Thursday, July 3, 2014

Happy Fourth of July!

In celebration of July 4th, Bertie, Mr. Punch, Oscar Cat and I will be taking the day off tomorrow, and then enjoying a long weekend.  As you all know, we (meaning I) have been quite busy of late, so, I think a day spent in quiet celebration will be just the thing.

We will return to the usual posting schedule on Tuesday, July 8th with all manner of Punchy goodness, several "Treats of the Week," as well as a "Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture." 

Of course, we'll also have the new chapters of A Recipe for Punch that I've been promising to get to for awhile.  It's my great hope to get back into our regular schedule very soon.

Here's wishing all of our U.S. friends a very Happy Fourth!  And, to our friends in the rest of the world...have a great Thursday!

Original Image:  

Libération. La Fayette, Nous Voilà, France, 1944, Secrétariat Général à l'Information (issued by), Color Lithograph, Gift of the American Friends of the V&A; The Victoria & Albert Museum.

Painting of the Day: “Ladies Leaving the French Opera House,” Paul Poincy, 1895

Ladies Leaving the French Opera House
Paul Poincy, 1895
The Louisiana State Museum
A native of New Orleans with French ancestry, Paul Poincy was an integral figure in the Southern American art world. Known for his portraits, landscapes and street scenes, Poincy had a passion for depicting daily life in New Orleans. His paintings serve as records of a time which might have otherwise become largely forgotten.

Poincy’s father, the Marquis Rosignol des Dunes de Poincy, appreciated his son’s artistic talent at an early age and sent him to study painting in Paris. Upon his return to New Orleans in 1859, Poincy took residence in an apartment on Royal Street where he could observe the comings-and-goings of the fashionable and common alike. Poincy founded The Southern Art Union and the Artists’ Association of New Orleans. His love for his city of origin and its people is evident in his work. His painting,
 Ladies Leaving the French Opera House is testament to this love. The care with which he has rendered this scene of daily life in the French Quarter cannot be missed. If not for Paul Poincy and his fellow artists, such moments would be lost forever.

Mastery of Design: A French Diamond Spray Ornament, c. 1850

Diamond Spray Ornament with Trembler
The Hull-Grundy Gift
The British Museum

I've had a good time these last couple of weeks exploring the jewelry in the Hull-Grundy gift to The British Museum.  Among the many grand jewels in the bequest is this ornamental trembler pin in the form of a floral spray, a piece which is highly representative of the Nineteenth Century revival of Eighteenth Century forms.  

The French work of silver, gold, and closed-back, pink-foiled diamonds is reminiscent of pieces made for the French court in the late Eighteenth Century.  Empress Eugénie revived the style in the 1850s when such floral ornaments found a new fashion in the naturalistic style which flourished across the European aristocracy. 

Precious Time: The Lilies Lantern Clock, 1650

Lantern Clock of Silver
David Bouquet, 1650
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Lantern clocks such as the one pictured here were first developed in England in the 1620s. The name “lantern” is thought to have come from the word “laton” - meaning brass - as most of these timepieces featured brass cases.

These clocks were always driven by weights and were made to stand on a bracket or to hang on the wall.

This clock is exceptional in that it is the only known lantern clock with a silver, and not brass, case. The dial plate, chapter ring, alarm disc, side doors and pierced silver gallery are all comprised  of silver. Because of the unusual medium, we can only assume that this clock was a special commission for a wealthy patron from David Bouquet, a French immigrant who was admitted to the Blacksmiths' Company in 1628.  Bouquet joined the Clockmakers' Company as a founding member in 1632.  He was known for his fine engraving—work which we can see nicely here.  The front of the clock is engraved with pinks, tulips, lilies and other flowers.  Meanwhile,  above, an openwork gallery is surmounted by pierced floral crestings with vases at the corners.

The clock dates to about 1650.

Gifts of Grandeur: The Hull Grundy Pansy Brooch, c. 1850

The British Museum

As we've often discussed before, the Victorian Language of Flowers was used to communicate many a message when the spoken word was not appropriate.  In this intimate language, the pansy represented "thoughts"--a clever play on the French word "pensees" which means "thoughts."  The pansy could also signify to the recipient of the flower that the sender was saying, "You occupy my thoughts."  The pansy was developed out of the viola by botanists from the late 1820s and by 1861, the brightly-hued, large variations that we know today were being grown.

