November 2017 Newsletter

  • By Antiques-Art-Design Sydney

“But I don’t want nutrition, I want food!”

Alice B. Toklas

Hello again,
We are told by Amex to shop small, by our trainers to eat smaller portions, and the airlines might wish that we would pack smaller bags, but there is also a delight in small things, in the precious, in the miniature, where all the marvels of the world at large are reduced in scale and made all the more curious and beguiling.  These things can also be an indulgence, as they are often just for the pleasure of the owner.  This month we look at the second smallest Cartier watch, revisit the art of the portrait miniature, discover Grand Tour micro mosaics and Lorna Lesley tells us about living large in small spaces.

Blowing out the Candles in November ... birthday dinner for eight
Mandelbrot sets the table, Joan Lindsay unpacks the picnic, Billie-Jean serves, Voltaire returns, Eliot and Alcott steal a march on Mark Twain. De Gaulle degusts...
Gifts for the spatially challenged...
By Lorna Lesley
Like many city-dwellers I live in what is optimistically referred to as a “studio”, which implies a creative space, but is actually real estate-speak for room, it’s so “compact” (tiny) that I don’t qualify as a free-range blogger. But with a place for everything and everything in its place it’s a convenient and cosy arrangement, low maintenance with barely a toe’s worth of carbon footprint.  The difficulty for us micro-housers arises when capacity, defined as: possessions divided by cupboards minus under-bed storage multiplied by file boxes is compromised by the receipt of presents.
In one of her monologues Joyce Grenfell addressed this problem in a lecture to the Women’s Institute titled “Useful & Disposable Gifts”, a disquisition on the horrors of handicraft that’d make Martha Stewart blanch. Re-cycled paper boutonnieres aside, she was on to something. Chocolates, flowers, vouchers for massages or facials all fit the bill, others promising life-changing experiences such as bungee jumping, shark diving, parachuting, meditation retreats etc. may be best left to expire quietly in the sock drawer. They give pleasure and don’t leave a trace.
Which is all very well. 
Surely there must be something.
Perhaps a little something nestling in a box small enough to fit into the tightest corner…
Something that hardly takes up any space at all….
Second to one - the Cartier Calibre 104

The Calibre 104 when first launched in 1925 was the smallest mechanical watch movement in the world.
Commissioned by Cartier from Jaeger-LeCoultre, it’s revolutionary construction, where the workings operated in two layers, gave it its name: the Duoplan.  However, its shape being a small long rectangular shape meant that in France it was christened “the baguette”.
It is said a wealthy client didn’t like how the winder of the watch she was buying from Cartier made the design of the case asymmetrical and so at Cartier’s request, Jaeger-LeCoultre developed the design where the dust proof winder was placed to the back of the watch making the design lines of the case free from unwanted distraction. 
The 104 held this record as being the smallest watch and was only surpassed by the legendary Calibre 101 which was developed, also by Jaeger-LeCoultre, in 1929 and was just 1mm smaller.
Incredibly, since then, the 101 has continued to hold that record and is still manufactured today.
And just how small is small?..... well the outside of the gold case of the Calibre 104 we have in stock measures a mere 16.7mm long x 6.5mm wide x 4.5mm deep! 

A 1920's 18k yellow gold ladies Cartier Duoplan Baguette wrist watch - (shown here with a modern Harry Winston 18k Watch for scale) white enamel face with batons, numerals and blue steel hands, 18ct yellow gold case and double leather bracelet and enamel and gold clasp - Signed to the face by Cartier and case and clasp with serial numbers - movement signed for Jaeger-LeCoultre - The watch comes in an original vintage Cartier presentation box - total weight 15.9grms - c.1925 France and Switzerland $13,500
Ruins of Rome - A Grand Tour of Micro Mosaic

The Grand Tour was considered an essential part of a Victorian gentleman’s classical education and meant months of travel usually to Italy and Greece. 
As a side note, as today this sounds incredibly decadent spending all of this time away, we have to remind ourselves that (weather being fine and all going well) it could take as little as several weeks even just to get there…express! Let alone getting back again.
Of course, without cameras to capture the views, the postcard not yet invented and gifts to be purchased for those loved ones left at home, (and mind you, not everyone with the budget of the Earl of Arundle), it spawned whole industries in Italy of souvenirs. 
Whether they be cameos carved from shell or lava, plaster seals of Gods and Gorgons, or coral from Sardinia, they took all shapes and forms.  However, as it was the often the romance of the ruins of Rome; those last remnants of the classical world that people had travelled all that way to see, the compact art of the micro mosaic was the perfect medium to transport those images home and to inspire, not through just the pictures themselves, but also how they were made, a sense of wonder. 

