Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday Sparkle: Easter Edition: A Lovely Fabregé Egg

Easter Egg Pendant
Michael Perchin
Gold, Enamel, Diamonds
The Royal Collection
Though Stalking the Belle Époque is taking a brief hiatus for Easter, I thought I’d keep a Royal tradition alive and present you all with a Fabregé egg—or at least a picture of one from The Royal Collection.

This gorgeous enamel and diamond pendant dates between 1896 and 1903 and is the work of Fabregé artist, Michael Perchin. It was purchased by Queen Alexandra while still Princess of Wales as an Easter Gift.

Everything about this piece is stunning—from the magnificent blue to the glitter of the diamonds.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: The Easter Bertie

"Thank you, Easter Mary.  Bruck, bruck..."
On this Good Friday, we’ll begin our brief hiatus from regular posting so that I can help the Easter Bunny and his assistants, Mary of Teck and Bertie, prepare for the upcoming holiday. Mary seems to have gotten her hands on a variety of shiny eggs—we won’t question how—and we’ve got to get about distributing them.

We’ll be back with regular updates on Monday along with new chapters of Punch’s Cousin and all the other nifty stuff you’ve come to expect from Stalking the Belle Époque.

Here’s wishing everyone a great and joyous Easter.

Joseph and Bertie

Image: Queen Mary, Sir William Llewellyn, 1911, Commissioned by King George V, The Royal Collection

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gratuitous Bertie Dog Picture: “…and, Two Hard Boiled Eggs.”

“Yeah, I’ll have the lemon cake with a side of lamb.”

Image: Interior with a Portrait of John Sheepshanks; Portrait of John Sheepshanks at his Residence, New Bond Street, William Mulready, 1832-1834, The Victoria & Albert Museum.


Mastery of Design: The Basket of Flowers Egg, 1901

The Basket of Flowers Egg
Fabergé, 1901
Enamel, Silver, Gold, Diamonds
The Royal Collection
Queen Mary liked the work of Carl Fabergé. Well, actually, my favorite Royal magpie liked anything shiny. I’ll always have that in common with good ol’ Mary of Teck. Through a variety of means, Mary somehow managed to obtain a lot of the Fabergé which had been confiscated during the Russian Revolution. Among those items were several of the legendary Fabergé Eggs.

The eggs were made by Carl Fabergé each year in absolute secrecy. They were presented by Tsar Nicholas II for Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna as Easter gifts. This—The Basket of Flowers Egg—was considered one of the most magnificent. An egg-shaped vase of silver, gold and enamel is adorened with a delicate pattern of diamonds. Diamonds also spell out the year—1901. The vase is filled with an assortment of enamel and diamond flowers.

When Queen Mary obtained the egg, it had been badly damaged in the Revolution. Queen Mary had the original oyster-colored enamel stand replaced with a bright blue enamel base. The pattern of diamonds was continued all the way to the bottom.

Say what you will about Mary of Teck, but she managed to rescue and repair thousands of gorgeous objects which would have otherwise been lost.

Unfolding Pictures: Fan Depicting Claudia Proving Her Innocence, 1740

Fan Depicting "Claudia Proving Her Innocence"
Italian, 1740
Kid Leather, Pierced Ivory, Mother-of-Pearl
The Royal Collection
Claudia Quinta was a Vestal Virgin. Her job was to tend the fire at the Forum which had been brought by Aeneas from Troy to Rome—as one does with fire. As was often the case with those wacky Vestal Virgins, there was a bit of a kerfuffle regarding her virtue and she ended up being accused of adultery. One would think that with all the fire-tending, she wouldn’t have had the time for other pursuits, but there you have it. Claudia was forced to prove her innocence. And, she managed to do it with the help of the Goddess Cybele. Fair enough. You see, she proved her chastity by pulling a ship with the strings of her girdle. Now, how that shows her to be chaste, I’m not sure. If anything, it proves she had a strong midsection and nothing more, but nevertheless, the elders saw this miraculous bit of naval and navel fortitude to be evidence enough that she wasn’t an adulterous, but rather a freakishly strong, happy little Vestal Virgin. Imagine what she could have done if she had Spanx.

This fan with pierced ivory sticks and mother-of-pearl guards sports a kid leather leaf painting with a scene of Claudia as she moves the ship, aided by Cybele. Created in 1740 by an unknown Italian fan-maker, the fan was a favorite of Princess Charlotte, the daughter of King George IV. When Princess Charlotte died in childbirth, many of her belongings were bequeathed to her dresser/friend, Mrs. Louis. Upon Mrs. Louis’ death on Easter Sunday of 1838, this fan and a number of other personal mementos which had belonged to the Princess were given to Queen Victoria. Victoria put this fan on display because she believed it to be quite fine and attractive. And, it truly is.

Finely painted with beautiful workmanship in the sticks and guards, the beauty of this fan has not faded in over two centuries.

Sculpture of the Day: A Chinese Incense Burner, Eighteenth Century

Incense Burner
Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period
The Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool

From the Chinese collection of the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Liverpool, England, comes this lovely porcelain incense burner. In the form of a rabbit atop a cloud, carrying a branch of fungus on its arched back, this vessel with its celadon glaze also features painted details in brown and sapphire blue.

