Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

Chronica Domus
An arrangement of amaranth and pin oak leaves held in a Paris Porcelain confiturier adds an autumnal note to the drawing room
Photo: Chronica Domus

My favorite holiday is upon us once again, Thanksgiving.  I just adore the concept of setting aside a day each year to count one's blessings and revel in the companionship of friends and family over a feast of tasty home-cooked fare and flowing libations.  As a Brit now living in California, I've wholeheartedly embraced this very American of holidays and wish that all nations would dedicate such a day of thanks and reflection.  It really is rather grounding.

Last year, we did not get an opportunity to host our annual Thanksgiving dinner, which we share with our closest friends and family.  We jokingly refer to this as our 'Annual Thanksgiving Dinner Party for Waifs and Strays'.  This year, we are back in the saddle and raring to go.

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I finally found the perfect receptacle to hold the homemade port and fig cranberry sauce, a nineteenth century Anglo-Irish cut glass sauce tureen
Photo: Chronica Domus

Shortly, my husband will be placing the brined turkey into a hot oven.  I'll be filling my recently acquired old sauce tureen with the delectable port and fig cranberry sauce I wrote about last year, and fussing over the other small details of the table before our guests arrive.

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Two arrangements of hypericum berries, pin oak leaves, and persimmons still attached to their boughs decorate the Thanksgiving table this year
Photo: Chronica Domus


I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving holiday wherever you might find yourselves today.  I have much for which to be thankful, and hope you do too.  Now, I'd better get my skates apron on and get myself into the kitchen if everything is to be ready before the arrival of our guests.

Happy Thanksgiving dear readers.

Monday, November 21, 2016

End of An Era: Farewell My Pretty Boys!

It was with great sorrow last week that my family and I said our farewells to our ever faithful senior canine companion, Mavro.  It marked an end of an era of sorts, for we have enjoyed the companionship and oftentimes naughty antics of dogs for the past twenty or so years.  Our house has taken on a rather quiet emptiness now that both of our dogs are no longer with us.  

A rather fuzzy photograph, taken in 2007, of Kylo and Mavro (in the foreground) when both dogs were very much in their prime and at their most boisterous
Photo: Chronica Domus


Our beloved Kylo died five years ago.  We considered acquiring another companion for Mavro but by all appearances, he rather liked being the only dog in the household.  That also meant he was the sole attention seeker too, which suited him just fine.  Mavro became a calmer and more stoic dog, if that is at all possible.  He assumed a proud gait as I trotted around the neighborhood daily with him during our walks.  It was as though he was announcing to the world that he had claimed me for his own, ever the faithful guardian I suppose.

Both of our dogs were rescues and although we knew they were not purebred by any stretch of the imagination, Kylo strongly resembled a Eurasier in both temperament and physical appearance, and Mavro a Swedish Lapphund.

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Content to be bobbing about on the water during the summer of 2007
Photo: Chronica Domus


Our sweet boys shared our lives to the fullest and always accompanied us on short excursions to the country where they enjoyed discovering the delights of rambling through mountains and rivers, bobbing about on the water in rented boats, and hiking high and low.    

We were fortunate to enjoy the company of each dog for fourteen years, which we've been told is rather a long lifespan for large breed dogs.   Of course, in reality, that's never enough time to enjoy the unconditional love that these animals bring into our lives.


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Mavro with his graying snout sniffing at the spring tulips back in April 2015
Photo: Chronica Domus


Mavro had slowed down considerably during the past few years and found it increasingly difficult to maintain a good pace on even the shortest of walks.  We knew it was time to seek help earlier this year and approached our vet for a solution.  Pills and a new diet were prescribed and, for a while, we saw a marked improvement in Mavro's comfort level.  Then, two weeks ago, even leaving the house became problematic.  The hobbling had worsened and Mavro was deteriorating at an alarming rate. When he could no longer get up on his own, we knew it was time.

I will forever remember both of our good-natured loyal boys with love and affection, and will never forget their gift of unconditional love towards their human family.

Farewell my pretty boys and may you both rest in peace.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Edible Antiques: Snow White's Apple

Could this be the apple that tempted Snow White?
Photo: Chronica Domus


During Saturday morning's foray to the farmers' market, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of an apple.  The apple in question was not just any old apple, mind you.  It boasted a hue so deep and dark it could almost pass for a plum.  I had an overwhelming urge to bite into one right there and then. The two women standing beside me filling their brown paper bags with these bewitching fruits exclaimed to each other "They look just like Snow White's apple".  I had to agree with them.

