Saturday, June 29, 2013

Mastery of Design: The Cartier African Mask Brooch, 1950-60

Jewelers of the 1950s and 1960s searched for new ways to interpret traditional forms in the same creative dance that comes to art and fashion every half a century or so. As is always the case, eyes trained on the future often nod at the past.

Designed by Cartier in Paris between 1950 and 1960, this brooch depicts a stylized African head. Cartier has cleverly pointed to earlier designs based on African art which became popular in the Nineteenth Century, however, this one has a different message. This brooch was made around the time when France's colonial domination of large areas of Africa was coming to an end.

The mask is carved of white chalcedony, with gold and coral detailing and a single diamond set just above the nose.

At the Music Hall: Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay, 1891

A sweet tuxedo girl you see 
A queen of swell society 
Fond of fun as fond can be 
When it's on the strict Q.T. 
I'm not too young, I'm not too old 
Not too timid, not too bold 
Just the kind you'd like to hold 
Just the kind for sport I'm told 

Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay! 

Everyone knows this song. It’s been a part of American culture (as well as International fame) since it was first written and its melody has been borrowed for a variety of other uses, including the theme song from the Howdy Doody Show.

The true authorship of the song has been the subject of much debate for many decades. Early printings of the song attribute it to Henry J Sayers who claimed the copyright after introducing the song in a musical revue entitled, “Tuxedo” in 1891. Sayers would later admit that he did not, in fact, write the song, but had heard it performed by an African American performer, Mama Lou, in a notorious St. Louis, Missouri, brothel.

Sayers would give the rights to the song to music hall star, Lottie Collins, who made the most of its suggestive lyrics and caused quite a stir with her titillating and scandalous performances. Richard Morton added to the lyrics, making them even spicier than the original version and Angelo A. Asher composed a new arrangement to give the song a little, "oomph."  Since then, the piece has been used for more innocent purposes and is often associated with programs geared toward children. Though everyone may not know the lyrics (in fact, several different sets of lyrics exist), everyone knows the tune to this day.

Here’s a version of the song as performed in 1943 by Mary “Mother of Larry Hagman” Martin.

History's Runway: The Blakemore Velvet Jacket , 1810

Silk Velvet Jacket with Metallic Braid and Embroidery, 1810
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The sleeve of this exceptional velvet jacket features a very special adornment—a tablet-woven braid made from many colors of silk thread.  The various threads form delicate stripes.  The lower  portion of the sleeve has been embroidered with metal thread across the width to form more complex patterns.   Similar metallic threads adorn the rest of the jacket, however these seem unremarkable when compared with the exquisite majesty of the short length of embroidery which decorates each cuff.

When it was acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum, this jacket was believed to have been made in North Africa, however further research showed that it was made in Albania.
  This jacket is unusually similar to a jacket and waistcoat which were purchased by the English poet Lord Byron in Tepalene, Albania in 1809.

Made for a man, the jacket is made of red silk velvet with a small round opening for the neck.
  The garment was designed to be worn open at the front as there are no fastenings and no evidence of any ever having been included.

The body of the jacket is lined in red cotton, except for inside the lower portion of the sleeve which is lined with green silk velvet. This bit of green lining would have been visible when the jacket was worn.

The Art of Play: Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort's Own), 1900

The Prince Consort's Own, 1900
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This set of toy soldiers depicting The Rifle Brigain (known as the Prince Consort’s Own) was made by the manufacturer “Britains” which began making such sets of soldiers in 1883 and are credited with having invented the hollow casting process for manufacturing them. The Britain family became the leading toy soldier maker because of their championing of this hollow-casting process, trumping the already established imports from Germany which had previously dominated the toy soldier market.

Here, we see a set by Britains from 1900 of eight painted soldiers in black uniform, seven of whom are holding rifles. The set features its original red cardboard box base and lid with yellow printed paper label. The lid lists the battles in which the Rifle Brigade fought - Copenhagen, Orthes, Monte Video, Toulouse, Roleia, Peninsula, Vimiera, Waterloo, Corunna, South Africa 1846-7; 1851, Busaco, Alma, Barrosa, Inkerman, Fuentes d’Onor, Sevastopol, Cundad Rodrigo, Lucknow, Badojoz, Ashantee, Salamanaca, Ali Masjid, Vittoria, Afghanistan 1878-9, Nivelle,Burma 1885-87, Nive, Khartoum.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 348

Chapter 348
Last Nights

Gerard slipped into the night nursery and tiptoed over to Gamilla who sat in the rocking chair with Colin in her arms.

