Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century

January 27, 2015

18th century, Birth of Design, Furniture Masterpieces 1650-1789

Marie Antoinette's jewelry case, used for storing her diamonds, rubies and other pearls, is one of the many stunning objects on display in a new exhibition at Versailles.

The exhibition 18th century, Birth of Design, Furniture Masterpieces 1650-1789  showcases the "innovative and avant-garde nature of the shapes, techniques, decorations and materials used in 18th century furniture."  The 18th century saw a revolution in design and functionality, and the desire for multifunctionality in furniture.

Detail of the roll-top desk (the King's desk) Jean-François Oeben (1721-1763) and Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806) Made of oak, satin-finish, amaranth and rosewood veneer, gilt bronze, porcelain; Paris, 1760-1769 H. 147,3 ; L. 192,5 ; W. 105 cm Versailles, National Museum of the Palaces of Versailles and Trianon; Inv. OA 5444 © EPV / RMN-GP / Ch. Fouin
The quest for the ideal shape and form hit its peak in the 18th century, when the shape of furniture began to change.  The same quest characterised the use of materials: furniture was covered with exotic woods, lacquers, varnishes, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, bronze, brass, lead, porcelain, straw, steel and stone marquetry.
Cloth, bulrush and copper began to be used in chairs.

Long before the garish colours afforded by plastic in the 20th and 21st centuries, the 18th century saw the birth of furniture in red, daffodil yellow, turquoise blue, apple green, partially gilded or silvered, etc.
Chateau de Versailles

Madame de Mailly's commode Matthieu Criaerd (1689-1776), under the guidance of Thomas-Joachim Hébert (1687-1773) Made of oak, fruitwood veneer, vernis Martin, silvered bronze, Turkey Blue Marble; Paris, 1742 H. 85 ; L. 132 ; W. 63,5 cm © musée du Louvre / RMN / Th. Ollivier

The exhibition brings together over 100 beautiful pieces that were owned by Louis XIV, Louis XV, Marie Antoinette and other notable French dignitaries.

There will be works from private collections which will be on show to the public for the first time.

Showing through February 22, 2015.
The exhibition also features a Game Booklet for young art historians! Check it out here (PDF) 

January 18, 2015

Are you watching Million Dollar American Princesses? [POLL]

Are you or will you be watching Million Dollar American Princesses?

The name is a mouthful...for sure. Million Dollar American Princesses is a special series by the Smithsonian Channel that looks at the lives of young American heiresses between 1870 and the outbreak of World War One.  Narrated by Elizabeth McGovern, it features historical footage and reenactments to bring the stories of the young girls to life. I didn't think I would be so into the show but it has me hooked!

The show plays off the popularity of Downton Abbey in marketing because one of these American heiresses was the inspiration for Lord Grantham and Cora's relationship. It is a smart move, and excellent story.

American heiresses whose real life stories inspired the acclaimed TV drama "Downton Abbey." This series explores the time between the 1870s and the outbreak of World War One, when more than 200 daughters of America's new industrial millionaires marry into the money-strapped British aristocracy. They use their affluence, allure and ingenuity to their advantage, and they bring dramatic changes to the English ruling class and eventually the world.

There are three episodes and all three are airing tonight on the Smithsonian Channel, at 6pm EST.

Episode 1: Cash for Class (preview)
Episode 2: Wedding of the Century  (preview)
Episode 3: Movers and Shakers  (preview)

If you do not have access to the Smithsonian Channel, you can also purchase the episodes on Google Play, iTunes or Vudu. 

January 13, 2015

New Book: Jane Austen's First Love

My Review
Title: Jane Austen's First Love
Author: Syrie James
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Berkley Trade (August 5, 2014)
ISBN-13: 978-0425271353

Fifteen-year-old Jane Austen dreams of three things: doing something useful, writing something worthy, and falling madly in love. When she visits her brother in Kent to celebrate his engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane meets wealthy, devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to the nearby estate of Bifrons--a fascinating, highly accomplished young man who is truly worthy of Jane's affections. Jane knows a match between her and Edward is unlikely, but every moment she spends with him makes her heart race--and he seems to return her interest.

Much to her displeasure, however, there is another seeking his attention. Jane seeks distraction by attempting to correct the pairings of three other prospective couples. But when her matchmaking aspirations do not all turn out as anticipated, Jane discovers the danger of relying on first impressions.

