Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mastery of Design: The Five Character Brooch, 18th C.

French Brooch of Enameled Gold
The Victoria & Albert Museum

An unusual piece, this brooch is adorned with images of five different characters, painted each on their own separate but uniformly-sized sections of the circular disc which comprises the jewel. No rigid physical separation (like a frame) is between the segments which are indicated only by a change of painted ground color. The face of each character is portrayed facing forward as their bodies taper at their waists, meeting at the center of the disc where a rough cabochon ruby is surmounted by a paste “diamond.” 

The character at the top, opposite to the position the pin points, is a woman wearing a blue dress with a rich, white lace collar and a black headdress. She is set against a pale grey ground. Going clockwise, the next character is a pierrot in a striped doublet with white ruff and striped headdress. Next, we see a young woman in an embroidered yellow gown with a low lace edge and a red cloak. On her head is a coronet adorned with colored feathers. She carries a sword and may represent the Roman goddess Bellona or possibly a Queen of the Amazons. Next to her is a man in grey costume whose nightcap appears to be falling from his head. The last character—on a light blue ground--is a man in black doublet, white ruff and cuffs; his black sleeves are slashed to reveal pink beneath and his black hat bears a pink feather.

This piece was made in France in the Eighteenth Century by an unknown maker as a jewelry novelty of enamel set in beaded gold.

Drawing of the Day: The Cornelli Countryman, 1905

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This costume design by Attilio Comelli was intended for the role of a countryman or peasant in a production of : The Prodigal Son” in London, 1905. The design depicts a man dressed from head to toe in pink with a “gnome style” hat and a mask that covers his forehead and nose—Pulcinella-style. He dons a knee-length coat with a waistcoat and a large bow tie, striped trousers and horizontal striped hosiery and shoes.

Comelli’s design in pencil and watercolor on board is clearly rooted in the tradition of the Italian Commedia dell’Arte. The production opened in September of 1905 at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Figure of the Day: Mezzetin, 1764

Figure of Mezzetin
Germany, 1764
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This hard-paste  porcelain and enamel figure by Wenzel Neu (1707-1774) was made in Thuringia, Germany for the Kloster-Veilsdorg Porcelain Factory.  It depicts “Mezzetin,” a character from the Commedia dell'arte holding a palette in one hand, to which he points with the other hand.

Mezzetin is shown in his traditional costume of a cloak coat, breeches and cap of yellow stripes with green, a white ruff collar and red shoes.

Gem of the Week: Morganite

A morganite ring weighing nearly 40 carats.
From Lang Estate and Antique Jewelry, San Francisco

A member of the beryl family along with aquamarine (which is pale blue) and heliodor (which is greenish), morganite is a pink stone revered for its clarity and fire. also known as "pink beryl," "rose beryl," "pink emerald," and "cesian beryl," morganite can exhibit “color-banding” by showing stripes of orange and/or yellow.

The stone gets its name from financier, J.P. Morgan and was so christened by the New York Academy of Sciences in 1910. The largest morganite specimen found to date is “The Rose of Maine,” found in Bennett Quarry in Buckfield, Maine in 1989. This massive stone weighs 50 pounds—not carats, pounds.

Morganite became a popular stone in jewelry designs of the late Edwardian era and into the 1930’s. Prized for its delicate color, this particularly feminine stone was the favorite for cocktail rings such as the one pictured here.

Unusual Artifacts: A Pair of Red Oxford Shoes, 1925

Oxford Shoes
Coxton Shoe Co., Ltd., 1925
Shown at the London International Shoe Fair
The Victoria & Albert Museum

In the 1920’s, the footwear fashion for men was to wear “Oxford” lace-up shoes—essentially a “closed tab shoe.” They were so-called because the eyelet tabs (these are the sections of leather with holes for the laces) were stitched under the front section of the shoe (known as the vamp) as opposed to be stitched on top.

Oxfords, typically, were black or brown leather, intended for everyday wear. At the time, especially in Britain, men of taste followed strict rules of “appropriate” dress. Brown shoes worn with a dinner suit were considered inappropriate. And, any display of vivid color footwear was thought to be vulgar.

And, then, there are these shoes of bright red leather adorned with gold swirls. Clearly, these were not made for actual wear. No, these shoes were made to be displayed in order to showcase the maker’s skills. They were displayed at the London International Shoe Fair in 1925. Joining them were a black and gold pair and a thoroughly blinding, marbled blue leather creation.