"You'll make a fine mum one day soon."  Gerard smiled.

"Ya think?"  Gamilla whispered.

"I do."  Gerard nodded.  "Is the little master fussy tonight?"

"No, not at all." Gamilla shook her head.  "I just felt like holdin' him.  Tired sleepin', but all alone in that new big room, I felt kinda lost."

"You won't be alone in there for long."

"Just the day after tomorrow."  Gamilla looked down demurely.

"Sure is pretty the way the masters done it up for us, and that fine sittin' room and all."  Gerard nodded.  "A little house of our own right here in the big house.  No more attic room for ol' Gerry.  But, ya know?  I'd sleep on the cold ground as long as I could wake up and see you first thing."

"You're sweet."  Gamilla giggled.  "Do ya think Charlie will miss ya?  You been wakin' up an' seein' him first thing for a long time now."

"Dunno."  Gerard shrugged.  "I think he'll be glad to have the room to 'imself."

"Oh, I wouldn't say so."  Gamilla shook her head.  "You're his best 'chum' as His Grace would say."

"Ain't like we ain't gonna see 'im."  Gerard laughed.

"Shhhh, honey."  Gamilla whispered.  "Ain't no good wakin' the baby."

"Sorry."  Gerard winked.  "Only I ain't the one what pulled 'im outta his bed just to hold 'im."

Gamilla sighed.  "Just felt like holdin' a baby."  She looked at Gerard.  "Gerry, how'd ya know I was up?"

"Saw the light on."

"How?"  Gamilla asked.  "This room don't open into the passage.  Less you can see through walls, you couldn't have seen the light unless you were already in the day nursery."

"Fine."  Gerard grinned, "I confess it.  I walked right in, hopin' to find ya."

"What if I was asleep in our rooms?"

"I'd 'ave found ya there."


"What?"  Gerard teased.  "Maybe I just wanted to look at ya sleepin'.  You look like an angel when you sleep.  Just like Master Colin there."

"You snuck in my room before?"  Gamilla raised an eyebrow.

"No."  Gerard shook his head, "but I seen ya sleepin' by the fire down in the 'all.  When you think no one's lookin'.  I seen ya.  'Specially after them nights when Master Colin kept ya up."

Gamilla chuckled.  "I watched you sleep, too.  When you was hurt in Scotland.  I stayed right by ya, watched your chest rise and fall with each breath."

"I know."  Gerard blushed.

"Can ya believe it?  We're gonna be married day after next."

"I can't wait.  Feels like I been waitin' to marry you all my life."

"Me, too, honey."

"And, soon enough, we'll be goin' the Miss Lennie's weddin'."

"Ain't that fine?"  Gamilla nodded approvingly.  "I like the Earl.  He's older, but he's a gentle soul and I know he'll treat her real good."

"By the looks o' that ring he gave 'er, I think he will."  Gerard joked.  "Only, did ya notice, the diamond on your ring is bigger?"

"Gerry Gurney!"  Gamilla scolded softly.  

"See, I got ya a bigger diamond than an Earl.  Of course, the diamond was given me by a Duke what happens to be a jeweler, but..."

"Just like you'd sleep on the cold ground to be my husband, I'd wear a ring of tin to be your wife."

"Ain't we sweet?"  Gerard grinned.

"We are."  Gamilla nodded, "But, you'd best get outta here less we get caught."

"Who's gonna catch us?  The masters have retired.  Miss Lennie's in her room.  Mr. Speaight's gone to 'is pantry and everyone else 'as gone up to the attics.  Even Georgie who likes to wander 'round the larder late nights."

"You're forgettin' Ruthy.  She tends to come down nights to check on the baby."

"Just comes in?"


"She ain't thinkin' o' doin' that once we're wed, I hope?"

"Oh, you are bad."  Gamilla shook her head.  "No, shoo.  Go on!"

