Saturday, February 21, 2015

Tie One On

Like Kate Spade, I love a bow. No matter how streamlined an outfit, the bow tie introduces a hint of whimsy.
Take, for example, this smoldering satin dress worn by Rita Hayworth in “Gilda” in 1946. Designed by Jean Louis, the dress was made to hid Hayworth’s pregnancy – with the bow being a key to the camouflage. 
And didn’t Grace Kelly know how to work a bow? 
I think we all know by now that stilettos are unhealthy for the human foot. But the iconic bow heels by Valentino are worth wearing for a few hours … perhaps while sitting in a chaise and reading about Madame du Pompadour (as these are certainly Pompadour pink).

For those who simply can’t hack heels, there’s always a bow-topped satin clutch, also by Valentino.
Artist Marta Spendowska has rendered some gorgeous gals with their necks draped in dramatic bows.
And for a bow tie created with an artist’s hand, here is a handcrafted gem by Otis James of Nashville.
Monday, February 2, 2015

Salt cellars then and now

Salt wasn’t always the fine-pouring stuff we know today. Anti-clumping agents for salt didn’t debut until 1911 – resulting in Morton’s motto “When it rains, it pours.” (For those living in the pourable age, this motto meant that, despite the weather’s humidity, Morton’s salt would still pour.) Non-pourable salt meant that salt shakers, invented in 1858, didn’t always behave as they should. Before 1858, salt cellars were the means by which salt was kept.
Salt cellars date back to ancient Rome, when they were simple affairs similar to chutney dishes. But by the time history had produced ever-higher somersaults of design – France under Francis I, for example – salt cellars had become ornate works of art. The Cellini Salt Cellar, seen above, was created for Francis I by the goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini between 1540 and 1543. It includes figures of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, and Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, and is the most famous salt cellar on earth. Made of gold, enamel, ivory and ebony, when it was stolen in 2003 it was valued at around $60 million. (Photo courtesy of the Encyclopedia Brittanica)
During the Kennedy administration of 1961 to 1963, the White House opened its doors to this salt cellar graced with two molded female figures. (Photo courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)
The Victorians – never slouches in the area of ornamentation – enjoyed individual salt cellars placed at each setting, or at the very least two, with each sitting on opposite corners of the table. Such artistic vessels would have included this pair done in silver-gilt from Robert Garrard II, London, in 1857 (and sold by Christie’s in 2010 for $40,000). The Christie’s catalogue described them as “formed as a shell-shaped boat riding the waves, supported by two dolphins, steered by a winged sea-putto clasping a trident and tiller, with detachable liner, with two oar-shaped salt spoons.” Delicious!
Personally, I prefer vintage or antique salt cellars, such as these in swan motifs from GasLamp Too in Nashville. (Photo/Karen Parr-Moody) 
Salt cellars have once again gained popularity. This one from L'Object features flower blossoms handcrafted with enamel and rose quartz cabochons and the bowls are made of white Limoges porcelain. What a nice gift for your favorite foodie.
Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Ballet Dance in the Snow

As the snow swirls in dainty puffs across Manhattan, I am reminded of a piece of art located in that fine city’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). By the American artist Joseph Cornell (1903 – 1972), it is called “Taglioni’s Jewel Casket” in honor of a ballerina and her legendary dance across an animal skin in the snow.

Made in 1940, “Taglioni’s Jewel Casket” is a wooden box covered in blue velvet containing a number of glass “ice cubes,” a necklace, jewelry fragments and glass chips. So what does this have to do with the famous Italian ballerina Marie Taglioni of the 19th century? (Above: Image of “Taglioni’s Jewel Casket” courtesy of MoMA.)

Throughout the course of his career, Cornell – who remained in Queens, N.Y. his entire life – was enchanted, even obsessed, with famous women near and far. These ranged from Hollywood starlets, such as Lauren Bacall, to Medici princesses to stars of the Romantic Era’s ballet movement of the 1800s. He was the ultimate fan of whimsical beauty in its various guises. (Above: Cornell’s “Untitled” penny arcade portrait of Lauren Bacall (1945-46), which Christie’s sold in 2014 for more than $5 million.)

Taglioni was the ultimate muse for Cornell, who is now revered as a pioneer of boxed assemblages. She was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1804 to Sophie Karsten and Filippo Taglioni, who trained her and landed her in his ballet creation, La Sylphide, in 1832. This introduced her to the Paris Opéra – ballet’s most revered stage at the time. (Above: Lithograph of Taglioni, from La Sylphide, courtesy of National Portrait Gallery in London.
Taglioni was among the first women to integrate pointe work – dancing on the extreme tips of the toes – into a performance. Known for her delicacy of movement, she also ushered in a new style of ballet marked by floating leaps and the arabesque pose. She even introduced the diaphanous tutu, which was created expressly to expose her footwork. (Above: Lithograph by Chalon and Lane of Marie Taglioni as Flora in Zéphire et Flore, London, 1831, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.)  
So where does “Taglioni’s Jewel Casket” come into the picture? Cornell created the box after a legend told about the famous ballerina. According to the tale, among the jewels in her box she kept an imitation ice cube to commemorate an occasion when her carriage was beset by a traveling Russian thief. During this incident, Taglioni reportedly danced upon an animal skin placed across the snowy road to charm the robber. It’s a tale as romantic as the Romantic ballet itself. (Above: Lithograph of Taglioni as Bayadère, 1831, from the Victoria and Albert Museum.)
Friday, January 30, 2015

Old Paris porcelain: A Gilt-y Pleasure

Like my Southern grandmother, I adore all things gilt, hand-painted and ornate. (Call it my gilt-y pleasure.) And “Old Paris” or “Vieux Paris” style porcelain fits the bill nicely.  

It turns out that shiploads of Old Paris works were purchased during the 1700s and 1800s by Southerners, with whom they were most popular among American collectors. While many pieces are unmarked, the larger factories would sign their names or leave a maker’s mark. Workshops included Edouard Honoré, Dagoty, Dihl and Guérard, Comte d’Artois, the Comte de Provence, John Nast, Duc d’Angoulême, Jacob-Petit and Darte Freres. (According to Bonhams, the vases above are probably Darte Frères and date to the first quarter of the 19th century.)
Such ornate works were produced by manufacturers in the city of Paris, as well as by those on the outskirts, and typically range in date from the mid-1700s through the end of the Second Empire in 1870. The Old Paris corbeille, above, is a fabulous example (dated circa 1840). Neo-classically styled, in the “navette” or boat form, it is graced by four gilt dolphins set within blue rope foliate bands on the base. (From Dolces Antiques Gallery at
This is a hand-painted, floral porcelain serving plate from the 19th century, done in the Old Paris style with each corner depicting a unique floral arrangement. Collectors say that, in some cases, this made them nimbler in reacting to changing styles. Why? Because Old Paris manufacturers not only competed with each other – they also had the Royal manufacture at Sèvres and dozens of factores in Limoges with which to contend.
These gorgeous covered casserole dishes seem perfect for a spring dinner party, such as Easter. (From GasLamp Antiques and Decorating Mall at
Some Old Paris pieces – particularly the vases – are too ornate even for my tastes. But how darling is this Old Paris shell with hand-painted gold decorations? (From CrystalBlueVintage at
Collectors who want to indulge in Old Paris works should put will want to this book in their library: Porcelain of Paris, 1770-1850 by R. de Plinval de Guillebon. It can be found at