Saturday, February 15, 2014

Mastery of Design: The Fabergé Shire Horse, 1907

Shire Horse of Agate and Diamonds
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection 
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Made in 1907 by Fabergé as part of the great Sandringham Commission, this horse of carved brown agate is set with rose-cut diamonds for eyes. The shire horse was one of King Edward VII’s prized horses, so he made sure that the artists Fabergé had access to the animal to sketch it.

The Sandringham Commission was tremendous. King Edward VII, in an effort to offer the long-suffering Queen Alexandra something to cheer her up after one of his many infidelities, asked Fabergé to create a virtual barnyard of precious, miniature animals.

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

The Home Beautiful: A William Morris Wall Hanging, 1877

Wall hanging
William Morris, 1877
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Here, we see one panel from a set of embroideries designed to hang around the walls of the drawing room at Smeaton Manor, Northallerton, in North Yorkshire. William Morris was commissioned to produce the design which was embroidered by the owner of the Manor.

Other examples of this same design are in the collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and the William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow, London. The design is comprised of repeating artichokes in blue, peach, lime, brown, hessian, cream and pink, and demonstrated Morris's preoccupation with Middle Eastern and early Italian silks and velvets.

Painting of the Day: Queen Victoria at Osborne, 1867

Queen Victoria at Osborne
Sir Edwin Landseer, 1867
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Victoria’s “Go-to” painter for many reasons was Sir Edwin Landseer (1803-1873). Her Majesty admired Landseer’s work for its monumentality and sense of historical accuracy as well as his sensitive and accurate depictions of children and animals. After the 1861 pre-mature death of Prince Albert, Victoria commissioned Landseer to create a pair of paintings which she called “Sunshine and Shadow.” She wrote in her journal that she was “seized with a great wish” to see illustrated the contrast between those dear, joyful times which she had shared with Prince Albert on the Highlands at Balmoral and at their vacation home, Osborne House, and the overwhelming grief she felt since the Prince Consort’s death.

Her Majesty asked, for the “Shadow” portion of the pair that she be painted, “as I am now, sad & lonely, seated on my pony, led by Brown, with a representation of Osborne.”

And, that’s just what Landseer did.

Here, we see the Queen in the mourning attire she donned for the remainder of her life. Landseer pictures Her Majesty seated upon Flora, the royal pony. Flora is being led by John Brown. Behind them, we can see the grand terraces of Osborne, the clock stopped at 3 p.m. Her Majesty reads a letter while, on the ground, her gloves and other letters have been cast aside. As I’ve mentioned before, imagery of cast-off gloves often symbolized a woman alone.

Landseer has also carefully painted two of the Queen’s dogs, a Border Collie (most likely the one called Sharp) and a Skye Terrier whom we know as “Prince.” Princesses Louise and Helena are seen in the background.

That Victoria asked for Brown to be included in the painting speaks of her affection for the servant who had originally been a ghillie (an outdoor servant) at Balmoral. Upon the passing of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria and Brown enjoyed a close friendship. John Brown was deeply protective of the Queen, and she was fiercely loyal to him despite the opposition of her advisors and family, especially the future King Edward VII.

The Queen’s grief was compounded when Brown died in 1883. She wrote:

Perhaps never in history was there so strong and true an attachment, so warm and loving a friendship between the sovereign and servant…Strength of character as well as power of frame – the most fearless uprightness, kindness, sense of justice, honesty, independence and unselfishness combined with a tender, warm heart…the most remarkable of men.

Landseer painted the portrait based on many live sittings as well as a variety of photographs of the Queen on horseback, the dogs, and the princesses. He began the work on “Shadow” in 1865—creating sketches, but didn’t begin actual painting until 1867. Landseer claimed to have been unsettled by the fog and suggested that his failing eyesight had delayed him. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1867, at the end of the year. He wrote, upon the opening of the exhibit:
If there is any merit in my treatment of the composition it is in the truthful and unaffected representation of Her Majesty’s unceasing grief – The story should be told by the Picture.

To Project and Serve: A Barge Ware Teapot, 1870

Barge Ware Teapot
English, 1870
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This little teapot, though it puts us in mind of the ordinary brown British “Brown Betty,” is a rather special model. This pot has a depressed, bulbous body with a frilled rim, and a domed, wide lid which is surmounted by a flattened knop (decorative ornament). It is glazed with a streaked rich brown color which has been applied with cream-colored sprigs, and garlands, and with birds in shades of green, blue and pink. A sentimental cartouche with impressed, blue lettering reads, “A PRESENT TO A FRIEND.”

