Friday, October 21, 2011

NORA NOODLE OF NEW YORK CITY

My goddaughter Nora is now 2 years old and I am lucky enough to be her Mary Poppins two and a half days every week.   Spending so much time with her and watching her grow is the great joy of my life.  But, there was a point in my life not many years ago where everything seemed to stop, became routine, desperate and full of anguish and then suddenly a new story begins and a little girl comes into the world and hope emerges where before there was little. I thank god everyday for her; she saved my life.

When she was born, she had a birthmark on her head underneath her hair and this mark started me thinking that she was somehow very special.  So, with this thought in mind, I wanted to create something for her that demonstrated how important she was to me and something that she would have for the rest of her life.

So, I wrote a story about her  and about me becoming her nanny(with some good input and editing from my dear friend DS).  Nora Noodle of New York City is the title.  I found a wonderful artist named Chris Ams who brought the book alive with fantastic illustrations.  And he handmade a book for her.  I cannot thank him enough.  Go to his website.  Hire him!  He is also a very talented jazz/soul singer as well.

NoraNoodlefrontcover_0001

Once upon a time, millions of years ago, there lived a little angel in Heaven. Her name was Nora Noodle. She had sparkly silver butterfly wings with edges of brilliant pink.

NoraNoodlepage1

Time had no meaning in Heaven, and Nora Noodle could do whatever her heart desired. She spent never ending sunny days playing hide ‘n’ seek in the fields and woods with the other cherubs, swimming in the sparkling blue waters trying to catch golden frogs, listening to the older angels playing beautiful music on their lutes and eating sweet cakes filled with raspberry jam. Life was full of timeless wonderment and fun.

NoraNoodlepage2

One day as she was gathering flowers, she suddenly heard the Great Voice speaking to her. "Nora Noodle, it is time for you to go to Earth to begin your life as a mortal child." Now, Nora Noodle had overheard hushed whispers about earth from the older angels, but she was not quite sure what it was. However, when the Great Voice asked you to do something, you did it and didn't ask any questions. To prepare her for her adventure on Earth, The Great Voice kissed her head leaving a mark that glittered silver and gold in the moonlight of Earth.

NoraNoodlepage3

Suddenly, everything was quiet. Nora could no longer hear the singing birds or feel the gentle breeze of Heaven.

NoraNoodlepage4

THEN WHOOSH! WET! UNDER WATER!

NoraNoodlepage5

NoraNoodlepage6

Nora Noodle heard voices, but they did not sound like the singing voices of angels. They were deeper and sharper, but also sweet. And then she heard another sound. A sound she had never heard before. Someone was crying, someone was screaming...and suddenly Nora Noodle realized that this sound was coming from her own mouth.

NoraNoodlepage7

She looked up and saw her new family: a tall gentle daddy with red hair, a beautiful mommy with dark hair and eyes, a caring older sister with long golden hair and an older brother with a quick warm smile and devilish freckles. When the family saw the glittering mark on Nora Noodle's head, they knew she was special.

NoraNoodlepage8 (1)

As days passed, Nora Noodle realized she could not walk, run or play as she once had, but could merely lie about or be held by her new family. They were kind and comforted her when she was upset. The beautiful mommy gave her the sweetest, warmest milk that Nora Noodle had ever tasted. It was better than anything she had ever eaten in Heaven. She liked her new life, even though she was just a little bit scared.

NoraNoodlepage9

One day the beautiful mommy with the dark hair and eyes got a new job. Someone would have to watch Nora Noodle when the beautiful mommy was at work. For many years the family had known a gentlemen named The Flâneur. He lived alone with many beautiful, old things. He coveted his collections, and spent many hours alone searching for the finest art. Its beauty intrigued him, as did its history. He also was known to stroll throughout New York City. And in this activity, too, he was an observer, looking for beauty as others played, shopped for groceries, walked their dogs, and went about their daily lives. Although he was content he was sometimes sad and felt alone. One day, it occurred to him that perhaps he could take care of Nora Noodle!

NoraNoodlepage10

The family agreed! On sunny days The Flâneur would take Nora Noodle out in her carriage and the two would stroll together throughout New York City. Nora Noodle loved to stroll through the city. So many sights and sounds that she had never seen or heard in Heaven fascinated her. Together they were The Flâneur and The Petite Flâneuse.