The mouth and nostrils are ventilated, allowing for the smoke of the incense (which was burned inside of it) to escape and fill the air with fragrance. This object was created in the Qing Dynasty, Qianlong period (1736-1795) and today seems just the perfect secular image for Easter.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 227

You’re Charles’ brother?” Barbara asked.

“Don’t you see the resemblance?” Giovanni smiled, his voice thick with an Italian accent. “Though my brother may have styled himself as an obedient Dutchman, he cannot deny his Italian roots.”

“I didn’t realize that you were here.” Barbara said softly.

“I’ve only just arrived.”

“How did you find Charles?” Barbara wondered.

“Do you think that I don’t know where Carlo is at all moments?” Giovanni grinned. “We’re brothers. We have a special connection. Surely you can understand that, Lady Barbara.”

“Pardon me?” Barbara’s eyes widened.

“My dear, I never forget a beautiful woman. I know you quite well. Your mother was the Duchess of Fallbridge and your brother is now the Duke. I was quite well acquainted with your mother. I know exactly who you are.”

“Who I was,” Barbara shook her head. “I am no longer Lady Barbara.”

“You can call yourself what you like, my dear.” Giovanni laughed. “But, just as your ‘Charles’ will always be Carlo Iantosca, you will always be Lady Barbara no matter what name you give yourself.”

“What do you want?” Barbara frowned.

“I came here to retrieve Carlo.” Giovanni winked. “But, now that I’ve seen you, I have other diversions in mind.”

“Such as?” Barbara scoweled.

Giovanni stepped forward and put his hand on Barbara’s shoulder. “My dear, I’ve been on a ship for quite some time. I need some comfort.”

“You’ll not get it from me.” Barbara stepped backward.

“Yes, I will.” Giovanni grabbed Barbara by the waist.

She struggled, but his grip was too strong.

“Let me go!” Barbara squirmed.

“You’ll as much of a wildcat as your mother.” Giovanni purred.

“Unhand me!” Barbara pushed at the man, but his clutch was too fierce.

“I think not.” Giovanni laughed. “I should like to compare you with your mother.”

Meanwhile, Charles panted as he ran down the hotel stairs to the lobby. “Someone, please!” Charles shouted. “There’s been a murder!”

The hotel manager came out from behind the desk, shouting to a bellman. “Get the authorities, Pierre!”

Just then, Marjani came staggering down the stairs, covered in the artificial blood which Cecil had made in his workshop and carried to the hotel in cleverly-concealed flasks.

“It was Iolanthe Evangeline. I saw her do it!” she lied. “She done killed His Grace, the Duke of Fallbridge, Dr. Halifax and the little baby—oh, the baby!”

“That woman was in my hotel?” The manager gasped.

The bellman returned with an officer.

“This woman claims that Iolanthe Evangeline was the murderer.” The manager declared.

“Is that so?” The officer asked.

“She done took the bodies. Had her goons carry them out.” Marjani moaned. Suddenly, she felt dizzy and stumbled forward, clutching her stomach. This was real. This was not part of their predetermined pantomime.

“Girl,” The manager squawked. “What’s the matter with you?”

Marjani could barely speak. A fire burned in her stomach. “Marie…” Marjani croaked. “Marie…”

At that very moment, Robert, Punch, Adrienne and Cecil crept out of the hotel’s service entrance into the carriage that had been waiting for them.

Mr. Punch carried the child. “We’d best hurry.”

“I should say.” Cecil rasped. He thumped on the top of the carriage. “Driver! Let’s go!”

“As you wish, Sir,” The driver answered.

Little did they know that the driver was not the man from Dr. Biamenti’s house that Cecil had asked to help them. No, that poor man lay unconscious nearby them in the alley where he’d been dragged after being bashed on the head. The man driving that carriage was someone else entirely.

As he whipped the horses, Odo smiled. His yellow eyes crinkled at the corners as he thought about the reward he’d be given by his employer, Mr. Edward Cage. Wouldn’t he be quite the hero for bringing the missing child back to Mr. Cage? Perhaps, he’d even win his freedom. Perhaps…

Did you miss Chapters 1-226? If so, you can read them here. Come back on Monday, April 25, 2011 for Chapter 228 of Punch’s Cousin. We’ll be taking a brief break Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the Easter holiday, but Punch’s Cousin will return with new chapters next week.

Goal for the Day: Take a Nap

With a holiday weekend coming, no matter what you celebrate, it’s a great opportunity to make time to appreciate the simplicity and joy of your own life. One of the most beautiful things you can do for yourself is to take a short nap. Our bodies need time to rest and repair. By taking a nap, you’re allowing your body to rejuvenate itself.

Now, admittedly, I’m not a nap-taker, and sleep and I have a rocky relationship. However, my Bertie is a nap aficionado and I must admit that I admire his ability to listen to his body and to know when it’s time to rest. Of course, for Bertie, it’s usually a good time to rest. But, he has a good point. It’s just another example of all the wonderful things that we can learn from our pets.

Object of the Day: A Souvenir of Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee

Though her coronation took place in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II became sovereign in 1952 upon the death of her father, King George VI. With her reign second only to Queen Victoria’s in length, Elizabeth II has guided her empire through the best of times and the worst.