The construction of these miniature marvels consists of very fine tesserae (or tiles) made of coloured glass, usually stacked from one side to the other, within a glass or stone frame and then polished flat.  Needless to say such an undertaking requires a very pragmatic approach as there is no going back once you have begun. The finer the tesserae, the more the illusion of a fine painting is achieved and there are examples that are so fine that they require magnification for them to be identified as mosaics.
Made mostly in the Vatican city, themes alternated and sometimes even appeared together (as in our examples) of the various ruins with St Peters Square. 

Left: Post 1854 St Peters Square with the gas lamps as per paper weight and box
Right: earlier micro mosaic of St Peters Square prior to the gas lamps as shown on basalt tray
A Grand Tour carved basalt tray with 9 micro mosaic plaques of St Peters Square, Trevi Fountain and Roman ruins on lions paw feet c.1830 Italy $6750
It is interesting to note, that with micro mosaic images of St Peters Square you can easily tell which half of the 19th century these were created, as there are two distinct time frames that are shown.  Between 1852 - 1854, four large gas lamps were added to the square, close around the central obelisk, and these were documented in micro mosaics. You can see them in the example of the box and paperweight. However, they are a noticeable absence in the central plaque of the slate tray which means this tray is an earlier example.
The other anecdote of interest relates to the brooch with the “goldstone” border. Goldstone which is not a gemstone at all, but a type of glittery glass is believed to have been invented by the monks within the Vatican and its secret tightly held. By referring to it as “goldstone” it came to be rumoured that there was, in fact, a secret mine located in the Vatican itself of this rare gemstone.  Interestingly, many people today still believe goldstone is a mineral.
Like all things after the industrial revolution, as time was equated in direct proportion with cost then micro mosaic became less micro and more just mosaic. As a result of this most of the examples produced in the 20th century are generally quite coarse and crude and lack the subtle shadings of earlier examples. This also limited the subject matter more to floral designs which could be created with a single tessera representing a petal, rather than pictures which might require more details and shading to convey the image.
As a result, the technique and the complexity of these earlier pieces has driven people to avidly collect them and so these souvenirs of an Italian Grand Tour, have become very sought after miniature masterpieces.

For a quick look at how micro mosaic in jewellery is made:
Left: Goldstone brooch - An oval Grand Tour micro mosaic of the Pantheon set in goldstone - dimensions 41mm x 34mm including brooch mount - Europe c.1860 $2450
Right: Silver and micro mosaic box by H C Matthiasen - overall dimensions 48mm x 40mm x 21mm - Denmark c.1900 $1450
A portrait of a Lady - revisiting the portrait miniature
Some time during the late 1750’s a young lady sat down to have her likeness taken. In that brief half an hour or so where she stared boldly over the artist’s left shoulder, to avoid the intimacy of direct eye contact with someone most probably of the opposite sex and someone with whom she was not overly familiar, I am sure it never was in her wildest flights of fancy that such a portrait, over 250 years later would be shared with the world, and that someone would be musing as to why it was painted and who she may have been.

Portraits of this type were intimate possessions; usually intended for the personal pleasure of a single person, as either a form of introduction, but more usually by this time, a means of keeping loved ones near when absent.
Portrait miniature of a lady against a blue ground in an oval cannetille brooch frame - dimensions 49mm x 42mm c.1750 $2,750 Detail showing stippling technique on the face and background.
And whether the sitter considered it a good likeness or not, or whether the stylized long and neck and sloped shoulders, so typical of the period, were actually some of her personal characteristics we will never know, but what we can tell is that she was a young lady of considerable means possibly celebrating her betrothal, which is hinted at by the symbolism of the single rose at her bust.
This portrait though naïve is finely painted and shows wonderful use of the extremely fine stippled technique that builds up the impression of soft contours and is used to great success in both the face of the sitter and the wonderful spot lit and unusual blue background, which has been chosen to highlight the young lady’s eyes.
Regardless of the anonymity of the sitter and indeed, also the artist that created it, it is comforting to think that something so small, despite all the things that have happened in the world since 1750 could be so enduring. It goes some way to prove it is sometimes the small things that matter the most.

Christopher Becker

This summer, the Museum of Contemporary Art is holding an exclusive exhibition "Pipilotti Rist: Sip my Ocean", which incorporates both video and sculpture, across the whole third floor of the Museum for a variety of viewing experiences, see link for more information:

To coincide with this exhibition the MCA has collaborated with Scoundrel Projects to give Sydney a bright pop-up bar Colour Fields, open Wednesday - Sunday from 4pm.
The Melbourne Fair
Come join us at the Melbourne Fair! Opening Thursday 23rd November and running until Sunday 26th November, the 2017 Melbourne Fair is showcasing a vast range of objects, both antique and 20th Century, and will be held at the Caulfield Racecourse. For more details regarding the Melbourne Fair and the exciting line-up of dealers, please go to the following link:
Fake news...
Could barely believe it
Skype fed the hype and re-tweeted
What’s App downloaded
Facebook imploded
But Google  
Lost Pinterest
& folded.

Lorna Lesley
The Last Word…

A student of historical cyclones
…or a Shakespearean actor on a fad diet
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