"Fine."  Gerard winked.  "Enjoy these last nights without me.  They'll be your last."

"I'm glad of it, my love."  Gamilla said.

"Don't you stay up too late."  Gerard said gently.

"I'm gonna put Master Colin back in his little..."

A loud scream from across the passage startled them both.

"Sweet Jesus!"  Gamilla yelped, waking Colin.  "That's Miss Lennie!"

Did you miss Chapters 1-347 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back tomorrow for Chapter 349.  

Gifts of Grandeur: The Sèvres Vase Aubert No. 40, 1924-37

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

This is one of a pair of vases, called “Vase Aubert No. 40” which was made in hard-paste porcelain between 1924-37. One of the pair depicts “Africa” while the other depicts “India.” The vases were presented by the President of the French Republic to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) on the occasion of their coronation, May 12, 1937

The vases themselves were produced by Sèvres as early as 1924, but were evidently left undecorated. One, seen here, was painted in 1928 by Henry-Joseph Lasserre with a tiger hunt in the Indian sub-continent. The scene depicts huntsmen seated in howdahs on the backs of elephants, shooting at tigers in a lush jungle.

The other was painted in 1930 by Louis-Jules Trager, depicting an African scene of antelopes, camels and native dancers amongst the pyramids. In May 1937, the English royal arms was added at a cost of 6,000 francs.

The two vases, each valued at 40,000 francs, were sent in 1937 to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for presentation to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth by the President of the French Republic, Monsieur Albert Lebrun. However, after the whole Abdication Keruffle ™ with his older brother the King had announced that, as a general rule, he would not accept coronation gifts. To avoid embarrassment, the French ambassador was informed that the gift would be treated as personal rather than as official.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Ghana Hornbill Goldweight, c. 1880

The majority of the wealth and prestige for the Asante kingdom in Ghana, West Africa centered around the excavation of gold.  The measurement of this precious ore was an exact science as early as 1600.   Weights called mbrammoo were crafted in brass and bronze and used to weigh gold dust, which was used as a currency for all commercial transactions. Sets of these standardized weights would have been owned by merchants throughout Ghana.

This brass weight from the V&A is surmounted by the figure of a hornbill bird--a popular subject for Asante goldsmiths. This plucky bird is shown standing on the top of a seven-stepped pyramid. In the West African culture, the hornbill is a symbol of both male and female fertility and is considered the embodiment of peaceful, thriving communities.  A popular saying states, "a bird has a long bill it uses it for eating on its own side of the river and not for stretching across the water." Similarly, these weights represented the meeting of communities for trade, carrying messages of peace and goodwill. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Mastery of Design: A Royal Scent Bottle

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

Little is known about this hardstone scent bottle from the Royal Collection.  Its date of creation is uncertain, and no one is quite sure from where it came.  It's likely, however, that Queen Mary added it to the Royal Collection since it's the sort of thing that was right up her alley.  

The bottle of carved blue-green agate is oval in section and meant to hold a fragrance.  It tapers to the gold base and the neck is mounted with four circle link chains from which it is meant to hand.  Gold mounts in floral arrangements are set with garnets, coral, a pearl and a diamond.  The stopper is fitted with garnet flower-heads.  

Treat of the Week: A Vegetarian Delight

Last week, Bertie and I celebrated eleven years since he first adopted me.  To mark this special event, my mother made a delightful vegetarian feast.  Bertie is a well-rounded dog and enjoys his veggies as well as meat.  He especially likes black-eyed peas, but that's neither here nor there.  I'll tell you, the meat was not missed as we enjoyed this fantastic meal of roasted broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions, tomatoes and eggplant with grilled portobello mushrooms and mashed potatoes infused with horseradish and herbs.  

The anniversary of Bertie's adoption was further celebrated with a colorful array of cupcakes.  Yellow and chocolate cupcakes were iced with piped peaks of brilliantly-hued buttercream and mocha.   The lot of them rather put me in mind of Brighton Pavilion.  But, unlike George IV's seaside folly, these cupcakes were delicious as well as attractive.

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.  

So, here's this week's riddle.  We ask that you don't Google the answer.  Mr. Punch would not find that sporting at all.  Give it a shot and see what you can come up with.  Here we go... No cheating...

