January ad lib

Nannette Streicher geborne Stein

The month in review (part II)

In January, Princess Christina of Orange made headlines on the Dutch news.  She is a Dutch princess of whom we do not hear much of these days. She is an aunt of the king of the Netherlands and the youngest daughter of the once queen Juliana. Princess Christina, it was announced, is planning to sell some of her artworks at auction. One of the items mentioned is a drawing by Rubens, the Flemish master, to be sold off in an auction by Sotheby’s. There is much talk about the fact that she is selling these artworks abroad, thereby offering no priority to Dutch institutions who may want to purchase them. The criticism also extends to the Dutch government, for not doing enough to keep the artworks in the Netherlands.

Let’s look at some of the headlines, as there are several:

  1. On the 8th of January, it was announced that Princess Christina was putting up for sale a copy of a  lost work by Leonardo da Vinci, made by an anonymous Italian artist. See NRC 8/01/2019. Until January 6 of this year, the artwork had been on view at the Teyler’s Museum in Haarlem (The Netherlands), as part of an exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci. This isn’t the first time that Princess Christina brings to auction some of her treasures. In 1988 she sold a collection of hundred historical coins and medals.
  2. An article in January 17th issue of AD (Algemeen Dagblad) tells us Princess Christina earned 40 000 euros in the first auction of this month. However, prior to the first auction day she had already withdrawn the most important item featured on the auction listing: glass tulips by the French glass artist René Lalique. It is also not the first time the Princess suddenly withdraws an item from an auction sale: in 1996 she withdrew the top item from an auction of her belongings, a painting by Van Haarlem, representing Mars and Venus.
  3. A day later, on the 18th of January, we learn that a Chinese pot with lid, having pertained to princess Christina, is returning to the Hague. ‘Returning’ because this seventeenth century Chinese porcelain vase had previously belonged to queen Anna Pavlovna of the Netherlands. To prove this we are shown a picture of the inscription at the bottom of the vase. The pot had adorned her palace Buitenrust where in summer it stood in the fireplace. It now returns to the city where is will be placed in the Japanese style room of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Really.

Yes, indeed. With a Chinese porcelain vase originally stood in a fireplace and going to a Japanese lacquer room, an anonymous copy of a lost Da Vinci, and glass tulips being withdrawn from the auction, they could be the lines taken out of a funny detective story.  Yet Princes Christina also planned to sell 13 old masters at Sotheby’s in New York today, on the 30th of January.  The key piece of this auction, a Peter Paul Rubens drawing which was originally purchased in 1838 by Willem Frederik (the future king Willem II of the Netherlands, who married Anna Pavlovna) is a study to one of the artist’s major paintings, the Elevation of the Cross. Sir Peter Paul Rubens, the Americans call him. The charcoal drawing is said to have been sold for the equivalent of six million euros to Leon Black and is staying in New York. It’s serious business.

Let’s return for one moment to the 1988 sale of coins and commemorative medals. At the time, Princess Christina made it clear that she was selling this collection of 100 because her declining eyesight prevented her from fully appreciating these items, and thus provided her with little pleasure. I may very well imagine her saying this about one of the 13 drawings she sold today, much less when it concerns medals and coins. Gold, bronze, silver, copper …they come in different sizes, shapes and above all have some amazing relief works.

In my researches I’ve come across a commemorative bronze medal which was once treasured by ballet dancer Marie Taglioni, one of the most legendary ballerinas in history. It was issued to commemorate the date of the performance of the ballet Il Prometeo in Milan in 1814, in which her father Filipo danced the role of Mars. The choreography was made on Beethoven’s composition Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus by Salvatore Viganò, who had also premièred this ballet in Vienna in 1801. A detailed relief shows Prometheus fighting the eagle; the medal is part of Marie Taglioni’s legacy, now in the archives of the Institute of Music in the Netherlands.

I also leafed through a most interesting publication called Trésor de Numismatique et de Glyptique, issued under the reign of Napoleon III, which discusses and shows a total of 1400 medals, starting from the French revolution. Many of those coins carry the image of kings, emperors or politicians: Napoleon Bonaparte’s profile adorns many of them.

This is how the image of the coin, so often carrying an effigy turned to the right or the left, takes me back to Nannette’ s portrait. Nannette, who appears in profile, as if she were sitting still for a study, prepared to be commemorated on a coin, a medal or a plaque. Well, I believe we should have had one made this month. A commemorative medal should have been stamped for the grande dame of Viennese piano building: on Wednesday 16th of January was the anniversary of Nannette Streicher’s death and on January 2nd she would have celebrated her 250th birthday.

