroy Frères.  Prince Albert purchased five or more of their finest slate, ormolu and enamel clocks for his wife.  This one, with its hunting-themed sculpture, was purchased specifically for their Scottish home in Balmoral. 

Building of the Week: Hampton Court Palace, the East Molesey, Greater London

Originally built circa 1514 for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, The Archbishop of York , Chief Minister and a favorite of King Henry VIII, Hampton Court Palace was intended to show foreign visitors that British cardinals wielded just as much prestige and power as those of the Catholic Church in Rome.

The palace was initially built in an unusual combination of styles which reflected the transition of architectural preferences that defined the reign of Henry VIII. Predominantly domestic Tudor in style, the palace—as originally built—contained many perpendicular Gothic features along with some unexpected Classical detailing. Wolsey oversaw the completion of the palace, but only managed to live there for a few years before he realized that he’d been increasingly falling out of favor with Henry VIII. In order to pacify the king, Wolsey made a gift of the palace to him. The cardinal then died the following year.

The Tudor Entrance
King Henry VIII rather liked the palace and wanted to make it the central residence of his court. However, his court—when fully assembled—contained about one thousand people. The palace as it was, could not hold all of them at once, and furthermore the kitchens were certainly not big enough to feed Henry, let alone his entire court. Under Henry VIII’s direction, the kitchens were quadrupled in size in 1529. Henry also commissioned the famous Great Hall as well as the tennis courts.
Meanwhile, Henry VIII was having some marital difficulties—wives were cheating, dying, being killed and generally irritating him. Some of this must have distracted him because the palace had several years where it was not altered. After the king’s death, his eldest daughter, Queen Mary I succeeded him—for a bit—and she was replaced with Queen Elizabeth I who lived at the Palace and added yet another kitchen.

In 1603, the Tudor Period ended with the death of Elizabeth I. The monarchy was taken over by the Stuart Dynasty, initially led by James I, and then his son, Charles I. There was some much publicized trouble with Charles I, but we won’t get into that now. We’ll just say that Charles II became King, and he was followed by James II—neither of them cared much for Hampton Court Palace and it went into a long period of disuse.
That all changed when joint monarchs, William of Orange and Queen Mary II (daughter of James II) ascended to the throne(s) in their rather peculiar arrangement. They enlisted Sir Christopher Wren—the top architect of the day, to demolish the Tudor palace bit-by-bit and replace it with a new Baroque palace so as not to be outdone by those pesky French with their Versailles. They did, however, intend to leave Henry VIII’s great hall intact.

And, so, a long period of construction began to make Hampton Court Palace look more like Versailles—which it did, in parts. But, the job was never finished because Mary died and William lost interest, and then fell off of his horse and died, too. So, what remains is a essentially a Tudor palace on one side and a Baroque palace on the other. Fortunately, they’re unified in color by the use of rosy bricks. Many courtiers found the new round windows with pointed pediments to be “startling” as if the new courtyard was simply a line of wondering eyes. Others felt that the improvements to the structure rivaled Versailles grandeur.

The Baroque Facade
After the end of the Stuart Dynasty, only George I and George II used the palace as a residence. In 1838, Queen Victoria ordered that the palace be restored. Victoria intended for the palace to house much of the artifacts in the Royal Collection. For most of the Twentieth Century, Hampton Court Palace has been open to the public so that all can enjoy the art and architecture of one of the world’s most intriguing and unusual palaces.

Painting of the Day: Prince Albert’s Greyhound, “Eos” by Sir Edwin Landseer, 1841

Sir Edwin Landseer, 1841
Commissioned by Queen Victoria as a gift
for Prince Albert
The Royal Collection
Those Royals and their dogs…it’s a long-standing love. Prince Albert and Queen Victoria always had dogs around the house and, by all accounts, loved each of them dearly. In 1841, Queen Victoria wanted to make a present to her husband of a painting of his favorite greyhound. Of course, she commissioned Sir Edwin Landseer who was well known for his skill in depicting dogs in his artwork.