What has five eyes but cannot see?

And the answer is...


Oh, geography humor.  What a lark.  Many good answers today.  In fact, you were all very clever...naming everything from defunct detectives to anthropomorphic tubers and, even, your Aunt Connie.  Well done!  

Make sure to come back next Friday for another of Mr. Punch's Puzzles!

Print of the Day: Le Ieu Mestier Devine, early Nineteenth Century

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

Another treasure from the Royal Collection, this engraving, entitled "
Le Ieu Mestier Devine," is the work of Nicholas de Larmessin and was published at the Rue St Jacques à la Pomme d'Or, near St Severin, Paris (publisher) in the early Nineteenth Century.

The piece depicts at Commedia dell'Arte play in which three men fall out from under a cloth which is being held by Arlequin and Scaramouche. The doctor, a stock commedia character, on left, watches with amazement. Below the scene, French verses explain what's happening.

Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square, Chapter 347

Chapter 347
After the Fete

Punch plopped into bed next to Robert and sighed.  "Think, Chum, our Lennie's gone and gotten 'erself engaged to an earl."

"It's not a huge surprise.  Now, is it?"  Robert smiled.

"No."  Punch chuckled.  "Only, well, I thought maybe it'd take a little longer than it did for 'im to work up the nerve."

"I thought he was about to have an apoplectic fit when she initially refused him."  Robert laughed.

"Glad she changed 'er mind.  I think he'll be good to 'er."  Punch nodded.  "Only, it'll be odd, it will, to not have 'er 'round the house."

"They've not even decided when the wedding is to take place."  Robert replied.  "Lennie will be with us for quite some time to come, I'm sure."

"Good."  Punch smiled.

"The servants were so delighted to join in the celebration."  Robert began.  "Gamilla and Gerard especially.  I thought it sweet how Gamilla wept with joy and said she was glad for Lennie.  I suspect Gamilla's emotions are high since she herself will be a bride in...well, the day after tomorrow."

"She and Lennie've become very close of late, too."  Punch responded.  "I know they have many a private chat, they do."

"Dear Punch, did you notice that while everyone else was quite caught up in the spirit of revelry, that Charles seemed a bit reserved?"

"I did, sure.  Him and Violet."

"I wonder why."  Robert asked.

"Ain't it obvious?"

"Not especially, but you know how thick I can be when it comes to such observations."  Robert grinned.

"Vi is worried that when Lennie marries, she's gonna have to leave here and go with her mistress to Cleaversworth House."

"Oh, I hadn't considered that."  Robert squinted.

"It's usual for a lady to take her maid when she marries."

"I suppose it is."  Robert nodded.  "Violet should be pleased to know she's wanted and will continue to remain employed."

"Not when it means leavin' her friends here.  And, one friend in particular."  Punch answered.


"Chum..."  Punch shook his head.


"Well, then, you win the prize, my Robert."

"I didn't know that Charles and Violet are..." He trailed off.

"I don't know that they are.  But, I think Gerard and Gamilla 'ave worked enough of their meddling that the idea is there, it is."  Punch laughed.  "And, just when they're gettin' used to the idea, this changes things."

"Oh dear."  Robert sighed.

"Let's not worry on it right now.  These things 'ave a way o' sortin' themselves out, they do.  Tonight, let's just rest.  Our Lennie's got a fiance, our Gamilla and Gerard are to be wed, Colin is safe, the house is quiet, and here we are together with our Dog Toby.  For a change, ain't no trouble--well, new trouble."

"Indeed."  Robert nodded.  He chuckled.

"What's funny?"

"I was just thinking of Matthew.  He looked a little overwhelmed when we invited the servants up to join in the celebration."

"I forget that our household is unlike most.  Matthew'll get used to it."  Punch grinned.  "If he didn't think he could, he'd not have put that yellow diamond on our Lennie's finger."

"Very true."  Robert agreed.  "Let's get some sleep, then, shall we?"

"Let's."  Punch nodded.  "Before anything interrupts us."

"Not tonight.  Nothing will."

Meanwhile, downstairs, a soft knock on the area door caught Charles' attention.  He walked through the hall to peer through the window and saw, on the other side, Johnny Donnan.