NoraNoodlepage11

On some days it was difficult for The Flâneur to get Nora Noodle to take her naps. Sleep annoyed Nora Noodle. She had never slept in Heaven. Why should she have to sleep now?! And besides, she might miss something when she was asleep, something important.

But The Flâneur understood these things about Nora Noodle. He could sense her curiosity and emerging passion for life. So, even with the fussing and crying, The Flâneur loved to be with her and felt great happiness. Sometimes, he was even able to get Nora Noodle to sleep, if only for a short while.

NNpage12

And as the days passed, The Flâneur smiled more and was happier. He realized that Nora Noodle was sent from Heaven by The Great Voice as a special gift to her family and The Flâneur for all of them to love and cherish. To be sharing so much love and happiness was a wonderful feeling, and Nora realized that living on earth was even better than being in Heaven.

NoraNoodlepage20

And they all lived happily ever after… and Nora Noodle even learned to love going to sleep.

NoraNoodlepage14

NoraNoodlebackcover

Friday, October 7, 2011

Silver Desire: My London Booty

P1000862(1) Detail Apollo Flaying Marsyas by Antonio Corradini, 1719-23, marble, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

On my recent trip to London I did not visit the extraordinary London Silver Vaults as I had done in 2010.  I would have loved to have seen Mr. David Shure again, the elegant dealer with the posh accent and pink cuff linked shirt who sold me a gorgeous sterling tea strainer hallmarked Walker & Hall, Sheffield, 1935.  (Read about my visit here.)

P1010096 Tea Strainer

Instead on this trip I decided to find other venues that sold silver. My lovely friend Sarah, herself a dealer here in New York City of American Aesthetic silverplate and English Aesthetic pottery (Visit her online Trocadero store for fabulous finds.) suggested that I go to the antique market at Bermondsey.  The market is located near London Bridge and is know for having good silver.

The Bermondsey Market starts at about 4am and ends around 1pm and is held only on Fridays.  Since I was staying in Brentford, I would have to take a commuter train to Waterloo Station and then the Jubilee tube line to London Bridge.  So, I took at 6:09am train to Waterloo and I arrived at the market at 7am.

Bermondsey is a small market full of quality stuff and friendly dealers.  There was a great deal of silver on offer as well as jewelry, porcelain, antique drawings, yet silver, sterling and plate was predominant.  My first purchase was from a lovely dealer named Sallie who also has a stall on Portobello Road.  She had some beautiful things especially a great selection of silver handled paper knives with ivory blades. Gorgeous.

A pierced ladle grabbed my attention.  It was a large sugar sifter or saupoudreuse, literally “sprinkler” in French, for sprinkling sugar or powdered sugar on berries or cakes.  The piercing on the bowl is in the form of flowers and leaf sprigs and is just magnificent.  The handle has a nice shield cartouche with an elaborate at least 3 letter monogram.

P1000963(1)

P1000964(1)

P1000965(1)

Looking at the marks on the sifter, I realized the piece was French sterling.  Sallie said she believed it was late 19th century, circa 1880, but I had a hunch that it was perhaps a bit earlier.  So, I bought the sifter for a good price.

P1000969(1)

Back in New York I researched the marks.  French sterling usually has an assay mark of the head of Ceres or Minerva which was a guarantee for large items assayed in Paris.  The ladle did have the Ceres head seen at the top of the photograph on the right.  It also had another head mark called a Michelangelo or more commonly Le Viellard, The Old Man.  It is the third mark done in the photograph.  The Old Man denoted the purity of the piece to be .950 silver which is higher than the sterling standard of .925.

When these 2 marks appear together  it indicates a date of  1819-1838.  Also, the Le Viellard mark only appears during that Bourbon Restoration period. 

Yet, who was the maker of the sugar sifter?  There is another small mark between the heads, unevenly struck and rubbed, of a hammer and crescent.  Additionally, there is a C & D letter mark below The Old Man mark.  At first I thought the C & D marks were the maker’s initials, but could not find a corresponding match on a silver hallmark site online. 

So, I turned to my colleagues at SMPub, a wonderful silver website that has a multitude of forums on all aspects and types of silver.  I posted my query and pictures of the sifter and learned that the small, rubbed mark of the hammer and crescent was, indeed, the maker’s mark and the C & D marks were actually the initials of the owner, a common practice in French silver. 