Jane Austen's First Love takes you on a holiday to lovely Kent, with Jane Austen and her older sister, Cassandra. Mom isn’t around for part of the trip and Jane is experiencing a new freedom for the first time. The sisters are staying at Goodnestone Park where her brother Edward Austen’s fiancée, Elizabeth Bridges, lives with her sisters and parents.

The upcoming wedding between Elizabeth Bridges and Edward Austen has brought both families and friends together for a few weeks of celebrations and entertainments.  

Jane and Cassandra meet Edward Taylor, a dashing young man of 17, and his cousin Mr. Payler on their way to the estate. Upon her first encounter, Jane experiences something totally new to her...but has yet to figure out just what it is.  

The two gentlemen join their party and attend the festivities at Goodnestone Park. Jane soon discovers that Edward Taylor grew up on the continent, is incredibly worldly for his age, knows many languages, and is handsome on top of all that.  

The story of Jane and Edward was interesting and I admit I was not a big fan of Edward Taylor at first.   I must have more Cassandra in me than Jane!  His character develops and we learn more about him and his past (and his future for that matter!) Jane gets the very fun opportunity to travel to Bifrons Park, the grand estate Edward is to inherit.    

The whole book is a party (literally) and the other characters are really wonderful. Jane plays a matchmaker when it comes to the quirky Bridges sisters, who are my favorite characters, and they play right into her every plan. I really enjoyed the plotting Syrie James' young Jane came up with throughout the book to make sure everyone would have a happy ending.

There are some great twists and turns that will keep you reading. You will find yourself analyzing passages comparing Syrie James' characters and situations they experience to those from Jane Austen’s novels. A little Emma Woodhouse is evident with Jane’s matchmaking, but you might also recognize Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley, as well as some other characters that might have inspired the young Jane Austen! Sometimes I thought I was reading into it too much- but it was fun the whole way.

The end of the book is almost my favorite part. Syrie talks about the characters and where they ended up in real life. So much of the book is based on actual events and people, so the follow up is fascinating!

Perhaps Jan van der Vaardt, 1647–1721. Bifrons Park, Kent. 1695-1705, oil on canvas. Yale Center for British Art.
Paul Sandby, 1731-1809, British, The Misses Sandby of Norwich, undated, Graphite and brown wash on medium, slightly textured, cream laid paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
Circle of Henri-Pierre Danloux, Portrait de jeune homme en buste. c1753-1809, oil on canvas. Christies.
Reynolds, Joshua, The Ladies Waldegrave. 1780, oil on canvas. The Scottish National Galleries.

January 06, 2015

The Ghosts of Versailles

The LA Opera will perform The Ghosts of Versailles through February 2015. This is not to be missed if you are in town!

Trapped in the spirit world, the ghost of Marie Antoinette bitterly reflects on her final suffering. Her favorite playwright tries to entertain the melancholy queen with the continuing adventures of his beloved characters from The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. But sneaky Figaro refuses to play by the script, breaking free from the opera-within-the-opera in a surprise bid for a better life.

Scenery design by Alexander Dodge for "The Ghosts of Versailles"
The new production was created with the idea of giving it a "major revival," and providing an unforgettable experience for audiences.

"Costume design by Linda Cho for Marie Antoinette, to be worn by soprano Patricia Racette. “Whenever possible I try to etch out the lead characters so they stand out visually, but the colors also have to work within the overall palette of the stage picture," says the designer. "For instance, we took pains to choose the brightest fabric with the most sparkle for Marie Antoinette.” - LA Opera 
Costume design for Rosina in The Ghost of Versailles

Costume designs by Linda Cho for the female revolutionary witnesses.
Costume designs by Linda Cho for the male revolutionary witnesses.

The quartet "Come Now, My Darling" from John Corigliano's opera "The Ghosts of Versailles" 1992. Renée Fleming is Rosina, Stella Zambalis is Cherubino, Teresa Stratas is Marie Antoinette, Häkan Hagegärd is Beaumarchais.

You can get tickets for the show at LA Opera House.

December 18, 2014

Marie Antoinette's Mother Offers Tips on How to Behave in Public

"In France people behave in a very edifying way in church and generally in public... Stay on your knees as long as you can; that will be the best position to set an example. Do not allow yourself any grimaces which only look hypocritical: that is a reproach to be avoided above all else in that country."