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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Der Rosenkavalier at the Met

Renee Fleming at the Met in Der Rosenkavalier This has been a perfect ending to a weekend and an even better Sunday afternoon.  My eyes and ears just feasted on Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier live at the Met this afternoon with Renee Fleming.

Renee Fleming certainly needs no introduction as one of opera’s greatest sopranos and this performance of her as  Marschallin, once again, does not disappoint.   This staging of Der Rosenkavalier was complete in its grandeur and rococo splendor of 18th century Vienna.  The Shakespearean-style comic masterpiece was adapted from the novel Les amours du chevalier de Faublas by Louvet de Couvrai and Moleire’s comedy, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac and is 3 1/2 hours of glorious costumes and sets amid a story full of romance and intrigue.  First performed under the direction of Max Reinhardt at the Dresden Operanhaus in 1911 during a time of rococo revival, it is easy to understand why its premiere was sold out.   The story surrounds four main characters.  Beside Fleming as the aristocratic female, this performance also features Susan Graham as Octavian, her young lover (played by a woman); Kristinn Sigmundsson as her cousin and womanizing oaf, Baron Oochs; and Christine Shafer as Sophie, daughter of a wealthy Viennese merchant and Oochs’s young prospective fiancée and eventual lover of Octavian.  Edo De Waart conducts this internationally acclaimed cast, which also includes Eric Cutler as the Italian singer and Thomas Allen as Herr Von Faninal, Sophie’s father. 

An opera in three acts, Great Performances at the Met are never to be missed.  This happens to be one of my favorite operas, perhaps because I am an ardent lover of the rococo period and a great fan of Strauss’s waltzes.  Renee Fleming and the entirety of the cast set amidst 18th century rooms, ripe with appropriate to the period decor and costumes of 1740s Vienna, is a feast for all eyes and ears and lovers of art and culture. Der Rosenkavalier made me so happy to wake to a rainy Sunday afternoon, which provided a perfect opportunity to stay indoors.  Do not miss this on your local PBS station this week as Great Performances at the Met.  Also, this week is RSC’s production of a contemporary Hamlet with Patrick Stewart and David Tennant (Dr. Who).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Enormous Loss to Costume and Textile Historians- Natalie Rothstein passes today.

natalie-rothstein-001 This is truly a day of mourning to those of us in this field.  This great woman’s research was a cornerstone of my own 18th century research.  Unknowingly, she was a mentor to me through her authorship in articles, books and lectures.  She brought true scholarship to a field, which in most of the twentieth century was written about by historians who looked at the 18th century through a looking glass of nostalgia and revival.  I am truly a more knowledgeable and learned historian because of her work.  She is a historian who I have quoted as THE 18th century textile expert countess times in my papers and lectures.  This is a sad loss to all of us who adore and respect 18th century costume and textiles and their cultural research.  The following is her obituary which was released only about an hour ago in The Guardian at

Natalie Rothstein obituary: Much-admired curator of silks at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Natalie Rothstein, who has died aged 79, was an outstanding curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum whose chosen field was woven silks. She focused in particular on the development of the English silk industry from 1600 to 1850. The core of her work was published in the magisterial and very beautiful book Silk Designs of the Eighteenth Century in the Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, published in 1990 and accompanied by an exhibition entitled Flowered Silks. In the book, Natalie traced the emergence of the English silk designer Anna Maria Garthwaite, making clear her particular importance within the industry. Garthwaite's designs were bought by the major mercers, woven by master weavers and worn by men and women of the highest rank.

Natalie Rothstein Anna Maria Garthwaite bookplate

Natalie was a one-off: once encountered, never forgotten. She had a fighting spirit and a wicked sense of humour. As a curator, she was a brilliant all-rounder: practical as well as erudite; equally concerned with storage and access to the objects, caring for junior members of staff and suggesting projects that might encourage articles or provoke continuing research.

She was born in East Finchley, north London, to Andrew, a leftwing historian and writer, and Edith, whom he met at a meeting of the Fabian Society. Natalie was educated at Camden school for girls and St Hilda's College, Oxford, where she read modern history. In her second year, she decided to become a museum curator and set her sights on the V&A, a goal she achieved by winning an open competition to become a museum assistant in 1952.

Initially assigned to the art library, she transferred at the first opportunity to the curatorial department of textiles, where she was to work from 1955 until her retirement in 1990 – a sharp contrast to present-day concepts of career development. Natalie knew what she was about: the V&A was then part of the department of education, with responsibility as a national museum to serve the entire nation and be free of entry for all. These basic duties, which she later battled to preserve, suited the egalitarian principles that had been passed on by her socialist parents. The museum had been founded with the specific aim of teaching the importance of skilled craftsmanship combined with good design.

The growing collections were divided, largely according to the materials of which they were made, into curatorial departments. When Natalie joined the textile department, the postwar task of reinstalling the museum's collections was slowing and research into aspects of the collections increased. Peter Thornton, then assistant keeper in the textile department, was collecting material for his book Baroque and Rococo Silks (1965) and needed someone to identify and trace the people behind the names inscribed on the museum's collection of silk designs. The job was given to Natalie, enabling her to research lives and inter-relationships within the silk industry.

Despite the difficulty of finding a suitably qualified tutor, Natalie spent her spare time working for a research MA at the University of London, resulting in an impressive 1961 thesis, The Silk Industry in London 1702-1766. She seized every chance to continue her studies of silk production in England, and travelled to France to attend the technical courses held in Lyon that enabled her to master the terminology and to understand the working of the looms on which silks of varying complexity were woven.

