Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tomorrow: The First Annual Stalking the Belle Époque April Fools’ Day Celebration!

Join us, Sunday, April 1, 2012 for the first annual Stalking the Belle Époque April Fools’ Day Celebration!  How will we celebrate?  Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.  All I can tell you is that I'm going to let Bertie and Mr. Punch take over for a day.  

See you tomorrow!

Mastery of Design: A Rose-cut Diamond Stickpin, 18th C.

The V&A
Eighteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

I selected this today because I just think it's too, too nifty, and I love stickpins.  The crest of the pin is set with rose-cut diamonds and rubies mounted in silver, and backed with gold.

It was made in England in the Eighteenth Century.  And, well…that’s about all there is to say about this particular item.  I think this is the sort of pin which Julian/Mr. Punch would have inherited and enjoyed wearing to fashionable, yet nerve-wrecking, events about the City of Westminster or with Robert strolling in he garden at Belgrave Square.  

Print of the Day: North East Side of Belgrave Square, 1828

The British Museum
North East Side of Belgrave Square, London
C. Lacy, 1828
The British Museum

Here, we see a print depicting the north east side of Belgrave Square which was published by Jones & Co. in 1828.  The steel engraving was made by C. Lacy after an original by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. 

The view is from the street of one side of an exceptionally grand block of buildings in the square, the edge of the park is visible on the right. 

Unusual Artifacts: Messrs Waller & Sons Designs For Furniture and Settings, 1895

the V&A
Interior Design Sketches, 1895
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Waller & Sons were a fashionable firm of decorators with premises in Lyall Street, Belgrave Square, London. There, they famously worked for the super-wealthy families of Belgravia who clamored for their designs in the Anglo-Japanese style which flourished in the 1870s.

This book of their designs from 1895 has been neatly preserved and shows  designs for bookcases and cabinets which represent the mainstream taste of the period.

At the Music Hall: The Belle of Belgrave Square, Late 19th C.

The V&A
Sheet Music Cover, 19th C.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This week's music hall song is unusual in that I don't have an audio clip for you since I can't find a recording.  Nevertheless, it fits today's theme.

"The Belle of Belgrave Square" is also kmown as "Lady Audley's Kitchen Maid's Secret."  The song refers to the popular 1862 novel "Lady Audley's Secret," by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.  The book is described as "a lurid and melodramatic tale of bigamy, gold- digging and murder amongst the aristocracy of London’s Belgravia." 

In the book, the young, beautiful and gracious Lady Audley (recently married to the elderly Sir Michael) harbors a sinister secret, and, as these things typically go, only her maid knows the truth. The heroine is driven to increasingly desperate measures in order to hide the truth.  Of course, she eventually goes mad. And, Of course, the book was a wild success.

The song is a parody of the novel, wherein Lady Audley's maid also has a secret - the young man she is seeing. As the kitchen maid's boyfriend creeps through the elegant Belgrave Square house for a secret assignation, he has a noisy accident, that gives him away. The decorative cover of the sheet music includes a short verse that explains the scene:

'Oh! headlong in the dark I went, and with my arms outspread, Down came champagne and port wine bottles, smashing on my head, I felt the Port Wine trickling down my forehead, face, and neck. Then heard a loud voice shouting out a policeman go and get.' 

The Home Beautiful: The False Principles of Decoration Papier Mache Tray, 1850

The V&A
Papier Mache Tray with Mother-of-Pearl Inlay and Painted Center, c. 1850
The Victoria & Albert Museum

By now, you know how much I adore Victorian Papier Mache objects.  Along with inlays of mother-of-pearl, these items were often adorned with copies of oil paintings of old buildings or genre scenes.

Here's a great example with a scene of huntsman returning home with fish to cook.  This Papier Mache tray decorated with a painting based on an original which once belonged to the Duke of Devonshire.  The tray was famously part of the exhibition entitled, "False Principles of Decoration" which was held at Marlborough House, London, in 1852.

The catalogue for the exhibition explained that the tray had been selected because of the incongruous combination of the copy of the painting with the gilt border and mother-of-pearl decoration. It described the tray as  "An example of popular taste, presenting numerous features which the student should carefully avoid. These include a copy of the painting 'Bolton Abbey in the Olden Times' by Sir Edwin Landseer, that would be hidden when the tray was in use, and the glittering mother-of-pearl scattered around the edge."

According to the V&A, "Charles Dickens also described 'that tray with a bit of one of Landseer's pictures on it' in his satirical description of the display, 'A House Full of Horrors', which appeared in his magazine Household Words in December 1852."