When this brooch was made between 1840 and 1850, we can see that the flower was well on its way to becoming the bloom that we know.  At this point in both floral and jewelry history, the pansy was a popular romantic symbol, and this jewel is a perfect example of the place that the bloom held in English culture.  A work of chased two-color gold, the brooch is set with amethysts and citrines with pale green stone, possibly peridot, in the center.  The gems are mounted in the form of a pansy flower with the flower-head set on a trembler spring.

This piece forms part of the Hull Grundy bequest to The British Museum.

Unfolding Pictures: The Jacobite Fan, c. 1715

The Victoria & Albert Museum

Click image to enlarge.

Folding fans with paper or fabric leaves originated in Japan and weren’t introduced to Europe until the second half of the Sixteenth Century as European makers adopted the technique of the Japanese while introducing their own style of adornment.

This simple folding fan dates beween 1715 and 17230 and was made in England with plain, un-carved ivory sticks, and a paper leaf painted with gouache (opaque watercolor), with accents of gold paint.

The painted leaf symbolizes Jacobite support for the Stuart Royal Family after George I, Elector of Hanover, succeeded to the British throne in 1714. Depicted on the left is Charles II who is shown hiding in a tree after his defeat by Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

He is joined by Queen Anne who is depicted as ascending to heaven after her death in 1714, while beside her a lady mourns the loss of the crown. On the right of the leaf, we see the Stuart arms, with a white rose and two rosebuds below. The rose, a symbol of the House of Stuart, is notable in that it represents the son of James II, James Francis Edward ('James III' or the 'Old Pretender'). The two buds are his sons, Charles Edward and Henry Benedict.

The leaf, overall, is painted in a dark-toned gouache, with a brown and green ground, and is edged with a formal, gilt, scalloped border filled with floral decoration. The reverse of the fan is adorned with a stiffly naturalistic floral spray on a silver ground. The initials “L” and “I” are written in ink on the top left border.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Marret Frères et Jarry Brooch, 1875

Brooch of Gold, Emeralds and Diamonds
c. 1875
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This gold brooch, decorated with enamel and set with emeralds and rose-cut diamonds was made in Paris circa 1875 by the jewelry firm of  Marret Frères et Jarry.

This transitional piece, in the form of a floral head, marks the ushering-in of heavily-jeweled Naturalistic floral sprays which dominated the end of the Nineteenth Century.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mastery of Design: The Devlin "Blue Eyes" Brooches, 1978

The Victoria & Albert Museum

For some reason, I felt like dragging out these weird brooches, today. 

They put me in mind of the early 1990s paperback book cover from The Great Gatsby that sat on my desk in high school.  I thought that the ugliest book cover illustration, but I just adore (in Eva Gabor voice, even) these brooches.

Though kind of creepy, this pair of brooches is also cute and, certainly, opulent. The brooches are rendered in the form of two blue eyes with pupils of black pearls, irises of sapphires and diamonds, and the whites of diamonds. The eyelids are ridged in gold.
Historically, eyes were frequently depicted in jewelry—as portrait miniature mementos in elaborate jeweled frames which were given by a lady to her love. This work from the 1970s is an interesting play on that idea. And, truly, if you examine it, with the exception of the portrait miniatures, the use of human body parts in jewelry design has, historically, been anything but literal. Stuart Devlin, the creator of these “eye” brooches adds a note of surrealism to his design which make these jewels all the more interesting from an art historical standpoint and all the more flashy from the standpoint of fashion.

In London in the 1960s, a group of jewelers emerged, offering new ways of looking at jewelry and catering to women in high society who were once again turning to their jewels as a way of expressing their wealth and status. Like the jewelers of the Victorian era, these modern masters knew that, for the upper-class woman, what mattered most was an expression of individuality,

Stuart Devlin was certainly one of the best of this crop of contemporary British jewelers. The Australia-born Devlin was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art, London in 1958 and afterwards at Columbia University in the US. In 1965, he returned to London and opened a workshop where he designed jewelry, silver, trophies, coinage, medallions, furniture and interiors. He was granted the Royal Warrant of Goldsmith and Jeweller to Her Majesty the Queen in 1982.

