Thursday, 30 January 2014

Auction of Napoleonic Decorative Arts

French Porcelain Bust of Napoleon

Chicago Auctioneers Leslie Hindman have announced the auction of an unusual and fascinating collection of Napoleonic Decorative Arts. The property of the late Mrs Ann Ross Stone of Shaker Heights, Ohio, this delightful collection was assembled with the aid of her husband and children over a number of years and countless visits to Paris.

Ann Ross Stone (1931-2012),with Leonard Stone

Representation of Napoleon on his deathbed on St Helena

Napoleon in his declining years on St Helena

It is rather sad that such a fine collection so lovingly put together over so many years is now being dispersed.

Sèvres Style Porcelain Plates with individual portraits of Napoleon

A unique collection, in its entirety it provides an excellent illustration of the wide range of artefacts inspired by the legend of Napoleon in nineteenth century France. It would I think have merited closer examination and analysis by an academic specialist before the items again go their separate ways.

Sèvres Style Gilt Metal Mounted Porcelain Garniture

It is a pity that it was not possible to mount an exhibition in a major museum or gallery before the collection was sold off, although the logistical problems and the time and costs involved in such an undertaking would I imagine have been prohibitive.

A Sèvres Porcelain Five-Piece Napoleonic Coffee Service

Many of the items seem to be modestly valued, there are as far as I can see no dubious historical claims, and few works by recognised artists. It will be interesting to see what they actually make. I am far from an expert, but I suspect that the piece by Emile Hippolyte Guillemin will attract a lot of interest.

A French Bronze Figure, Emile Hippolyte Guillemin (1841-1907)

My thanks to Corbin Horn of Leslie Hindman's for drawing this to my attention. I really wish I could get to Chicago to look at the collection before the sale, but at least I will be able to follow the auction online.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Maldivia Rock Fall

Bert Constantine surveying massive rock that has fallen into his banana plantation

I have written much on this blog about Maldivia, the area in the upper Jamestown Valley just below the Briars. For us it is a very special place with so many happy memories, and so much history: the Maldive Islanders who according to legend created the Maldivia Gardens, the fatal duel that took place near Chubbs Spring in 1809, and the visit of Napoleon Bonaparte to Maldivia House in November 1815.

The Briars Hill from the Maldivia Banana Plantation

Rock falls are always a danger on St Helena. Above Jamestown large metal mesh fences have been installed to protect the inhabitants. In the upper Jamestown Valley, beneath the Briars, signs warn of the dangers. More threatening though is the large mountain to the west, the unlikely location of what is still referred to as "cowpath".

The west side of the upper Jamestown Valley

Often last year we wondered whether the large rock detonations made by Basil Read, the airport contractors, in the east of the island, might trigger rock falls elsewhere.

Maldivia banana plantation from near Chubbs Spring

Last year, woken by the early morning sun, I regularly made my way to the banana plantation to weed the young banana trees planted beneath Chubbs Spring and in full view of the Briars. Every morning I walked through the place where the large rock has now fallen.

Weed free bananas

Anyway we are very relieved that nobody was hurt. A little piece of each of our hearts will always be in Maldivia, and we cannot wait to return to see our good friends the Constantines and to see how the bananas are fareing.

Maldivia House, one of the few houses that Napoleon visited

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Masons of St Helena: The Visit of Captain Cook

Journal of Captain Cook, May 1775

Following my recent post on Polly Mason, my friend John Grimshaw has pointed out that the Masons of St Helena entertained a very famous visitor, Captain Cook, long before Napoleon emerged on the world stage, let alone set foot in the Fishers Valley on St Helena.

In May 1775 Captain Cook landed on the island of St Helena for his second visit. Many locals had been upset by the description of the island given in the official account of his first voyage, compiled by John Hawksworth, which Cook had not seen, and which had drawn heavily on the journal of Joseph Banks.

All kinds of Labour is here performd by Man, indeed he is the only animal that works except a few Saddle Horses nor has he the least assistance of art to enable him to perform his task.  Supposing the Roads to be too steep and narrow for Carts, an objection which lies against only one part of the Island, yet the simple contrivance of Wheelbarrows would Doub[t]less be far preferable to carrying burthens upon the head, and yet even that expedient was never tried.  Their slaves indeed are very numerous: they have them from most parts of the World, but they appeard to me a miserable race worn out almost with the severity of the punishments of which they frequently complaind.  I am sorry to say that it appeard to me that far more frequent and more wanton Cruelty were excercisd by my countrey men over these unfortunate people than even their neighbours the Dutch, fam'd for inhumanity, are guilty of.  One rule however they strictly observe which is never to Punish when ships are there.

During his 1775 visit Captain Cook apparently visited the eastern part of the island where the Mason family had its property and where Napoleon was to spend his last years:

the two Mr Forsters and myself dined with a party at the Country house of one Mr Masons, at a remote part of the island, which gave me an oppertunity to see the greatest part of it, and I am well convinced that the island in many particulars has been misrepresented.

It is a pity that Captain Cook didn't give more information about Mr Mason and the location of the house in which he was entertained. Presumably the Mason referred to was Polly Mason's grandfather, Benjamin Mason, baptised in January 1725 who died in 1805. Polly Mason's father, Richard Mason, was only 22 in 1775. Richard and his wife Elizabeth then had only one daughter, Elizabeth. Interestingly "Polly", christened in 1780, was given the names Mary Elizabeth, which suggests that the first Elizabeth did not live long.