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The Loupe

Benjamin Zobel and his Sand Pictures


Benjamin Zobel began his career in Memmingen in Bavaria (Swabia) in the family confectionery business. This apprenticeship became crucial to his career as a sand-painter. When he turned eighteen he moved to Amsterdam where he stayed for three years studying miniature painting before moving to London, where he was employed by Ecchard Brothers of Chelsea for whom he designed patterned wallpapers, linens and silks. Three years later Benjamin Zobel was employed by the Prince Regent's chef Louis Weltje, and became a`Table Decker' at Windsor Castle. The custom of`Table Decking' had been introduced into England by George III, where the table cloth at dinner was elaborately decorated with designs of coloured sands, marble dust, powdered glass or bread crumbs. Zobel became a skilled confectioner and was entrusted with the pictures made in coloured sugars that decorated the huge tarts served at banquets. The method he employed for making sugar patterns was identical to that which he used to make his sand pictures; that is the sugar, or sand, is shaken through a cut and pleated playing-card. Having converted the ephemeral process of sugar pattern to a permanent form of picture making, and believing that there was a future in it, he continued to make his sand pictures in his spare time. The ancient Japanese skill of bon-kei or`tray picture' was known, but Zobel has the reputation of being the inventor of the sand painting technique, and he was certainly the first to introduce the art to England. The subject matter of Zobel's sand-pictures range from battles and biblical scenes to landscapes and flower pieces, although animals, particularly horses, sheep and pigs held a particular fascination for him. His compositions were often taken from the paintings of his dear friend, George Morland. Zobel constructed his images with painstaking precision and was careful to describe every detail and texture, from the soft fur of a tiger to the rough, dusty ground of the farmyard. His works are rare and not often signed in full. 

Tupped Sheep & A Donkey by Zobel

Herbert Dicksee, Artist Etcher of Man's Best Friend...........


and some of his most threatened creatures. Born in 1862, Herbert Dicksee became best known for his etchings. His work was very detailed, and in addition to dogs, he established quite a reputation for his depictions of big game animals such as lions, tigers and polar bears. He came from a family of artists being the son of the painter John Dicksee and cousin of Sir Frank Dicksee, (President of the Royal Academy from 1924 until his death in 1928). Herbert entered the Slade School of Fine Arts on a scolarship when he was sixteen, and at once began to do etchings.
 His first painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy when he was 19. Early in his career Dicksee worked for the "Art Journal" and the "Portfolio" magazines. He spent a great deal of his time at zoological gardens, especially London of which he was a Fellow, and published a number of etchings of wild animals in typical poses, as well as a number of studies of dogs.  Much of his work was done from life and he kept a number of dogs as pets, preferring to render his dogs in domestic situations. 
Dicksee exhibited 97 paintings at the Royal Academy between 1885 and 1933, several known to be of dogs. He also showed at the Fine Art Society. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painters and Etchers and in 1885 he was elected Royal Etcher. His etchings were published  by Frost and Reed, The Fine Art Society and Arthur Tooth.

The Coconut

It is not know when coconuts were first introduced to Europe, but in 1259 the Bishop of Durham was able to leave one in his will. Early imports to Europe were great rarities carved by skilled craftsmen and converted into silver mounted goblets or the bodies of jugs. The incidence of coconuts increases throughout the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries to the point where they were often mentioned in the inventories of the nobility. Tudor coconut cups are usually mounted with silver straps uniting the silver rim with the silver stem and foot. They continued to be used for the bowls of goblets throughout the 18th and 19th centuries by which time the bowls are left plain, the ornament now confined to the silver mounts.

The exceptions to this rule maybe the work of the common man, a sailor or a soldier, to the close grained surface of a polished coconut, whereby scrimshaw-like decoration may be applied to a nut that is then likely used as a drinking flask, the craftsman finishing with an exceptionally personal item for themselves to use or to give to a loved one when returning from a voyage or campaign.

The stemmed coconut cup on this site demonstrates another exception to the same rule. Made by a Frenchman, the style and skill indicative of a craftsman previously employed as a carver, most probably in Dieppe, a long established centre for the carving of imported African ivory; the close-grained nature of the coconut’s wood offering the same potential for fine carving as ivory.     

Sailor's Valentines

A sailor's valentine is a form of shellcraft, a type of mostly antique souvenir, or sentimental gift made using large numbers of small seashells. These were originally made between 1830 and 1890, and they were designed to be brought home from a sailor's voyage at sea and given to the sailor's loved one or loved ones.[1] Sailor valentines are typically octagonal, glass fronted, hinged wooden boxes ranging from 8" to 15" in width, displaying intricate symmetrical designs composed entirely of small sea shells of various colors glued onto a backing. Patterns often feature a centerpiece such as a compass rose or a heart design, hence the name, and in some cases the small shells are used to spell out a sentimental message.