Malus domestica 'Arkansas Black'
Photo: Chronica Domus


In chatting to the farmer, I discovered that this early-nineteenth century cultivar is known as an Arkansas Black apple and provides quite a challenge to grow.  In fact, he told me it was a "real pain" which might explain the scarcity of this particular variety in our area.  Apparently, his finicky thirty-five year old tree is not usually a heavy producer but this year's optimal weather conditions yielded an unusually large crop.  How lucky for us, his farmers' market patrons.

Have you ever seen such a dark-hued apple?
Photo: Chronica Domus

Upon my return home, I could not wait to cut into the glossy dark skin of this beautiful heirloom and photograph it for your pleasure.  Biting into the green tinged creamy-colored flesh proved to be a very good thing indeed.  I can tell you the flavor was nothing short of delicious. With just the right balance of  sweet and sour, and as crunchy and juicy as one would expect from a perfectly ripened autumn apple, Arkansas Black proved an excellent choice among the sea of apples available for sale at the market.  I just know my daughter will agree when she finds one tucked into her lunch box today.

Have you had the pleasure of sampling one of these black beauties, or do you have a favorite "go to" eating apple you look forward to snacking upon at this time of year?


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Mourning Memento for All Souls' Day

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Photo: Chronica Domus


Today is All Souls' Day, a day to remember those that have gone before us.  The occasion also provides me with an excuse opportunity to share another piece of mourning art from my collection.

I've already written other posts on the curious and sentimental art of mourning, found herehere, and here, so I won't go into too much detail on the subject.  I will allow this handsome memento to speak for itself.

Chronica Domuss
Photo: Chronica Domus

This diminutive treasure is a mere two and a half inches in diameter, or five inches with its frame.  Its imagery is composed of human hair which has been masterfully manipulated and arranged upon a thin slice if ivory backing.  The background has been painted to show a river and hilly landscape. A pyramid or perhaps the top of an obelisk is visible beyond the hills.  Typical symbols of mourning are represented by the weeping willow tree, the tomb upon a plinth, and a lone graceful urn.  The poignant inscription on the tablet, to the right of the tomb, reads "C'est tout ce qui me reste", which roughly translates to "all that remains of me".  Nothing else need be said to convey the affections of the loved one who commissioned this striking and dignified piece.

This is another example which I acquired in Holland though it was likely created in France.  The mourning art is housed under glass in its original mahogany frame which has developed a warm patina over the ensuing years.  I believe the memento dates to around 1830.

I expect many of you might well find this form of memorializing our dearly departed more than a little macabre, but I find the sentimentality behind the incorporated symbolism of such artworks not only pleasing, but rather fascinating.

If you'd enjoy learning more about this most personal form of artwork, I highly recommend you visit the Art of Mourning web site which is deftly curated by Hayden Peters, a fellow collector of mourning art and sentimental jewelry.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Visit To The San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show

Chronica Domus
The cover of this year's catalogue features 'African Savannah' hand-painted wallpaper by de Gourney in keeping with the animalia theme of this year's show
Photo: Chronica Domus


It's that time of year again in San Francisco.  The social season is once again upon us and one of the highlights, at least for me, is attending the San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show, now in its 35th year.  Actually, the word "art" is new to the show's title which is a good thing as it drew several new exhibitors.  While this prestigious event spans four days, from Thursday through today, I was not as organized as I've been in years past and thus only managed to attend with my husband in tow on day three.

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Let's wander about and see what's what
Photo: Chronica Domus


The first booth that drew our attention was Clinton Howell Antiques. Mr. Howell is a charming and engaging fellow and we lingered for quite a while chatting whilst oohing and ahhing over several extraordinary pieces on display.  I was so dizzy by the sight of an exceptionally large and handsome nineteenth century gilded convex looking glass that I forgot to snap a photograph of it for your enjoyment. You'll just have to take my word for it when I say the thing was enormous and rather a showstopper. Crowned with an eagle dangling a snake from its beak, and girandoles to beautifully illuminate any room in which it might be hung, it really was quite a special piece.  Mr. Howell told us that it came from England and had likely hung in a country house.  This rather surprised me.  If I was a betting girl I would have lost a packet as the ring of ebonized stars surrounding the original plate, together with the crowning eagle embellishment, would have led me to believe it was an American piece.

