Archive for June, 2012

The Cullinan Diamond and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee

June 27th, 2012 | posted by Ludovic Rousset
The Imperial Sceptre of Great Britain, with the Great Star of Africa

The Imperial Sceptre of Great Britain, with the Great Star of Africa

Queen Elizabeth II in Coronation Robes
Queen Elizabeth II in Coronation Robes, Image from V & A Collection

2012 is an extraordinary year, not the least for the international celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. In honor of the occasion, an exhibition will be on view at Buckingham Palace that showcases the entire Royal Collection and will include an unprecedented number of her majesty’s personal jewels. Displayed in this spectacular exhibit will be many diamonds with “histories”, including the Cullinan diamond, first discovered in South Africa in 1905 as a single diamond.

When Captain Frederick Wells was making his inspection of the Premier Mine in Transvaal, South Africa, he stumbled upon a diamond twice the size of any he had ever seen. Convinced it was worthless, he sent the stone to be analyzed. His discovery turned out to be one of the most important gems in history.

The 3,106 carat diamond was found to be perfectly clear and colorless and was thus named after the chairman of the Premier Diamond Company, Sir Thomas M. Cullinan, who had discovered the mine in 1902. After causing world-wide attention, the diamond was given as a gift to King Edward VII as a symbol of loyalty and appreciation from his Commonwealth constituents.

In order to get the now-famous stone across both land and sea and to its intended recipient, a clever combination of subterfuge and security was enlisted. First stowed in a hatbox of the wife of a South African postal employee, the stone was then sent via parcel post without declaring its full value, which would arouse attention. A dummy stone was also sent on the very same ship that carried the mail, stored safely in the captain’s cabin. When both stones reached their destination safely, the Cullinan was brought to King Edward the VII for inspection.

Imperial Crown of Great Britain, with Cullinan II

The Stars of Africa were sent to the Tower of London to be displayed with the rest of the Crown Jewels, along with the hammer and cleaver Joseph Asscher used to shape them. Afterwards, the largest stone, Cullinan I,—known as the Greater Star of Africa–and Cullinan II (the second largest) were brought to glory in the Sceptre with the Cross and the Imperial State Crown respectively. Cullinan III and Cullinan IV – the Lesser Stars of Africa – were set as a brooch by Queen Mary in 1910. The majestic brooch was the single most valuable item in her collection and was later inherited by Queen Elizabeth II, her granddaughter.

Queen Mary's Brooch with Cullinan III and Cullinan IV, The Lesser Stars of Africa

Queen Mary's Brooch with Cullinan III and Cullinan IV, The Lesser Stars of Africa

Today, as in over a century ago when these magnificent gems made their appearance, jewels define a monarch’s status. The image of royalty always includes spectacular jewels – symbolizing the power of the wearer and, by association, the people she reins. Queen Elizabeth II sought to be more than just adorned by the famous Stars of Africa and made a journey to the Asscher diamond works in the Netherlands during a State visit in 1958. The occasion marked the first time she wore the brooch, and she honored the elderly Louis Asscher by handing him the brooch that his brother had cleaved in his presence.

The fascinating biography of the Cullinan gems represents the powerful charisma jewelry can bring to the wearer. As we celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, let us also remember the legacy of her jewels. The exhibition will be held at Buckingham Palace until the 7 October, 2012 and it is a life time opportunity to admire these incredible gems.

The “Beautiful Age” of Painting: Works of the Belle Époque

June 20th, 2012 | posted by Bill Rau
L'Arc de Triomphe, Edouard Leon Cortès, oil on canvas, 28 7/8" x 36 3/8"

Cortès had the remarkable ability to portray the essence of Paris in all her moods.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries were exciting times to be in France. The end of the Franco-Prussian War provided the catalyst for a period of peace and prosperity known today as the Belle Époque, or Beautiful Age. Changes abounded in nearly every facet of society-from science, philosophy and architecture, to music, literature, and especially, fine art. French artists capitalized on this golden age, using the changes around them as the inspiration to create outstanding masterpieces.

French civic planner Geoges-Eugène Haussmann’s renovation of Paris (which lasted 1853 to the end of the 19th century) forever changed the face of the city. This modernization gave way to wide avenues and open spaces. Streets and public venues were often lined with people, enjoying the sights of the grand City of Lights. Often referred to as the “Parisian Poet of Painting,” Edouard Cortès devoted most of his life to chronicling the vibrant energy and beauty that was Paris. In L’Arc de Triomphe, we see the artist’s Impressionist technique shine through, with splashes of color and wonderfully rendered reflections upon the rain-soaked streets as pedestrians fill the area around the iconic monument.

