Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mourning Art and jewelry

Soldier weeping at the tomb of Napoleon l miniature painting 1820's

I started to collect mourning/sentimental jewelry over 10 years ago when you could get 18k gold pieces with rose cut diamonds for $50 bucks on ebay. I stopped collecting when I had over 200 pieces of high end Georgian and Victorian mourning jewelry dating from 1760-1860. Now most of the pieces I paid $50 bucks for are going for $500. and up on ebay. Over the years I have loaned out my collection to museums for Mourning exhibits for the month of October.

I first became interested in hairwork mourning jewelry at the age of 10 after touring a 1833 Greek Revival Historic House Museum in Mobile, Alabama called Oakleigh Mansion. In the master bedroom in a French display case was a small collection of mid 19th century mourning hairwork jewelry own by 19th century Mobilions. I was festinated with the stuff. It was woven as fine as lace but was made of human hair and gold. In my late teens I started to collect pieces of the popular 19th century art. In my hay day I had five packages a day of Old Paris porcelain and hair and gold Mourning jewelry coming in from the mail man.

I also collected Mourning portraits and a few other items connected to Mourning. Although today it seams like the average person has little time to mourn a death. In the 18th and 19th century mourning could go on for years are a life time. The first major person to die in America was the death of the country's father on December 14, 1799. George Washington's demise inspired the commercial production of songs, poems, images, and memorabilia in his honor well into a hundred years after his death as a sign of prolonged mourning. Middle class and wealthy lady's embroidered colorful silk scenes of classical figures crying at the tomb of Washington that proudly hung in parlors along with family oil portraits. If you were poor maybe you could afford a hand colored mass produced engraving of the same scene. Or if you were a close friend of Washington or family member you might get a miniature portrait of his likeness on ivory painted by a fashionable artist of the day with his hair on the back.

By the middle of the 19th century having a period of mourning was becoming cheaper due to the Industrial Revolution making every class of people able to afford to be fashionable and to display mourning art or a photo of the dearly departed. Not only did people dress in mourning, but wealthy people eat off of specially made porcelain dinner services painted in black. They wrote on mourning stationary outlined in black. A home was decorated outside and in, in mourning. Books were published on mourning protocol. In the 19th century Mourning was big bucks. English Queen Victoria mourned her husband death prince Albert until her death in 1901. Today hairwork jewelry and mourning portraits are a lost art. But the Attention to Detail that went into pieces are amazing and exquisite making mourning art rare, beautiful & interesting to today's viewers. I glade I collected my pieces when I did as the prices keep going up.

1790 Navette shaped Mourning brooch On the tomb are the words, "Rest in Peace".

Written on this Georgian  memorial brooch is, "John Kempson ob. 30 of May 1783 Ae 20".  The picture on this brooch is hair on ivory surrounded with garnets.

English 15k gold Victorian brooch On the back is brown woven hair and the inscription, "Frances Chalmers obt 12 May 1853".

Cupid and woman decorating a tomb with roses late 18th century. The pearls represent tears

Belt ring made of woven hair, pearls and blue enamel Georgian early 19th century

A dog (symbolizing fidelity/loyalty) is looking up at the word "fidelity" which the woman is holding in her hand.  To emphasis the depth of her love and loyalty, the woman is holding a cage or basket with the word "fidelity" in it.  The beautiful paste stones and cobalt blue enamel really make the sepia painting stand out.

Mourning jewelry worn by Mrs. Joel Gutman of Baltimore, Maryland in 1865.                                                                                  

Early 19th century Georgian brooch made of gold get and rose cut diamonds in the shape of a forget-me-not flower

Portrait miniature of George Washington with his hair on the back sold by Skinner auction Feb 2009 for $336,000.00

Locket with locks of George Washington and Martha Washington’s hair Sold at James D. Julia Auctions August 5, 2009 for $ 7,475.00

Sentimental Portrait of George Washington, 1789 watercolor on ivory by John Ramage half-length, wearing the blue uniform of a General with yellow facings, and gold epaulettes, yellow waistcoat and lace cravat, and the Order of the Cincinnati, powdered hair en queue. Gold frame, the reverse with gold monogram GW on plaited hair in navette aperture within engraved inscription navette shape.

