Saturday, September 29, 2012

Desk Accessories

Dear blogging friends — Today I'm adding a new friend to my blog roll — Erika of Parvum Opus. Erika has recently started a blog about desk accessories and the decorative arts. Besides being lovely in and of itself (I've borrowed a handsome photograph from her own site), the Parvum Opus blog will lead you to a selection of custom-made desk accessories from her own bindery. That's her work featured in the above photograph. If you get a chance, visit Parvum Opus, here. I salute Erika's craftsmanship and wish her well.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An Interesting Connection

I've pared down my collection of tin cans, but this beauty is one of my remaining favorites. If the Victorians invented Pop Art, this would be it! I believe the can is at least 100 years old, and it's in absolutely mint condition.

As you can see, the new way of making almond paste sure beats the old way of doing it!

The maker of the almond paste was Henry Heide, whose name takes a prominent place on the front of my tin.

Henry Heide (1846-1931) came to the United States from Westphalia, Germany, in 1866. By 1869 he had established a candy-making business in New York and was known for making delicious macaroons and almond paste. His business grew from a small store to a large factory as he continued to develop confections. Towards the end of his life, in 1920, Henry Heide created his most famous recipes, still enjoyed by millions of movie-goers.  |
Henry Heide's grandson, Philip, sold the Heide brand products to Hershey Foods Corporation in 1995, and in 2002 they were acquired by Farley's & Sathers Candy Co. Inc.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Anatomy of a Family Painting

Hanging in my study is a still life that my father painted. I like it on many different levels. First, of course, it has meaning to me because my father painted it. I also like the fact that it has a masculine quality — I imagine that it might have been hanging behind Alistair Cooke as he introduced episodes of Masterpiece Theater. I like it as an exercise in light and shadow. And finally, it pleases me that the still life depicts items that are now in my possession.

My father was an interesting personality. During the week, he was a military man who dealt in finance and logistics. But in his off-hours, my father gardened, studied history and painted. He had gotten a degree in architecture from Cornell University in the 1930s, but upon graduation faced a job market much like today's. So he entered the U. S. Army through ROTC, and was initially in the Cavalry (yes, the United States had a cavalry right up to the beginning of World War II!). Because my father was a very reserved person, his outlets were all quite reflective.

I could list another reason the still life appeals to me — the items within it mirror that reflective personality.

My father was not the collector that I am, but he did accumulate some good Asian antiques. He was particularly fond of celadon and a glaze that's known as "ox-blood." This jar was one of his favorites because the ox-blood red is particularly deep and rich in color. This is, I believe, a Korean antique.

My father smoked this pipe occasionally, but it may have belonged to my maternal grandfather. They admired each other and both, incidentally, died from cancer. I cherish this pipe but have never smoked!

This lovely little perfume vial always lived on my mother's bedroom dresser, and I assume it was a gift from my father. I'd love to know more about it. It looks quite European, even though the decoration appears to be of a Thai dancer.

Here are volumes I & II of the writings of Sir Joshua Reynolds. They were awarded to Elizabeth Bywater in 1873 for her proficiency in Geometrical Drawing.

The other items in the painting have scattered to the winds. One was a remarkable paperweight of a dandelion floating in Lucite. It was a gift to my father from a classmate of mine, and as the years went by the Lucite slowly yellowed and clouded. The dog-eared brown book was an American textbook from the 1820s. My father enjoyed it because a young student from that time had penned anti-Jefferson comments in the margins. The two green volumes were a 19th-century edition of Isaak Walton's The Compleat Angler. They were gifted to my father's best friend after he delivered the eulogy at my father's memorial service.

In a sense, this painting is a family portrait, and when I look at it, I respond to it as though it were a window onto my past.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cashing in on George
This 1772 painting of George Washington is the first portrait of him painted from life, and depicts him in his uniform as a colonel of the Virginia Regiment, from the French and Indian War. It was actually painted 12 years after the war by Charles Wilson Peale (1741-1827), a friend who had served with Washington.
While most of us automatically think of Gilbert Stuart when we think of Washington's portraits, Charles Wilson Peale actually painted seven life portraits of the President, more than any other artist. As I mentioned in my posting, George Washington's Left Eye, life portraits of Washington were a goldmine for artists of the new republic because they served as templates from which many lucrative copies could be made.
And so Peale painted dozens of Washington portraits. The most successful depicted Washington at the Battle of Princeton. The first version was finished in 1779, and 18 copies were made of it, including one for King Louis XVI of France.  |  |  |
Here, I've cropped four versions so that the faces can be better seen. I'm guessing that Peale had a replica of Washington's uniform and posed models in it, then simply superimposed the same head, painting after painting.

Peale had 16 children and three of his sons — Raphaelle, Rembrandt and Rubens — were also gifted artists. A fourth, Titian Peale, was both an artist and a pioneer in photography.