Here, we see a lovely portrait of the greyhound that the prince called “Eos.” Greyhounds were a symbol of court life of the time, and Prince Albert had a particular fondness for this particular fellow. He described the dog as, “very friendly if there is plum-cake in the room … keen on hunting, sleepy after it, always proud and contemptuous of other dogs.”

Landseer has portrayed Eos in a fittingly dignified light as he stands in attention, guarding his master’s tall hat, gloves and stick. Prince Albert was thrilled with the gift. And, well he should have been. It’s a truly stunning painting.

Unusual Artifacts: Queen Victoria’s Costume for the Stuart Ball, 1851

Queen Victoria's Costume for
the Stuart Ball, 1851
Designed by Lemi
Pearls, Silk, Gold Braid, Silver Fringe,
Irish Lace
The Royal Collection
For the Stuart Ball of 1851, Queen Victoria commissioned the Royal Dressmakers to create a truly breathtaking gown for her—drawing inspiration from her court of King Charles II. Though we often tend to remember Victoria as the Dowager Queen, we must remind ourselves that during her marriage, she was a vibrant and vivacious woman with a taste for fine clothes and gems.

Beaded with seed pearls, the silk gown is also adorned with gold braid, silver fringe and lace. The underskirt was a luxurious brocade created in Benares. The lace is of the finest quality—created in Ireland—in a Venetian raised-point needle style. The lace was most likely purchased at The Great Exhibition of 1850.

While the exact makers of the gown are unknown, it is known to have been designed (with much instruction from the Queen) by Eugéne Lemi—a favorite of the Queen. In this magnificent costume, she’s sure to have made the grand entrance that she’d hoped for.

Punch’s Cousin, Chapter 93

Mr. Punch looked at Robert with tears in his eyes, “Did you know ‘bout this?”

Robert smiled, “I did.”

“Let me help you,” Adrienne said, removing Fuller from Mr. Punch’s Lap. Toby rose and sniffed the box that sat in front of Mr. Punch on the floor. The dog wagged his tail as he sniffed.

Mr. Punch moved aside the tissue paper and studied his gift.

“You made this?”

“We did,” Cecil nodded. “I’m afraid you’ve already seen part of it. That’s my contribution. I painted it myself based on memories of Covent Garden. Adrienne made the rest herself.”

“I’m afraid that it may not be exactly as your old one.” Adrienne said. “Remember, I grew up with Guignol, so I’m not sure if I made the costume quite right, but I worked from a drawing that Cecil made for me.”

“Me hands, Chum,” Mr. Punch sniffed. “Would you help me with him?”

“Of course,” Robert knelt down next to Mr. Punch and removed his gift from the box.

Robert held the puppet up the light of the bay window.

“He’s beautiful!” Mr. Punch whooped. “Can I hold him?”

“Of course, Mr. Punch,” Robert said, gently placing the puppet in Mr. Punch’s lap. “He’s yours.”

“He’s me.” Mr. Punch sniffed. He cradled the puppet and examined it closely. “There’s me head—just as it once was. Me nose all hooked to me chin and me big red smile. My eyes—all wide and blue, just like they was. And me body! Lady Chum, you made me body!”

“Cecil made the hands.” Adrienne smiled. “But, I sewed the rest of the body.”

“Look at him in his red suit with his ruff! And his hat! With a bell and all, just like the one I had before. Gold trim, and…look, there’s little buttons on the front an’ all!” Mr. Punch murmured excitedly.

“We thought that since your own body has been lost, you might like to have this one.” Cecil said. “We do hope you’re pleased.”

“I am. Oh, yes, I am.” Mr. Punch whispered. “Reminds me o’ what I was, it does.”

“Perhaps you can talk to him the way Julian once talked to you before the two of you…” Robert began, unsure of how to continue.