The work of Mason, Cash and Co., this pot with its rustic brown lead-glaze and applied decoration is known as “Measham ware” or 'Barge ware', and is associated with use on canal boats.

Her Majesty’s Furniture: Queen Charlotte’s Arm Chair, 1780

Arm Chair
James M. Brown
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Sir William Chambers’s, with the help of his assistant John Yenn, undertook the redecoration and modernization of the State Apartments at Windsor Castle for King George III and Queen Charlotte between 1778 and 1795. Sadly, this period of decorative history is, as described by the curators of the Royal Collection, “poorly documented and now largely forgotten.”

Whatever changed were made didn’t last long. In the first years of the nineteenth century, the apartments were redecorated again, largely erasing the work instigated by George III, by a renovation spearheaded by Sir Jeffry Wyatville in the 1820s and 1830s for George IV and William IV.

In 1778, Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, had installed a variety of new furnishings in the neo-classical style, possibly designed by Yenn. Among them were two armchairs and ten stools upholstered en suite, and finished in tri-colored gold. This is one of those chairs. It is inscribed on the calico beneath the embroidered covers with the name of the workman responsible for the upholstery, James M. Brown of Windsor, and the date, “21 July 1780.”

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

Drawing of the Day: Design of Three Waiters Serving in a Cafe, 1928

Three Waiters Serving
Geoffrey Houghton Brown, 1928
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Geoffrey Houghton Brown is best remembered as a mural painter who thrived in the 1920s and 1930s. We see here one of thirteen designs that Brown created in 1928 for mural decoration in the Blue Train Restaurant on Stratton Street, London.

The Blue Train was a fashionable restaurant which was owned by an Italian gentleman called Savrani who commissioned noted contemporary decorator Marchese Malacreda to appoint his dining rooms in the epitome of modern design. Malacreda, in turn, hired Geoffrey Houghton Brown to create murals on the theme of travel.

Brown employed a team of three Chinese assistants, who also doubled as theatrical scene painters to paint the murals in oil and turpentine directly onto the white-painted walls of the restaurant.

The murals’ theme was the “Blue Train” which ran to the South of France. The drawing we see here was intended for the large murals over the bar area—a section of the restaurant which was referred to as the Merry-go-round.

Later, the site of the restaurant became Langan's Brasserie. Sadly, all traces of Malacreda’s interiors and Brown’s murals have disappeared.

Object of the Day: Adjustable Duplex Corsets

The corset industry of the Nineteenth Century was highly competitive and advertisers needed to be creative in order to stand out. Any company could offer an ordinary trade card with an image of a pretty woman all trussed up in her gown. To really capture the attention of the corset-buying public, a company had to present an unusual card, something “interactive.”

We already looked at one card which featured a nifty gimmick. Here’s another. When a lady was handed this card, it looked something like this. 

Two ladies peer through an unusually high keyhole (one of two, I might add) to spy on a friend (or rival) in the dressing room of a fashion shop. The card reads:


Out at Last 

Mrs. Brown 
Has Such a 

If you lift up the flap, you’ll see WHY Mrs. Brown has such a perfect figure. 

It seems she’s using an unfortunately-named Duplex Corset.

The reverse tells us:


The best corset in the
world. Perfect in shape,
and the most comfortable
and durable corset known. 

              DOUBLE STEEL
                                 DOUBLE SEAMS. 


I imagine it’s called “Duplex” because everything is reinforced two times, but it still seems a rather sad name for a corset. Nevertheless, it makes your friends want to watch you get dressed—and that’s just priceless.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Gifts of Grandeur: Queen Mary's Fabergé Bleeding Heart, 1900

Bleeding Heart
circa 1900
Acquired by Queen Mary in 1934
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection 
Image Courtesy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Another of Queen Mary’s important collection of works by the House of Fabergé, this little sculpture of rock crystal, gold, nephrite, rhodonite, and quartzite was made around 1900 and is considered one of the finest of the Fabergé treasures in The Royal Collection. 

Queen Mary acquired this study of “bleeding hearts” (a flowering plant which produces elegant arching sprays of heart-shaped red and/or white blooms) in 1934. The sculpture shows a double spray of the flowers, carved in rhodonite and quartzite. Three sets of delicately-carved nephrite leaves spring from green quartzite stalks. A vase of rock crystal serves as the base. To emulate the true nature of the flowers, the blooms are suspended on gold stems, articulated en tremblant so that they can move when the piece is touched, as if they were blown by the wind.