L'Arc de Triomphe, Edouard Leon Cortès, oil on canvas, 28 7/8" x 36 3/8"

Cortès had the remarkable ability to portray the essence of Paris in all her moods.

Femme en Priere, Jean Beraud, oil on panel, ca 1877-1880, 20 3/4" x 13 1/2"

The "joie de vivre" of the Belle Époque is the subject of this painting by Béraud.

France became the center of fashion in the Belle Époque, with every well-heeled young woman anxious to follow the latest trends. Coupled with the evolving attitudes regarding women’s independence and overall place in society, and the popular fashion houses of the day took heed by creating clothing that was more practical than giant gowns and hoop skirts, yet still elegantly crafted and ornate. The iconic actress Sarah Bernhardt was both a symbol of style and the burgeoning liberation of women, a trait that is dutifully captured in this painting entitled Sarah Bernhardt Hunting with Hounds (Diane) by Louise Abbéma. She captures the renowned thespian in a fashionable and functional riding habit, taking a dignified, confident stance as she grasps the leash of her hounds. Jean Béraud explores these themes as well in Femme en Priere. The clash between traditional and nonconformity is reflected in the woman’s desire to be devout, but on her own terms, as she relaxes on the back of the chair in front of her.

The paintings of the Belle Époque artists remind us of an era when time was taken to explore, and dare I say, enjoy life. Perhaps, along with relishing in their beauty, these outstanding paintings can help us regain that joie de vive many of us rarely get the chance to stop and appreciate.

To view M.S. Rau Antiques’ selection of Belle Époque Art, click here.

The Earth and Stars at Your Fingertips: 18″ Globes by J & W Cary

June 13th, 2012 | posted by Lyndon Lasiter

Summer has arrived, which means the travel season is in full swing. I recently returned from a vacation with my family, and many of my friends are planning their trips to places both near and far.

18" Globes by J & W Cary of London

If you have a passion for traveling, this pair of extremely rare 18” J & W Cary globes will certainly capture your imagination.

Rendered in painstaking detail by expert cartographers of the time, this pair of globes – one terrestrial and one celestial – capture the most accurate representation of the world and the sky available in 1816. The terrestrial projection even delineates Native American tribal lands and natural resources and includes accurate placement of New Orleans, a well-traveled and economically vital port. To launch the armchair explorer of the time, the voyages of Captains Cook, Vancouver and others are charted. The terrestrial globe also features an analemma, which provided a scale of the Sun’s daily declination.

Imagine how rare and exciting it would have been to have access to accurate renderings of the stars and the earth in 19th century England? These globes are just as fascinating today.

The Classical Beauty of J.W. Godward

June 6th, 2012 | posted by Deborah Choate
A Stitch In Time, JW Godward, oil on canvas, 1917

It excites me to share with you this exquisite new painting that has just arrived in the gallery entitled, A Stitch In Time by J.W. Godward. Known as a Victorian Neo-classicist and “High Victorian Dreamer”, Godward often portrayed women in everyday situations, elevated by rich textures of a neo-classical setting. A Stitch In Time captures these romanticized elements and draws the viewer in with meticulous attention to detail.

 Godward’s use of saturated colors juxtaposed against the cool white marble background and lush foliage leaves the viewer feeling like she has stepped outside the constraints of time itself. A more intense look at the painting reveals a secondary element within the complex composition. 

 As the young woman sews, beautifully draped in sumptuous fabrics, Godward asks us to admire not only her beauty, but her dedication to the simple task she performs. Through the careful rendering of this tranquil beauty’s gown and the surrounding scene, we sense not only admiration, but possibly love for her.

 The classical sculpture in the background acts as a mirror for the young seamstress. By placing both beauties within the composition, Godward invites a comparison between the two. He clearly wants us to see the woman as one would see the sculpture: beautiful and idealized.

To say that one is dazzled by the splendor and artistry contained within Godward’s canvas is an understatement. Even more engaging is the undercurrent of affection we can read from his purity of technique. Whether you are a Godward collector or simply a lover of great beauty, A Stitch In Time would be an important addition to consider for your collection!