Made by the Coxton Shoe Co., Ltd. of Rushden (Northamptonshire), England, the shoes were made specifically to catch the eye of American buyers. While a British man would never have dared to wear bright red shoes, American men had more freedom. Though this particular pair would have seemed vulgar, even my American standards, the workmanship demonstrated that the Coxton concern was able to produce more exciting designs than other makers. and may have been aimed at the American market which was open to more exotic designs.

The shoes feature gold leather decoration, a rounded-pointed toe, six eyelets, and gold laces. Red stitching on gold decorative strips gives interest to the backstrap, toe-cap, facing, vamp and quarters. They boast a stacked heel and a brown leather sole with a scrolling pattern along the edges and a green stripe between two red wheeled stripes. 

History's Runway: The Lady Glendoven Gown, 1938

Gown of Silk Tulle, 1938
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The American couturier Mainbocher created this gown of a fine silk tulle of pale green, pink and emerald green stripes.  The dress is decorated with circled and scattered sequins in coordinating colors. The metal zipper at the side of the dress has been colored green and pink to match the stripes.

As was the style of the late 1930s, the bodice is close fitting with cap sleeves and broad shoulders. The shoulders, however are not padded.  The designer was unable to use shoulder padding, as this would be visible through the tulle, so instead three pieces of boning have been employed, arranged in a fan shape to support each of the shoulders. The dress falls from a fitted waist into a very full, floor length skirt which was to be worn over an emerald green satin petticoat because of the transparent nature of the tulle.

Mainbocher established his couture house in Paris in 1929. He was Born Main Rousseau Bocher, running his two names into one to create his label.

The designer is, perhaps, best known for his 1937 design for the wedding dress of the Duchess of Windsor on her marriage to the former King Edward VIII, the Great Kerfuffler ™.  He was a favorite of Wallis Simpson and I could see her wearing this gown as she mercilessly teased anyone who crossed her and drank away the reality that she would never be Queen.

Speaking of Edward VIII/The Duke of Windsor and his wacky abdication, we’ve commemorated the scandal with our exclusive line of Abdication Kerfuffle ™ designs.  Check them out in our online store.  

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Screaming Monkey Harlequin, c. 1740

The V&A
Meissen  Porcelain Figurine
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This figure of Harlequin is rendered in hard-paste porcelain which has been painted in enamels. Made by Johann Joachim Kändler around 1740 for Germany’s Meissen Porcelain Factory,  Harlequin leans against a stump with a monkey held behind his right knee.  He seems to be using the monkey as some sort of instrument.  He’s pulling the screaming monkey's tail with his right hand while playing a pipe which is held in his left hand.  A screaming monkey was apparently the unofficial musical sponsor of the Eighteenth Century.  I kid, of course, but I’ve seen a good many works of art which involve monkeys in musical agony.
This is one of a set of Commedia dell’Arte figures by Kändler.  Many of the figures depicts Harlequin in various, brightly colored outfits.  Here, he is wearing a grey hat with a turquoise rosette, a white ruff, a lozenge-“diapered” jacket in red, blue and yellow with trousers with plum colored stripes, yellow shoes and blue rosettes. The base of the figure is embellished with flowers and leaves in colors which match Harlequin’s suit.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Mastery of Design: A Ring by Gerda Flöckinger, 1969

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Here's a charmingly peculiar bauble dating to 1969.  It's a ring, the body of which is pierced and intentionally darkened in areas by oxidation. Sections are adorned with irregular scrolls, wires and small balls. The ring is set with a large, pale citrine carved with a floral design and a smaller pink tourmaline. Attached to the ring, below the tourmaline,  a circular gold disc with a small opal set in it, is mounted and from the disc hangs a 'tail'-- a stem of silver decorated with a spiral of gold wire.

The Victoria & Albert Museum

This is the work of Gerda Flöckinger, CBE, one of the pre-eminent artists in the alternative jewelry scene in London. She was born in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1927, and emigrated to Britain in 1938 where she studied fine art at St Martin's School of Art, and jewelry and enamels at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. 

In 1956, she made the brave step to work as an independent designer and maker, and, in 1962, established a pioneering course in experimental jewellery at Hornsey School of Art. where much of the next generation of cutting-edge British artist-jewellers were taught.

The encrusted, organic textures of this ring typify Flöckinger's work. In 1969, when this ring was crafted, large, unusual stones - cameos, soft-colored cabochons, veined turquoises and irregular pearls were incorporated to give glowing pools of color amidst, irregular planes and intense contrasts against the swirling, differing metals.

The ring was purchased from the artist from an exhibition of her work held at the V&A in 1971.

