Victorine Meurent's modest attempt to collect on a debt

Edouard Manet made a promise to his favorite model, Victorine Meurent – a promise in the form of a gratuity that she hoped never to have the need to collect, but clearly never forgot. Several months after Manet’s death in 1883, Meurent authored the following letter to his widow explaining their arrangement and essentially, attempting to cash in.

Jim Dine: Drawing with Light

Jim Dine was inspired by a 1984 trip to The Glyptothek in Munich, to create a series of figurative drawings based on Greek and Roman antiquities; they would ultimately function as positive transparencies in the production of the heliogravure prints (helio — "light"; gravure — "engraving") for his limited edition book Glyptotek, 1988.

John Ruskin's "Great Horse-Controversy"

"Give a horse a nut," says John Ruskin, "and see if he can hold it as a squirrel can."

The great English critic was, in the fall of 1857, apparently in the midst of a "great horse-controversy" with Tinie, the young daughter of Ruskin's close friend Robert Horn. It seems that Tinie had recently come to the defense of the horse, and in a very lengthy letter (shown below) Ruskin attempted to convince her that "the horse is the most contemptible of animals."

Pretzels at the Last Supper?

Yes indeed! In several richly illuminated medieval manuscripts preserved in the Morgan’s vaults there are pictures of the Last Supper with beautifully depicted pretzels. In this example, from a mid-eleventh century Gospel Lectionary made in the Abbey of St. Peter in Salzburg, a pretzel can be found on the right side of table.

The mystery of a “spurious Dickens letter”

Last month, browsing the Bonhams auction catalogue Papers & Portraits: The Roy Davids Collection Part II, I came across a description of a three-page manuscript short story by Charles Thomas Clement James (1858–1905), a prolific author whose name and work were completely unknown to me. The story bears the Dickensian title “Concerning the Sinkingsop and Slush Railway” and the footnote accompanying the lot description is amusingly arch: “This manuscript is a fine example, the only one seen commercially, of the remarkable similarity in the handwritings of Charles Dickens and Charles James.

Mary Lamb's not so gentle madness

The Romantic essayist William Hazlitt described Mary Lamb as the most “reasonable woman” he ever knew. This choice of adjective -- reasonable -- is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Mary Lamb. Interesting, perhaps, or articulate, or even brilliant, but reasonable seems an odd choice to describe a woman who, in a “fit of mania,” killed her mother with a kitchen knife.

Before Chickamauga

The first shots of the American Civil War were fired 150 years ago today from Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and the two-day bombardment ended in the surrender of the fort to Confederate General Beauregard. There were no casualties in this initial engagement, but in the following four years at least 618,000 died. It remains the bloodiest war in United States history.