Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fish and Company…

Continuing to describe the items that are in the photographs that span across the top of our blog…we’ve now reached the middle…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA …and will be talking about antique raseurs.  In general, the word raseur…pronounced as “raw-sir”…translates to mean a person who is boring. A raseur…the object…was found in just about every early inn and tavern in the regions of Alsace in eastern France and Flanders…or what is now northern France and Belgium. When a customer  had had a bit too much to drink or  became an annoyance, the inn-keeper  would set the house raseur in motion.  Consisting of a fanciful figure in tôle peint…painted sheet metal…the raseur would oscillate back and forth...back and forth...until it eventually which time, the boring person knew it was time to leave. No further discussion necessary.

raseur 1 We chose to adopt a raseur as the logo for our antiques business…The Meadows Collection…and you’ll find the raseur shown to the right on the home page of our web site:

It’s a perfect symbol as we specialize in antiques and vintage decorative arts that are definitely not boring and pride ourselves on always having objects that are a little bit out of the ordinary...we like to say that they are  "Just as unique as you are."

The raseur featured on the top of the blog has its own stand; other types were designed with a counterbalance weight at the bottom and could rest directly on the bar counter or zinc…pronounced “zang” and meaning the bar counter which was typically topped with zinc…the metal that we pronounce as “zink”.

In addition, each night, the tavern owner would set the raseur in motion to signify “last call”. Kinetic sculptures…they are both playfully decorative and downright useful…particularly handy should you  ever suffer with a guest who has over-stayed their welcome…hence the title of this post!

Raseurs were made in all sorts of fanciful shapes…here’s one that
typifies those found in nineteenth century Alsace…
…he represents a horn blower…recalling that up until around 1790, the guardians of the Cathedral in Strasbourg would blow on a horn…called a grüselhorn…to signify that the town gates were about to be closed and those that were not authorized to spend the night in the city had best beat a hasty retreat. A fitting motif for a raseur.

Here’s another raseur that looks surprisingly like Mickey Mouse…raseur 5

…and this one’s a colorful parrot…
raseur 2

Definitely not boring…they are all wonderful examples of French folk art…what the French call art populaire!

Stay tuned for more behind the scenes adventures of The Meadows Collection…or check out the results at

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Some Caviar Caveats…

Continuing the survey of the images that run across the top of the page…let’s see…we’ve done the one on the far left…the Bacchus/Bacchante piece…and the 1930s mug shot of a bad check writer from Pennsylvania. This post will be about the vintage caviar tin that is in between those two.
True caviar is the unfertilized eggs of a specific type of sturgeon. Processed and salted, the eggs...also known as roe...are a luxury gourmet item, with some varieties advertised at upwards of $10,000 per kilo…that’s more than $4500 a pound!

Here are some caviar caveats…

In most cases, caviar is delivered to a re-seller packaged in a tin such as these vintage containers…
Beluga is the rarest variety. It comes in a blue tin and has dark, black eggs of the largest diameter or grain...about 2.5mm. A tin of the size of our largest Beluga example...6.25 inches in diameter and 3.25 inches high…would have had its contents divided into smaller, more marketable jars....or else someone was very rich, indeed or perhaps expecting an enormous number of hungry guests! The smaller of our Beluga tins…the blue tin on the far left…measures 4.9375 inches in diameter and 1.3125 inches high.

Other varieties include Osetra which is packaged in a yellow tin and Sevruga (red tin).

Caviar is highly can be pasteurized to extend its shelf life, but not without the quality of the product suffering significant loss. Once a caviar container is opened, the contents must be consumed within a couple of days.

Malossol is a Russian word meaning "little salt"...this signifies a caviar that is both the freshest and of the highest quality.

Guriev is the former name of a port on the Caspian is now known as Atyraü, Kazakstan.

There are 280 calories in 100 grams of caviar.

A sterling silver spoon is not to be used with caviar as it imparts an unpleasant metallic taste...instead, tradition calls for a mother of pearl utensil for serving.

In ancient Egypt, caviar was offered to the feline deities; in the newly-industrialized nations of the nineteenth century, caviar was reserved for the wealthy and served at prestigious functions; in eastern Europe, caviar is more democratic and is served at any festive occasion...birthdays, weddings, etc.

A high-quality caviar should not be served masked with onions, eggs, capers, and the like...caviar connoisseurs insist that it is best served heaped upon a small piece of thin, toasted bread that has been spread with vodka-infused butter.