The hammer/crescent mark indicates the work of Jean-Baptiste-Vast Harleux (What a fabulous name!!!) who was in business in Paris from 1824 to 1875.  This mark was only used until 1834.  Therefore, my sugar sifter narrowed down further in date to the 10 year period from 1824-1834.  My hunch proved correct and now I have my first piece of French silver, a saupoudreuse, and it is a beauty!

P1000960(1)

The next item I bought at Bermondsey was a beautiful reticulated and floral engraved English sterling bon bon dish in the shape of a shell.  I love the shell motif in silver and have several examples of this design from different periods, but this item was my first shell of English origin.  The piece is hallmarked Martin, Hall & Co. (a good maker), Sheffield, 1899. 

P1000961

Besides its beauty, it is a little confection, it appeals to me also as a piece of silver made at the very end of the Victorian period.  In 15 short years, the 19th century will truly end, its idealism, its rationality, its sense of progress (all fictitious of course) all destroyed, all imploded  with the advent of The Great War.

server Besides Bermondsey, I also went earlier in my London trip to Grays Antiques off Bond Street in London.  If you are looking for a wonderful piece of antique or vintage jewelry, this is the place to go.  There are 2-3 silver dealers at Grays and my favorite is Arnold of AMS Antiques.  (Stop in and tell him The Antique Flâneur sent you.)  He has a good collection of English silverplate and sterling.  I had visited him in 2010 and bought a plate engraved server which like my new shell dish was made by Martin, Hall & Co.

server2

P1000971

This visit I found a gorgeous silverplate pierced cream jug on a tripod base with paw feet with a foliate scroll handle and a hand-blown ruby red glass liner.  It is rare to find a piece with its glass liner intact.  The piece is unmarked, but probably dates to 1880-1900.

The shape of the creamer’s body is to me reminiscent of a very traditional, very Georgian helmet shaped creamer.  This correspondence suggests a later date when Edwardian restraint replaced the overindulgent fussiness of the Victorians.  Yet, a P1000972(1) typical Georgian helmet shaped creamer is usually more tapered as the body moves towards the base and ends in a pedestal base not feet.  And it has a handle that extends beyond the body of the creamer.  In contrast, the tripod feet emanating from double  shield cartouches and terminating in paw feet of my creamer seems to me more suggestive of the Victorian era, yet the foliate scroll handle is more traditional.

P1000404

Either way in terms of date, it is a great piece and goes nicely with a George V sterling sugar basket also with a hand-blown ruby glass liner in my collection.  Read about this piece here.  Though not a pair, there is a nice dialogue between these 2 silver items that pleases me.  I look forward to using this married pair at my next silver dessert soirée.

My trip to London allowed me to add some wonderful pieces to my silver collection.  I look forward to returning to London next year and finding more silver booty.  Bermondsey awaits…

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

An Afternoon at the National Gallery, London

P1000512 A View of Big Ben from Trafalgar Square, London

On Saturday 17 September 2011 I journeyed to London by train from Brentford where I was staying with my dearest friend H____.  The night before she married her longtime beau A____ in a gorgeous, intimate and heartfelt wedding in which I officiated; I even got to wear a fab black robe with bishop sleeves and black velvet trim for the occasion.  The night ended at about 3am after a long day of setting up the venue (I did the gigantic, rockin’ floral arrangements for the tables of large berry branches, oak leaves and a purplish/brown leaf which was similar to eucalyptus), a night of good feelings, good food, good music and good love.

The next day I slept in a bit, but no rest for the weary, I went into London to go to the National Gallery.  I had not been there since the summer of 1987, nor had I visited the museum when I was in London in the spring of 2010.  (Check out my other posts about the 2010 trip here, here, here, here and here.)

When I was living in London in the summer of 1987, I was an intern at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, a small museum filled with gorgeous 17th and 18th century paintings.  I did research for the museum on an upcoming exhibition on Gainsborough which took me all over London.  Between moments of research and wearing white gloves while examining 18th century documents, I would always stop in the National Gallery for 15 or 20 minutes if I was close by.  Mostly, I always went to look at one painting, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul Delaroche, Salon of 1834.  (See my posts about this captivating work here and here.)  After my brief viewing, I was then back to my research.