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Updated on April 4, 2014:

I had the honor of being contacted directly by Gerda Flöckinger, a Commander of the British Empire.  

She wrote the following to me:

My ring is not pierced in any part of itself. The ring is built up from different sizes of silver wires, with fusion techniques and additional details soldered into position after the completion of the main fusion.
This particular ring may have been typical of my work in 1969 and a period of a few years before and after, however it is not at all typical of my work earlier, so probably not typical until the later ‘sixties to maybe early to mid ’seventies.
I did not discover the possibilities of precious metal fusion until 1963, so all my work before that date is very different. My later work after my solo exhibition at the V&A (which was a landmark show in the sense that it was the first solo show at the V&A of the work of a woman during her lifetime) has also undergone considerable changes throughout my working life. I hope.

I'd like to point out that I'm thrilled to have heard from the artist herself, and, I'm also interested that her personal statement is in direct contrast to the description of the piece which is listed in the online catalog of the V&A as seen here wherein it is stated, "The body of the ring is pierced and deliberately darkened in places by oxidation and decorated with irregular scrolls, wires and small balls."

I'm most grateful to Miss Flöckinger for taking a moment to describe the process by which she created this remarkable piece, to provide an opportunity to correct an error in the online catalog, and for taking the time to write to me.

Friday Fun: Mr. Bimbamboozle’s Punch & Judy Show

Hello all, since I'm still under-the-weather, we'll have our first "Mr. Punch's Puzzles" of 2014 next week.  So, for a bit of fun today, let's look at a routine by one of my favorite Punch & Judy Men.

Mr. Bimbamboozle
I like this. I like this a lot. Here we see Mr. Bimbamboozle—the stage name of Punch & Judy Professor Chris Somerville who I consider Wales’ finest Punch & Judy man. I find his routine terribly clever. In fact, I often come across Mr. Bimbamboozle in my Punch & Judy studies. Many a Punch & Judy man considers his work to be exemplary.


The Art of Play: The Magic Punch & Judy

The Magic Punch and Judy
England, 1977
The George Speaight Archive at
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This card-backed flyer is printed with a set of cut-out Punch & Judy puppets. The images are described as, “a reconstruction of H. G. Clarke's THE MAGIC PUNCH & JUDY first published [ca.] 1875.” The work of Mike Bartley, this 1977 flyer reads further:

Mike Bartley

BRISTOL (0272) 621955 

Painting of the Day: A Rustic Show, 1852

Click image to enlarge.
Watercolor Sketch
Charles James Lewis
England, 1852
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Created in 1852 by Charles James Lewis (1830-1892), this watercolor sketch shows a group gathered in a country village to watch a Punch and Judy show. Lewis clearly wished to not only highlight the puppet show, but to show the crowd’s reaction to it in conjunction with the daily activities of life.

Here, we see people paused in their common daily chores to enjoy a moment of frivolity. Meanwhile, some children—curious about how Punch works—peep into the booth to spy the Professor.

Charles James Lewis, RI was known both for his watercolor works as well as his charming and handsome oil paintings. He specialized in landscapes with a decided leaning toward the rustic. His paintings were celebrated for their detail and sensitivity.

A Recipe for Punch, Chapter 38

Chapter 38

With Violet safely returned to her room where she was being tended to by Mrs. Pepper and Maudie and cautiously watched over by a most-concerned (and annoyed) Charles and Georgie, and with Gerard back at his wife's side in the nursery along with Ethel and Dog Toby, Punch, Robert and Lennie guided Morgana to the Drawing Room.

"Come and sit with us, Auntie."  Lennie said with a politeness she hoped didn't sound forced.

""  Morgana croaked.

"Certainly, we do."  Mr. Punch smiled.  "Shortly, we'll ring for some hot chocolate or something to eat, but for now, I think we should just chat and let the staff get some rest."

"I didn't mean to hurt...the...pretty...girl."  Morgana continued.

"Oh, we know."  Punch said.

"I had a good look at Violet,"  Robert continued.  "You didn't hurt her."

"Our Violet is a sturdy little thing.  She may look delicate, but, she's a very strong young lady."  Lennie nodded.

"My...claws..."  Morgana shook her head.  "Are sharp and strong."

"I'm sure they are."   Punch inhaled.

Lennie, Punch and Robert sat by the fire.   Morgana stood and watched them.

"You may sit, Morgana."  Robert indicated to a chair near them.

"I'm not...allowed.  Not in the nice...rooms."

"You are."  Punch said firmly.  "You are.  This is my house, it is.  And, you're allowed to sit wherever it pleases ya to sit.  We'll get ya a fine room o' your own, too, we will."