Sturgeons are believed to be one of the oldest survivors of the prehistoric age, but pollution and over-fishing have taken a toll and it is now on the list of endangered species. Russia has ceased all fishing for sturgeon in the hopes of protecting the species.

The red tin in the group photograph measures 4.125 inches in diameter and 1.125 inches high...the caviar it once contained came from Iran. Iran continues to fish for sturgeon.  In 1956, the government of Iran granted a monopoly for the processing of its caviar to a French firm...the product is known as Caviar Volga.

Russian caviar and Iranian caviar are different owing to the peculiarities of the waters and depths of the Caspian sea...each variety has its proponents. (Iranian caviar has been banned from being exported into the United States since the 1970s).

Sevruga caviar comes from the smallest sturgeon...perhaps a meter in length and weighing around 30 to 40 pounds. The roe is characterized by its small...1mm diameter...grains and is prized for its intense flavor.
invbelugalrgsideEmptied of caviar by the time we found them…these tins would add a wonderful touch of color atop a kitchen cabinet for example…and each would surely spark some interesting conversation. They would also be great as unique storage tins for all those things that need to be stored…sewing tools and buttons…what have you!

Stay tuned for more behind the scenes adventures of The Meadows Collection…or check out the results at

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Twisted Tale of a Collection of Paintings

It being so close to Valentine’s Day and all…it might not be the best time to complete the tale of our visit to the Musée de l’Orangerie….see our previous post and comments for January 24, 2011 entitled Waiting in Line for Oscar. But it is, after all…at least from Paul Guillaume’s point of view…a love story…despite the suspicions of double murder, the adultery, the fake pregnancy, the black market adoption, the hiring of a hit-man, the blackmail, the perjury, the prostitution…not to mention all those paintings.

For Paul was deeply in love with Domenica.

Paul Guillaume was born in Paris in 1891. He was by no means a wealthy man, but that didn’t deter his appreciation for the arts. Finding a cache of African sculptures that somehow made their way into a shipment of rubber that was delivered to the automobile garage in which he worked, Guillaume was quick to appreciate them…at a time when the arts of Africa were little recognized. He founded an association, published a magazine and as luck would have it, an exposition of his Gabon sculptures came to be admired by none other than Apollinaire…Guillaume Apollinaire, the Polish/Italian writer who coined the term “surrealism” and who was friends with a who’s who of the then up and coming art scene…Pablo Picasso, Quimper’s Max Jacob, Jean Cocteau, Marc Chagall, etc., etc.

Soon Paul found himself in the midst of all this…first as a collector of art that was still unrecognized and relatively inexpensive…and later as a wealthy art critic-dealer-collector. He met Domenica when she was working either selling gloves or as a hat-check girl at a nightclub…accounts differ.

Domenica was born Juliette Léonie Lacaze in the Aveyron…the midi-pyrénées region of France…famous for roquefort cheese and the Laguiole knives with which to cut it. She was seven years younger than Paul.

They married in 1920. In 1922, Paul is the art counselor for Dr. Albert C. Barnes…yes, that Dr. Albert C. Barnes…of the Barnes Foundation in Pennsylvania. Life is good for Domenica…a long way from Aveyron. She and Paul…and five or six  servants…accounts differ…live in a 650 square meter apartment on what is now Avenue Foch in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. (To put that into perspective, I write to you now from about one-thirteenth of that amount of apartment…and zero servants).

In addition to Maurice Utrillo and Chaïm Soutine, Paul represents Amedeo Modigliani…who painted his portrait…
walter guillaume guillaume modigliani
…Paul was just twenty-three years old at the time of the sitting.

The museum which now houses the collection initiated by Paul…le Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris…has a re-creation of one of the rooms of Paul and Domenica’s apartment…walter guillaume room…as well as several scale-sized models depicting how they lived with all their paintings…Paul had the idea of eventually creating a home/museum à la Dr. Barnes. Here’s the model of the dining room…
walter guillaume model The painting obscured by the “chandelier” is by André Derain and is entitled La Table de la Cuisine
walter guillaume derain cuisine 
Domenica is the darling of the art world…

Derain is just one of many artists to paint her portrait…

walter guillaume domenica derainPortrait de Madame Paul Guillaume au Grand Châpeau…painted in 1928 or 1929 when Domenica was in her early thirties…

…and she is often purported to have modeled as the subject of this 1922 Odalisque avec les Pantalons Rouge by Henri Matisse…
walter guillaume domenica matisse But Domenica is restless and begins to collect men in the same manner that her husband collected art. She becomes the mistress of Jean Walter…a wealthy architect. Born in 1891, Walter had been a military attaché for Georges Clemenceau during World War I and had since made a name for himself designing hospitals. But his great wealth actually stemmed from a mine in Morocco that had been received casually as partial payment for an earlier architectural commission. In 1925, the holding was found to be extraordinarily rich in copper, lead, and/or zinc…again, accounts differ. Whatever the mineral, Jean Walter was even richer than Paul.