Early 19th century engraving weeping at the tomb of Washington

 Mrs.Washington, painted two years after her husband's death

Bernard Duchamp c. 1822, Born in Bordeaux, France, Bernard Duchamp immigrated to New Orleans prior to 1814. During the Battle of New Orleans, he served with the American forces. A prosperous commission merchant, he married Marie Theodore Basilica Pédesclaux, daughter of New Orleans notary public Pierre Pédesclaux, in 1820. They maintained a residence on Royal Street in the Vieux Carre. Around 1822, Duchamp hired someone to paint his likeness. The unknown portraitist, probably an itinerant painter traveling through the south, followed the prevailing French Neoclassical tradition of portraiture particularly popular in Louisiana at the time. /collections of the “Louisiana State Museum, Gift of Mrs. P. Malarcher.”

The Bernard Duchamp Family Mourning Portrait c. 1832 is unusual in that the bereaved family is shown dressed in black mourning clothes beside their beloved father’s draped portrait. Bernard Duchamp’s death left behind his widow and five children. The bright ethereal light coming from the window on the left of the painting alludes to the eternal afterlife. / collections of the “Louisiana State Museum, Gift of Mrs. P. Malarcher.”

Creole Family Mourning Portrait, New Orleans 1830's by Tomassin

Marie Antoinette in her black velvet mourning dress in the Temple Tower.

All Souls Day - 1859 by William Adolphe Bouguereau

Early 19th century Mourning portrait of children at a tomb.Note Guardian Angel and children with orange coral jewelry to ward off bad sprits.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Ketchum house built 1860; Mobile, Alabama

The Ketchum house built 1860; Mobile, Alabama

I have had a very lucky day today. Earlier in the day I found a rare pair of Baltimore painted fancy chairs from the Federal period. Latter today after mass I was invited to the Cathedral Rectory for a reception for the Catholic Physicians of Mobile, Alabama. The Rectory is a building I have wanted to get into since I saw it as a child. Owned by the Catholic Church since 1906 as home to the Bishop of Mobile.

The Ketchum house built 1860; Mobile, Alabama

The Ketchum house built 1860; Showing side main entrance Mobile, Alabama

Detail of cast iron known as frozen lace in Mobile.

Originally built in 1860 as the Home of William Ketchum and family. At the time it was built it was one of the finest examples of the Italianate style in residential architecture in Mobile, Alabama. The mansion was unusual in that the main entrance was to the side of the home because the front boosted a large ornate ballroom that ran the with of the front of the house. Outside the home has a low-pitched hipped roof supported by ornate cast iron corbels on a paneled cornice. A angled bay window sat in the front of the home and was the middle part of the large grand ballroom. White stucco quoins on the ends of the outside walls of blonde slave made Mobile brick. The house is covered with ornate Rococo Revival cast iron verandas looking like frozen lace.

1934 photos of the Ketchum house from the Historic American Buildings Survey

At the time the Ketchum house was built in Mobile in 1860 the population within the city limits had reached 29,258 people; it was the 27th largest city in the United States and 4th largest in what would soon be the Confederate States of America. By 1840 Mobile was second only to New Orleans in cotton exports in the nation making Mobile a rich place to be. Mobile was the last major Confederate city to fall as it was not until August 5, 1864 when the Union tuck possession of Mobile Bay. On 12 April 1865, 3 days after the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse, the city of Mobile surrendered to the Union army to avoid destruction following the Union victories at the Battle of Spanish Fort and the Battle of Fort Blakely. The Ketchum house was confiscated by General ERS Canby and used as his headquarters. At this time Mr. Ketchum was away and Miss Ketchum and children were asked to leave there newly built and expensively furnished home in the latest fashion. They moved across the street to a Vacant house.