Well, I like it anyway.

The tray was made by Jennens  & Bettridge, a firm run by Theodore Hyla Jennens and John Bettridge between 1816 and 1864.  They were famous for their exquisite range of papier-mache goods (writing boxes, trays, fans and larger pieces of furniture such as chairs, tables and sofas) which they manufactured in their factory at 99 Constitution Hill, Birmingham. The firm also had premises at 6 Halkin Street West, Belgrave Square, London. This tray is signed indistinctly with the firm's name.

Place of the Week: Belgrave Square

Belgrave Square in Central London's City of Westminster remains one of the grandest, most fashionable, elegant, coveted and largest of the city's Nineteenth Century squares. Naturally, Belgrave Square is the crown jewel of the posh area known as Belgravia.

The famed square was designed by the property contractor Thomas Cubitt for the 2nd Earl Grosvenor (later the 1st Marquess of Westminster) in the 1820s. Most of the towering, exquisite houses on the square were occupied by 1840.

So how did Belgrave Square, and consequently, Belgravia, get its name? One of the Duke of Westminster's subsidiary titles, Viscount Belgrave was the inspiration. The village of Belgrave, Cheshire is two miles from the Grosvenor family's main country seat of EatonHall.

The principle visual scheme for the rows of gleaming townhouses consisted primarily of four terraces, each of which was comprised of eleven elegant whitestuccoed houses. The south east terrace is different in that it features twelve houses. Another anomaly is the detached mansions in three of the corners. All of the properties surround a private, sculpture-filled central garden.

The terraces of opulent townhouses were designed by George Basevi. Tothis day, they are considered some of the most luxurious and majestic houses ever built in London on a speculative basis. The largest andmost handsome of the corner mansions, Seaford House, in the east corner, wasdesigned by Philip Hardwick, and the grand house on the west corner was designed by Robert Smirke.

From its founding well into World War II, the Belgrave Square was occupied by the utmost the upper class, the British aristocracy, and leadingcelebrities as well as several embassies. After World War II, many of the houses were converted into offices for charities and institutes, but that has since changed as, since 2004, many of the leases have been offered for sale and have been purchased by wealthy private owners.

The interior layouts of most of the townhouses are similar, however, the decorations are vastly different and reflect almost two centuries of the mostelite interior design.

Since our new online novel, Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, is set in the Duke of Fallbridge's Belgrave Square house at the fictional number 65, I wanted to give you all a sense of how some of these handsome mansions looked both then and now. Enjoy these historical photographs of the interiors of No. 9 Belgrave Square from London's Country Life Picture Library.

Coming Monday: Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square

Their time in New Orleans was meant to be brief.  When Julian, Lord Fallbridge met Dr. Robert Halifax on the H.M.S. Hyperion, the agoraphobic aristocrat was on his way to retrieve his wayward sister and to find the precious blue diamond she had stolen.  However, upon his arrival, Julian was forced to contend with the realization that his sister had become a prostitute who sold her own child, that his beloved father was murdered at the command of his own, soon-to-die mother, that his own footman was plotting against him and, most surprising of all, that he had more than one personality living inside him.  Thankfully for the overwhelmed Julian, he had the support of his new friend, Robert, and the strength of his dominant personality, the indomitable Mr. Punch to carry him through battles with the Yellow Fever, cut-throat families, a murderous madam, am evil nanny, and even the notorious Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau.

At the end of it all, Julian had inherited the title, Duke of Fallbridge, but had retreated into the comfort of the interior of the psyche he shared with Mr. Punch.  With Punch in charge, he and Robert triumphed over their foes and, having rescued Julian's nephew, finally headed back to England to start a new life in Central London.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square begins several weeks after the events of Punch's Cousin.  As Punch, Julian, Colin, Dog Toby, Charles and Gerard settle into their new lives in Belgravia, their peace is quickly shattered by a summons from Prince Albert and the arrival of some new servants who may not have been a very good choice for hiring.  As rumors spread through the upper class about the strange behavior of the Duke, Mr. Punch begins to worry that he may not be suited for his new life.  Nevertheless, When Their Majesties call, one must respond.  And, so, our story begins.

Come back on Monday, April 2, 2102 for the inaugural chapter of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Mastery of Design: The Rudolphi Putti Bracelet, c. 1840-1853

The V&A
Oxidized Silver and Emeralds
Rudolphi, 1840-1853
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Made by Paris’ Rudolphi in 1842, this bracelet of cast and oxidized silver and cabochon emeralds bears a striking resemblance to the description of a bracelet designed by Masson and exhibited by F. J. Rudolphi at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851.