Finding time for such excursions became more difficult as she rose through the ranks of the departmental staff. Serving the public, dealing with much more than woven silks, answering queries from around the world and training new staff leaves little time for detailed research. But, in 1987, Natalie edited, and wrote several introductory essays for, a facsimile of a fascinating manuscript in which a well-to-do 18th-century woman (Barbara Johnson) recorded in great detail the clothes she bought, with samples of the fabrics and trimmings.

After her retirement, Natalie was in great demand as a lecturer, writer and consultant. She travelled widely, often in search of wild flowers with friends, while she enjoyed time in her cottage in the Chilterns, with her cats, and her beautiful garden, in which she continued to host memorable parties.

Her brother Andrew predeceased her. She is survived by her sister-in-law, Maureen, and her nephews Henry and Tom.

Natalie Katherine Anne Rothstein, curator, born 21 June 1930; died 18 February 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

Jane Austen Lives in NYC

This weekend was the last chance one had to visit the remaining letters and associated ephemera relating to Jane Austen at the Morgan Library here in NYC, titled “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy”.  I did get a chance to view the exhibit.  It was spectacular, giving “Janeites” the opportunity to read the only surviving manuscripts, Lady Susan and The Watsons, and personal letters to her sister, Cassandra.  These are items the Morgan has not exhibited in over twenty-five years.  The exhibition was construed into three themes: her personal life and letters, her works including their monetary and inspirational details, and her legacy with a film video made expressly for the exhibition.  The exhibition also draws from the Morgan’s collection of James Gillray prints and other contemporary sources regarding fashion and manners in both country and city life during the neoclassical period in England.  First and early editions of her novels were also displayed along with original illustrations by American artist, Isabel Bishop. 

Writers who influenced Austen were discussed,  including Frances Burney, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Maria Edgeworth and Sir Walter Scott. 

This exhibition gave the visitor a rare opportunity to have tangible insight into the personal world of a truly great author who, two centuries ago, depicted female life in the neoclassical period on a parallel plane with women today and tomorrow.  I hope you didn’t miss it, but if you did, be sure to check it out on line at, listen to the curator and watch the accompanying film.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Chanel Auction today in Paris


February 24th and 25 auctions at Paris’s Druout Richelieu ended today, but because of France’s fascist auction laws, we do not yet know the results of the 800 plus garments, shoes, handbags, costume jewelry and other accessories.  In fact, don’t bother visiting Druout’s website.  I already did.  You cannot access the sale items before or after a sale unless you spend 100 euros to sign-up for their magazine/newsletter.  I don’t think so.

Druout auctioneer, Pierre Cornette de Saint Cyr stated their low/high sale total estimate is $270,000-540,000.  The AP reported some highlights.  One of the pieces, I believe, is an iconic staple to the Chanel archive (don’t be surprised if they are not the purchasers, either), which is a black lace sheath gown with a black bow at the neckline from 1935 that includes its sewn-in couture number.  The report also states there is a green leaf printed day dress with matching jacket, dated 1929.

I will let you know the results of this illustrious sale after they are published- not quite sure why the law prohibits news from being immediately disseminated in France.  I love being an American and thank my ancestors for moving here from France.  (Associated Press Photo by Jacques Brinon 2/25/10)


Friday, February 5, 2010

A Week for the Record Books-

Where are the Investors Going? Contrary to the Dow being down for two days in triple digits with half of Europe blowing up, the art market is perhaps at its strongest point ever and oh, what a week in London this has been! Sotheby's Imps and Mod Department certainly raised the bar in the art world with their sale Wednesday night. Beginning with an opening bid of 12 million pounds and ten bidders, Giacometti's 1961 six foot sculpture "L'Homme Qui Marche I" (Walking Man I) sold at USD$104.3 million, or 65 pounds, in only eight minutes before the drop of the gavel to an anonymous telephone bidder, reaching far above its $20 million to $30 million estimate, according to a Sotheby's spokesperson to the Wall Street Journal writer, Kelly Crow (2/3/10). This price edges out the previously held record of Picasso’s “Garcon a la Pipe”, which was sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 2004 for $104.1 million. Formerly part of the corporate collection of Dresdner Bank, purchased back in the 1980s, the Giacometti sculpture is the only life-time cast of L’Homme qui marche ever to be brought to auction (

The Wall Street Journal article also states that dealers at the auction attribute the high price of the Giacometti work to its large size and interested parties from Russia and the Middle East, as well as the fact that the piece was cast during the artist's lifetime. A guess that the buyer was business magnate Roman Abramovich because of the scene he caused at Art Basel in 2007 after purchasing one of the artist's 1956 bronze figures of a woman from Jan Krugier with an asking price of circa $14 million. However, the rumor was squelched after someone "familiar with the matter said that Mr. Abramovich wasn't the buyer of "Walking Man I."

Sotheby's total almost doubled that of Christies. Sotheby's brought in $234.6 million and Christie's Tuesday sale brought $122.9 million (WSJ 2/3/10).

Other highlights from Sotheby's Wednesday evening blockbuster sale included Klimt's leafy 1913 landscape, "Church in Cassone (Landscape with Cypresses)" sold for $43.2 million, setting a record for the artist; Cézanne's still life, "Pichet et fruits sur une table," sold for $18.9 million; and my favorite, Matisse's "Femme couchée" sold to an unnamed American collector for $7 million (WSJ 2/3/10).

Photo: "L'Homme Qui Marche I" by Giacometti. Credit: Justin Lane / EPA