Maybe you can tell by this week’s painting demonstration that I am in NEW ORLEANS this weekend! (If you’re in a hurry for a painting lesson and Give Away of this watercolor of the French Quarter, skip to bottom of post. But you’ll miss out on my Lesson in Connoisseurship. I’m just saying.)
Yes, this weekend Top Cat and I are haunting the the great gardens, bars, restaurants, cemeteries, and museums in our favorite American city which means that in addition to guzzling sazeraks and gorging on beignets we are feasting our eyes on this stuff :
The New Orleans Museum of Art is home to the Matilda Geddings Gray collection of Faberge — which includes three imperial eggs (left to right above: the 1893 Causcasus Egg, the 1912 Napoleonic Egg, the 1890 Danish Palaces Egg — the mother of the last czar, Nicholas, was a Danish princess). In all my previous trips to NOLA I have managed to avoid the New Orleans Museum of Art but this time a visit is necessary because lately I’ve had to brush up on my Faberge-looking-at skills…
Last week I got an email from a complete stranger which is always fun, right? This stranger asked me to look at a piece of “Faberge” jewelry going on sale in a small out-of-the-way auction in the English countryside. He thought he might have discovered an out-of-the-way Faberge treasure, and he asked if could I advise him on authenticity and bidding strategy (seeing as I am a
world famous / once famous/ famous in my own mind former Faberge expert for Christie’s auction house).
I only had photos to look at but still, it was easy to spot several things about the piece that seemed off. Such as, there was wear and tear in places that didn’t make sense unless the object had been assembled from several unrelated pieces. But the No. 1 thing that was wrong about the item was that it was ugly. So I told him it was fake fake fake. Faberge doesn’t make ugly.
Here’s where I make you a Faberge Connoisseur in ten minutes: Maybe you heard about this story that was in the news last month:
My mother sent me this news item about a man from Ohio who is suing the “antiques dealer” who sold him several fake Faberge items including a fake Faberge egg mounted on a snuff box for $165,000. Wait. There are people IN OHIO smart enough to have $165,000 in spare change but still dumb enough to blow it on obvious fake Faberge? Yes, this egg is an obvious fake – Faberge eggs go for $5 – 20 million dollars (you pay more if Romanoff hands ever touched it) so your first lesson in Ten Minute Connoisseurship is that if you bought your Faberge egg for a measly $165,000 you probably bought a fake. Because this is what $165,000 buys you in Faberge World:
This is a one-inch tall wax seal thingy with impeccable Imperial provenance dating from its purchase in 1910 by the Dowager Czarina Marie Feodorovna (the Danish princess) directly from Fabergé in St. Petersburg. The owl is jade with diamond eyes and the piece still has its original box, which is worth lots of money to a collector. The seal is made of gold and do you see the color of the enamel? It’s a shade of pink that is highly sought after (and worth extra $$$$) by connoisseurs. This is the famous Faberge pink — maybe you can see it better in this object:
Or this one:
This luscious opalescent pink enamel is uniquely Faberge. It can only be achieved by layering a citron or tangerine-colored enamel underneath a pink enamel in two separate firings, a tedious and delicate process that is beyond the skill of most enamelers (not that anybody these days is doing real enamel any more).
Your second lesson in Ten Minute Connoisseurship is that if your Faberge egg is mounted on a snuff box it is fake. Why?
A snuff box that has a big fat Faberge egg on it would be useless, since snuff boxes are small and meant to be carried in a gentleman’s pocket. So a snuff box with a knick-knack on top of it is an ugly concept that just does not make sense. Or, I should say, it makes as much sense as a whistle with a bud vase attached to it, a toothbrush that is also a remote control for your TV, or a stopwatch on your hairband. Dumb is ugly, and ugly is fake.
So now, dear readers, now that you are connoisseurs, you know how to avoid making a $165,000 mistake when you are shopping for Faberge.
It’s not just Faberge that I hold to a high standard when it comes to ugly. I also hold myself to that criteria: I do not stuff my books with any old illustration that comes off my itty bitty brain. I painted two pictures last week that are utterly ugly:
This is the beginning of a miniature painting that I call a “squint” (because it’s long and narrow, which reminds me of squinting my eyes). I got this far into the picture when I became convinced that it wasn’t working. Which is very annoying, because I love painting squints. My Damn France Book is loaded with them:
And yes, when I spend hours on paintings that are ugly it puts me in a very bad mood. I start looking on Craig’s List for jobs that are better suited to my total lack of talent. I almost mop the kitchen floor before I remember that I hate housework even more than I hate being a failure as an illustrator. I consider ditching the Damn Garden Book and writing porn instead (porn, even bad porn, sells).
But on this day I made myself a nice big G&T and sat our in the backyard because this week we had two and a half days in a row with sun shine and above 70-degree weather!!
This was the first time in 2013 that you could step out of your house and smell real, lush, vegetative scents in the air. Grass, forsythia, turned-over garden dirt…ahhhhhhhh. The fragrance of living things! Time to sit outdoors and enjoy a Happy Hour G&T in the golden rays!!
No word yet on the big giant rabbit I want to add to my herd of Purely Decorative Furry Beings of Irresistible Cuteness. But as you can see, maybe we’ve achieved maximum adorableness already here in Vivian World.
And the next day it was grey, and cold, and miserable to I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan to see how REAL ARTISTS GET IT DONE:
I went to the American Wing and gazed at early American portraits of cats.
Fur Trappers in a boat on the Missouri River: I thought this was cat until I looked really really closely and saw that it was a dog:
This is the entrance to the American Wing:
This is the view of Central Park from the atrium here:
And here is a view of Versailles from a panorama c. 1820 in the American Wing:
Yeah, I thought that was weird too. I really enjoyed the rooms that have been salvaged from stately mansions of pre-Revolutionary America…
…for obvious reasons:
And during a stroll to the exit I came across this:
It’s the entire Matilda Gedding Gray collection of Faberge from the New Orleans Museum of Art!!!
WTF? All three Imperial eggs are right here, in New York City! Well ain’t that a kick in the pants? (BTW, as usual the eggs were displayed in a case that was far too low. Faberge needs to be displayed at eye-level, please, and make that eye-level for a person who is 5-foot-six, please.)
OK! Let’s make some New Orleans art! Because lord knows that next week I’ll probably be too hungover to draw a straight line!
I’m using my No. 0 size brush, the one that I cut half the bristles out of…so really it’s a No. -1 (negative one) size brush.
For the iron filigree I’m using my Rapidograph pen:
And voila, today’s triscuit: (Delicious baked wheat snack cracker included for scale.)
However, this might suit the subject matter better:
If you would like to own this Triscuit of New Orleans for your own gallery, just leave a Comment below and Top Cat will pick a winer TBA next week.
It is 40 degrees F and pouring rain as I type this for you on Friday morning on Long Island. I’m off to NOLA in 30 hours. Plllllllleeeeeze let there be lightness and warmth and sun and GARDENS! And dear readers, if I find any those things in NOLA, you’ll see it right here next week.