In 1977, she celebrated twenty five years as monarch, and all of Britain joined in honoring their Queen for her Silver Jubilee. As is British tradition, a host of souvenir items were created. Among them was this attractive plate. Rimmed in a regal Wedgwood blue, the plate bears a flattering portrait of Her majesty in a roundel surmounted by the Imperial crown and flanked by the Royal unicorn and lion.

As we approach Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee in 2012, we can reflect on how both the empire and her family have changed and grown. With next week’s marriage of her grandson, William of Wales and Catherine Middleton, the Royal Family enters into a new and exciting phase. However, one thing remains constant—the love of Elizabeth II for her family and for Britain.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Question of the Week: Is Scripted Drama Really Dead?

Susan Lucci, Cameron Mathison, Rebecca Budig,
Debbi Morgan, Darnell Williams
All My Children
ABC Daytime (but  not for long)
With the recent sickening and misguided cancellation of All My Children and One Life to Live, “The Powers That Be” at ABC have been insisting that the genre of Daytime Drama is dead. If it is dead, it wasn’t from natural causes. It was murder. But, I don’t believe that it is dead. The phenomenal outpouring of the fans who are struggling to be heard by the network is proof that scripted drama is still a beloved medium. I’m impressed by the efforts of the fans of these two shows who have decided that they won’t go without a fight.
As a writer, I’m a fan of scripted drama. I know for a fact that people still appreciate serialized writing. The number of you who visit this site to read Punch’s Cousin each day is testament enough of that. So, I can’t accept that there’s not a market for daytime serials any longer.

I’m curious to know your thoughts. Do you really believe that audiences only want to see reality and panel shows during the day? Do you feel that there’s still value in traditional story telling? To quote a recent interview with Agnes Nixon, “Are people tired of stories? I don't think so. The letters and calls that everybody has gotten say they weren't tired of our stories.” I agree with Miss Nixon.

I love to see the efforts of the fans of All My Children and One Life to Live. Perhaps they can make a difference though I fear it’s too late. However, it’s never too late to let your opinions be known. The more we express what kind of programming we really want to see, the better chance we have of keeping other dramas—both daytime and prime time—from meeting a similar demise.

Would you rather watch a program about dieting or something like the clip below? Your thoughts are appreciated. Let’s give rise to our voices…

Building of the Week: St. James Palace, London

St. James Palace
The British Monarchy
 Considered by some to be, “low and mean,” St. James Palace is the oldest of the Royal Residences and though no sovereign has resided there in over two centuries, it is still titled as the official residence of the monarch. In reality, however, it is actually the base of The Royal Court as opposed to a literal official residence. In fact, the Royal Court takes its official name from the palace as it’s still known as “The Court of St. James.”

Today, the palace is infrequently used though it does serve as a home for HRH Anne, The Princess Royal and Princess Alexandra, The Honorable Lady Ogilvy. Similarly, the staff members who look after the Princes William and Harry also reside at the palace. St. James Palace is part of a larger, sprawling complex of Royal buildings which include Clarence House (the former home of The Queen Mother, now the home of Charles, the Prince of Wales) and York House (the former home of the Prince of Wales and his sons) and Lancaster House. The entire complex is home to many offices and reception halls in addition to spacious apartments for visiting dignitaries.

The British Monarchy
Built in 1532, St. James Palace was originally the home of Henry VIII who had the palace erected on land which had once been the location of a Leper Hospital dedicated to St. James the Less. Originally, the complex stretched across Pall Mall, north of St. James Park. When an 1809 fire destroyed the Royal Apartments, they were not rebuilt, leaving a large space between the palace and the Chapel Royal which ultimately was filled by Marlborough Road.

The Chapel Royal
The British Monarchy
Henry VIII enjoyed the palace, but later monarchs found the rigid Tudor architecture unwelcoming and unbefitting the city home of the sovereign. With its red brick exterior, octagonal turrets and mock battlements, the building looks more like a fortress than a palace. Still, it remained the residence of the King until the time of George III. George’s wife, Charlotte, despised the palace, finding it cold and unfriendly. For that reason, George III installed his wife in Buckingham House which would later be restyled into Buckingham Palace.

Being the oldest palace in Britain, St. James Palace has been the birth and death place of many a noble historical figure. Two of Henry VIII’s children died there. It was also the birthplace of Anne of Great Britain , William Neville Hart , and Charles II of England.

By the time of King George IV, the palace had fallen out of favor and was only used for formal occasions. In 1837, Queen Victoria moved the official residence of the sovereign to Buckingham Palace.

Precious Time: A Pewter Clock by Archibald Knox, 1905

Pewter Clock
Archibald Knox, 1905
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Archibald Knox, a Scottish artist, was one of the leading designers of Art Nouveau decorative arts. A skilled and ingenious machine and cabinet maker, Knox worked in a variety of media: oil, watercolor, pewter, silver, jewels, gold, wood, stone and porcelain. He designed object which were both ornamental and utilitarian ranging from tea sets to tomb stones.

This pewter clock by Knox dates to 1905. It is the perfect example of Art Nouveau design with its organic forms and reliance on gentle curves. Typical of Knox’s aesthetics, the coolness of the pewter is a brilliant contrast to the clock’s face which glows with popular colors of the era: gold, copper, umber and deep green.