“Before the two o’ us shared a body.” Mr. Punch nodded. He sighed. “What a lark it must be for the other Mr. Punchs. Sittin’ up in the tent with their sticks, talking through their swazzles. ‘That’s the way to do it!’” Mr. Punch wiped Julian’s eyes on the bandages on his hands. “He’s a big one, too. Bigger than I was. I was from a toy shop. I wasn’t this big. This is a right proper Mr. Punch.”

“Well, you’re a big man now.” Cecil grinned. “Of course you should have a big portrait.”

“A portrait of me.” Mr. Punch nodded. “Like I was. There’s portraits of me master, there are—at Fallbridge Hall, hangin’ on the wall all flat. Never had one of me. And, mines not flat at all. Mines got arms what move and a head that’s round what you can touch.” Mr. Punch looked up with a helpless expression. “I promise I’ll love him always, I will.”

“I’m so glad.” Adrienne smiled.

They all watched as Mr. Punch stroked the puppet for a few seconds. “When me hands get better, I’ll make him talk. And, then, when Julian’s usin’ the body, maybe he can make him talk for me. Right?”

“Right.” Robert nodded. “Shall I help you put him back in the box for now?”

“Oh, no.” Mr. Punch shook Julian’s head. “He don’t wish to be in the box.”

“Very well.” Robert smiled.

“Here, I got things for all of you, too.” Mr. Punch said. “Over there—see them things by the tree?”

“I do.” Robert nodded.

“Would you mind giving the envelope to Adrienne for me?” Mr. Punch asked.

“I’d be happy to.” Robert said. He fetched a crème-colored envelope and handed it to Adrienne.

“Open it careful. There’s somethin’ inside. Then, there’s a note, there is. Naasir helped me write it.”

Adrienne opened the envelope and held it over her palm. Into her hand, a glittering green stone fell out.

“It’s what’s called an emerald.” Mr. Punch said as if Adrienne might not know. “Me master’s been carryin’ it ‘round in his jewel case waitin’ to find the right place for it. He wants you to have it. Maybe he can make it into somethin’ you can wear sometime.”

“It’s stunning.” Adrienne said softly.

“Color of your dress.” Mr. Punch nodded. “Color of Springtime and good things like the things what you brought to us. Here! Open the note. That’s the bit what’s from me. It’s what’s called a poem. I thought it up. Naasir wrote it down for me. Go on, read it.”

Adrienne read aloud.

Songs what talk about angels and beauty
Do not know that they have failed their duty.
For the true angel what comes from prayin’
Is me new sister, lovely Adrienne.

Happy Christmas. 25 December, 1852

From Julian Lord Fallbridge and Mr. Punch Molliner

Adrienne’s lip quivered. “Thank you, Mr. Punch.”

“I made them words up me-self.” Mr. Punch said proudly.

“They’re beautiful.” Adrienne nodded. “So very…”

“See, then, there’s a little box for Cecil.” Mr. Punch pointed.

Robert retrieved the box and handled it to Cecil who opened it slowly to reveal a silver handled folding knife. On the handle, the initial “M” had been engraved.

“This is from me master and me both.” Mr. Punch said. “It’s a knife what folds into itself so you can carry it in your pocket. I figured since you carve things, you might could use it.”

“It’s quite handsome,” Cecil grinned. “I’ve always wanted one of these.”

“And, you’ll use it?” Mr. Punch asked.

“Often.” Cecil nodded appreciatively. “Thank you.”

“One more!” Mr. Punch whooped. “This one’s for you, Chum, the leather case there.”

Robert opened the case and smiled. “It’s a gold pen.”

“That shiny blue rock on the top is what’s called a sapphire. I was thinkin’. Bein’ as you’re so smart, you should write a book. Smart fellas like you write books, they do. You could write a book ‘bout medicine with that. Maybe you could write a book ‘bout you and me. I’ll wager there’s other folk like me and me master—folk what got two people inside ‘em. Maybe you could write somethin’ down ‘bout us that might help them other folk know that it ain’t no pantomime, but a real thing what happens. You could use the pen, you could, to write with.”

“I think that’s a fine idea.” Robert said, his voice catching in his throat.