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

Valentine of the Day: May Our Affections Repose into Joy, c. 1840

May our affections repose into joy

And disappointment ne’er our hopes destroy.

The above motto graces this Valentine card of watercolor over lithography, paper lace, and fabrix appliqué. The card was made between 1840 and 1880 and it was donated to the V&A in 1953 along with other cards collected by Guy Tristram Little.

The work of an unknown artist and publisher, the card depicts a couple embracing in a garden of irises. 

Valentine Card, 1840-80
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Unusual Artifacts: A Sailor's Valentine

Sailor's Valentine
Shell and wood, 1850-60
The Merseyside Maritime Museum

Here’s a Valentine fit for Olive Oyl.
  Traditionally sailors in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries made items like this while aboard ship to give as a gift to their sweethearts and loved ones upon their return home.

These men at sea—who had quite a bit of extra time on their calloused hands—created decorative geometric arrangements of shells within a wooden case which was usually square or octagonal.
  Often these tokens included a sentimental  motto such as “forget me not.”

This unusual anchor-shaped example is thought to have been made by a Mr. T. Whelan while in the Caribbean, and dates from between 1840 - 1860.  During the Nineteenth Century, anchor shapes, along with hearts and cupids, were a symbol of love and fidelity.   It is part of the exhibition of Liverpool’s Merseyside Maritime Museum.  

At the Music Hall: Dacre's "I'll be your Sweetheart," 1899

I’ll be your sweetheart
If you will be mine
All my life
I’ll be your valentine
Bluebells I’ll gather
Keep them and be true
When I’m a man, my plan
Will be to marry you

One day I saw two lovers in a garden
A little boy and girl with golden hair
At first I thought of asking for their pardon
With second thoughts I watched the youthful pair
The boy, all blushing, gave the maid a kiss
And tenderly he whispered this

I’ll be your sweetheart
If you will be mine
All my life
I’ll be your valentine
Bluebells I’ll gather
Keep them and be true
When I’m a man, my plan
Will be to marry you

I’ll be your sweetheart
If you will be mine
All my life
I’ll be your valentine
Bluebells I’ll gather
Keep them and be true
When I’m a man, my plan
Will be to marry you

From the man who brought us “Bicycle Built for Two” (Daisy Bell)—Mr. Harry Dacre (also known as Frank Dem or Henry Decker, 1860-1922), we have this popular song from 1899. Based on a similar romantic theme, the song relies on Dacre’s innocent account of young love.

A Recipe for Punch, Chapter 60

Chapter 60

"Lennie!"  Punch shouted as he rushed toward his sister, breaking away from the little group who had gone off in search of her.

Robert, Charles and Violet followed closely behind.

"Oh, I'm ever-so glad to see ya!"  Punch declared.

"Brother, dear."  Lennie embraced him.

"Wherever ya been?"  Punch choked back tears.  "We been worried."

Lennie inhaled.  "What is the long, pale room with all gilt mirrors?  The one with the many chandeliers which hang from an arched vault painted with light frescoes?"

"That's the Quartz Room. It's the smaller of the reception rooms.  Why?"  Punch raised his eyebrows.

"That's where I've been."  Lennie smiled.

"Whatever for?"  Punch asked.

"Well..."  Lennie sighed.  

"What is it, Lennie?"  Robert asked as he, Charles and Violet caught up.  "What's happened?"

"I've just had a...conversation.  I...I don't really know what to call it.  Leave us say, my dear brothers, I've just been introduced to the Duchess of Fallbridge."

"What's this?"  Punch exclaimed.

"Our mother.  I've just seen her."

"You didn't go out to the crypt, Lennie."  Robert said quickly.  "Oh, I wish you hadn't.  You don't know what happened when..."

"No, Robert."  Lennie interrupted.  " the Quartz Room, as Punch called it,"

"How could you 'ave?"  Punch asked frantically.

"M'Lady,"  Violet stepped forward.  "Are you quite well?"

"I am, Violet."  Lennie nodded.

"You saw her here?"  Punch continued.  "How'd it get back in?"

"Not her body, brother dear."  Lennie shook her head.  "A shade.  Her spirit.  Something like it.  She spoke to me.  Not pleasantly."

"That's about right."  Robert whispered to Charles.

"I'd heard a voice call out, 'Ellen,' and so I followed it.  It led me to that room.  There, I saw her.  A terrible mask-like face.  Beautiful, but frozen, surrounded by a blaze of light.  She mocked me.  I told her I did not fear her, that this was no longer her home, and to be gone."