Painting of the Day: “Lorenzo and Isabella,” by John Everett Millais, 1848

Lorenzo and Isabella
John Everett Millais, 1848
The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Fair Isabel, poor simple Isabel!
Lorenzo, a young palmer in Love's eye!
They could not in the self-same mansion dwell
Without some stir of heart, some malady;
They could not sit at meals but feel how well
It soothed each to be the other by.
These brethren having found by many signs
What love Lorenzo for their sister had,
And how she lov'd him too, each unconfines
His bitter thoughts to other, well nigh mad
That he, the servant of their trade designs
Should in their sister's love be blithe and glad
When 'twas their plan to coax her by degrees
To some high noble and his olive trees.
--“Isabella” or “Pot of Basil,” by Keats

This stunning painting was the first work of Pre-Raphaelite genius, John Everett Millais. Painted in 1848, it was based on a poem by Keats which was, in turn, based on a tale by Fourteenth Century Italian writer, Boccaccio. The story concerns a well-heeled young woman named Isabella who falls in love with one of her father’s apprentices, Lorenzo. Isabella’s brothers become nervous when they learn of their sister’s love. Fearing that should Lorenzo marry Isabella, their inheritance could be threatened, they lure Lorenzo into the woods and kill him, burying him in the forest. When Isabella learned of Lorenzo’s murder, she finds his body and disinters it, removing his head and hiding it in a flower pot in which she grows fragrant basil.

It’s just the sort of thing that would appeal to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood whose members rather enjoyed the combination of beauty and melancholy. Perhaps that’s why they were all so enamored of the lovely, but morose, poetry of Keats. Keats’ work inspired many a Pre-Raphaelite painting.

This work was displayed at the Royal Academy in 1849 to mixed reviews, but today it is considered one of the defining paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Unusual Artifacts: Two French Fromager Belonging to King George IV, 1826

French, 1826
The Royal Collection
King George IV was fascinated by French design and tried to emulate the style of the French Emperors. He furnished his homes in French style and loved to collect objects which he thought would have appealed to the French monarchs.

As part of that, he amassed a collection of impressive French porcelain, including a service of china in the turquoise blue color (bleu céleste) which was so beloved by King Louis XV. While still Prince Regent, George IV began this collection. Some of the earliest pieces that he acquired were this pair of cheese dishes (fromager) in the bleu céleste color scheme. Originally fitted with ornate stands, these cheese dishes now stand on three gilt ball feet. Heavily gilded, the gold sits in sparkling contrast to the cool pattern of turquoise and white. The bottoms of the dishes are pierced in a star pattern to allow air to circulate around the cheese.

I like the idea of George IV eating savory cheeses from these attractive dishes. It’s been quite a long time since they held any dairy products, but they’re quite ready if the need ever arises.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 226

The sunlight dimmed as Iolanthe Evangeline hurried down the street—dragging Ulrika behind her—as if she sapped the energy of the light to fuel her own desires.

“They’re not going anywhere, Iolanthe,” Ulrika squawked, “you don’t have to break my legs to get to your son.”

“They may not be going anywhere,” Iolanthe panted, “but those two troublemakers are going to join them. They’re up to something, the bunch of them. I won’t let anyone take this chance from my boy. That doctor has got to cure him.”

“And what if he doesn’t?” Ulrika grunted.

Iolanthe stopped and spun around, gripping Ulrika wrist tightly as if she intended to snap it. “Don’t say that!”

“You’re hurting me.” Ulrika moaned.

With one final, sharp squeeze, Iolanthe released Ulrika’s arm. “Good! Now, you know a quarter of the pain I feel every day. You have no idea what it feels like knowing that your child is backward—broken. As much as I despise you, I hope it’s a pain you never know!”

Ulrika rubbed her wrist. “I didn’t know you had such a depth of feeling.”

“There’s a lot you don’t know.” Iolanthe hissed.

“Iolanthe, don’t you love the boy? Isn’t it a mother’s responsibility to love her child regardless of his flaws?”

“I do love him!” Iolanthe spat. “Why do you think I have always fought to fix him?”

“Can’t you just accept that he is the way he is?” Ulrika asked.

“Because!” Iolanthe moaned. “It’s my fault! I did this to him. I broke him!”

“How?” Ulrika shook her head.

“Never you mind about that?” Iolanthe shouted.

The passersby on the street stared at the two women.

“People are lookin’,” Iolanthe whispered.

“I’m used to it,” Ulrika smiled, nodding her head at two gentlemen who walked by.

“You’re more of a tart than I am,” Iolanthe chuckled wryly.

“Everyone needs a hobby.” Ulrika smiled. “Iolanthe, I can’t believe I’m saying this, really, but I apologize if I upset you.”

“Don’t start caring about me,” Iolanthe sighed. “Nothin’ good can come of that. And, I don’t want you thinkin’ that it can.”

“Let’s get your boy,” Ulrika said quickly.

“What do you think I’ve been tryin’ to do?” Iolanthe’s eyes widened. She reached for Ulrika’s arm again.

“You don’t have to drag me.” Ulrika pulled her hand away. “I’m not going to leave you now.”