We can’t be sure if this bracelet with its openwork quatrefoil and cast cherubs (putti) is the same exact item displayed at Prince Albert’s 1851 Exhibition.  This one, from the V&A, came in a sharkskin Rudolphi case which gives his address as 23 Boulevard des Capucines. The jeweler moved to that address in 1853. If the bracelet was cased when it was new, it cannot therefore have been made earlier than 1853.

It is possible,  however, that the bracelet could have been made in the 1840s and cased, or re-cased, after Rudolphi moved to the Boulevard des Capucines.  We just can’t be sure.  The workmanship of the bracelet, and, especially, its ornament of vines and rococo foam, closely matches Rudolphi’s style of the 1840s.  

Mr. Punch's Puzzles: The Riddle of the Week

Once, again, Mr. Punch, with my help, is offering up a true Victorian riddle.  The first person to answer correctly--by posting in the comments--will receive public congratulations.  And, this week, the winner will receive a fabulous prize from our online store—your very own “That’s the Way to Do It!” tote-bag!  We tried for this last week, but no one guessed the correct answer.  So, let’s try it again!

Here's this week's riddle.  We ask that you don't Google the answer.  Mr. Punch would not find that very fair, and, then, he’d cry.  We don’t want that.  Do we?  Give it a shot and see what you can come up with.  Here we go... No cheating...

A boy said to his sister, “I saw something in town that would tickle you.” “Oh!” she said, “was it a monkey?” “No.” “Was it a dancing bear?” “No. It was —”


And, the answer is:  A FEATHER!

Thanks to all who answered.  I always enjoy your comments!  And, congratulations to Gene--our winner!  Gene, please send your full name and address to my email address so that I can post your "That's the way to do it!" tote bag to you!  Hooray for Gene!

Do you know “the way to do it?”  If not, Punch can show you the way.  Check out our “That’s the way to do it!” line of items, available only in our online store.

Antique Image of the Day: Judy's Revenge, Eighteenth Century

The V&A
Hand-colored engraving
Eighteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This engraving was hand-colored with watercolors.  Printed in the late Eighteenth Century, the print depicts a scene from the famous puppet play.  In these Eighteenth Century versions, very often, Judy is shown as the initial aggressor in their marriage.  It is Judy’s beating and bullying which prompts Mr. Punch’s violence in these versions.  We see such a display on Judy’s part here as she raises the stick to beat her husband.

It’s impossible to say who the artist for this work was, and equally difficult to place the publisher.  However, it is most certainly from England. 

The card, part of the V&A’s George Speaight Archive, is one of a complete set showing scenes from the traditional show alongside imprinted information of the era about the growing phenomenon of the puppet play. 

The Art of Play: The Albert Smith Mr. Punch, 19th C.

The V&A
Albert Smith's Mr. Punch
Nineteenth Century
This and all related images from:
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This gorgeous carved wood glove puppet of Mr. Punch was created by Albert Smith (1886-1963), a famed Punch and Judy Professor, in the late Nineteenth Century.  Hair of artificial fur frames his carved and painted face.  Punch wears his traditional stuffed crimson corduroy hat trimmed with embroidered braid and a crimson velvet tunic to which is attached a crimson velvet sleeve to cover the Professor's arm. The sleeves of Punch's robe are a medium blue velvet edged with metallic braid while his little breeches are of a matching blue velvet .

Though clearly well-used, his face is still lively and the figure seems imbued with that special life that only Mr. Punch can possess.  After a life well-spent slap-sticking and squawking, he now resides in the Victoria & Albert Museum.  

Coming Monday: Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square

Yesterday, with Chapter 500, Punch’s Cousin came to an end as Mr. Punch, Robert and Colin headed home to England along with Charles and Gerard as their valets.  On Monday, their adventures continue with a new online novel, Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square.  This new story will follow Mr. Punch and Robert as they begin a new life together.  Robert will return to his work as a physician while Mr. Punch will try to fit in (as the Duke of Fallbridge) in the aristocratic Victorian world of  Belgravia in Central London’s City of Westminster.  Among the first orders of business for Mr. Punch is a request to visit Prince Albert and Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace to discuss a new project of great interest to the Prince Consort. 

