Poirot bikes past Claude Langton’s house in The Veiled Lady

Remember Claude Langton from Wasps’ Nest? Who can forget either Peter Capaldi’s performance or that funky zigzag door on his character’s stylish Art Deco house?聽 馃檪

I only just noticed, while re-watching The Veiled Lady yesterday, that Poirot bikes past this same house while on his way to the blackmailer Lavington’s to “case the joint.” Lavington is said to live in Wimbledon. I don’t know exactly where this house is located, except that it’s somewhere in Surrey. So, that’s all right.聽 馃檪

The mantel clock

The lovely Art Deco mantel clock that appears in Poirot’s second flat has a fun history. It was acquired by David Suchet and used as a prop for the show (as is the stylin’ barometer in the front hall).

I decided to make a little model of it for my miniature room. It’s skinnier than the original; all the better to fit into a small space.聽 馃槈聽 I used a sterling silver dog charm (loop cut off) for the statue part– the dog in the original looks rather like a Doberman, but the best charm I found for my purposes happens to be a Great Dane. The agate bases are rectangular cabochons that I ordered from Estonia. The rest is metallic cardstock, beads, transparent plastic, and a bit of paint.

Poirot himself had a model of a foxhound he bought with his winnings from his bet with Giraud in The Murder on the Links (he names it Giraud, in fact).聽 馃檪

Feedback:

“Good pictures”: the Japanese prints in Poirot’s study

When I see art used for the set, I tend to be curious as to where it came from. In Taken at the Flood, David Hunter and Rosalind are perusing Poirot’s new flat. Hunter wryly comments on the “good pictures” that Poirot has, referencing a couple of Japanese wood block prints. You were wondering about those prints that caught Hunter’s eye, weren’t you? Of course you were…聽 馃槈

I finally managed to track down the one on the right, anyway. It appears to be by Kunisada II: 鈥淎ctors Band么 Hikosabur么 V as Akogi Gennoj么 and Onoe Kikugor么 IV as the Female Street Musician (Onnaday没) Ohaya.鈥 This print was purchased and had been donated to an American museum by the early 20th century.

Japanese wood block prints became fashionable throughout Europe in the 19th century, and the art of Japan came to influence genres from clothing fashion to the fine arts. Van Gogh was an avid collector of Japanese prints, and the flat, vivid, outlined imagery would come to be seen in his own work and that of others of the Post-Impressionist and Expressionist movements. Poirot’s second flat was full of the fashionably continental.

And it would be a picture of actors, wouldn’t it.聽 馃檪

I included miniature paintings of these two prints in my own 1:12-scale Poirot study.

Miniature room box #3: The bedroom

At this point, I have three miniature rooms of Poirot’s flat in various stages of completion. Since the bedroom is almost finished now, I’ll put the photos up here.聽 馃檪聽 First, a couple of “in progress” shots as construction was happening…

The (almost) finished product…

Still needs a couple of lights on the back of the side walls. I’d bought a couple for this purpose, but they’re too amber and I don’t think they’ll work. I was also planning on adding a couple of rugs, but not too sure now– it might overwhelm the space. Slippers, however, are going to happen. 馃檪

 

This little tailoring form was super tricky to execute. Among other things, I didn’t have a sewing needle fine enough for that super-fine brass chain, so I had to constantly alternate between sewing needle and beading needle! As you can see, Poirot has plenty of clothes brushes. 馃檪

On the shelf is a statue of St. Michael, a small pistol and dagger, a set of brass “justice” scales, and a glass bottle. I love that little prie-dieu– it came as a kit. It turns out that the archangel Michael is considered the patron saint of law enforcement officers as well as patron saint of the city of Brussels. So it seemed logical to me that there might be some reference to him in Poirot’s rooms (as he is a good Catholic). The image of Michael defeating the devil also serves as an apt picture for Poirot’s own sense of his vocation.

Miniature Agatha Christie books! Because of course, Poirot would read about himself. 馃槈 The Poirot books are Blue Train, Murder on the Links, and Murder on the Orient Express (which is really micro-printed and cloth-bound, a little masterpiece).

His vanity. I had SOOO much fun with this. There’s a shaving set, moustache wax and pomade, tiny cotton swabs (handmade), a silver vanity kit with brushes and comb, tiny scissors (a bit of manipulated wire), hair tint, hair tonic, scented talc, fig-sulpher-senna tablets, Flu-Nips, cologne, and on the top shelf…

…Ammonia, morphine, arsenic, strychnine, generic poison, unknown pills, a syringe, and another mysterious bottle. Just so we don’t forget whose room this is!!! 馃檪

The blanket chest contains personal keepsakes– WWI-era newspapers.