Meanwhile, at the shack deep in the bowels of the French Quarter, Barbara was awakened from her nap by the sound of the shabby wooden door creaking open.

“Charles?” Barbara squinted, sitting up. “Are you back so soon? Did Julian throw you out?”

“It’s not Charles, dear woman.” A man answered.

“Who…who are you?” Barbara rubbed her eyes. “Oh, you must be Louis. Charles said you wouldn’t mind if I stayed here. I hope you don’t…” She studied the man who towered above her. He was lean and handsome with dark features which reminded her of Charles.

“I don’t know who this Louis is,” the man smiled. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Iantosca. Giovanni Iantosca. I’ve come for my brother.”

At that very moment, Charles ran up the staircase of the hotel toward the room number that he’d been given. Meridian relayed the message that Adrienne and Cecil had left for him. They had left instructions that Charles, when he returned, was to meet them at a particular room at that hotel.

Charles arrived at the room and as he raised his arm to knock on the door, found that it was ajar.

“Your Grace?” Charles called through the door. “Dr. Halifax?”

Charles gently pushed the door open and gasped at the scene he saw before him. Broken glass, overturned chairs, torn linens, and blood—it appeared that buckets of blood had been spilled in the room. It covered the walls, the floor and the bed.

“Dear God!” Charles intoned. “It’s a massacre.”

Did you miss Chapters 1-225? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Learn About Your Home Town

No matter how new our communities may seem, each of them has a fascinating history. Your city didn’t begin when the house in which you live was built. Where I live, it’s rather easy to see the history of the city. While we have a new section with large, spacious, new homes, I live in the part of town which is filled with beautiful Victorian buildings and reminders of our history.

If you’ve lived in a community for a long time, you’ve seen how quickly the landscape around you has changed. Imagine how much it has changed over a century, or two! Take some time to become acquainted with the social and architectural history of your city. By studying the past, you will immediately see how similar the lives of our forebears were as well as how different. You’ll see trends and changes which continue to this day and you’ll have an opportunity to glimpse into the future.

Object of the Day: A Vintage City of London Mug

With London fixed in the yes of the world media for the next couple of weeks as we all await the wedding of Prince William of Wales and Catherine Middleton, I thought it would be a good time to share this bit of my collection of antique and vintage English and Royal souvenirs.

This wee china mug dates to the 1920’s and is the work of James Thomas. Thomas, in a survey from 1921, was listed as being a china and glass manufacturer located at 53 King’s Road in Chelsea. Chelsea was the home of several china distributors. Many of these companies produced souvenir items, especially those created for coronations and special occasions.

The mug features the official seal of the City of London. The emblem has changed, of course, over the centuries, but this one remains in use today. The crest shows the cross of St. George in a shield supported by two griffin-like dragons (of the ilk killed by St. George).

Rimmed in gold, this souvenir reminds us of the quiet elegance which has defined the city for many centuries.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Her Majesty’s Furniture: A French Bureau, 1690

French, 1690-1695
oak, walnut, brass, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl,
pewter, copper, and painted horn
The Royal Collection
The Duchesse de Retz et de Lesdiguières was known for her exquisite tastes and her eccentric behavior. This exquisite little bureau of oak, walnut, brass, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, pewter, copper, and painted horn bears the coat of arms of The Duchesse and was made specifically for her. The Duchesse enjoyed the fine workmanship of the bureau with its elaborate decoration and intricately patterned sections of paint and inlay.

Upon the death of The Duchesse, this little jewel was acquired by King George III as a gift for his wife, Queen Charlotte, who had a particular fondness for French furnishings. It just goes to show that even the most eccentric of us can have exceptional taste.

Humanitarian of the Week: HRH Anne, The Princess Royal

The second child and only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Her Royal Highness, Anne, The Princess Royal is known for her bravery, her love of horses and her loyalty to Britain. Being a princess hasn’t made life terrible easy for Anne who has struggled with a variety of issues throughout her life, including a kidnapping attempt and divorce. Nonetheless, she’s risen above all of it so that she can continue to work to better her nation and its people.

The Princess Royal is the patron of over 200 organizations. Her interests include the welfare of Britain’s children, preserving the nation’s 215 lighthouses, providing services to the deaf, blind and disabled, and assisting people who have been badly burned.

While power and position could have made Princess Anne into a cold and detached Royal, she remains approachable and actively involved in her efforts to make the world as comfortable as possible for all manner of people.


The Belle Époque Today: The National Conservation Centre

The National Conservation Centre, Liverpool
at the Midland Wailway Goods Offices
While part of the work of a museum is to purchase objects of art and display them in a pleasing and interesting manner, a museum has a greater responsibility. Museums must not only house art, but preserve and protect it as well.

It’s in that spirit that The National Conservation Centre of England was founded in Liverpool. The Conservation Centre is dedicated to the care, preservation, repair and respectful handling of the artistic and cultural objects that define who we are as a people.

The Liverpool Museums found an abandoned Victorian warehouse, The Midland Railway Goods Offices, and rescued the building—renovating it so that it could be the permanent home of The National Conservation Centre. The Centre was open to the public until December of 2010 when the doors were closed to visitors due to budget restraints. However, the National Conservation Centre continues to thrive. Behind their locked doors, they’re still devoted to being good stewards of our past so that future generations can see where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Though closed to the public, the staff at The National Conservation Centre are happy to answer questions from collectors of art and antiques who are looking to discover the best way to care for their precious objects. For more information, visit the Web site of The National Conservation Centre.