Of course, Mr. Punch, aside from learning to be a father to his adopted son Colin, will need to discover a comfortable way to become the head of a posh household.  You’ll be introduced to a series of new characters in the form of the staff of the elegant No. 65 Belgrave Square.  These characters will be joined by Gamilla (whom you met in Punch’s Cousin) who will have her own struggles as a black American woman in a very different, class-divided world. 

Yesterday, I had a request to re-post the first chapter of Punch’s Cousin to show how our Mr. Punch developed from a shadowy, ominous, dangerous figure to the beloved, caring, sensitive dominant personality of the Duke of Fallbridge.  The comparison, actually, is quite interesting.  So, here it is...

As we await the launch of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, let’s revisit the origins of our story with the first chapter of Punch’s Cousin.  You’ll meet Julian (as the time, Lord Fallbridge) once again and recall what led him to New Orleans and his journey of self-discovery.

And, remember…if you missed any of the five hundred chapters of Punch’s Cousin, you’ll still be able to read all of them in the Chapter Archive.  

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 1

Unblinking eyes, pink where they should be white, wide and dry with the arched brows of permanent bemusement stared at Julian over a bulbous ruddy nose and gin-blossomed cheeks. Julian looked back. He couldn’t help but press his own eyes shut for a second. As the fading orange light of the evening chinked through the leaded glass panes of the tall casement windows of his room, Julian shivered—certain that those eyes which had always been still had finally blinked at him. No, not blinked. It was just one eye. It was a wink. Did those painted red lips—those lips perennially affixed in a grin—pull back into a grimace for just the tick of a clock? No, it couldn’t be.

Julian looked away. Glancing at his writing slope, he flicked his fingers at the stack of correspondence which awaited his reply. The top letter hadn’t even been opened. Sealed with red wax—the red of those lips—and stamped with the Molliner “M,” Julian knew what the letter said without opening it. No doubt, it was a request for money from his uncle. With Julian’s father in France, all of the Molliners in England had silently appointed Julian the financial head of the family. Their requests for funds would have to be addressed to Julian. After all, no one dared write his mother. The Duchess of Fallbridge would never offer her support to anyone outside of the peerage, especially her husband’s family.

Julian’s heart pounded. He fiddled nervously with the diamond ring he always wore on his left index finger. Dealing with people—even via a letter—was too much for him to stomach. When had he become so fearful? At first, staying tucked away in his rooms at Fallbridge Hall seemed like a natural break from the nervous bustle of London. He had come to the country for the air and the bucolic landscapes. That was all—wasn’t it? He’d return to the city one day. He used to interact with people—not comfortably, no—but, he could do it. Now, even the idea of writing a letter upset him.

Again, Julian felt the eyes on him.

“It’s just a puppet.” Julian sided, looking up again at Punch’s large, waxy head. The puppet grinned at Julian from beneath the arc of his puffy, tasseled red hat.

“Good evening, Punch.” Julian mumbled at the figure.

The puppet continued to stare as a shadow passed over it—surely from the play of some cloud over the dimming sun. Its stubby, empty hands seemed lost without the little club it had once used to bludgeon Judy.

Julian sighed. Without even looking at it, he tore open the letter from his uncle. He forced himself to read it.

“You may be Lord Fallbridge, but you are a Molliner first.” Julian read. He could hear his uncle’s voice.

Julian opened the writing slope and put the letter, along with the others which sat unopened, inside. He closed the slope with a loud click.

“Tomorrow.” Julian thought.

Did the puppet move?

His head darting up, Julian once again looked to the thing that always sat in the curio at the far end of the chamber.

“A trick of the light…” Julian thought, drawing in a breath.

A knock at the door startled Julian, causing him to jump in his seat, almost upsetting the writing slope.

Surely, it was one of the housemaids come to tend to the grate. The fire was dying. Or, perhaps, it was the footman come to trim the lamps. Tea wouldn’t be for another half an hour.

The door opened.

“Yes, Jackson.” Julian said, trying to mask his surprise at seeing the butler.

“Lord Fallbridge,” Jackson said in his gentle way, “Her Grace wishes you to take tea with her in the drawing room.”

Julian nodded slowly.

“Shall I come for you?” Jackson asked, awaiting a response.

“No, thank you, Jackson.” Julian forced himself to smile. “I know the way,” he joked.

“Very good, sir.” Jackson replied before retreating from the room.

Julian rose and walked toward the window. As he did, he passed the curio—filled with his many artifacts and prizes…and Punch.

His mother never took tea with him. Never. She preferred to be alone or, on occasion, to take tea with Barbara.

