Monday, February 24, 2014

Above The Door To The Inner Sanctum

The hallway to my bedroom is a direct shot from the living room, so the bedroom door is actually very visible to my living room guests. When I was repainting the hallway, I decided to make the bedroom entrance a bigger statement.

click to enlarge
This griffin decoration is achieved with the same Sherwin Williams paints that I used in the hallway, with acrylic paints added for some of the shading.
The original overdoor was carved in 1794 by Pehr Ljung for Regent Carl of Sweden. Carl acted as regent for his nephew from 1792-1796, and as Carl XIII of Sweden from 1809-1818. The griffin was Carl's heraldic device, and in this arrangement, griffins guard the tripod sacred to Apollo, symbolizing Carl as guardian of the arts.

Monday, February 17, 2014

My Egyptian Door

Several years ago, the Florida International Museum (sadly no longer in operation) hosted a splendid exhibition of Egyptian antiquity. I took a sketchbook along and made notations of those articles that were of most interest to me.

I was particularly impressed by a temple door that was actually levels of concentric door frames. Standing in front of it, I thought to myself, "I'd love to build a grand door like that someday."

Shortly thereafter I designed a temple door in the house of friends. They had a carpenter build it to my specs and he did a wonderful job. Because the house was not my friends' primary residence, the door remained unadorned for a long time, as shown above — not unlike an uncarved totem!

Recently, the house became their primary residence, and it was time to finally finish that door!

click to enlarge
Here's the door as it appears today.

I started at the base (and was happy that no one was there to photograph me as I sprawled on the floor). I put the hippopotamus at the base because he's the king of the Nile. Above him are stylized flora, and above that our solar sun. This segment of the door frame represents the physical world.

The next segment depicts the Roman-Egyptian god, Antinous Osiris. Antinous was the partner of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and he drowned in the Nile. Hadrian then proclaimed him a god and had many temples built in his honor. So this segment of the door frame represents ascension as the Ancient World would have believed it. Above Antinous Osiris I've positioned a hieroglyphic of my own design. The two center triangles are a variant of the Star of David, one interpretation of which is energy simultaneously ascending and descending.

The next segment depicts the individual monograms of the two owners. Sphinxes support a cartouche that is framed by the snake that devours its own tail, the symbol of eternity.

I did a study of hieroglyphics, and these are bona fide inscriptions of a spiritual nature, relevant to each owner. Hieroglyphics are so interesting. Because vowels were not represented, similar-sounding words like "bat" and "bait" would have the very same iconography, followed by an icon that actually illustrated the item. There must have been a better way to communicate, and there was!

I was tickled that the paintings I did of the owners, two delightful gentlemen who have been partners for more than 50 years, are close enough likenesses that several of their friends wondered how I transferred photographs onto the wood!

The cartouches next to each portrait reveal the owners' names spelled phonetically in hieroglyphics. In Ancient Egypt, such cartouches would only be used for royalty or high officials.

The very stylized capitals are loosely based on the capitals of a temple in Thebes, a temple that was referred to as a "memnonium."

click to enlarge
The winged sun, which in the Old Kingdom would have looked like the black and white image, is actually a cross-cultural icon that has been used across the ages in many countries, and by many religions. It varies in meaning, representing royalty, sun gods, or the One God. I gave it a more universal interpretation, to represent Oneness.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

19th Century Cigar Labels

As my regular readers know, I collect antique advertising, mostly in the form of lithographed trade cards, which you can read about in my sidebar, or here. I don't go out of my way to collect cigar labels because I don't want to stray too far from my field of collecting. But every so often I come across early cigar labels, those that were lithographed on plain rag paper like the rest of the collection. I'd like to share a few from my collection, and I estimate that these are all approximately 135 year old.
This label and the following one both emphasize the important commercial aspect of the cigar industry in the 19th century. Cigars were of course a major Cuban export, after sugar. In the United States, cigars held a special function for all the industrial shipping that moved south by river. When those vessels were emptied, they were often laden with cigars for the trip back north.

Mercury is the Roman god of commerce, so he is honored here with his own "El Comercio" brand. (I'll have to add that Greek key to my sidebar page on Greek keys!) This Mercury is a little portly, and his helmet appears to be a golden Homburg.