From Brexit to Art

house of commons

The month in review (part I)

On the 29th of January the British House of Commons had yet another important voting round in the Brexit saga. It was not the first time this month; the news about the process of Brexit, a deal or no-deal, back-stop or no back-stop, has kept us in suspense.

Just fourteen days before, on Tuesday 15th of January Ms. Theresa May’s plan was first submitted to a vote in the British parliament. Of course I watched the outcome on the news, as I did yesterday. Debate and voting in British Parliament seems harsh and unruly to many continental ears; one tends to watch with amazement, the loudness of it all being the characteristic that stands out. However with the voting on the Brexit plan, I have been more than attentive to the actual procedure in Parliament and keen to observe and listen how the voting takes place: from voice vote to rising vote, with the division of the house and the two division lobbies, right for the ‘Ayes’ and left for the ‘Noes’ .

Most of the procedures have a longstanding history. Thomas Jefferson describes in his 1800 Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the use of the Senate of the United States that originally there was only one lobby.  After the fire of 1834, the House of Commons was rebuilt and a second lobby was added. The Ayes and the Noes are counted, after which the Speaker of the House announces the final result. On the 15th, he subsequently concluded ‘the Noes have it’.

The entire Brexit is definitely not music to my ears, however the process triggered the strangest association of ideas. On the 16th of January as I was listening to the news, I happened to be looking at the portrait of Nannette Streicher. She appears on it in profile, looking to the left. Her head hulled in a white bonnet, her features sharp, her expression stern. One would not qualify it as a beautiful portrait; we do not admire her pose, her dress, nor her hair which is mostly covered. But her features stand out. I’ve wondered why this portrait was drawn the way it is, and why is it the only portrait of her I seem to be able to find. Why do we not know a painting of her, for example, showing her in the setting of the famous Streicher music salon in Vienna, surrounded by music lovers and music professionals alike, friends of the family? It might not have suited her character to have portraits made of herself. Or maybe it was orchestrated this way. Why this particular portrait? What may it tell us?

From May’s Brexit plan to Nannette Streicher, it seems like a far stretch.  For now, see it more as a mental time travel, of even an excursion to a realm where time and place do not matter. Above and beyond all, may it be an exercise whereby we come to realize that we should refrain from drawing fast conclusions; that we should, at all times, formulate the right questions first, then start looking for answers.

(To be continued.)

Notes with a twist


Today is Saturday. For the English, Kronos rules, and the clock is ticking. Will the waves of the Brexit drift us apart or will the hope for a better Europe prevail? Brexit, just the sound of the word is awful. It’ s 2019, people. Think Beethoven.

My Dutch roots and my French education tell me we are in it together. And today, on the 26th of January I’m already wishing it were Spring, not the end of a cycle. After having published two episodes of a story and one translation into French in 2018, Beeblog is becoming more personal. They are Bee’s Notes really. I’ m embarking on a new adventure.

Walk with me through the gate onto this path, the image is courtesy of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, the National Library of the Netherlands. It’s an illustration to Paul Verlaine’s collection of poems titled Les Fêtes Galantes. The aquarelle reminds me of the beautiful old gates in this region of France where I live, the Charentes. They, the gates, come in different types; here the two pillars are adorned with vases, others will have two balls or spheres. This however, opens up another topic altogether, one that has divided but should unite. It is essential to keep that in mind.

The queen of England has spoken say British newspapers. Two days ago she was at the Norfolk Woman’s Institute meeting in Sandringham, celebrating the organization’s centenary. “ Sixty four days before Britain is due to leave the European Union the Queen urged the country to seek out the common ground ” the Times reports. The Guardian cited a passage of her address: “ The continued emphasis on patience, friendship, a strong community-focus and considering the needs of others are as important today […] Of course, every generations faces fresh challenges and opportunities. As we look for new answers in the modern age, I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes, like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view; coming together to seek out the common ground; and never loosing sight of the bigger picture. To me, these approaches are timeless, and I commend them to everyone.” At the same gathering, a live game of Pointless (game show on British TV) was played and the Queen’s team won the trophy. Surely no pun intended here, someone is just reserving the right to be partial. The day was planned ahead, including the game, so who’s point was it really? It could go both ways!

What is pointless? Surely not what I’ ll be writing here, I think. I hope you will see this too.

Put your ear to ground and listen.

Bon voyage!