Julian shivered again.

He glanced over his shoulder. There was Punch—grinning, not blinking.

“It’s merely a puppet.” Julian muttered again. He recalled the day—thirty years before—when his father made such a show of purchasing the puppet from that toy shop in Covent Garden after Julian had been so enchanted with the puppet show they’d seen earlier that morning. “Just a memento from my youth.”

Julian walked to the bell-pull to ring for Arthur—the footman, Julian’s valet.

“Her Grace wishes…” Julian muttered.

If his mother wanted him to take tea with her, how could he argue? No one argued with Pauline, the Duchess of Fallbridge. But, if he was to take tea with his mother, he’d have to go down looking his best.

Julian had a feeling his mother was already displeased. He didn’t want to risk further upset by appearing less than perfect.

Julian suddenly thought he’d heard someone laugh. He looked at Punch. Was the smile different? Could it have laughed? No, it was just the scraping of the door as Arthur entered.

Surely, that’s all it was.

Print of the Day: Sheet Music Cover for “Polichinelle” or, The Royal Punchinello Quadrilles' by Musard, 1843

The V&A
Sheet Music Cover for Musard's Polichinelle or "The Royal Punchinello Quadrilles"
English, 1843
The George Speaight Archive
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Polichinelle is the French term for Pulcinella (or Pulcinello), the Italian Commedia dell’Arte character who became known as Punchinello in England, and, then, later Mr. Punch.  This 1843 sheet music cover for a group of songs called, “Polichinelle, or, The Royal Punchinello Quadrilles” by Musard (published by R. Cocks & Co.) depicts Mr. Punch with his wife Judy who holds their famed, put-upon baby.  As is traditionally the case, the baby’s face is that of his hook-nose, hunch-backed, portly puppet papa.

What’s curious about this is that Punch and Judy appear to have other children—boys and girls who also, rather sadly, resemble their father.  The tradition of Punch doesn’t include other children, so I find this very interesting.  I wonder if our Mr. Punch tossed these tots out of the window as well.  If so, they appear to have survived and grown to be rather jolly.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Healé Punch, 1970

The V&A, George Speaight Collection
Mr. Punch
Print, 1970
The George Speaight Archive
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Though abstracted in that peculiar way that was unique to the 1970’s, this print by “Healé” demonstrates the jubilant, mad, spirit of our Mr. Punch.  A chromolithograph dating to 1970, the image is alive with red, yellow and orange and depicts Punch looking, at once, joyful, curious and mischievous.

While I’m not necessarily a fan of the art of this particular time period, overall, I must say that I do like this because our puppet anti-hero’s personality is neatly summed up in just a few lines.  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Project Bertie

"Project Bertie" by Joseph Crisalli
"In fashion, one day you're in, and the next just look like a fool."

Image:  The Hop Garland, William Frederick Witherington (RA) (1785-1865), 1834, The Victoria and Albert Museum. 

If you’re a fan of the Bertie Dog and want to make sure that you have a chance to see his little white face every day, visit out online store to see our exclusive variety of “Gratuitous Bertie Dog” items.  

Mastery of Design: The Gilbert Micromosaic Bracelet, 1870

the V&A
Roman Micromosaic Bracelet,
Italy, 1870
Part of a Parure
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Sir Arthur and Rosalinde Gilbert, as we’ve discussed before, amassed one of the world’s most important collections of silver, mosaics, enameled portrait miniatures, jewels, gold objects and snuffboxes—a collection which they bequeathed to the Victoria & Albert Museum. 

This magnificent micromosaic bracelet is just one of the beautiful pieces in the collection.  As the collection notes state, “The grandeur of the gold work and the imposing scale of this piece, part of a set of jewellery, are in sharp contrast with the simple, rustic scenes depicting figures in traditional costume.”

Characteristic of the grandly set pastoral scenes which defined micromosaic jewels of the 1870s, this gold bracelet is set with an octagonal micromosaic depicting a seated woman in peasant dress with a sheep at her side.  The scene is enveloped by a gold frame with five graduated arch-shaped micromosaics on the top and bottom.  The two side panels, attached to two gold panels with spool-shaped hinges, hold a micromosaic of a dove with a laurel branch.

This was made in Rome, Italy, about 1870, by an unknown jeweler.  The work is similar to that of the Roman firm of Castellani which is credited for introducing historical styles in micromosaics in the second half of the nineteenth century.  However, we can’t be certain that this piece comes from the Castellani workshop.