The looking glass was by no means the only pleasant distraction in Mr. Howell's booth.  Just take a look at this:

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A rare Derbyshire Blue John urn 
Photo: Chronica Domus


and, this:

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The beautiful colors and striations of this handsome Blue John urn had weakened my knees
Photo: Chronica Domus


It was all getting a little too overwhelming so my husband and I headed straight for Café Girandole where we were seated for a pleasant lunch and light refreshments.

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A flute of champagne is ever the civilizing tonic, and all the more so while set within a deluge of beautiful antiques
Photo: Chronica Domus


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The spectacular floral arrangements at Café Girandole are a treat to behold
Photo: Chronica Domus


Following our lunchtime interlude, we wandered off down the aisles until we found this:

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A corner of Mr. Charles Plante's incredible booth
Photo: Chronica Domus


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Photo: Chronica Domus


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Mr. Plante is obviously a dab-hand with a hammer and nails, for his exhibition space was beautifully hung with a multitude of tempting pieces
Photo: Chronica Domus 


The photographs I've managed to take really do not do this space justice as every item was beautifully and compactly arranged, Mr. Plante's trademark look.

As I mentioned earlier, the show's theme revolved around animals and so I must include at least one image of my favorite animal embellished items.  These porcelain tureens and trays, circa 1810 - 1830, are part of an extensive dinner service and are painted with various animals set within fantasy landscapes.  The illustrations are based on Buffon's 'Natural History of Mammals'.

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Doesn't everyone want a hedgehog, rat, and boar embellished dinner service?
Photo: Chronica Domus


I always like to stop by Hayden & Fandetta Rare Books and poke around among their interesting and often amusing collection of books.

Chronica Domus
Obviously, our household's Chief Bartender - my husband - has been doing it all wrong if I've yet to hear him sing whilst mixing our gee and tees!
Photo: Chronica Domus


A couple of years ago, I wrote a post on my sewing kit, found here, and how special it was to me because of the repurposed tole tin once owned by my grandmother.  I believe if I did not already have such a kit, this beauty might have come home with me:

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I was sorely tempted by this English Regency burr yew wood sewing box and the beautiful ivory oval showing a woman seated upon a neo-classical chair in the style of Adam Buck
Photo: Chronica Domus


Although we spotted several red dots on item tags, indicating an item had happily been sold, a premium event like the San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show is not just for serious buyers and collectors.  It provides enthusiastic admirers of beautiful antiques the opportunity to view many wonderful pieces at close proximity and learn something about them from very knowledgeable and affable dealers.  I hasten to add that such items might not necessarily be seen for sale at one's local antique shops, or what may remain of them.  This is because the show attracts international dealers who bring various regional works of art, and particularly fine furniture from afar, to display within the historic waterfront Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason.

By attending the show, you will also help provide much needed funds that benefit Enterprise For High School Students whose work helps prepare students for success in the workplace and in higher education. Oh, and of course, let's not forget the excellent series of lectures given by some of today's top designers and ambassadors of style throughout the four-day event.

Perhaps you too will make a point of attending next year's show.  You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Visit To The Legion of Honor to View The Brothers Le Nain Exhibition

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus

Last month while perusing the web site of The Legion of Honor - which happens to be my favorite fine art museum in San Francisco for reasons I shall return to later in this post -  I noticed an upcoming exhibition that piqued my interest.  The exhibition focused on the paintings of the brothers Le Nain. Who I wondered, were these brothers, and what masterpieces had they painted? A rudimentary web search revealed that the works of Antoine, Louis, and Mathieu were a bit of a mystery.  No one, it seemed, could identify with certainty which piece of their oeuvre had been painted by which brother.

This peculiar discovery led me to procure two opening day tickets to what turned out to be a most enjoyable experience.  How could it not have been?  We were, after all, going to a museum so beautiful that it is a work of art in itself.  And, to top it off, my husband and I we were visiting on a sparkling warm autumn day with not a whisper of lingering fog to be seen anywhere.

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This must be the most spectacular setting of any museum I've had the pleasure of visiting, with views of the Pacific Ocean spilling into the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge off into the distance
Photo: Chronica Domus


This was also a day of optimal flying conditions if one happened to be piloting an F/A-18 Hornet jet.