Film of the Week: Back Narcissus, 1947

Ah, nuns. Technicolor nuns. Technicolor nuns in the Asian mountains. The very words just sing, “Easter.” Okay, maybe not. But, this rather strange English film is quite interesting, and certainly attractive. I think it’s one of the most mesmerizing color films ever made due to its dazzling palette—lush color which makes it seem more like a series of paintings than a film.

Written and directed by the English team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, this 1947 picture is based on a novel of the same name by Rumer Godden and stars Deborah Kerr, Sabu, David Farrar and Flora Robson, Esmond Knight, Jean Simmons (in an early film role) and Kathleen Byron.

The film which concerns the psychological turmoil of an order of Anglican nuns who are sent to an isolated mountaintop convent in the Himalayas appears to have been shot on location, but in reality was filmed mostly at Pinewood Studios in England with a few scenes being shot in Leonardslee Gardens in West Sussex. The look of the mountains, convent and exotic jungles were achieved with clever set-pieces, large scale landscape paintings and matte paintings. Co-director Michael Powell said, “Our mountains were painted on glass. We decided to do the whole thing in the studio and that's the way we managed to maintain colour control to the very end. Sometimes in a film its theme or its colour are more important than the plot.”

And, that’s quite evident. While the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense and is rather difficult to follow, the film is so enchanting with such lavish color and beautiful imagery that you can’t look away. Even the costumes speak volumes. The nuns in their stylized medieval habits seem to almost glow in white, giving them an ethereal quality which sets them apart from the fruit-colored world around them.

There’s a certain subtext to the film which was released just months before the 1947 achievement of India’s independence from Britain. The film’s final scenes, wherein the nuns quietly leave the mountain and return to England, have been interpreted by some as symbolic of English defeat and the fading of the empire. Others, however, see it as representing the respectful vacation of the English, returning the land to its natives and to nature itself.

Portions of the film were found objectionable by the Catholic Legion of Decency. But, what didn’t they find objectionable? The scenes in question are really quite tame by today’s standards. While the script was adapted heavily, it still remains relatively faithful to its source material. The film, as did the novel, concerns the seduction of the nuns by both their exotic surroundings as well as their companion, a British agent played by David Farrar. As the tawdry wind blows through the convent, the nuns begin to experience the surfacing of long-hidden desires and behave in very un-nun-like ways. Set against this glorious backdrop, the action plays out like a Baroque altarpiece come to life.

Watch this film as you would observe a painting. Sometimes it’s best to appreciate something for its beauty instead of trying to decipher what exactly it means.

Punch's Cousin, Chapter 225

Iolanthe growled angrily and clasped her hands together. “Look at her! Mimicking me again! Wasn’t it bad enough that she betrayed me by leaving our comfortable home? Now, she’s mocked me not once, but twice!”

“Comfortable home?” Ulrika laughed. “Is that what you’re calling your brothel these days?”

“Listen you,” Iolanthe snapped. “My girls don’t do a thing that you don’t. The only difference is they get paid for it.”

“That’s why my passions are a hobby and not a vocation.” Ulrika rolled her eyes.

“It doesn’t make you any less of a…” Iolanthe began, but stopped as Adrienne and Cecil walked toward the vestibule where she and Ulrika were hiding.

Ulrika yelped as Iolanthe grabbed her by the arm and dragged her into the hotel’s vaulted lobby.

Adrienne gasped upon seeing Iolanthe.

“You do right to be alarmed,” Iolanthe scowled. “There’s nothing that happens in this city that I don’t know about, and I don’t want you thinkin’ that there is.”

“This isn’t what it looks like.” Adrienne stammered.

“Isn’t it?” Iolanthe hissed. “Your costume suggests that you’re about to make a fool of me again. No one makes a fool of Iolanthe Evangeline! Especially not twice.”

“No one is going to make a fool of you, Miss Evangeline.” Cecil said calmly.

“Oh?” Ulrika laughed. “Really? Then why is your round-heeled bride in the guise of Miss Iolanthe?”

“We have a good reason.” Adrienne answered trying not to fuss with her itchy, dark wig.

“I’m waiting,” Iolanthe grumbled.

“Mr. Cage has ordered a new figure for the waxworks. He wants to do an exhibition of famous—and notorious—residents of New Orleans. He asked specifically for a figure of you. I’ve dressed my wife in this manner so that she might model for the figure. I’ve taken a room here to use as my studio and she and I were just about to retire to that room so that I might begin sketches.

“Shall I list all of the things that are wrong about what you’ve just said?” Iolanthe asked.

“Do as you wish, Iolanthe,” Adrienne sighed.

“When you have a spacious home of your own, why would you need to come to a hotelto sketch your own wife?”

“With the children in the house, and the servants, we thought it might be upsetting for them to see Adrienne dressed as such a horrifying creature.” Cecil answered coolly.

“Hmph.” Iolanthe sniffed. “So, you’re working for Edward Cage?”

“Yes.” Cecil nodded.

