Archive for February, 2010

good shabbos chair/ week 1

Posted in 19th cent., Belter, furniture, Rococo Revival on February 26, 2010 by babylonbaroque

As the Lord seems intent on our taking a day of rest; I have decided to highlight one fantastic chair per week. If we must rest, the chair better be beautiful.

For my first chair, I have chosen a slipper chair by John H. Belter, it is part of the Met’s collection. I have had ambivalence concerning Belter for most of my life. Perhaps because most of Belter’s designs were in the Rococo Revival style,and my love of “true” Rococo prevented my appreciating what a novel and  truly wonderful aesthetic he created.

Slipper chair, 1850-60

John H. Belter (American, born Germany, 1804-1863; firm active New york City, 1844-66)

Rosewood, ash

The Metropolitan Museum Of Art

I no longer have any hesitation at all, I have fully embraced “the modern French style”; so complete is my conversion that I dream of finding a piece at some obscure auction. That of course is ridiculous, price is always ‘upon request” when Belter shows up. Perhaps some forlorn knockoff will appear at Bonhams.

This is indeed a beauty, the shallow carvings are a writhing mass of foliate excess, no hint of French origin. This is German, German, German, with a layover to say hello to the Pompadour.

My family has a apocryphal tale that my Nana’s family, German Jews who came over mid-19th century were fine cabinet makers. I have found no proof of Whittenborn/burg glory, yet I still hold on to this tale. It explains  to me my fascination with German fastidiousness and finesse; which can  truly border on the vulgar, nonetheless  I am wild for it.

This chair, just creeps to the edge of extreme, I am struck by the proportions, the height 44 “, with a relatively low seat, it IS of course a slipper chair.

The fine blue silk is a happy nod to the House of David.

Good Shabbos.

Grotsquerie @ the Hermitage

Posted in Grotesquerie, Raphael on February 25, 2010 by babylonbaroque

When Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, 1483-1520, (aka Raphael) designed the wildly inventive ornament for the Vatican in the new Grotto style, could he have predicted how popular they would be?  Not only were they well received by his contemporaries, they have provided influence to this day. I constantly draw upon the designs as a resource for my own work.

When my  friend Eleanor Schapa, the beloved maven (UCLA/Santa Monica College) of all that is European and decorative recently visited the Hermitage she stumbled upon fantastic copies of Raphaels designs.. Apparently the art was not engaging enough, as dear Eleanor found herself snapping away at the wall decoration. Evidently a rather imposing lady guard made her stop, but what we have following is a result of Eleanor and her determined furtive snapping.

Thanks E!

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino


This amazing young man, dead at 37, produced such ravishing ornament. We all know his “true art”, but this ornament expresses such wit and cleverness.

I particularly love the bits of nature he adds to the composition. There is the usual prettiness, little birds and butterflies, but I am tickled beyond measure by the addition of rats, RATS, rodents in the Vatican!

This particular fellow is just so chubby and delightful.

I love the delicacy of the painting, the flashes of crimson against the blue-ish green of the acanthus rosette, so striking.

Little pointy eared squirrels are a great favorite.

This is just such a great combination, the elegant pheasant, graceful arcs of grass and sumac, red headed woodpeckers, and all balanced on the prickly back of a porcupine. a wonderful porcupine.

I was first introduced to Raphael’s designs, as so many American artists are,  through the great 19th cent. pattern books of Owen Jones The Grammar of Ornament,and  Auguste Racinet’s Racinet’s Historic Ornament, series 1. The plates that I encountered in those volumes, whetted an appetite for writhing, convoluted, mad decoration. The 19th century produced even more insane versions, adding Baroque elements. But the almost straight forward designs Rapheal produced most often, rely  upon a balanced design.

I adore the satyrs flanking this composition.

Swagging, winged putti, masques, …… can’t go wrong.

I’ve always wanted to paint such a truly grotesque monster-girl as this, I have usually met resistance from clients, but someday.

I am really wild about the boars, so vital and primitive, like a Pompeian mosaic.

I love the green and red garland frames, the color combo has long been a favorite.

There is something strikingly moderne’ about the tigers, they remind me of Art Deco mural decorations, the kind you would find in coffee shops and ocean liners. Populist Deco

There was, perhaps is, a wonderful coffee shop in my hometown of Trenton. The walls were decorated with wonderful tigers and gazelles in rich reds and olives. The coffee was horrifying, but I spent every moment I could there, just absorbing the wall decoration.

I love the blue berries against the rich red.

I must thank dear Catherine the Great, and Eleanor the Grand, for we would not have these wonderful images.

Exciting News For L.A.