In 1795, George Washington agreed to sit one last time for Charles Wilson Peale. Peale painted Washington, but he had actually arranged the sitting so that 17-year-old Rembrandt could also paint the elderly President, thereby assuring a lifetime of commissions for Rembrandt. Below is the 17-year-old's first portrait of Washington.

click to enlarge  |
His father did indeed insure a lifetime of work, and Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860) went on to paint Washington for years. Rembrandt Peale's most popular portrait is the polished Patriæ Pater, shown below (I wish I could find a larger example of it!).

I think the most successful portrait of Washington (by anyone) is the Rembrandt Peale version that has hung in the Oval Office through many administrations.  |
You can see that aside from the uniform, it is a nearly identical to Patriæ Pater.  |  Mathew Brady: Historian with a Camera
Above left is a self-portrait of Rembrandt Peale and on the right is a daguerreotype portrait of him by Mathew Brady. By the time Rembrandt Peale sat for Brady, he was in his last years, and the only remaining artist who had painted Washington from life.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Collecting Green Enameled Glass

Regular readers of this blog know that I collect many different things. One of my favorite collections (and of course they're all favorite) is a grouping of small, green enameled tumblers. My glasses are all four inches high and lovely shades of chartreuse.

The glasses are all hand-blown and most likely 19th-century or early 20th-century Czechoslovakian. They are also properly called Bohemian Glass.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Enameled glass was developed in the 12th century by Islamic artists in what is now Egypt and Syria. To read a short history of the original enameled glass like the gorgeous piece above, go here.
In the 19th century, the greatest practitioner of enameled glass-making was Ludwig Moser, who created pieces like the one above. It's little surprise that he furnished glass to the Emperor of Austria-Hungary, and to King Edward VII of England. By comparison to Moser glass, my little tumblers are almost folk art, but they make a striking grouping — and I'm always on the lookout for more!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Michelangelo's Revenge

Biagio da Cesena   |
Last month, after I posted about the trompe l'oeil aspects of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel Ceiling, I was inspired to reread Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy, the best-selling biography of Michelangelo.

Michelangelo painted The Last Judgement — the altar wall directly below his ceiling — almost 30 years after he finished the ceiling. While Pope Julius II had commissioned the ceiling and intended Michelangelo to paint the wall, Pope Paul III was on the papal throne when the wall was actually painted.

Pope Paul III   |
Julius II and Michelangelo were continually at odds, in part because they were so alike in their temper and stubbornness. But Paul III, who had been a part of the Medici court — as Michelangelo had — liked, respected and supported Michelangelo.
When Pope Paul III heard that Michelangelo had finished the top part of the wall and was removing scaffolding, he came immediately to see the progress. His reaction was to fall to his knees and pray. The Pope's Master of Ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena, had also come to view The Last Judgement, and his reaction was to call it disgraceful! Da Cesena thought the multitude of nudes were sacrilegious, and he predicted that the wall would someday be destroyed.

Pope Paul III was astonished and angry, and he said that he'd excommunicate anyone who touched the wall.

Biagio da Cesena   |
Almost immediately, Michelangelo had an assistant stucco the lower right corner of the wall, and he painted da Cesena as Minos, the judge of Hades. Word got back to da Cesena and he demanded another visit, with the Pope in tow. Here, I quote from Irving Stone:

"You see, Holy Father," cried the Master of Ceremonies, "the report was true. Buonarroti has painted me into the fresco. With some kind of repulsive serpent for my genitalia."

"It's a covering," replied Michelangelo. "I knew you would not want to be portrayed wholly naked."

"A remarkable likeness," observed the Pope, his eyes twinkling. "Michelangelo, I thought you said you could not do portraiture?"

"I was inspired, Holiness."

Biagio da Cesena hopped up and down on either foot as though it were he instead of his picture standing over the fires of hell.

"Holiness, make him take me out of there!'

"Out of hell?" the Pope turned surprised eyes on the man. "Had he placed you in purgatory, I should have done everything in my power to release you. But you know that from hell there is no redemption."
Biagio da Cesena and his followers did launch a campaign which eventually resulted in many little drapes to be added to Michelangelo's figures by another artist, Daniele da Volterra. Thereafter da Volterra was known as "Il Braghettone," or "the breeches maker."

Here's a quotation I found from Michelangelo; it could well be in reference to Biagio da Cesena:

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Load Off My Mind

Two weeks ago, as Hurricane Isaac loomed large in the Caribbean, I decided to remove a limb from a Southern Live Oak tree that has hung over my house for decades.

Here I've made a panoramic view from three photographs of my roof. As you can see, the limb extended the length of the house. What the panorama doesn't show is that at the end of the limb, branches extended upward, putting extra stress on the whole limb.

Here you can see all the growth at the very end of the limb, and how high it extended.

What's truly amazing is that when this photograph of my house was taken in 1950, the Southern Live Oak was nowhere in sight!

Notice all the Spanish Moss! It was exciting to watch the trimming process, and a relief to know that the weight of the limb (estimated at one ton) won't come down upon me in the next storm.