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Well, it was Fleet Week after all, and the Blue Angels were performing their annual areal gymnastics to the delight of onlookers across the city
Photo: Chronica Domus


The majestic scenery is just one of the reasons this happens to be my favorite art museum in the city. The classical decorative architecture is another.  Built in the Beaux-Arts style, the building is a three-quarter scaled rendition of the Palais de la Légion d'Honneur in Paris, and was a gift to the city by the sugar magnate Adolph B. Spreckels and his wife Alma.  Now, tell me, does not this spectacular entrance announce that one is about to arrive somewhere very special indeed?

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Now this is an entrance befitting a world-class art museum, would you not agree?
Photo: Chronica Domus

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Photo: Chronica Domus


What a contrast to the abysmal copper-clad monstrosity of the de Young Museum, which I wrote about, here.

Part of the opening day celebrations for the exhibition included a live performance of seventeenth century classical music by Seismic Strings.  The music gloriously poured into the entry hall from the nearby gallery where is was being played and set the mood for what was to come.

Chronica Domus
An impressive autumnal arrangement of foliage and seedpods decorate the entry to the gallery that was set up for a performance of live music
Photo: Chronica Domus


Following the concert, we decided it was probably a good idea to eat a late lunch before we headed downstairs to the exhibition. The Legion of Honor has an outstanding café which serves tempting and delicious hot entrées and snacks to sustain hungry museum goers.  This serene room overlooks the beautiful alfresco dining area that was a popular spot on the day we visited.  What a marvelous place for a relaxing breather and a bite to eat.

Now, onto the main event.  We descended the elegant marble-clad stairwell to the Rosekrans Galleries, wherein the exhibition was staged.  You'll notice when you visit the Legion of Honor that navigating the beautiful galleries is a breeze.  Everything is logically ordered and there is no fear of accidentally walking into a dead corner of an awkwardly designed space, which is often an unfortunate consequence of visiting the newly rebuilt de Young Museum.  But, let's return to the brothers Le Nain.

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'Three Men and a Boy' circa 1640-1645 is believed to be an unfinished portrait of the brothers Le Nain likely painted by Mathieu, the central figure - interestingly, a cleaning to remove unoriginal paint in 1968 revealed the figure and color patches to the right of the painting 
Photo: Chronica Domus


The curators of this exhibition did a wonderful job of gathering more than forty of the brothers' works from museums and places of worship across England, France, and the United States.  Included is an altarpiece from Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris being exhibited for the first time in this country. It is one of the brothers' most important ecclesiastical works.


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'St. Michael Dedicating His Arms to the Virgin', circa 1638 is being shown in the United States for the first time - if only we knew which of the three talented brothers had painted it
Photo: Chronica Domus  


Much investigative work by the conservators of this exhibition was carried out in an attempt to understand the techniques, brushwork, and modeling approaches used by the individual artists in determining who painted what.  As Antoine, Louis, and Mathieu all shared a studio and signed their works 'Le Nain', it was determined that some techniques were specific to only one brother, while others were used more generally by all three.  How frustrating it must be for all concerned to conclude that the mystery of which brother painted what work of art has yet to be conclusively proved.  

Although there were many other religious works on display, I was more drawn to the allegorical paintings.  'Allegory of Victory', which usually resides in The Louvre Museum, is one that I found particularly arresting.  The dramatic composition and scale immediately affixes the viewer's gaze, or at least it did mine.  I lingered upon it for what seemed like an eternity.  Not only is the subject matter transfixing, but the restrained and deliberately subdued color palette is masterful.  It simply took my breath away.  The winged and helmeted woman stands victorious over what is believed to be an allegorical figure of Deceit, Rebellion, or Intrigue. Oh, how I would love to hang this in my drawing room.

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'Allegory of Victory' circa 1635, is believed to have been painted by Mathieu Le Nain and was my favorite painting of the exhibition
Photo: Chronica Domus


Another of the brothers' works I enjoyed viewing was 'Bacchus and Ariadne' which usually resides at the Musée de Beaux-Arts in Orléans, France.  The luminous quality of both Ariadne and Bacchus in contrast to the oarsmen is sublimely beautiful.  I only wish my dismal photograph could do this masterpiece justice but alas, there is nothing quite like seeing this artwork in person.