“Funny, I thought he dismissed you at the ball.” Iolanthe grinned. “And, even if he hadn’t, I suspect he has more pressing things on his mind than worrying about exhibits at the waxworks.”

“Mr. Cage and I have reached an agreement—privately. Though you feel otherwise,” Cecil lied, “you’re not aware of everything which transpires in New Orleans.”

“Shall I ask him?” Iolanthe purred.

“Go ahead. Go right now, if you like.” Cecil shrugged, being careful not to show his rising nervousness.

“Would you like to go with me?” Iolanthe asked.

“I don’t wish to be delayed in my work.” Cecil shook his head. “Regardless, Iolanthe, I don’t feel that I need to be influenced by you. I’ve grown weary of seeing everyone bend to your will. You don’t have absolute power here, you know. When all is said and done, you’re nothing but a madam. That hardly makes you a senior statesmen, and certainly it doesn’t put you in the position of being any sort of authority which must be obeyed.”

“You are a fool,” Iolanthe smirked. “You’re not worth my time. You see, Mr. Halfax, I have more important things to occupy me. I’m sure you’ll understand when I return.”

“Oh?” Adrienne asked.

“You’ll see when I return to your brother’s room.” Iolanthe smiled at Cecil.

“My brother?” Cecil asked innocently.

“We both know you’re on your way up there.” Iolanthe chuckled.

“Is my brother here? I’ve not heard from him in days.”

“Isn’t it sweet when simpletons try to lie?” Ulrika grinned.

“Come, Ulrika,” Iolanthe grabbed the woman’s arm again.

Ulrika frowned. “Must you keep pawing at me? Really, I don’t understand why men pay you for the privilege of feeling your gloved claws on their flesh.”

“Shut up,” Iolanthe barked.

“As you wish, Iolanthe.” Ulrika laughed.

“Do give our best to Dr. Halifax and the lunatic Duke.” Iolanthe chirped. “Tell them we’ll be back very soon.”

With that, Iolanthe hurried off, dragging Ulrika by her elbow.

“Cecil,” Adrienne said urgently. “She didn’t believe us.”

“Of course she didn’t.” Cecil sighed.

“What will we do?” Adrienne asked.

“We’ll proceed.” Cecil nodded. “Now, let’s get out of this public place before anyone else notices us.”

They rushed up to Punch and Robert’s room and hurried in when Marjani opened the door.

“What’s happened?” Mr. Punch asked as he studied their breathless faces.

“Iolanthe and Ulrika saw us in the lobby.” Adrienne panted.

“Oh, I done worried ‘bout that.” Marjani groaned.

“We’ve got to begin, now…” Cecil began.

“Now?” Robert asked nervously. “They’ve gone to get Iolanthe’ son. She’ll be back any minute.”

“Then, we must hurry.” Cecil argued.

“That’s the way to do it!” Mr. Punch nodded.

“Adrienne, go on.” Cecil said softly to his wife.

“Are you sure?” Adrienne asked.

“Yes.” Cecil nodded firmly.

Adrienne cleared her throat and stepped into the center of the room. At the top of her voice—as loud as she could—she mimicked Iolanthe.

“No one tries to trick Iolanthe Evangeline!” Adrienne shouted so loud that she surely was heard all the way into the hotel’s lobby. “And, I don’t want you thinkin’ that they do!”

Robert looked at Cecil who nodded.

“Marjani,” Robert whispered.

Marjani picked up the baby and hurried out of the room and down the corridor to the extra room that Robert had booked.

As Marjani left, Mr. Punch picked up a glass and hurled it at the wall where it shattered loudly.

“I’ll kill ya!” Adrienne shouted, parroting Iolanthe’s voice. “I’ll kill ya all now!”

Did you miss Chapters 1-224? If so, you can read them here.

Goal for the Day: Remember How Fragile Life Is

Our lives are fragile and need guarding. Human beings, by nature, are tough and designed to survive. But, it’s amazing how one misstep can shatter everything we’ve worked for. The very things which we cherish need to be nurtured in order to endure.

It’s up to us to be good stewards of our lives. We must protect our homes, our families and our ways of life. It’s our honor to do so. So, today, remember what’s most important to you and make sure that you’re doing all you can to protect it. Our pets, our families, our homes, our careers all need guarding. We can’t be passive in maintaining our lifestyles.

Object of the Day: An Antique Cameo Stickpin

The cameo has been a part of jewelry design for centuries. Usually carved from hard stone or shell, cameos allowed for delicate portraits to be rendered in an intimate and ethereal way. While most cameos depict classical and mythological figures, sometimes they represent real people who lived and were loved.

This cameo of flawless sardonyx is set in fifteen karat gold and dates to the mid Nineteenth Century. The bust of a woman appears like a mist from the gray-blue background. Seen in profile, she looks to the left. The carver showed a remarkable skilled hand. Presented quite simply in its gold setting, this stickpin shows a quiet elegance which is all but gone today.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Painting of the Day: “Scene in a Bedchamber,” 1700

Scene in a Bedchamber
English, circa 1700
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This painting by an unknown British artist dates to the early Eighteenth Century and gives us a rare look into the private rooms of a noble household of the era. Clearly, however, something less than noble has been going on in the commodious room. The furniture is in disarray, overturned and scattered. Playing cards have fallen onto the floor as if the room was exited quickly.