She paused.  "I just realized how utterly mad I must sound."

"Not to me."  Punch smiled.

"Not to any of us, Lady Fallbridge."  Charles added.  "Violet didn't see some of the things that His Lordship and His Grace and Gerard and Gamilla and I saw in America..."

"Still, I've seen my share o' things."  Violet chimed in.

"And, that is exactly my point."  Charles smiled.  "There's more in heaven and in earth than we can explain.  Just this very day, even, we...well...perhaps I should let His Grace explain."

"Let's just say for now that forces worked terrible hard to make sure you was alone for a spell."  Punch said.  "We'll talk 'bout it.  Only, for now, I'd like for us to get back toward Auntie Morgana and to the nursery."

"Was there trouble in the nursery?"  Lennie asked nervously.

"No."  Punch shook his head.  "Not really.  Gamilla has returned there--though she did wish to  know you were safe.  Ethel and Georgie are there as well."

"What of Auntie?"  Lennie asked.

"Gerard and standin' at her door to see that nothin' happens."  Punch explained.  "Only, I'd feel better knowin', we was all in one place for now."

"Pardon me for interruptin', but..."  Violet began.

"I know, Violet."  Lennie nodded.  "Lord Cleaversworth will be here any moment.  I do need to prepare myself."  She smiled.  "First I should like to tell Miss Morgana that I'm all right."

"Of course, M'Lady."

"She has been very concerned."  Robert nodded as they walked.  "She wanted to come with us, however, the pace at which we were walking proved to be too much for her...given..."

"Certainly."  Lennie said.  "I shall put her mind at ease."  She took a deep breath.  "Or, try as best I can."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the house, Gerard had been distracted by the sound of a woman's cries.  He could have sworn that the sobs were those of his own wife, so, naturally, he left his post to investigate.

When the specter appeared before Morgana--in an almost-blinding sputter of light--the poor woman thought she was dying.

She blinked quickly and cried out.  "Gerard!  Gerard!"

"He won't come."  The duchess laughed.

As Morgana's eyes adjusted to the light, she backed up, covering herself with the bedcovers.  She held her pincers over her face and squinted.  "What...what are you?"

"A better question, I think,"  The shade laughed, "is what are you?"

Did you miss Chapters 1-59 of A Recipe for Punch?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back on Monday for Chapter 61.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Object of the Day: A Punch Valentine

Click image to enlarge

On this fine St. Valentine's Day, let's look at a favorite from my own collection.

This gorgeous Victorian valentine of paper lace and appliqué is part of my growing collection of antique ephemera.
  It features an applied plaque which reads “Accept My Valentine” below an applied scrap of a scene of a boy and a girl with a dog.  The girl holds a doll while the boy is helping Mr. Punch—who oddly looks like a human child—ride the dog like a horse.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Wave

"Head, shoulders, paws and, toes.  Paws and toes."

Click on images for larger size.

Image:  Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, with her daughter Georgiana, later Countess of Carlisle,  Creator:   William Etty (1787-1849) (artist), Creation Date: 1808 Materials: Oil on canvas, Acquirer: George IV, King of the United Kingdom (1762-1830), Provenance: Painted for George IV.

Crown Copyright, The Royal Collection.  From the Royal Collection Trust.  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 our online store to check out our exclusive Bertie Dog Designs.  

Mastery of Design: Bracelet with a Miniature of Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, 1836

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

A masterpiece of filigreed gold mounted with turquoise, this bracelet from 1836 boasts a watercolor on ivory miniature of Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge. The bracelet was given as a gift to Augusta, Duchess of Cambridge, the mother of Princess Mary Adelaide and grandmother of Queen Mary (1867-1953). When the Duchess of Cambridge died, the bracelet, among many other jewels, was bequeathed to Queen Mary. 

The moulded gold bracelet is pierced with foliage and Greek key borders. The domed openwork cover is set with turquoise and contains the oval miniature of Princess Mary of Cambridge at about two years of age. She is wearing a white dress with blue sash and blue ribbons at the shoulders.

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection

Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection

Bertie's Pet-itations: Pushing

Here's Bertie's weekly opportunity to share his ideas for creating our new "Beautiful Age."  Bertie's advice, I'm sure, can be applied to many different areas of our lives.

And, so, I happily hand the computer over to him.

Bertie says:

Don't think that I don't appreciate that you're such a push-over.  It's just that letting you know takes away most of the fun.