“There’s more.” Mr. Punch added. “See, there’s a paper in the bottom of the box. That’s from me.”

“Ah, yes.” Robert said, composing himself. He withdrew the paper, unfolded it and read aloud.

25 December, 1852

Dear Chum,

Knowing you made all this worthwhile. Goes to show that sometimes lovely things grow in the hardest of rocks.

With affection,

Mr. Punch Molliner on the occasion of Christmas morning.

Robert lowered his head and trembled for a moment.

“Here, not feelin’ sick are ya?” Mr. Punch asked.

“Not at all…just the opposite.” Robert responded.

They sat in contended silence for a few seconds.

“This is, I think,” Adrienne said after awhile, “the loveliest Christmas anyone could have.”

Little did they know, but Agnes Rittenhouse was climbing the stairs to their front porch. Her hand on the bell would signal an end to their peace.

Did you miss Chapters 1-92? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Let Someone Know You Care

Sometimes we go about our business assuming that our loved ones know how we feel.  But, it’s not something that you can take for granted.  Everyone needs reminding—every so often—that you care about them.  So today, take a few minutes to make a phone call, send an email, write a card, or simply show your appreciation for the special people in your life.  On your way home, pick up a little treat for your family.  Rent a favorite movie, bring home a small bouquet of flowers, or just come in with a smile that says, “Everything is all right.”  The comfort you’ll be giving is worth more than you can imagine.

Object of the Day: A French Slate Clock

Dating to the late Nineteenth Century, this black slate temple-form mantle clock features an ormolu face and Corinthian columns. The face of the clock is marked, “James Wiseman, Paris.” The clock’s movement was made by Marti et cie—a famed Parisian maker of clockwork movements. Marti et Cie often made movements for other companies to use in clock cases of their own design.

This handsome clock has the clean lines that heralded the transition from more ornate Victorian styles to the more Classical motifs which became prevalent at the start of the Edwardian era. As if often the case with these slate clocks, this timepiece is quite heavy. While its movement is not presently in working order, the clock makes for a rather imposing decorative piece. Antique clocks are very touchy, but the beauty they bring is worth their inherent crankiness.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Her Majesty’s Furniture: Queen Victoria’s Throne and Footstool, 1850

The Royal Collection
This magnificent throne of ivory, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, gold, ormolu and hardwood was presented as a gift to Queen Victoria after being on display as the centerpiece of the Indian section of the Great Exhibition. Craftsman in Travancore, Southern India, toiled over the chair, making sure that it was the perfect representation of their masterful carving skills. The ivory plaques which cover the throne and footstool represent both English and European scenes. The piece is upholstered in Indian silk velvet.

This was not a throne that Queen Victoria used often—if at all. In fact, it wasn’t really meant to be used, but rather appreciated as a work of art. For this reason, it’s in excellent condition and remains in the Royal Collection so that it can continue to be admired.

The Belle Époque Today: The Art of Vivien Mallock

Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother
Vivien Mallock
A member of The Royal Society of British Sculptors since 1998, Vivien Mallock creates amazing works—predominantly in bronze—which range from portrait sculpture to large-scale figures to wildlife sculpture. Her highly-regarded and much-sought-after work is celebrated for the natural sense of movement she conveys by the way she composes her sculptures.

Stand-out pieces from Mallock’s collection of both intimate and grand sculptures include her bust of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother which was the last sculpture for which Her Majesty was to sit. Her largest sculpture thus far is the nine-foot tall memorial to the Royal Tank Regiment which Queen Elizabeth II unveiled in 2000. This monumental work contains five finely sculpted figures.

Royal Tank Regiment Memorial,
Vivien Mallock
This master sculptor has adapted the ideals of classical sculpture into contemporary works of art which seem to tremble with life. To learn more about Vivien Mallock, you can visit her Web site. There, you can view galleries of her work, her portraiture and her public sculptures.