Paul is not happy, but is still desperately in love with Domenica and agrees to a move that sees Walter leaving his wife and three children so that the three of them…Paul, Domenica, and Jean…can live together in an apartment in Paris…ironically in a building for which Jean Walter had been the architect. (I don’t make this up folks! Speaking of making things up…American accounts of the events that followed, published in Life, Time, and The New Yorker magazines, were puritanically-revised, including describing Jean Walter as a widower! )

As it turns out, Paul is dying when this move occurs. He has either ulcers or appendicitis…accounts differ…but all accounts agree that he did not receive the care one could reasonably expect from a loving wife. Taken to the hospital in a very advanced stage of septic shock, Paul dies on the operating table. It’s 1934 and he was just forty-three years old. There is an investigation, but due to lack of evidence, no charges are filed. Now, as it turns out, Paul’s will stipulates that should he die and he and Domenica do not have children, then the paintings would become the property of the museum of modern art in Luxembourg. If they did have children, then Domenica would have control of the collection up until the child or children reached majority.

As you can imagine, this does not sit well with Domenica. Quickly sporting a cushion under her dress, she fakes a pregnancy, disappears at “term” and returns with a baby that her ex-con brother, Jean Lacaze,  has purchased on the black market. The child is dutifully registered as the son of Paul Guillaume and is named Jean-Pierre Guillaume… nicknamed Paulo…or Polo by some accounts.

Domenica and Jean Walter marry in 1938…or 1941…accounts differ. One of the conditions of the marriage being that Jean immediately adopts Paulo. Domenica is legally in charge of the art collection and she sells a number of the cubist paintings and begins to steer the collection toward post-impressionist art. She buys Monets, Renoirs, Cezannes…including this Cezanne still life…walter guillaume cezanne pommes et biscuits …Pommes et Biscuits, painted in 1879 and purchased at auction in 1952 by Domenica bidding furiously against the Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos in order to obtain the painting for the then record price of 33 million French francs.

Jean has at least five times the wealth that Paul had, and Domenica now cuts an even wider swath in social circles…but she still continues to take on lovers. In 1957, Domenica is 59 and her constant “companion” is a homeopathic doctor named Maurice Lacour. Dr. Lacour is 44 years old and, as it turns out, is an expert on poisons. One Sunday afternoon, the trio are having their customary lunch at a countryside inn. Domenica reportedly asks Jean to run across the street to get some cigarettes and blam…out of nowhere, a car strikes him. It’s a hit-and-run. An ambulance is called, but Domenica turns it away, stating that she preferred that she and Maurice bring the gravely injured Jean to the hospital. After what was later described as an unusually long time, Jean Walter is dead on arrival at the hospital.

Eyebrows are raised, but no charges are filed.

Meanwhile Paulo is getting close to the age when he would inherit the impressive collection of paintings. He hadn’t done much with his life. Domenica had blurted out that she was not his mother during a heated argument when he was still an adolescent, but Jean Walter had been a loving “father”. Paulo life’s so far had consisted of odd jobs, brief travels here and there…the most stable period being when he fulfilled his military duties as a paratrooper in the Franco-Algerian War. It was at this time that Domenica’s brother Jean and Maurice allegedly hired a hit-man to rid themselves of Paulo. Unfortunately for them, the man they approached had been a paratrooper himself and respecting a “code of honor”, told Paulo of the plot and notified the police. Maurice was arrested, but claimed that it was all a misunderstanding…that the money that had been exchanged was for a real estate deal. Maurice was eventually released and the case did not proceed any further.

Paulo returns to Paris and becomes a free-lance photographer. He meets a girl…Marie-Thérèse Goyenetch, nicknamed Maïté. Paulo thinks she’s a hairdresser, but she’s actually a call girl that had been bribed by Domenica’s brother, Jean. Maïté tells police that Paulo is her procurer…which is a felony. And it just so happens …what a coincidence…that being convicted of a felony would have voided Jean Walter’s adoption of Paulo, thus negating his rights to inherit the fortune. There’s an investigation…witnesses are called…testimony given…perjury discovered. But nothing really comes to fruition and the next thing you know, the French Minister of Culture, André Malraux, is announcing that contracts have been signed and that upon the death of Domenica, the 146 paintings…including 24 Renoirs, 12 Picassos, 15 Cezannes, 10 Matisses, 29 Derains, and 22 Soutines…will become the property of the French government…the very paintings that one sees on the lower level of the Musée de l’Orangerie..