When I returned to the National Gallery on 17 September, I was unexpectedly overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and quality of the National Gallery collection.  I was dizzy and swooning amongst all these delicious creations in paint.  Here are six works that particularly made me stop and look intently.  They “grabbed me by the throat” as the art historian Simon Schama would say.

1. Saint Francis in Meditation by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1635-1639, oil on canvas, 152 x 99 cm.

zurbaran-saint-francis-meditation-NG230-fm

In a shallow, dimly lit space Zurbarán depicts Saint Francis on his knees, hands clasped holding a skull, wearing the hooded robe of a Capuchin monk, his face in shadow, lips parted, seemingly looking up to heaven.  It is a silent painting of religious devotion and contemplation, but it is also an earthly meditation on the nature of painting itself.  How does one convincingly represent form, light, space on a  2 dimensional surface in the medium of paint?

The figure of Saint Francis is extremely plastic, well-modeled in light and shadow.  He firmly occupies the quiet space of the work and seems almost able to enter our own realm outside the painting.  His lips are parted slightly as if he is about to speak or perhaps he has heard God himself?  Indeed, his right hand bears the stigmata of Christ.

This painting stopped me and “grabbed me by the throat” with its silent, simple depiction of devotion, faith, thought.  As a viewer, I am a voyeur to the saint’s private act of prayer.  Through my gaze I join him in the mystery of faith regardless of my own non-religious life.  I feel his devotion.  I meditate on it- this amorphous, unknowable, unquantifiable thing in contrast to the naturalistic, “worldly” rendering of the  figure in all his physicalness, in all his solidity as if I could reach out and touch him.

Meditation on God becomes a rumination on the nature of representation and the rendering of paint.  The spiritual and the natural combine and produce a powerfully evocative work of art.

2.  Lord John Stuart and his Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart by Anthony van Dyck, circa 1638, oil on canvas, 237.5 x 146 cm.

Sir-Anthony-van-Dyck-Lord-John-Stuart-and-His-Brother-Lord-Bernard-Stuart

The two brothers stand before us, Lord John on the left looks off into the distance while his brother Lord Bernard stares out at the viewer.  They both have a look of smug arrogance, displaying their station in life for all to see, not only by having a large, full length portrait of themselves painted by a significant and famous artist, but also in their clothes and elegant poses.  Van Dyck delights in the rendering of their costumes, in the opulence and richness of the fabric, the satin and leather and the trims of lace which adorn them and set them apart from the rest of us.  Look at their magnificent shoes! 

Also, notice the elegant placement and graceful rendering of the brother’s hands.  The beautiful depiction of the hands which is always a Van Dyck signature confirms and exhibits their good breeding and their noble family history.  All of these features combine, so that the brothers seem to be saying to the viewer, “Aren’t we fabulous?” and “We are glad that we are not you.”

Yet, when one reads the wall plaque accompanying this work, one learns that the 2 brothers supported King Charles I in the English Civil War and lost their lives in the conflict because of it.  Suddenly, they are no longer smug, but simply dead or perhaps their death resulted from the very arrogance on display that also caused King Charles I to lose his head.

3.  Winter Landscape by Caspar David Friedrich, circa 1811, oil on canvas, 32.5 x 45 cm.

Caspar David Friedrich Winter Landscape With Church

Winter Landscape by Caspar David Friedrich is a small jewel of a painting that I would have loved to slip into my bag for my drawing room.  In a beautifully rendered snowy scene, a man has thrown down his crutches and is praying at a roadside wooden crucifix seemingly asking for help with his earthly affliction.

Caspar David Friedrich Winter Landscape With Church

In the left background a hallucinatory church emerges in the snow and mist.  It is a promise of everlasting salvation, no matter one’s lot in the physical world.  But, is it real or a vision?

The center of the composition is dominated by gigantic, majestic pine trees, still green despite the winter.  The work seems to convey the beauty and pain of the natural world and how we can all be solitary, lonely figures on earth like the man with the crutches praying to the crucifix.  The promise of salvation, of redemption, of heaven (represented by the church) is there to greet us all upon our death and take away all of our pain and surround and enmesh us in a beauty greater than the material world, here evoked by the pine trees.  Winter Landscape is a deeply moving work, seemingly simple, more than just the depiction of nature, but a meditation on the meaning of life.