The pictures on the back wall are solid stone, inlaid intarsia pendants. They look almost like photographs or abstract art. I replaced the round, wide shades on the original miniature lamps with these squarish ones so they would fit better.

In the little box on the bedside table is this bitty rosary, which I strung myself with garnet beads smaller than 2mm.

Christie’s physical descriptions of Poirot: Branagh and Suchet

The trailer for the new Murder on the Orient Express film has been released. Various reactions ensued. There’s a lot of excitement, of course, at the prospect of Christie on the big screen again. There’s a heavily star-studded cast (not unlike the 1974 Finney production, in that way). But what stands out to me is the visceral reaction to the simple sight of Kenneth Branagh’s Hercule Poirot. A lot of longtime and hardcore Poirot fans are stunned– not necessarily in a good way. And yeah, okay, I’m one of them. I may have used the phrase “greying, tousled 21st-century hipster” once or twice.

And yet, I do want to be as fair as possible. Fans were bound to react with a great deal of indignation at the sight of another Poirot after Suchet’s 25-year span on the small screen. So utterly dedicated was he to the character, so very convincingly did he pull off the role, that it has become difficult to associate Poirot with anyone else. (Ustinov who?) I don’t think I personally ever really will. He really did seem to just waltz off the written page and onto the screen.

So let’s consider the written page– Christie’s own physical description of Poirot. Many fans are comparing the look of Branagh’s character unfavorably to Christie’s original. Others are comparing only against the Suchet interpretation, and although he’s famously faithful to Christie, there are still distinctives against which, from a more purist point of view, certain criticisms of Branagh would be somewhat unfair. You might say that this post is me trying to put a best construction on, against my own knee-jerk reactions.聽 馃檪

Poirot is described for us, via Christie, as about five feet four inches tall, or “no more than” five foot five. Branagh seems to be somewhere between 5’9″ and 5’10”; Suchet is apparently around 5’7″. Neither actor is quite there, although Suchet is closer.

Christie often describes Poirot’s distinctive green eyes. Branagh’s are blue; Suchet’s are brown. Arguably Branagh is “closer” there.聽 馃檪

But oh! the moustache! What great consternation was caused by Branagh’s eye-popping facial hair– definitely grey, whereas Suchet keeps a proper blackness. But I think what shocked people more was the flamboyance of Branagh’s. Having a big and flamboyant moustache is actually quite in keeping with Christie, as well as with the early 20th-century continental ‘stache in general. She has many ways of describing Poirot’s, so some variation is acceptable for the purist. But she does occasionally use words like “enormous” (e.g. Dead Man’s Folly). I even seem to remember something about the Christie estate expressing surprise at the time that the Suchet ‘stache wasn’t as flamboyant as it could have been, although they understood the reasoning of the creators of the show. And I think the decision about the ‘stache for Suchet, Brian Eastman, etc. really came down to a desire to not make Poirot appear more ridiculous than necessary. It’s true that in the books, the extreme moustache did contribute to many Englishmen’s contempt for Poirot and their view of him as ridiculous. But by the late ’80s, the character of Poirot himself seemed to have become somewhat of a joke– people didn’t take him seriously, which is why John Suchet initially discouraged his brother from taking the role. It became very, very important for the show’s creators, as it was for Christie’s family, that the character be taken seriously, and I do think that the moustaches they had for Suchet’s Poirot were the right choice as a result. Now that Poirot is firmly established on screen as the serious and well-rounded character that he is, thanks to Suchet, another actor can perhaps come along and demonstrate the flamboyancy aspect of it (although identifiable wax and pomade is still most in keeping with the books). And I think that Branagh really had little choice but to differentiate his Poirot from Suchet’s in various ways, for better or worse. So there you go…

A few other words about hair. My own biggest issue with the Branagh image is that in some of these early photos, Poirot’s hair looks too unkempt, and his centre parting goes haywire. It is also too grey, although one might make one small observation that way. Although Christie mentions more than once how “suspiciously” black Poirot’s hair is, and either hints or states outright that he dyes it, consider Hastings quote from The A.B.C. Murders on the subject…

‘You’re looking in fine fettle, Poirot,’ I said. ‘You’ve hardly aged at all. In fact, if it were possible, I should say that you had fewer grey hairs than when I saw you last.’