"You're speaking different."  Morgana leaned in.

"Oh, I know."  Punch sighed.  "This is the way I speak.  Remember, I told you, I'm different. Just like you, only, my differences don't show on the outside like yours do.  All of us in this room are different from other folk.  We're's it said, Chum?"

"Kindred spirits, I think."  Robert nodded.

"So, I may...sit?"

"Please."  Lennie nodded.

"What if Mr. Jackson or..."  Morgana asked.

"Mr. Jackson has been dismissed."  Robert continued.  "I've no idea where he's gone.  Frankly, I don't much feel like looking for him at this hour.  Though they don't know it yet, Gregory and Miss Blessum will be dismissed in the morning."

"Perhaps more."  Punch muttered.  "Though who'll run the house is beyond me.  We only brought 'nough folk from London to look after the few o' us.  Still, there's folk on the estate, and plenty in the village who'd welcome a change to come work in the 'all, I 'spect."

"Not knowin' I'm here."  Morgana shook her head.

"Nor knowin' I'm here."  Punch winked.  "None o' us may be for long.  We only gotta wait until Lennie's fiance arrives.  Wouldn't seem right for us to leave before he comes, it wouldn't."

"You're gonna send me 'way?"  Morgana began to stand.

"No!"  Punch stood, and helped Morgana back into her chair.  "I was rather thinkin' we'd take you home with us.  Home to London.  We don't wanna stay here, Robert, Lennie and me.  We don't want our little boy to stay here.  We got a lovely home in London what we consider our main home, and another estate in Scotland.  We'd take you with us--as long as we all remember our bargain."

Lennie and Robert exchanged uncomfortable glances without Punch's notice.

"'d take me?"  Morgana asked.

"Why not?"  Punch shrugged.

"I'm a beast."

"Ain't we all?"  Punch sighed.  "Now, tell me somethin'.  How come you by those pincers o' yours?  Was ya born with 'em?  Hope you don't mind me askin'?"

"I was."  Morgana nodded.

"And, the leg, then?"

"That grew...over time, as my back hunched."

"Poor dear."  Lennie said.

"You must suffer much pain."  Robert began.  "I may be able to help you a bit."

"You're the physician."  Morgana frowned.

"I am."

"I don'  They harm and hurt..."

"Not my Robert."  Punch shook his head.

"Oh?"  Morgana raised her eyebrows.

"No.  He's helped me many a time when I was sick or burned, or even shot.  I've seen him heal a man who was stabbed with a knife.  Our man Gerard--the blond fella you seen earlier. He woulda died had it not been for our Robert.  But, you saw him.  Strong and healthy with a lovely wide and a babe on the way.."

"Hmmm."  Morgana muttered.

"Morgana,"  Robert said, "I make no claim that I can give you hands and straighten your back nor give you a leg like everyone else's, but I think I might take some of your pain away and help make your movement easier.  That alone might make your life happier."

" much happier."  Morgana smiled.

"That alone gives us much joy."  Lennie smiled sincerely.

They sat in content silence for a few moments unaware that from the shadows they were being watched by a discontented party--Ivy Blessum.  

"Think they can be rid of me," she thought to herself.  "Morgana is mine to care for, and mine, she shall stay."

Did you miss Chapters 1-37 of A Recipe for Punch?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back on Monday for Chapter 39.

Antique Image of the Day: Punch and Judy at Ilfracombe, Paul Martin, 1895

Punch and Judy at Ilfracombe, 1895
The Victoria and Albert Museum

I love these images of true Victorian Punch and Judy Shows. This photograph was taken at the beach at Ilfracombe (North Devon) in 1895 by Paul Martin.

Such images became popular around 1890 when it became possible to combine the gelatin dry-plate negative, which was fast and highly sensitive, with as the V&A puts it, an “inconspicuous device known as a 'detective' camera.” The detective camera allowed for a new type of candid snapshot since the camera was disguised as a leather box. A whole new kind of photography emerged—one that was not posed and staged as were the studio shots known to most people.

Paul Martin--a wood engraver by training—took hundreds of photographs on London streets and while on holiday at the seaside. Martin's work shows that at the dawn of the Twentieth Century, photography was no longer just the stuff of aristocratic amateurs and professional studios. Martin championed the idea that any person could record their own life and surroundings. Martin holds a special place in art history since he was one of the last wood engravers and one of the first photojournalists.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: An Ironstone Staffordshire "Punch & Judy" Mug, 1975

The Victoria & Albert Museum 

A transfer print of Mr. Punch's vocal puppet bride, the ever-lovely Judy graces this ironstone pottery mug which was manufactured in Staffordshire as one of a set of six mugs featuring the Punch and Judy characters of Mr. Punch, Judy, Dog Toby, the Crocodile ("who is going to eat you"), Joey the Clown and the Constable. 