4. Portrait of a Young Man by Titian, circa 1515-1520, oil on canvas, 92 x 70 cm.

titian-portrait-young-man-L611-fm

This painting by Titian is a bit of a gratuitous choice.  I was drawn to this work not merely because of Titian’s ability to deliciously render fabrics and textures in paint along with his beautiful sense of coloring, light and shadow- just look at his ability to render the black silk of the sitter’s costume- but because I thought the subject was dead sexy.  He has a strong nose and jaw and along with his hair his overall appearance could be that of a 21st century hipster if it were not for his 16th century fashion. 

He looks contemplative as he stares out at what we don’t know.  This far away gaze makes him more appealing to me and allows me to visibly apprehend him without him catching me looking.  I can admire his beauty and his rockin’ threads.

Also, there is something decidedly sexual about his one ungloved  right hand.  He holds the right hand glove in his left hand that rests on the parapet which separates his world from mine.  All that is visible on the right hand is the thumb that emerges strikingly from the folds of black silk fabric.  For me the ungloved, luminous thumb appearing out of the “darkness” is a displacement of the young gentlemen’s penis.  The portrait changes from contemplative to sexual to masturbation to exhibitionism.  Or is it just me?  I have always had this notion that the shape and appearance of a man’s thumb corresponds to some degree to the shape and appearance of his penis.  So, perhaps when I look at this painting, my understanding of it is predetermined.  No, I don’t think so.  It is an erotic and sexual image and it all resides in that thumb.

5.  Two Boys Blowing Bubbles by Caspar Netscher. circa 1670. oil on oak, 31 x 24 cm.

netscher-two-boys-blowing-bubbles-NG843-fm

This 17th century Dutch painting is a small jewel.  I would have it on my wall in a dead second.  It has a gorgeous, glossy enamel finish, a licked surface, and the subject is sweet and endearing without being saccharine.  Two boys are blowing bubbles an ageless, simple  pastime that children still enjoy today.  (My goddaughter loves blowing bubbles.)  The boy in the foreground has removed his hat and is about to pop the bubble that floats serenely in the upper left of the painting.  His companion in the right background is getting ready to blow another bubble.

netscher-two-boys-blowing-bubbles-NG843-fm

As with much Dutch painting. this work is not simply a genre scene of childhood play, but a vanitas.  The fragility of the bubble, its short existence, is a symbol of the transience of human life and the futility of worldly possessions such as the items on the right of the parapet, a silver dish and rare, exotic shells. 

It has always fascinated how a society so capitalistic and mercantile like Dutch society in the 16th and 17th centuries also felt so guilty about its materialism and had to continually produce images that reminded everyone how all this worldly stuff meant shit and that in the end you were just going to be dust.  You cannot take it with you.

The underlying vanitas goal of the painting helps to contain its sentimentality, so that it does not becoming cloying.  It prevents a toothache.  In the end, Netscher produces a magnificent work both grave and touching.  It reminds us of the simple joys of childhood as well as  the fragile nature of life in a luscious rendering of paint.

6.  Interior by Vilhelm Hammershøi, 1899, oil on canvas, 64 x58 cm.

vilhelm-hammershoi-interior-l712-fm

Before seeing this painting I was not familiar with the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi.  Interior is an arresting work overflowing with mystery and psychological tension.  In a closed, sparse interior,  a dining room, (there is no way out; the doors are closed, there are no windows) a woman stands with her back to the viewer.  She refuses our gaze, ignores our presence and rejects her position as an object to be visually apprehended.

But what is narrative or subject of this painting?  Is she waiting for someone?  Is it a scene of quiet domesticity or domestic frustration?  Has there just been an argument and now she is left alone in the dining room in its aftermath?  Is she going crazy?  This polysemy and lack of closure is testament to the work’s modernity and evokes the isolation, mental and otherwise, that seems to plaque all of us in the modern, capitalist  world and continues to grow with the advancement of technology and its effacement of the body.

Hammershøi painted the interior of this house depicted here more than sixty times- sometimes just empty rooms or sometimes with his wife either from the back or in profile reading a letter or book.  Interior is a contemplative work on one hand, but also on the other an obsession, a madness as if the artist continually depicted the interior of his house and his wife to figure out something that continually alluded his grasp.

So, if you are ever in London, run to the National Gallery and delight in its myriad of visual treasures.