1934 photo of the Ketchum house cast iron gate from the Historic American Buildings Survey

Upon entering the home. I found it was well preserved. The main entrance today is from the back. You enter a cross shaped hall covered in 1950's tiles. The hall leads into the first floor public rooms. Also I could see the stair leading down into the basement. Basements are rare in Mobile due to flooding. The height of the rooms on the first floor is about 16 feet. Each room had a different ornate plaster cornice. The front room was used as a triple parlor with only narrow cast-iron columns separating the 3 part room. I noticed a foundry mark on the base of one of the columns but did not want to bend down to see what firm made them. This room could also be used as a Ballroom. Mobile was known for it's balls, even during the war between the states Mobile gave grand balls. It had a bay window framed with Ruby red Bohemian etched glass. The main entrance also had the same pattern of Ruby glass. There were three large ornate ceiling medallions in the parlor now hung with 1950's crystal chandeliers. I sure they would have original had gilt gasoliers now long gone. This room has one of the most beautiful cornice moldings I have ever seen. It was large and had roses and Magnolia blossoms and leaves I sure custom made just for this house. I did not like the Capodimonte colors they painted the details of this cornice in. On ether end of the room was a pair of White Marble mantels with over the top large Rococo Revival mantel mirrors facing each other making the large room look bigger. The furniture that could be original to the home was circa 1860 French Napoleon lll Rococo Revival rosewood sofas and chairs with a 1850's square piano turned into a table in the middle of the room. Portraits of Mobile's Bishops looked down on me along with 18th century Old Master religionist paintings of sorrowful saints. I got there early so I snapped a few shots of the interior.

Detail of corner of parlor/ballroom.

One of three large ornate ceiling medallions in the parlor/ballroom

Detail of corner of parlor/ballroom.

Carved marble mantel with Rococo Revival mantel mirror

The main entrance with it's Ruby red Bohemian etched glass

Carved marble mantel with Rococo Revival mantel mirror

Detail of ornate ceiling cornice moldings, Note rare Magnolia blossoms and leaves

Carved marble mantel with Rococo Revival mantel mirror

Detail of ornate ceiling cornice moldings, Note rare Magnolia blossoms and leaves

Friday, October 29, 2010

Master Betty, A early 19th century teen idol

William Henry West Betty by John Opie oil on canvas, 1804

Master Betty born William Henry West Betty (13 September 1791, Shrewsbury – 24 August 1874, London) was by far the most popular child actor of the nineteenth century, billed as the "Young Roscius" (reference to the first century B.C. Roman actor), for his performances in adult roles like Hamlet, Romeo, Rolla in Pizarro and Norval in Douglas for two seasons from 1804 to 1806 at Covent Garden Theatre. It is said that in three hours of study he committed the part of Hamlet to memory. Born to a financially comfortable family in Shrewsbury, England, Betty delivered dramatic recitations and displayed a strong impressive, retentive memory as a small child. After seeing his first play, Pizarro, starring Sarah Siddons as Elvira, he announced to his parents that he wanted to be an actor.

William Henry West Betty as Norval Douglas and Harriet Litchfield (nee Hay) as Lady Randolph in a scene from "Douglas"  Date 1806

Mr. Hough of Belfast became the boys tutor and manager. Mr Hough's was like a English P.T. Barnum In promoting Master Betty in city's before the boys arrival, causing hysteria . In August 1803, the prodigy made his public debut in Belfast as Osman in Voltaire’s Zaire. Reports indicate that he delivered the lines without error. Undertaking the roles of Young Norval and Romeo, he performed in Dublin, Glasgow, and Edinburgh to rave reviews. Betty’s tour was wildly successful. The hype by press, word of mouth, and strategic notices, preceded the boy actor into English Histery. After numerous highly-touted performances in Birmingham and other locations, William Betty entered London.