On closer inspection, the seemingly grand room is actually in rather poor shape. While the room is draped in rich fabrics and hung with rather important-looking canvases and mirrors, we can see that the wallpaper is peeling.

Still, the room is not unattended. A shadowy figure peers through the open door—a servant perhaps. A small black dog carries a crimson slipper as he runs toward the figure. It’s both a beautiful and mysterious scene as opulent as it is sinister. Clearly, this is the setting of some strange drama.

Person of the Week: Agnes Nixon

The Great and the Least,
The Rich and the Poor,
The Weak and the Strong,
In Sickness and in Health,
In Joy and Sorrow,
In Tragedy and Triumph,
You are All My Children.

Known as the “Queen of Modern Daytime Drama,” Agnes Nixon is responsible for shaping serialized storytelling for television. Nixon began her career working for the original “Queen of Soaps,” Irna Phillips who transitioned daytime drama from radio to television and pioneered new methods of storytelling. Nixon worked with Phillips on several Procter and Gamble soap operas in the capacity of writer and head writer. These include: As the World Turns, Search for Tomorrow, and Guiding Light. By the 1960’s Nixon dreamed of creating her own programs which would be able to not only entertain their audience, but enlighten them by exploring social issues and the real-life events that were shaping society.

In 1965, Nixon developed a new show which she entitled All My Children. With the “story bible” in her hand, she pitched the show to networks. For purely business reasons, ABC passed on All My Children, but asked Nixon to create a different cutting-edge show that would break the barriers of the traditional daytime drama. Nixon’s response to this request was to create One Life to Live. OLTL debuted in 1968 and gave Nixon the stage she needed to both entertain and educate.

One Life to Live was such a success that ABC asked Nixon for a second program. It was the perfect opportunity to dust off the “story bible” about her creations in Pine Valley. All My Children debuted on January 4, 1970 and broke ground with stories ripped from the headlines and thoughtful portrayals of people in true life situations. By combining the usual fantastical events which defined soap opera with important social issues, Nixon was able to create a world filled with interesting yet relatable characters.

One Life to Live and All My Children thrived on ABC and made the network’s daytime line-up one of the most successful in the industry. While Nixon’s involvement with One Life to Live became less hands-on, she did continue to counsel as well as write for All My Children well into this year.

2011 will be remembered by soap fans as the year that ABC (particularly Daytime President, Brian Frons) killed All My Children and One Life to Live in favor of cheaper, less-complicated talk shows. But, that doesn’t mean that Miss Nixon’s work will be forgotten. Through her decades of exceptional work, Agnes Nixon has impacted the world in a way few writers have an opportunity to do.

Last week, Miss Nixon said of the cancellations of her legendary programs:

“ABC’s decision to cancel All My Children and One Life to Live saddens me greatly. I treasure the decades that the worlds of Pine Valley and Llanview were brought to life by our talented casts and crews. I appreciate that the network allowed our teams to break new dramatic ground and always supported our commitment to the honest portrayal of social issues. We hope we have entertained our viewers and perhaps even educated them along the way. My deep gratitude goes to all the talented people who have contributed to All My Children and One Life To Live over these many years; we were always family, made up of writers, producers, directors, actors, crews. Equally important in that family are our loyal fans who shared this journey with us. Although ABC has concluded there is no longer a place for our shows on their network, I will do everything possible to keep them alive. God bless you all.”

Despite the tragic destruction of these two programs, Miss Nixon’s legacy will live on. At last year’s Daytime Emmy Awards, Nixon was honored for her tremendous body of work. And, for all that she’s done to shape our world, to educate and to entertain, Agnes Nixon is our “Person of the Week.”

Sculpture of the Day: The Laughing Child and The Crying Child, 1750

The Laughing Child and The Crying Child
Probably Louis François Roubiliac
Circa 1750
Bronze on Wooden Plinths with Ormolu
The Victoria & Albert Museum
The subjects of The Laughing Child and The Crying Child were quite popular in the early to mid Eighteenth Century. Several different sculptors created busts of the two children in a variety of media ranging from bronze and marble to plaster and porcelain.

This rare pair of bronze busts is surely the work of celebrated Eighteenth Century French sculptor Louis François Roubiliac (1702-1762) who was renowned for his fine bronze casts. The busts sit upon wooden plinths which have been adorned with ormolu mounts. The plinths, it is believed, are a later addition intended to give a greater sense of importance to the pair.

Roubiliac came from France to England in the mid Eighteenth Century. He quickly made a name for himself throughout Britain and was, until his death, considered the foremost sculptor of his generation in the country.

Treat of the Week: The Lemon Sunshine Pound Cake

Tall, grand and elegant, this glorious cake looks like a cross between a French cathedral and a French cruller. The Lemon Sunshine Pound Cake is the king of the pound cakes. Infused with fresh lemon juice, this moist, tender cake has a delicious citrus flavor which puts you immediately in mind of Springtime.

My mother has elevated the pound cake from its loaf-ish origins by baking it in this deep Kugelhopf Bundt Pan. With its peaks and fluted sides, this cake is a delicious sculpture that is as delicious as it is gorgeous. Adorned with a delicate lemon glaze, this cake truly is a ray of sunshine.