Humanitarian of the Week: Mary Tyler Moore

Whether you think of her as Mary Richards, Laura Petrie or, even, murderess Sante Kimes, you have a mental picture of Mary Tyler Moore. She was the girl in the Capri pants who danced with Dick Van Dyke and sobbed, “Oh, Rob.” She was the young woman who could turn the world on with her smile. She had spunk! She still does.

Aside from her well-known acting career, Mary Tyler Moore has made her life’s work helping other people, and giving aid to animals in need. As the International Chairman for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, Mary Tyler more has tirelessly worked to raise funds for and awareness of Diabetes Mellitus, Type I—a condition with which she was diagnosed as a young woman. In 2007, the JDRF created the “Forever Moore” program in her honor. This program is a research initiative which strives to turn research findings into useable treatments for Type I Diabetes.

A long-time animal lover, Moore is a firm believer in pet adoption. Along with friend, Bernadette Peters, she founded Broadway Barks to help find homes for rescued dogs. This is just one piece of Moore’s life-long fight for animal rights.

The Conrad Shindler House in 1880 and today.
Shepherd University
Moore is also a supporter of historical causes. Named for her father, a Civil War enthusiast, The George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War was made possible by a generous donation from Mary Tyler Moore to Shepherd University. Moore funded the purchase and renovation of the Conrad Shindler House (built in 1795 and named for Moore’s great-great-great grandfather who once owned the property.) The house had been used as Stonewall Jackson’s headquarters at the start of the American Civil War.

Not only has Mary Tyler Moore brought legendary moments of entertainment into our homes and our lives, but she has actively worked to maintain the health and dignity of many people and animals as well as preserve an important part of American history. For this reason, Mary Tyler Moore is our “Humanitarian of the Week.”

Remember, you can still submit your nominations for “Humanitarian of the Year” throughout November.

Film of the Week: “I Remember Mama,” 1948

Irene Dunne
Directed by George Stevens in 1948, I Remember Mama was based on the successful Broadway play of the same name. The original play, produced by Rogers and Hammerstein and written by John Van Druten, ran for over seven hundred performances starting in 1944. The original cast of the play included Marlon Brando in his Broadway debut.

Director George Stevens wished to maintain the feel of the original play with his screen adaptation of the story which centered on a family of Norweigan immigrants living in San Francisco in 1910. Stevens also wished to preserve the sense of warmth and familial love which was such an integral part of the book which inspired the play—Mama’s Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes.

The central character in the story—“Mama” or Marta Hanson—was originally played by Mady Christians on the stage. For his film, Stevens wished to cast a big-name star and asked Greta Garbo if she would be interested in the part. When Garbo declined—stating that she would not play a maternal figure—Irene Dunne was offered the part. Dunne, despite being fifty years old, didn’t look as if she could be the mother of almost-adult children. Special makeup was applied to make Dunne appear to be her age.

Barbara Bel Geddes
The film is told from the point of view of Katrin Hanson (Barbara Bel Geddes) who recalls important moments in her family’s history as she finishes work on her first novel. The story that unfolds is one of strength and bravery as the family bands together to weather events both mundane and tragic. It’s a tale of the every-day, but also an account of the harsh realities of life in the early Twentieth Century.

Stevens’ even-handed direction avoids over-sentimentality, but still maintains the sweetness of the story. He doesn’t shy away from the unglamorous sides of life, but doesn’t present them as overtly ugly either. Of the cast which also includes Ellen Corby, Philip Dorn and Oskar Homolka (reprising his role from the stage play), the stand-outs are really Dunne and Bel Geddes. Irene Dunne, well-known for her comedic roles, delivers a touching and believable performance as “Mama.” Meanwhile, Bel Geddes convincingly ages from a girl to a woman in such a way that it’s hard to believe the same actress is playing Katrin as a young girl and Katrin as a young woman.

Oska  Homolka
This film (and its source works) inspired a television program, Mama, which ran from 1949-1957 as well as a 1979 Broadway musical version starring Liv Ullman. It’s a thoroughly lovely film—true to life and a good reminder of the importance of family.