Staffordshire Potteries specialized in producing utilitarian home-goods in the 1970s--among them: plates, bowls and mugs of ironstone pottery.   This sort of pottery was a durable, porcelain-like ceramic developed in the Staffordshire potteries area during the early 19th century, making it particularly suitable for mass production. 

According to our chums at the Victoria & Albert Museum, "The term 'ironstone' was patented by Charles James Mason, who issued wares with the backstamp 'Mason's Ironstone China'."

Made in 1975, this ironstone pottery mug is printed with a pink and orange image of Judy holding her baby and a bright bunch of flowers.  The baby is punctuated with a speech bubble inscribed: "

The base of the mug is imprinted with a mark in black ink: 

Staffordshire Potteries Ltd. Ironstone. Made in England

And the impressed mark:


The Victoria & Albert Museum

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: West End Bertie

"I hope this isn't Box 5 or else the Opera Ghost is gonna be angry."

Image:  Queen Victoria at the Drury Lane Theatre, November 1837, Creator: Edward Thomas Parris (1793-1873) (artist), Creation Date: c. 1837, Materials: Oil on panel, Provenance: Purchased by Queen Mary in 1953.

Crown Copyright, The Royal Collection, via The Royal Collection Trust, Original Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

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

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

Mastery of Design: Faithful and True -- A Brooch, 1862

The British Museum

This English brooch with a reversed crystal intaglio of the head of a white German Spitz dog features, on the reverse, a commemorative inscription and a glass-covered locket which preserves a lock of the dog's hair.

The reverse is inscribed:

FAITHFUL & TRUE/ MUFF Obit. Nov. 24th 1862 at Dinapore. Aged 8 Years & 6 Months

The British Museum

Treat of the Week, Part II: Ring in the New, Wring the Neck of the Old

As we do each year, this New Year’s Eve, my family and I settled in for some fun French movies and some delicious eats! We started the festivities with some delicious homemade miniature latkes--essentially potato pancakes made from shredded potatoes, finely chopped onion, flour and eggs. These were served topped with sour cream, caviar and chopped hard-boiled egg and Veuve Clicquot Champagne. I’d been looking forward to this treat all year. 

This time around, our caviar was accompanied by an old favorite—my mother’s mushroom turnovers. Savory mushrooms and herbs nestled in homemade corners of dough, we hadn’t had these in quite some time. Along with that, we had beautiful breaded and seasoned artichoke hearts. What a way to celebrate the end of the year.  But, there's more.

Regular readers know of my deep affection for sandwiches.  And, boy did we have sandwiches.  Whole ciabatta loaves were sliced horizontally in half and filled with lovely meats, assorted imported cheeses, avocado,  and a variety of other delicacies. 

Sliced into lengths, these sandwiches were pure heaven and, I ate far too many.

The next day, the first of 2014, we adjourned to the dining room to enjoy a roasted pork tenderloin served with a sour cream mustard sauce, and a lovely reduction.

Accompanying this perfect pork were the traditional black-eyed peas and casserole of greens. The black-eyed peas were fresh peas prepared with caramelized shallots and a balsamic vinegar reduction.  Freshly-baked biscuits added a rustic and rich touch. And, we all enjoyed the gorgeous saffron risotto which is one of my favorite parts of the celebration.

And, then came dessert.

What better way to ring in the New Year than with a magnificent cheesecake? While some cheesecakes are heavy and dense, this magnificent creation is remarkably light and fluffy. Atop the gloriously delicate crust, the cheesecake is soft and seems infused with air—so much so that it literally melts in your mouth. My mother has been using this recipe since well before I was born and has made it her own. The cheesecake often makes an appearance on New Year’s Day. This year, it was topped with shimmering cherries. However, the cake is excellent with blueberries, strawberries or a lovely chocolate ganache. Decorated with piped whipped cream, it’s as elegant as it is delicious.

I must note, again, that this cake comes at the end of what was a long month of cooking. Between the dozens of cookies (of eleven different varieties), my birthday cake, candy, a cake for Christmas, pies for Thanksgiving, and intricately exquisite meals, I think my mother has had her hand in a mixing bowl for over thirty days. So, not only does this cake make for a beautiful introduction to 2014, it is also a dramatic finale to the art and cuisine of 2013.