Quietly, Charles opened the door.  "Mr. Donnan, has something happened?"

"No, no."  Johnny replied.

"You know you're not supposed to be seen here."

"I been sent by Miss Rittenhouse."

"Oh?"  Charles narrowed his eyes.

Johnny presented an envelope which rattled with coins.

"Miss Rittenhouse wanted to pay for the doctor's services.  She said she dont' want no debt to the man even if all he said was wrong.  Them's her words, not mine.  I got nothin' but respect for the doctor."

"I'll pass this on the Lord Colinshire."  Charles said.

"Aye, I forgot he was called that now."  Johnny nodded.  "I can give it to 'im me-self if he's afoot."

"His Lordship and His Grace have retired for the evening.  In fact, the household has all gone to sleep."

"A bit early for 'em."

"Yes, but, we had a bit of a celebration tonight and..."  Charles stopped himself.

"Celebration?"  Johnny asked.

"Yes."  Charles answered.  "Good night, Mr. Donnan."

"I suppose it were for the African girl and the Australian man.  Their weddin' is nigh, yes?"

"Yes, but..."

"Is there more to celebrate?"

"It doesn't really concern you, Mr. Donnan.  I know that you're really trying to improve your life, and I know His Grace appreciate what you're doing for them, but..."

"It's about Her Ladyship, then?  Otherwise, you'd tell me."  Johnny interrupted.

"You know where you stand."  Charles shook his head.

"Just tell me, lad."

Charles inhaled.  "Her Ladyship has accepted the marriage proposal of the Earl of Cleaversworth."

Tears rose in Johnny's eyes.  "Is that so?"

"Now, good night, Mr. Donnan."  Charles concluded.

"Good night to ya."  Johnny nodded.

Charles closed the door.

As Johnny climbed the area stairs to the street, he glanced up at the house.  "My little girl's to be a bride."  He shook his head.  "She'll need the kind words of her pa just now.  It's only right..."

Did you miss Chapters 1-346 of Mr. Punch of Belgrave Square?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back tomorrow for Chapter 348.

Painting of the Day: Fête Champêtre with Italian Comedians, 1720-1730

Fête Champêtre with Italian Comedians
Pater, 1720-1730
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Another discovery from the Royal Collection on this late in June Friday, is this gorgeous oil on canvas work by Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Pater (1695-1736).  The painting, titled Fête Champêtre with Italian Comedians, was created between 1720 and 1730.

The piece was thought to have belonged to George III or Queen Charlotte, but later research shows that it was more likely purchased by George IV in or before 1806.

This handsome and brilliantly-colored work shows a scene from the Commedia dell'Arte tradition which gave us Mr. Punch.  Here, we see Scaramouche dressed in red.  He's advancing upon the scene from the right under a columned archway, his eyes fixed upon a troupe of actors and actresses who lounge in the shade beneath the trees.  To the right of them, a masked Harlequin is courting a young lady while Pierrot stands in the center of the scene.

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: Masquerading, 1811

English, 1811
After Rowlandson
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Good morning, all.  I'm getting a slow start on this Friday morning, but, Bertie and I have been focussing on the boring business first, so we could spend some quality time with all of you now.

Today, I happened upon an item in the Royal Collection which was new to me, and, since it is "Punch" Friday, I thought I would cut through the heat and humidity with this very cool chromolithograph.

Printed after Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827), the print, published on August 30, 1811, depicts a fancy dress ball.  Amongst the revelers, we see a lady magician complete with wand and spell-book, a lass dressed as a lad, and another as Janus, half male and half female.  But, center stage, we see Punchinello, and, that always makes for a good party.

And, now, for the amusement of myself and other Phantom-folks...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: Peg Woooofington

"If you think I'm sitting on your shoulder, you're in for a surprise."

Image:  Margaret ('Peg') Woffington, Actress, Object: Painting, Place of origin: England, Great Britain (made), Date: ca. 1738 (made), Artist/Maker: Vanloo, born 1684 - died 1745 (attributed to, maker), Materials and Techniques: oil on canvas, Credit Line: Bequeathed by John Jones to the Victoria & Albert Museum.

You know you want to have a Bertie Dog mug, tee-shirt, tote bag or water bottle. You know you do. So, take a look at our 
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