Posted in furniture, Huntington, mackmurdo on February 23, 2010 by babylonbaroque

Huntington museum in Pasadena has long been a treasure to L.A. and it’s inhabitants. It offers bucolic beauty, architectural grandeur, stunning gardens, the roses seduce one and all. But for me the real treasure is it’s art collection, a comprehensive collection of grand English portrait painting, most 18th cent. plus so much more.

I was tickled to find a very wonderful collection of the English Arts and Crafts Movement; I expected  the Pasadena school of prairie inspired Craftsman,which they do indeed represent admirably. The American Craftsman movement  however lacks the narrative and decorative qualities that I so love in the English Craftsman tradition. I encourage everyone to check out this treasured collection, I plan to feature a few favorite pieces in the near future.

That said, Huntington and LACMA made a recent joint acquisition, The  Chair,which I refer to as the Whiplash chair  is a forerunner of the Art Nouveau movement. The chair designed by Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo (1851-1942), was made in 1882 of mahogany, leather, and painted decoration. It was created for the Century Guild, and only five exist. What is clear is the visual reference to the  title page for  “Wren’s City Churches”, which was designed by Mackmurdo.

title page design for

“Wren’s City Churches”


What a boon for this City of Angels. Are we civilized yet?

If you notice, you will discover the wonderful whiplash movement of the odd foliate matter, seaweed, poppies, grasses?

Doesn’t matter, sheer lovely inventiveness.

I am just so happy to have this in my adopted city, I so often pine for my favorite treasures at the Met and the Phila. Art museum, now I have a local treasure.

I look forward to sharing some of my favorite local oddball holdings.

Burges Mystery Solved

Posted in burges, furniture on February 18, 2010 by babylonbaroque

I recently attended a lecture at LACMA, sponsored by the wonderful Decorative Arts Council of which I am a proud member. The guest speaker was the European Decorative Arts curator, Art Institute of Chicago, Christopher Monkhouse. a very charming, intelligent man. The topic was wine and the beautiful objects designed around it’s use. Mr. Monkhouse had put together a very broad collection for his recent exhibit, A Case For Wine.

At one point in the slide presentation, amidst the punch bowls and fine Venetian goblets, a beautiful, wondrous bit of polychromy appears. I knew it’s maker immediately, the hand of Burgess was all over it. So exciting, I adore Burges, his wit, his vigor, his unabashed love of narrative and color.

William Burges


The piece Monkhouse was illustrating was a recent acquisition for The Art Institute of Chicago. It was the Sideboard and Wine Cabinet, 1859, painter Nathaniel Hubert John Westlake 1833-1921,  maker:Harland & Fisher,London.

As you can see it is a great beauty, allegories of vine varieties are featured in the bottom decorative row of quatrefoil; misc. figures grace the front including Bacchus, now St. Bacchus ( of  SS Serge and Bacchus fame?, the great homoerotic duo, beloved of Brazilians and gay folks?), and inside, apparently a portrait of Temperance. Mr. Monkhouse has promised me a peak at Temperance if I venture to Chicago, I plan to have him keep his word.

All very wonderful of course, but the mystery. The mystery being this piece has been missing for years. I knew of it from various textbooks, always as having been part of the 1862  London International Exhibition, but now lost.I have always been saddened by that, how? how does something so  wonderful become lost? I understand tastes change, but what a tragedy.

But now it has been found.

The sideboard is visible next to the famous Yatman Cabinet, now at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Although the quality is poor I believe you can make out both the Yatman and the Chicago Sideboard.

This of course is very exciting for a Burges fan. To have a lost treasure found is a thrill. It seems , according to Mr. Monkhouse that it had been in private hands ( a rectory?, I cannot remember the details) and had been in use until the Institute purchased it. What has happened to the Orientalist over-decoration is anyone’s guess. It may or may not be by Burges.

I am just so tickled that the sideboard is in safe hands.It will be well loved.

Other  Burges sideboards also exist.

The V&A has the Wine and Beer sideboard.

Detroit has the the St. Bacchus (do we have a theme? )Sideboard.

and now Chicago has it’s own treasure, congrats!

Recquiscat in Pace Alexander Mc Queen

Posted in Chinoiserie, Fashion-art on February 11, 2010 by babylonbaroque

such a dream, glamour,a frenzy of form and color,

wit and madness,

attitude and verve,

ingenuity and audacity,

and ravishing mad mad beauty.

I loved the man as an artist, he was so much more then a fashion designer.

I trembled to enter the showroom on Melrose, ridiculous, now i must pay homage, admire the divine Lobster Claw, awe at the snakeskins, take in the last traces of his talents.

Deeply sad, he will be missed.