Friday, 29 August 2014

Brian Stonehouse: The Life Of A Military Artist

Brian Stonehouse: Artist, spy, war hero and renowned fashion illustrator. His fascinating life could resemble the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster and now through the generosity of Frederic A Sharf, the book 'Brian Stonehouse, MBE 1918-1998' (with contributions from our very own Leslie Verrinder and David Smith of Tin Tin Collectables), we can delve into his remarkable life.

Born 29th August 1918 in Torquay, Brian spent much of his childhood growing up in France. From a young age he showed a flair for painting and illustration. In 1932 his passion led him back to Britain to study art at Ipswich Art School. After graduating, Brian worked as a full time artist until the outbreak of World War II where he joined the Territorial Army. In the summer of 1941 whilst in training, he was contacted by the Special Operations Executives to become a secret wireless operator due to his fluency in French. His code name was 'Celestin', and his mission, to infiltrate Nazi Europe in order to sabotage the German war effort.

Portrait of Brian in uniform before becoming MBE

Agents needed to be fitted with their secret devices and since Brian was to be a wireless operator his equipment was disguised as an artist's paint box. On June 30th he was flown into France, as he parachuted down his radio equipment became trapped in a tree. He spent his first few days in France trying to retrieve it without making a scene. After four months, Brian's work as an SOE agent came to an abrupt halt. He had become careless when choosing his locations to transmit from. The Gestapo were clever and cracked his coded messages. On October 24th, 1942, he was arrested and interrogated, yet he continued his identity as a French art student. In November 1943, he was moved to Mauthausen concentration camp and in the summer of 1944 he was moved again to the notorious Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp in Alsace. There his life was spared only by drawing sketches for the camp commandant guards and their families.

1940s Ladies Suit, Tin Tin Collectables

After the war, Brian Stonehouse testified at the Nazi war crimes trials with the aid of his sketches to identify the Nazi officers. He was liberated by U.S. troops on April 25th, 1945, and was awarded a military MBE. Following 1946, Brian continued his career as a fashion artist in America illustrating for Vogue, Elizabeth Arden and Harper's Bazaar. He was the first illustrator to be hired by Vogue in more than a decade.

In 1979, he returned to Britain and became a portrait painter with clients including the Queen Mother whose portrait hangs in the Special Forces Club in London. During his final years Stonehouse was an active Theosophist living at the London branch of the United Lodge of Theosophists. From charming the Gestapo prison guards, to the New York City Cafe Society and to the Queen Mother herself, Brian Stonehouse was a remarkable artist, fashion illustrator, icon and a war time hero.

Copies of the book are available from Leslie, please contact

1950s Lace Evening Dress, Tin Tin Collectables

Friday, 8 August 2014

Gorgeous Green

Summer in August conjures up images of deep blue skies, flowers in full bloom, the soothing sound of nature and of course, green. Green is often used to symbolize rebirth and renewal and immortality and is most commonly associated with nature, vivacity and life.

It's no wonder that some of the most beautiful items at Alfies are luscious shades of green...

Late Victorian enamel and pearl brooch, offered by Sheila Cameron

1950's green paste necklace by Vendome offered by Tony Durante

A stunning French emerald and diamond ring, c1920s. Offered by Kieron Rielly

1960s sculptured green ceramic lamp. British. Offered by The Originals

Linthorpe bowl by Christopher Dresser offered by Janes Antiques

Green and clear glass vase signed Val. St. Lambert, offered by Louise Verber Antiques

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Time Keeper

Your watch. It is an accessory, it is an investment, it is your most truthful friend. Whether you have it safely put away in a pocket, pinned to your chest or on your wrist; it is yours and, hopefully, just the way you want it. The working mechanism of a watch depends on the movement and there are a few of them to choose from. Even if you cannot see it at first glance, the movement play a definite part when pin pointing the characteristics of the watch you are wearing. At Alfies Antique Market you can find any of the different watch movements mentioned below.  

Mechanical Watches
What characterize a mechanical watch is the mainspring. The mainspring is a spring that gradually unwinds and transmits energy. You have to wind up your mechanical watch yourself, which makes it very traditional and creates a nice contact with your watch. Most models require a wind up every 24 hours, so a mechanical watch asks for some attention to be drawn from you every day. In other words, some time spent in order to see the time. 

A Cyma watch from the 1920s, mechanical wind up (offered by Moe Heidarieh)

1920s watch, mechanical wind up (offered by Moe Heidarieh)

Automatic Watches
The difference between a mechanical and an automatic watch is that automatic watches are self winding, so they do not need  to be wound manually. This is possible through a small weighted rotor that has to oscillate in order to wind up the mainspring inside the watch. When you wear the watch motion is created from the wrist and arm and so your movement translates into energy that powers the watch’s gears to wind up the mainspring. 

An automatic watch from the 60s (offered by Moe Heidarieh)

Quartz and Electronic Watches
These movements are more modern and are now widely used timekeeping technologies. Electronic movements are driven by battery and generally come without any moving parts. A quartz watch is powered by an electronic oscillator regulated by quartz crystal to keep time. Because the crystal oscillator can create a signal with very precise frequency, quartz clocks are slightly more accurate than mechanical clocks. The frequency is broken down through an integrated circuit where power is being released through a small stepping motor setting the watch in motion. 

A Garrard Quartz watch (offered by Moe Heidarieh)

A Jaquet Girard Quartz watch from the 70s (offered by Pari's Jewellery)

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