In 1979, Domenica dies, leaving what was left of her still vast fortune to her current lover…a Russian art critic. And Paulo? Some say he met with Domenica some years after the assassination plot and subsequently renounced all claims to an inheritance…by some accounts, in exchange for a healthy sum.

So the next time you admire the paintings downstairs at the Musée de l’Orangerie…keep in mind the story behind the collection…and the individuals involved…for it’s true that still waters can run very, very deep…
walter guillaume monet…Monet’s  Les Bateaux Rouge…Argenteuil 1875…part of the Jean Walter-Paul Guillaume Collection…the name of the collection said to be part of the deal.

Stay tuned for more behind the scenes adventures of The Meadows Collection…or check out the results at

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Shipping 101

At the risk of alienating one twelfth of the members of the blogosphere, I confess that I sometimes find that living with a died-in-the-wool Virgo has its moments. Like when I…a whimsical Pisces…grab a chisel from his carefully-alphabetized tool box to open a can of paint…or use the “wrong” sponge to wash his favorite kitchen knife…or not replace the cap on a glue bottle quite straight…or plug in an external hard drive upside down…little things.

However, after all these years, I’ve learned to take advantage of what some might call nauseating nit-picking or being prudent to the point of the ridiculous…notice I said “some”. Anyway, I soon realized that his infernal cautiousness has some merit and can actually be a real asset…especially in his capacity as head of our shipping department.

And I’ve actually come to appreciate his ways, as I was recently reminded of how the rest of the world views the requirements for shipping a fragile item…an antique Quimper pottery figure that was once in mint condition arrived carelessly packed and consequently cracked…the crack corresponding perfectly with the dent in the flimsy cardboard box in which it was sent.

To make something good out of this unfortunate occurrence, here are some of my favorite Virgo’s golden rules for shipping a fragile item…

…the boxes must be sturdy; note the word “boxes” as all items are to be double-boxed…a box within a box. No exceptions!

…wrap the item first in unprinted newsprint or a hospital pad and then in several layers of bubble wrap and seal that in a box. The size of that inner box depends upon the fragility of the object. A sturdy ceramic plate, for example, can be fit snugly into the box with just a bit of packing “peanuts” (or Styrofoam) in the corners. Something more vulnerable…a figure with protruding head or hands, etc….should be in a box that is at least one inch…two inches in some cases…larger than the wrapped package all the way around. In those instances, the wrapped package goes into this inner box after an inch (or two, depending on the size of the box) of peanuts is placed on the bottom. And then more peanuts are added as described later in this post.

…by the way, in general, if the item is breakable and your package will be sent by air, best to not rely solely on the new-fangled air packets…they have been known to develop leaks while en route in an unpressurized cargo plane and consequently the item ends up being poorly protected during the ground portion of its journey.

…pack each of the boxes as full as you can with the packing peanuts…so full that closing and taping them shut is usually a two-man operation. The theory here is to not pack an item too loosely…because even though it’s in bubble wrap, you don’t want the package moving around within the inner box or the inner box moving around within the outer box.

…include all pertinent information inside the top of the outer box…invoice, etc…as well as a duplicate of the shipping label.

He then goes over the entire box with clear packing tape…the entire box. This step not only protects the box from moisture, but gives extra support and protection from dents and punctures.

And since a picture says a thousand words…here are some snapshots of the Master Packer at work…

Here’s what he does:

Place the item on a flat, sturdy surface…in this case, the item is an antique Quimper faïence figure…shipping 1Next, wrap the item…he uses hospital diapers from a medical supply store, but unprinted newsprint can be used as well…emphasis on unprinted. This can be purchased from a moving or storage company. First, wrap the diaper or paper around any parts of the item that protrude…
shipping 2 …and then continue with at least two layers…
shipping 3 Do not use bubble wrap next to the item itself as it can leave an imprint…the same goes for printed newspaper or pages from a magazine. Only after the piece is wrapped in the diaper or unprinted newsprint is it time for the bubble wrap…
shipping 4In general, he prefers the larger-bubbled variety, but here he is using the regular-sized…which works, it’s just not his favorite. It’s a Virgo thing.
shipping 5Keep wrapping the piece in the bubble wrap until you no longer feel the contours of the piece…you just feel the bubbles…
shipping 6 Then tape the bubble wrap with packing tape to form the package…
shipping 7You’re now ready for the first box…as described above, the size of this box will vary according to the fragility of the item being shipped. For something vulnerable, as in the illustration, the inner box should be all the way around at least two inches larger than the bubble-wrapped piece. The box should be sturdy cardboard…such as the type available from moving companies or re-cycled liquor boxes, etc. He often has to customize a box…cutting a too-large box down to fit the specific situation.  For this very fragile item, he will first fill the inner box with about two inches of packing peanuts, place the bubble-wrapped piece on top, and add more packing peanuts…stopping to tamp them down in the corners and making sure to fill all the empty spaces. Once you have a nice, snug fit, tape this first box closed with packing tape.

For the second box…the outer box…again, choose a box that is sturdy and will be at least two inches larger all the way around…three inches is even better.  Here, he has customized a box to be just the right size and has drawn a line to illustrate what will be the final “peanut” level…

shipping 8Place a two inch layer of packing peanuts on the bottom of this outer box and then put in the sealed inner box.
shipping 9 Now pour on the packing peanuts…this was the part that our previous cat…Porky…really liked. He loved to chase and bat around any stray peanut…but J-P could care less about them.  Anyway, be sure to use enough packing peanuts…stopping every so often to pack them down and see that they get into every corner…
shipping 10 …and make sure that there will be enough under the top flaps as well.
shipping 11Put the pertinent paperwork and duplicate shipping information on top…preferably so that it  sits off to the side under one of the box flaps to prevent it from being cut when the box is eventually opened. Then you’re ready to tape closed the outer box…
shipping 12  …again, if you’ve put in the proper amount of packing peanuts…then this usually is a two-person proposition.

Then comes the tape…lots and lots of packing tape. Any seam should be completely covered with a solid piece of packing tape…a piece that goes all the way around the box. He does this for both the top and the sides…
shipping 13…and then does the bottom, too…carefully, sealing the entire box.
shipping 14Then all you have to do is tape on a shipping label and it’s ready to go! He puts a mile of tape over the shipping label as well…but then he’s a Virgo! 

Stay tuned for more behind the scenes adventures of The Meadows Collection…or check out the results at

And if it’s Quimper pottery that you crave…you’ll love

Friday, February 4, 2011

Face Front…Hold Still…Turn to your left…

By some accounts, the mug shot was invented by Allan Pinkerton (1819-1884), a nineteenth century detective, famous as the founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Others date its origin as 1848 and the place as a police station in Liverpool, England. Still others say that the custom began in the 1870s, in Paris, France by Alphonse Bertillon (1853-1914), a clerk at the Préfecture of Police. The earliest mug shot still in existence is thought to be one that dates from 1843 and was taken by police in Brussels, Belgium…very early indeed, as that would have happened only fours years after the invention of photography.

Whatever the true origin, the mug shot has become a cultural icon of sorts…recording images of folks as diverse as Bill Gates…
Bill_Gates_mugshot…in a mug shot taken after a 1977 arrest for drunk driving and driving without a license…

…and Elvis Presley…
Elvis_mugshot …in a mug shot-style photograph taken by the FBI when he visited the Nixon White House. There have been reports that
even Bert of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie fame has heard the drill…face front…hold still…turn to your left.

One of our specialties is vintage photography and includes both serious images and those that are a bit quirky. Here’s a vintage mug shot that made its way into our inventory…
mugshotft473…this would be one Daniel Richards alias Daniel Williams…a salesman who gave his address as 121 N 16th Street in Philadelphia. This image dates from 1938 when he was arrested by the Scranton police for issuing worthless checks.

On the reverse is pertinent information along with a space set aside for his Bertillon measurements…
mugshotbk477Named for its inventor, the aforementioned Alphonse Bertillon, the system…also called anthropometry…was the first scientific method for identifying criminals. It was developed in the days before fingerprinting…at a time when criminal identification was obtained solely by eye-witness accounts…and, thus, was notoriously unreliable. In the Hound of the Baskervilles, Sherlock Holmes is described as being the second highest criminal expert in Europe…after Bertillon. Of course, Alphonse Bertillon is not to be confused with the Glacier Bertillon…the world-renowned ice cream maker established on the Ile Saint-Louis in Paris in 1954…that’s for another posting…

Stay tuned for more behind the scenes adventures of The Meadows Collection…or check out the results at