'Bacchus and Ariadne', circa 1635, is supremely beautiful in both composition and tonality
Photo: Chronica Domus


Aside from the religious and allegorical subjects on display, the brothers heavily focused their attentions on capturing scenes of everyday peasant life and the ills of poverty.

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'The Resting Horseman', circa 1640, depicts a tenant farmer and his family, a subject often painted 
 by the brothers judging by the many works included in this exhibition
Photo: Chronica Domus 


If you happen to have a few hours to spare while visiting San Francisco, and would enjoy viewing this intriguing exhibition and learning about the fascinating clues unearthed when attempting to solve the puzzle of which brother painted which work of art, I urge you to come to The Legion of Honor. The Brothers Le Nain exhibition runs through January 29, 2017 so you have a few months ahead of you to plan accordingly.  And, if this happens to be your first visit, you'll be in for a real treat.  There are many other treasures in store to insure your time at this fine arts museum will be memorable.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Pear Windfall

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


There are few pleasures so fulfilling as gathering one's homegrown fruit. So it was with much joy
that my family and I spent a recent warm Saturday morning gathering just a fraction of this year's pear harvest.

As each of us filled our bushel basket to overflowing, we often found ourselves remarking how agreeable it was to be in the depths of this most pleasant agrarian pursuit.  It was all rather surreal to be perfectly frank, knowing we were mere steps away from our house and not in the wilds of a far off fruit orchard.  Just look at what we managed to gather in short order.

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


I think we are all feeling in a particularly celebratory mood by this year's bountiful harvest because last year, our lone pear tree fell victim to the worst drought in California's recent history.  The unseasonably warm winter of 2014 and lack of spring rain resulted in just a smattering of blossom. The usual leaf out was very late to arrive leading to much fretting on my behalf.  I feared our beloved tree was a goner. Two misshapen tiny pears was the sum of last year's dismal harvest, but that was all the evidence I required to convince me that this stately old tree was not giving up without a fight. Life, it seemed, had somehow prevailed despite having endured the taxing growing conditions.

This year, as you can see from the preceding photographs, we are once again the very fortunate beneficiaries of a glorious crop of pears thanks in no small part to the thirst-quenching rain storms of El Niño.

We inherited our mature pear tree when we purchased our house so I cannot take any credit for selecting a cultivar that seems to thrive in our area's moderate summer climate.  I believe the variety is a Green d'Anjou, sometimes referred to as a Beurré d'Anjou or just plain Anjou pear. This mid-nineteenth century European cultivar was introduced to England and America from France or Belgium (nobody, it seems, is quite sure which). At maturity the short-necked fruits are large and green and do not change color as they ripen. Interestingly, the Pomological Congress of 1852 recommended the d'Anjou pear for general cultivation.  I had no idea such a congress existed until researching this post.

Chronica Domus
Photo: Chronica Domus


Alas, the majority of our gathered fruit could not immediately be enjoyed when we picked it several weeks ago.  This is because in order to avoid the mealy texture of an over-ripened pear, the fruit requires picking when large but still firm. Ripening occurs off the tree.

Ah well, one could still enjoy one's pears as living art, gathered in pretty bowls and compotes placed about the kitchen until the long-anticipated moment of perfect ripeness.  Sharing with our friends and neighbors is always a ritual I so enjoy, and one which they too appreciate.

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Our bushel baskets are full but there are still plenty of pears remaining for another day's picking
Photo: Chronica Domus


Cooking with pears is another pleasure I look forward to over the coming weeks.  The possibilities are seemingly endless and all that is required is deciding what to make with them.  Cakes, crisps, or crumbles.... hmmm?  Just yesterday, I baked two scrumptious pear and cranberry crostatas. One was walked over to a dear neighbor friend, the other was swiftly devoured as a post dinner treat by the family.

I am so pleased I managed to snap this image of yesterday's homemade pear and cranberry crostata before it vanished into the mouths of a hungry and appreciative family
Photo: Chronica Domus


While in the garden earlier in the week, I noticed that within the few short weeks since our pear harvest, our stalwart tree has begun preparations to meet the cooler months of the year.  The subtle signs that autumn has descended upon the garden have arrived.  The rains did too this weekend.

Autumn has left her orange and yellow calling cards with the first of the turning leaves
Photo: Chronica Domus


Do you enjoy cooking with pears at this time of year or do you prefer to eat them just at their ripest when they are all sweet and buttery perfection?

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