To Serve and Project: An Oak Coffret, 1300-1400

England, 1300-1400
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This coffret, or casket was made to hold valuables and jewels. As such, it was as elegantly appointed as the objects it was meant to protect. During the medieval period, when many traveled for pilgrimages of various types such a casket was quite important as a means of containing what amounted to the lion’s share of a person’s important possessions. While at home, a coffret such as this one would have been proudly displayed, not only as a symbol of the household’s wealth, but also because it was attractive in its own right.

Such caskets would have been considered a suitable gift for a future bride or a couple about to be wed, and also would have been given as a gift of courtship between future bride and from. Often, the coffret was inscribed with a message of love or adorned with a scene of courtship.

For example, this coffret must have been given as a token as affection. The leather veneer is worked with a courting scene and emblazoned with love inscriptions. A lady and gentleman are depicted amongst flowers and a border of ribbons and branches. On the lid, we see a scene of knights mounted on griffins with two nudes who are holding clubs and shields. Typically such a combination of images implied that the giver of the casket meant to fight his primal desires to pursue a chaste and honorable courtship. 

The leather over the rounded oak carcase has been colored and gilt. The legend reads, “du bon du,” “mo naves,” “du bon du Coeur,” and “mon couer vous avez.” In short, that the knight meant—“with good willing”--to deliver the lady from being captured by savages and that she had his heart.

At some point, likely the 1960s, the thing was coated with shellac, which did it no favors. Still, we can imagine how brilliant it must have been when made in the 1300s. 

Painting of the Day: A Jack in Office, 1833

A Jack in Office
Sir Edwin Landseer, 1833
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Ha!  Early Nineteenth political humor (humour).  You see, when this painting was finished, a slang expression for a pompous government official was "a jack in office." And, that’s what this painting is called.  But, it's not a governmental, it's a doggie.  A Jack Russell Terrier!  Ha!  Oh, Edwin Landseer, you slay me with your canine antics. 

All teasing aside, I do like this painting by the always wonderful Landseer and I think it's quite clever.  Completed in 1833, a critic at the time  described how "the well-fed and much caressed dog…keeps others from testing the food of which he has had too much." Sounds like a politician to me.

The painting was given to the V&A by John Sheepshanks in 1857

This is one of Sir Edwin's most clearly anthropomorphic treatments of human matters in canine terms.  A other critic said that the piece was "enormously popular, providing fable, parody, humour, and narrative in a single image." 

The Home Beautiful: The King Edward VII Jewel Casket, 1909

Silver-Gilt and Enamel Jewel Casket
Presented to King Edward VII, 1909
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This jewel casket was presented to King Edward VII by the Mayor, Aldermen and councilors of the Royal Borough of Kensington as a gift in honor of His Majesty’s visit to the borough to open new buildings at the V&A in 1909.

The “new buildings,” illustrated on the enamel plaque of the case, refer specifically to the Cromwell Road extension to the V&A which was designed by the architect Aston Webb. When this extension opened, “The Daily Chronicle” noted that the opening was “the only bright spot in a week of unspeakable weather … actually the sun shone with special ardour when His Majesty spoke the words which pronounced the museum open forever.” The Daily Telegraph described this gift that was presented to the King as “ golden casket of exquisite workmanship.”

The silver gilt casket is heavily chased, adorned with enamel plaques depicting the building project and surmounted by a finial in the shape of the Royal Crest. It was designed by Charles Stephen Worrall for The Goldsmiths’ and Silversmiths’ Co., Ltd. 

Painting of the Day: "The Hermit" by Charles Landseer, 1841

"The Hermit"
Charles Landseer, 1841
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Painted in 1841 by the famed Charles Landseer (1799-1879), this canvas is entitled “The Hermit.”

Given to the V&A in 1859 by John Sheepshanks, the painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy the year it was painted. At that exhibition (from where the man who sold it to Sheepshanks purchased it), the painting was displayed with the following narrative poem, also called “The Hermit, which was posthumously published in 1721. It read:
Far in a wild, unknown to public view,
From youth to age a reverend hermit grew;
The moss his bed, the cave his humble cell,
His food the fruits, his drink the crystal well.
Remote from men, with God he passed the days,
Prayer all his business, all his pleasures praise.

David Lucas, the grandson of the famed engraver of the same name, hinted in 1925 that the model for this painting was his grandfather. The elder Lucas was known to have worked as a fortune teller at the Cremorne Gardens where he lived as something of a hermit. It was all an act, of course. Lucas wore a long dressing-gown and false beard rather like the subject of this painting. 