Betty, William Henry West - Kippen

On December 1, 1804, the day of his London debut, crowds gathered outside Covent Garden Theatre early in the day, and by mid-afternoon, guards were called in and stationed outside to control the strong throng.

Betty, was greeted by thunderous applause, He portrayed Selim in Browne's Barbarossa, an imitation of Voltaire’s Merope, during that first evening. Some audience members fainted, perhaps because of the overcrowded conditions. Critics competed for superlatives in their reviews and described his premiere as a “remarkable epoch”. Some said that the boy was Garrick returned, while others suggested that he might have excelled Kemble.

William Henry West Betty watercolor on ivory 1806

Violence erupted among excited patrons on the second night of Betty’s appearances at Covent Garden. People were injured and considerable damage was done to the property. The “young Roscius” played to an orderly, very large audience at Drury Lane Theatre December 10, but the masses waiting to enter on the 11th broke many of the theatre’s windows. His popularity was so great that famous adult stars like John Philip Kemble and Sarah Siddons went into a brief retirement rather than compete with him and Pitt upon one occasion adjourning the House of Commons that members might be in time for his performance.

The Young Roscius and Don John on the Theatrical Pegasus.

The boy was favored among the English elite. George III himself presenting him to the queen, and he was invited to dine with royalty, and besieged by crowds at his hotel. Famous Artists of the day captured his likeness on canvas, and medals, and various memorabilia appeared in shops.  Two large portraits of him hung in the Royal Academy's 1805 exhibition. One of the tributes is British Historical Medal #558: "The Young Roscius" "Not Yet Mature Yet Matchless". A source of the period recalls how after each performance groups of male fans used to watch admiringly as Master Betty's farther rubbed oil into the boys naked body.

William Henry West Betty as Young Norval in 'Douglas' by James Heath, after John Opie line engraving, published 1807

When he fell sick of exhaustion, Betty was subject of great concern. Daily bulletins describing his condition (customarily the privilege of royalty) were issued to the worried public.

Pug. A Favorite Dog of Master W.m H.y West-Betty. Dedicated to the Friends of the Young Roscius by their much obliged humble Servant, H.ry Barnard Chalon.


The public frenzy created frustration and embarrassment for established performers who received hisses and/or little notice. Sarah Siddons and her brothers John and Charles were among those treated shabbily by the William Betty admirers. Mrs. Inchbald wrote that the multitude's rage for the young actor was so strong that even a new Shakespeare play would not be able to contend with it.

The Actor William Henry West Betty 1791-1874, a painting by Andrew Geddes.


Audiences soon tired of the novelty and returned to welcome and enjoy their great actors and actresses. By 1806, William Betty did not draw large enough audiences to earn money for the theatres. His performance of Richard III was a complete failure. he was hissed off the stage.

Engraving of William Henry West Betty by James Northcote, R.A.

After he left the London stage and successfully toured the provinces, Master Betty entered Christ’s College, Cambridge. Later, unsatisfied with retirement on the fortune he gained as a youth, he unsuccessfully attempted to renew his acting career. His unsuccessful attempt to return to the stage led him to attempted suicide at the age of 30. Following his 1824 complete retirement from the stage, Betty was involved in a variety of charitable organizations, and lived to age 83 and died on Ampthill Square, London. His son Henry Thomas Betty (1819–1897) was also an actor.

The Young Roscius, Aged 13. Willm. Henry West Betty, Born at Shrewsbury. September 15, 1791. ca 1803

Master Betty, the celebrity phenomenon, earned a unheard of 100 pounds each night while the average working men were fortunate to receive 1 pound per week. The question about William Henry West Betty remains. Was he the most talented actor of his time, or was Betty mania simply the result of super hype?

William Henry West Betty as Hamlet by James Heath, after James Northcote line engraving, published 1806