Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Visit To The San Francisco Fall Art & Antiques Show

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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
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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
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The spectacular floral arrangements at Café Girandole are a treat to behold
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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.

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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

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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
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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Decorating Black Basalt Ceramics: A Revolutionary Little Machine

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These early black basalt ceramics are decortaed with an array of engine-turned designs
Photo: Chronica Domus


I had intended to write about this subject for quite some time and a comment made on my last post from loyal reader and fellow blogger GSL finally convinced me to get my skates on and actually follow through.  So here today, for your enjoyment and edification, is my laywoman's attempt at explaining how the delightfully incised decorations often seen on early black basalt ceramics have come to be.

As readers of this blog might have noticed, I have a bit of a problem crush obsession with black basalt ceramics.  I regularly find myself reaching for these utilitarian and handsome objects to use at our table, as flower receptacles, or even as a Christmas tree holder.  As GSL so astutely noticed when I posted on my sweet peas recently, the vessel I used to hold my blooms is decorated with a cross-hatch design.  He wondered how it had been made.

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The geometric cross-hatching on this black basalt vessel sparked GSL's interest and his question on how such a design was achieved on early ceramics
Photo: Chronica Domus


It was the genius of Josiah Wedgwood in 1763 that introduced the world to the ornamental engine-turning lathe which was enthusiastically installed in his Staffordshire pottery that very year.  Mr. Wedgwood had first set eyes on the lathe at Matthew Boulton's Birmingham metal workshop and was immediately enthralled by the possibility of adapting it to decorate his ceramics. By rotating the leather-like surface of an earthenware article, the potter was able to embellish the surface with a series of exacting ribs and patterns with great precision. The results would bring Josiah Wedgwood fame among his extensive circle of wealthy clientele.
A frame from a video made by British Pathé illustrating how a design was cut into the body of one of Wedgwood's pots using the ornamental engine-turning lathe
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I adore the graphic engine-turned decoration on these neo-classically inspired Wedgwood tea wares with finials depicting Sybil the ancient Greek oracle
Photo: Chronica Domus


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A detailed look at two sugar basins skillfully executed on the Wedgwood lathe
Photo: Chronica Domus


Interestingly, Josiah Wedgwood's shrewd business instinct led him to market black basalt tea wares to fashionable ladies who had adopted the curious custom of bleaching their hands with arsenic. As you can imagine, juxtaposing porcelain-like skin against the dark-bodied teapots and milk jugs served to highlight his patron's vanity to great effect.

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A trio of early-nineteenth century black basalt milk jugs showcasing 
three distinct engine-turned decorations
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A closer look at the intricate engine-turned pattern on a helmet-shaped milk jug circa 1820
Photo: Chronica Domus


Perhaps some of my own pieces of  black basalt were purchased from the Wedgwood & Byerley showrooms in St. James' Square, London
Source

It did not take long until Wedgwood's contemporaries followed his lead and acquired their own engine-turning lathes.  The firms of William Baddeley and Hackwood & Co. are two that adopted this form of decoration but neither could rival the quality of Wedgwood's designs.

A beloved pair of Hackwood & Co. slop bowls display a graphic zig-zag design which is not as finely executed as the Wedgwood examples in my collection
Photo: Chronica Domus


During my research for this post, I came across an intriguing photograph of the nineteenth-century ornamental engine-turning lathe in situ at the basalt room of the Wedgwood pottery in Etruria.  The lathe has now been moved to the Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston, a place I've been fortunate enough to have visited on my travels many years ago.


What excites me most about the image is the object in the potter's hand.   It appears to be a very similar example of my basalt vase which is shown in the following photograph:

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A favored piece in my collection is this small vase which highlights the supreme skill of the potter who adorned it with a band of engine-turned acanthus leaves and geometric fluting
Photo: Chronica Domus


Ornamental engine-turning was by no means Wedgwood's only method of decorating his world-famous ceramics, but it is a particular favorite of mine as the designs still appear fresh and exciting, if not slightly contemporary, two-hundred years on from their manufacture.

I hope you have enjoyed learning about the process of how these varied patterns found their way onto such handsome ceramics.  And, of course, my thanks to GSL for his intriguing inquiry which is what ultimately led me to finally write this post.  I do hope I've managed to unravel the mystery of the cross-hatching for you.

For those of my readers that might be interested in learning more about Josiah Wedgwood and his world-renowned company, and see the very same ornamental engine-turning lathe discussed in this post in action, I would gently encourage you to view this two-part film found here, presented by Associated British Pathé.


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