Her Majesty’s Furniture: Prince Albert’s Casket, 1871

Glass, Ebony, Silver Gilt
The Victoria & Albert Museum
No, this isn’t the casket in which dear old Albert was buried. He’s got that with him in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore—right next to Victoria. This is something much different. It’s essentially a display case of glass, ebony and silver gilt.

This little beauty was created in 1871 to display Prince Albert’s season ticket for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Albert and his wife, the Queen, were much excited about the Great Exhibition and enjoyed it immensely, thrilled with the works of the British people and, also, using it as an opportunity to shop—an activity that they both fancied. The casket was also meant to house two volumes about the life of the Prince Consort as well as the records of his public addresses.

It’s especially important since Prince Albert was vital in starting the project for the exhibition and the Queen was adamant that her dearly departed husband’s contributions should be forever remembered. Per the Queen’s instructions, the casket is surmounted by figures representing Learning, Science and Philosophy. F. W. Moody (1824–86) designed the casket, O. Gibbons modeled it, and G. Franchi cast and chased the figures and silver gilding.

All that said, I can’t quite figure out what happened to the important contents it was designed to hold, but they don’t appear to be anywhere near it if they ever made it in there in the first place. Nevertheless, the casket, empty though it is, is rightfully in the V&A, looking very pretty and mildly creepy—just as the best things do.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Refusal by Sir David Wilkie, RA

The Refusal
Sir David Wilike, 1814
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Duncan Gray cam here to woo,
Ha, ha, the wooing o't,
On blythe Yule Night when we were fu',
Ha, ha, the wooing o't,
Maggie coost her head fu' high,\
Looked asklent and unco skeigh,
Gart poor Duncan stand abeigh;
Ha, ha, the wooing o't.

Duncan fleeched, and Duncan prayed;
Ha, ha, the wooing o't,
Meg was deaf as Ailsa Craig;
Ha, ha, the wooing o't,
Duncan sighed baith out and in,
Grat his een baith bleer't and blin',
Spak o' lowpin ower a linn;
Ha, ha, the wooing o't.

--Robert Burns

Robert Burn’s song, “Duncan Gray” was the inspiration for this painting which has been attributed to Sir David Wilkie, RA. The song, similar in theme, if not tone, to
Barbara Allen, is about a young lady’s refusal of a man who courts her, later changing her mind, but suffering in the process.

Here, we see Duncan in the moment after “the refusal” as Maggie sits coldly in front of him. Wilkie’s friend, the painter William Mulready, served as the model for Duncan.

This painting was one of eight by Wilkie that had been gifted to the V&A by John Sheepshanks (1784-1863), a wealthy art collector who promised his impressive collection of British art to the Nation after his death. The first permanent structure at the site of the V&A was built to house his collection.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Gifts of Grandeur: The Henry Wilson Belt Clasp, 1905

Hopefully, this week, I'll get back on the usual schedule with everything, including "A Recipe for Punch."  For now, let's look at this...

Click on image to enlarge.
Belt Clasp
Henry Wilson, 1905
The Victoria & Albert Museum

I have a special fondness for the work of the jeweler Henry Wilson (1864-1934). Wilson’s jewelry is exceptional both for its form as well as the quality of the enameling and gem selection. He tended toward interesting color combinations and chose stones with only the richest colors. Wilson, a former architect (like many jewelers of his time) designed pieces which resonated with sculptural and architectural qualities, achieving a three-dimensionality which was unknown until that point. 

This is one of the most unusual pieces of Wilson’s that I’ve seen. This silver belt clasp was made in three parts. It is set with amethysts, garnets, williamsite (a green mineral), moonstones, agate, chalcedony and cat's-eye quartz. The central piece is adorned with sprays. Dating to 1905, this clasp was made to be worn on a variety of belts. 

The Art of Play: A German Plush Cat, 1930

German Toy Cat
Mohair, c. 1930
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made in Germany by an unknown company in the 1930s, this darling toy cat is constructed of light mohair plush. The mohair has been clipped and further streaked with darker tones in lines on the head, face and body.

This cat’s head is jointed at the neck so that it can swivel. His nose, mouth and front paws are embroidered with pink threads. Furthermore, his green and black eyes are glass. The tail, is partly stitched to the body in order for it to remain loose and, therefore, more realistic. 

