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