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Tuesday, April 15

FABERGÉ ABROAD : KENWOOD HOUSE


Perched on the northern edge of London's Hampstead Heath is Kenwood House, a magnificent estate where my Granny recently took me for lunch. "They have a wonderful Rembrandt self-portrait in their collection," she mentioned casually.

The majesty of the grounds - appreciated by both tourists and locals alike on this unseasonably sunny spring afternoon - is easily matched by the exquisite home.  The original house was built for John Bill, King James I's printer, a brick structure but by no means modest (records show it contained 24 hearths). Its major transformation occurred after it was purchased in 1754 by William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, for the tidy sum of £4,000 as a weekend country villa. As William and his wife Elizabeth became more enamoured with its beautiful surroundings, they commissioned the renowned Scottish neoclassical architect Robert Adam to remodel, expand and modernize the house in 1764.



 The home was passed down to half a dozen Earls of Mansfields until 1922, when the 6th Earl held a four-day sale and dispensed with most of the original furnishings. The home was bought along with 74 surrounding acres by the 1st Earl of Iveagh, Edward Cecil Guinness (of the beer dynasty). And so in the hands of an Earl it continued until his untimely death five years later, at which time the estate was bequeathed to the nation, stipulating that it should be open free of charge to the public with the "mansion and its contents...preserved as a fine example of the artistic home of a gentleman of the eighteenth century". The rooms have been refurbished to reflect that time as well as featuring Guinness's impressive personal collection of Old Master and British paintings, the Rembrandt displayed in good company with Vermeer, Turner, Gainsborough, and several portraits of Lady Hamilton (famously the mistress of Lord Nelson). Of the interiors the library is most impressive, showcasing Adam's colour schemes and retaining the original decorative ceiling paintings by Venetian artist Antonio Zucchi.











An extensive conservation project was launched in 2012, including repair on the roof, redecorating of the interior and exterior, and the house reopened in late 2013, just in time for our lazy afternoon. Granny and I settled in the shade of the quaint garden cafe for a light lunch, and simply to appreciate beauty as a leisurely pastime of eighteenth century aristocracy.


-Henri Fabergé






Monday, April 14

MATZO BREAD


I have to be honest, this matzo (matzah) was purchased because I liked the packaging and have a penchant for bland crackers.  With an inkling that the thin, perforated bread is part of the Passover holiday (April 14 - 22 this year), I decided to learn more.

Passover commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from their Egyptian enslavers as outlined in Exodus.  Matzo is special because it is unleavened and it is eaten at this time to symbolize the sudden departure from Egypt (the bread had no time to rise).  Matzo is a simple bread, also eaten as a symbol of humility and a reminder of the days of servitude; unlike risen bread (chametz), it is flat and not puffed up, the symbolic antithesis of a proud person. 

You are not to eat any chametz with it; for seven days you are to eat with it matzah, the bread of affliction; for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste.  Thus you will remember the day you left the land of Egypt as long as you live. - Deuteronomy 16:3


In preparation for Passover, observant Jewish people will rid their houses completely of chametz. Chametz includes not just risen bread but cereal, beer, pizza, cookies, etc. Even little crumbs are not tolerated; the entire home, from cupboard to couch cushion is fully cleaned.  If the household wishes to retain the chametz for after Passover they can sell it to someone who isn't Jewish through a Rabbi, to be re-purchased after Passover. The chametz can stay in your house but must be isolated from other food and be inaccessible to the household. 



To me this preparation for Passover appears as tradition firmly rooted in common sense.  Akin to "spring cleaning," ridding the house of those leftover bits mouldering at the back of the cupboard is good housekeeping.  Also, the symbolic "puffed up" nature of chametz can create a very real expansion of the waistline and purging such products from the shelves could promote better health.  So many bread products are comfort food, craved in the cold winter months.  A week away from these addictive victuals could turn the tide towards summer salads.  This coming from the land of the baguette.


Passover information was found here

Sunday, April 13

EXPERIENCE AND YOUTH


I found these two gentlemen in a ragged folio at a community market circling a midcentury apartment block in the northwest of Paris.  I was pretty excited by the quality of the drawing and an older gentleman hovering around, anxious to see what I left behind, seemed to agree.  There were about 10 portraits in among architectural studies and watercolour landscapes and I liked these two best.  

I've christened the mustached man as "Experience": His eyes are knowing, his wiry arm is bent in a protective position, he knows what the world has in store.  The lad with the roman cut is "Youth": he has no idea what's coming, he's open to anything and is ready to prove himself.  I've decided that they are studies for a mural painted in some Parisian church around 1900.  The dealer could offer no providence but the paper is watermarked "Ingres 1870" and "Experience" bears a striking resemblance to John MacNeill Whistler......







Friday, April 11

SACK DRESS : CHRISTIAN AUJARD


You say "sack dress", I say "yes please".  I found this cotton rectangle in a pile at a church bazaar right across the Seine from where I'm staying.  The shape transforms once on the body and visiting Warden Juliann Wilding obliged.

The label tells a tale of romance, tragedy and courage: Christian Aujard, born in Brittany in 1945, met his future wife Michele while working in the fashion industry.  In 1968 they formed a ready-to-wear collection for women, later expanding into menswear. Though the late 60's and 70's the collections were celebrated for their innovative cuts, use of natural fabrics, and relaxed, yet chic look. Christian focussed on day wear and Michele created evening dresses, eventually designing under her own name.  The tragedy of Christian's accidental death in 1977 did not see an end to his label.  Michele continued both lines, designing soft flowing garments and innovating new colour palettes for men.  The label continues today.

I'm guessing that this dress is from the early 80s.  The way the fabric creates an inverted triangle evokes the silhouette of the 1980s while the relaxed drape, pattern and fabric choice are linked to the 70s.

  


Designer information from Fashion Encyclopedia.

Thursday, April 10

CHARLOTTENBORG FORÅRSUDSTILLINGEN 2014


I've been in Skælskør, Denmark (a small seaside town of 6,000) for almost 2 weeks making new work and learning about atmospheric firing (soda + wood) at the Guldergergaard International Ceramic Research Centre.  Taking a day off, I rode the train into Copenhagen to attend the opening of the annual Spring Exhibition, Charlottenborg Forårsudstillingen.  With the event being packed, it was difficult to document the exhibition without people in view.  So I decided to embrace this fact and purposefully capture the attendees taking it all in.  Note the beautiful bouquets the artists receive, the cardboard boxes that are ceramic, and the great fashions.

The Kunsthal Charlottenborg is a contemporary art museum that boasts ambitious programming and is located in a stunning building.  It merged with The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts' Schools of Visual Arts in 2012 as a single organization on the initiative of the Ministry of Culture.  Below is a description of The Spring Exhibition from the accompanying catalogue :

The Spring Exhibition is one of Europe's most important juried exhibitions, and since 1857 has been on of the annual highlights of the Charlottenborg's exhibition programme.  Once again Kunsthal Charlottenborg is hosting The Spring Exhibition, and true to tradition the exhibition presents a wide range of art, architecture and design works.

The Spring Exhibition 2014 received entries from 696 applicants, of whom 49 artists from around the world have been given the opportunity to exhibit for an international audience.  There are artists from Denmark and northern Europe, but the exhibition also presents works by artists from countries like Brazil, Canada and New Zealand.  Behind the total of 73 works are participants with very different backgrounds and experience - some of them with a long professional track record, others talented newcomers.  The artists also range widely in age: the youngest was born in 1990, and the oldest in 1955.