Lithography was a new color printing process in the 1800s, and the influx of rich colored images caused many people to save labels of all sorts, sometimes for scrapbooking and sometimes to adorn their walls. This colorful image was carefully cut out from a bigger label. (We should have known that the gods of tobacco rode in on a dragon.)

I've featured this American beauty before, but it's such a rich example of early lithography that I'll show it again. It's only about two inches high.

I've scanned this Cuban label which was actually lithographed in Germany. Unfortunately, scans absolutely deaden items that are gilded, so I also took a digital image of this spectacular piece of paper, below.

I'm adding the image below, which may or may not be a cigar label. Nonetheless, it's Victorian graphic design at its best, and a message good for today and tomorrow!

Have a Great Day!


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Abraham Lincoln's 205th Birthday

I love the florid designs of older bank note engraving. In honor of Abraham Lincoln's 205th birthday, I submit this $5-bill from 1923.

from United States Currency, by Kenneth Bressett


Friday, February 7, 2014

Another Daguerreotype For My Collection

I recently found a new another daguerreotype for my collection. I haven't added an image to the collection for a long time because so much of what I've seen has come with an inflated price.

What I look for is a pleasing or interesting sitter,  a case in good condition, and an image that hasn't oxidized too much. Plus, of course, a price that is fair. When I started collecting daguerreotypes, I could buy an image like the one above for as little as $7 — imagine! Today, a range $80-$120 is quite fair for an image that has been kept in as good condition. I'll spend more for gutta perchas, which you can read about here, or at my sidebar image of the camera.

The simplicity of the oval frame indicates that this daguerreotype predates the Civil War, and the attire suggests that this might date from the late 1840s to the mid 1850s. The young man appears at first glance to have a fob of some sort attached to his vest lapel, but in fact it's just an isolated spot of oxidation.

You can see in this close-up that there is very subtle tinting on the young man's face, and what an elaborate hairdo he concocted! Perhaps in later life he sported a comb-over (for which he would have had a lot of practice!).

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Art Deco Master Jean Dupas

detail from the S. S. Normandie's famous glass mural
Jean Dupas (1882-1964) was one of the great masters of the Art Deco movement. Art Deco has sometimes been described as a bridge between Art Nouveau and later 20th-century modern art, and yet I've always associated Jean Dupas' work as having strong roots in Neo-classicism. Perhaps that's why I like it so much.
Here is a study for a large mural that Dupas painted, entitled La Gloire de Bordeaux, and below is a more refined study of the figure on the left.
A fine example of Dupas' style, the anatomy is exaggerated and the limbs are delineated with a volume that suggests that the figure is monumental.

Louise Herbert,
That same sense of volume is carried through in this profile drawing. While we see strands of hair, they are nonetheless represented by a form that borders on Cubism, and as we look at that cheekbone and the chin, we can easily imagine that Dupas envisioned complete globes.

Mlle. Marguerite Grain, 1923   |
Certain themes reappear in the art of Jean Dupas. In the portrait above and in the poster detail below, eyes are almond-shaped, necks are elongated, thumbs and forefingers come together, hair is piled high, and pairs of (large) hummingbirds add to the composition.
Dupas' landscapes are also comprised of stylized volumes, with the limbs of trees exaggerated in the same manner as the limbs of the human figures. I've noticed that Dupas often used a palette of reds and vibrant greens.   |
Above are two illustrations Jean Dupas painted, of the Thames River and Hyde Park. Just as he was prone to create fantastic piled-high hairstyles, his trees were usually soaring columns of foliage. One almost expects to see Jack and the beanstalk amid the elegant 20th-century society.
Jean Dupas admitted that he was never happier than when he worked on a large scale. His most famous project was a collaboration with the glass master Champigneulle, 400+ square meters of gold and silver entitled The History of Navigation. Above is an image in two panels that appears to be a study for the final mural. It was sold by Christie's in 2012. The estimated value was $100,000, but it sold for $578,500.
And here is Jean Dupas' 1934 mural for the S. S. Normandie's grand salon as it is currently displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Normandie sailed for only four years (1935-1939). To read about its short history and sad demise, go here.