Film of the Week: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958

“Mendacity!” That was most-likely what Tennessee Williams said of the 1958 film version of his successful 1955 Broadway play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Williams did not care much for the film, finding that the toned-down sexuality of the picture strayed too much from his original concept. Still, the film is a triumph from a cinematic standpoint and features excellent performances from its principal cast which includes Elizabeth Taylor as “Maggie the Cat,” Paul Newman as “Brick,” Burl Ives as “Big Daddy,” Judith Anderson as “Big Mama” and Jack Carson as “Gooper.”
Much like the play, the film explores the interpersonal relationships of a wealthy Southern family as they weave in-and-out of discussions about truth, loyalty and fidelity. Newman is perfect as Brick—the aging, alcoholic, former football hero/favorite son and frigid husband. Taylor is the ideal, overwrought Maggie who wants nothing more than her husband’s love. Taylor wasn’t the first choice for “Maggie.” The role was originally offered to Grace Kelly who probably wouldn’t have been as deliciously neurotic in the part. Similarly, the role of “Brick” was first offered to Elvis Presley who turned down the part. That would have been quite a different film. Burl Ives reprises the role he made famous on stage and he’s joined by the always-excellent Judith Anderson as the melodramatic and misunderstood “Big Mama.”

The film is particularly interesting when one considers the back-stage drama. Taylor became a widow during the film’s production when her husband at the time, Mike Todd, was tragically killed in a plane crash. She took a brief break from the production, seeking solace in the company of her friend, Monty Clift. When she returned to the production, she was considerably thinner and more fragile, but nonetheless gave an excellent performance.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof offers up just the right amount of tawdry, steamy Southern drama and is the perfect way to spend a chilly Sunday afternoon.

Drawing of the Day: A Menu from HMY Victoria & Albert, 1905

Menu from HMY Victoria & Albert
Signed by all those in
attendance, including Mac
and the cat.
The Royal Collection

Among the possessions of Princess Victoria of Wales, this menu was found. At a dinner party aboard Her Majesty’s Yacht, The Victoria & Albert, in 1905, each person in attendance signed the menu. At the top of the page, someone—presumably Queen Alexandra herself—has sketched two of the most frequent guests aboard the yacht, Mac the Terrier and Queen Alexandra’s cat.

Mac and the cat were constantly at odds. Their rocky relationship is demonstrated in the sketch by the fact that the cat is hissing (as indicated by the red flames coming from his mouth) at the intrepid terrier. The two sketches are labeled, “My Cat –Mother Dear” and “Mac.”

I find this souvenir of a fun dinner (and, by the looks of the menu, quite tasty) to be extremely charming. I’m glad the Princess Victoria saved it.

Painting of the Day: Judith Leyster’s “A Boy and Girl with a Cat and an Eel,” 1635

A Boy and Girl with a Cat and Eel
Judith Leyster, 1635
National Gallery, Britain
Dutch painter Judith Leyster was one of the few recognized Seventeenth Century female painters of her time. She often used children in her compositions to create allegorical scenes to demonstrate the foolishness of humanity.  Drawing on the Dutch saying, “He who plays with cats gets scratched,” Leyster has painted a rather gruesome scene of two children.  The boy has baited a cat with a wriggling eel.  The child has captured the cat who is further being taunted by a wicked little girl who’s pulling his tail.  The cat’s extended claws tell us how this little situation will end.  Meant to be a warning against foolish and destructive behavior, this painting is simultaneously charming and disturbing. It can be viewed amongst other works by Leyster at the National Gallery, Britain.
The National Gallery, Britain

Antique Image of the Day: Princess Elizabeth and her Toy Cat, 1935

Princess Elizabeth
With Her Toy Cat
Marcus Adams, 1935
The Royal Collection
Even little princesses like to play with their toys. This 1935 photograph of a nine-year-old Princess Elizabeth is evidence of that. Taken to “The Children’s Studio” by Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and King George VI, Princess Elizabeth gladly posed for Royal photographer Marcus Adams. Her only demand—that she be photographed with her favorite toy, a small, stuffed cat.

What’s most amazing about this photo, however, is the fact the she looks exactly the same then as she does now that she’s Queen Elizabeth II. I wonder if she’s still got that cat. Maybe it’s what she keeps in her ever-present handbag.

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