Hastings goes on to say that Poirot’s hair is “so much blacker” than when he saw him last. The inescapable conclusion, then, is that Hastings has seen Poirot with greying hair! But it’s true, we don’t actually see it on the written page (not until almost the very last page, anyway), so ultimately I come down on the side of grey hair being a no-no.聽 馃槈

Since we’re talking about hair, here’s one of my favorite descriptions of Poirot’s appearance from “The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest”:

To see Poirot at a party was a great sight. His faultless evening clothes, the exquisite set of his white tie, the exact symmetry of his hair parting, the sheen of pomade on his hair, and the tortured splendour of his famous moustaches– all combined to paint the perfect picture of an inveterate dandy. It was hard, at these moments, to take the little man seriously.

Poirot is always described by Christie as at least appearing to have a full head of hair, with a centre parting. In the pictures I’ve seen, Branagh’s Poirot just looks too 21st-century for my liking– not enough pomade, and at times downright tousled! So, what are we to make of Suchet’s Poirot on this point? As a matter of fact, a significant number of stage, screen, or artistically-rendered Poirots in days gone by are deliberately depicted with vanishing hairlines, contra Christie. Why? I think the most obvious answer is that, far more prevalent than the author’s description of Poirot’s hair is her famous description of his head— “egg-shaped.” Christie herself, humorously, wasn’t quite sure what an egg-shaped head even was. But since it calls attention to head shape, it automatically (at least to me) creates a visual assumption of some level of baldness.

For the overall effect in appearance, Christie describes Poirot as looking “positively exotic” (e.g. Dumb Witness, etc). Suchet most definitely wins that contest. He has mentioned in interviews that his Eastern European heritage has aided him in playing the roles of “outsiders,” as he “certainly doesn’t look like a typical Englishman.” I don’t really know what a typical Englishman is supposed to look like, but if I had to guess, Branagh (who’s from Northern Ireland) might be high up on my list.

For general body type, Poirot is written as a “small, compact figure” (The Labours of Hercules), “delicately plump” (The Big Four), with “a certain protuberance around his middle” (Evil Under the Sun).聽 Although vain about his brainwork and meticulous about appearing neat, he has no illusions about being attractive to the opposite sex, and in physical appearance is only proud of his moustaches. Other physical descriptions of Poirot from Christie include “expressive eyebrows,” “tiny, fastidiously-groomed hands,” and “short, stubby fingers.” He is in the habit of tilting his head to one side like “an inquisitive robin.” He is attired in correct, well-pressed and symmetrically neat urban wear, has an English tailor (Dumb Witness), prefers his large turnip of a pocket watch, and indulges in bling like pearl studs (“The Under Dog”). Christie’s written character uses no spectacles, monocle, or pince-nez (Lord Edgware Dies). He wears tight patent leather shoes which are a regular source of discomfort for his feet and affect the way he walks. And he always wears a hat when outside and muffles up to the nines against any possible chill.

It will be interesting to see how much, or little, of Christie’s descriptions factor into the appearance of Branagh’s Poirot. I was not favorably impressed by the grey and the generally rumpled appearance he seemed to present. And I’m still thoroughly convinced that Suchet was the perfect Poirot, so much so that in whichever little ways his presentation of the man departs slightly from the books, it seems that Christie herself must have gotten it wrong! That bias of mine has to serve me as a reminder that Branagh, great actor that he is, does deserve at least some leeway.

We’ll see what we shall see…

branagh5

 

Ambigram: Dead Man’s Folly

Once again, a vertical-axis “mirror” ambigram of a Christie title. Acrylic on square canvas board. I’m attempting to carry on my habit of using the letters themselves (frequently the center letters) to convey some important pictorial plot reference. In this case, we have the folly itself.聽 馃檪

Poirot’s flat, dollhouse miniature style!

Currently I have two room boxes in the works for the sitting room and study of Poirot’s flat. The rooms aren’t replicas of the sets, but I use elements from the sets (including both flats) plus some of my own observations from the books.

I was excited to get my cut MDF pieces from my friends, the Harders, this evening. The sitting room is the first room box. I painted up the walls right away, added paper parquet flooring and baseboards, and glued it all together. Here’s how it looked:

Herringbone parquet is the flooring seen in both of the flats of the television series.

Then came the fun of adding the details! Here’s the current flat-in-progress…

Still missing, as you can see, at least one more painting under the picture light on the right-hand wall, one of the end tables to match the other, and some more shelving, etc.

A little difficult to capture via photo, but the fireplace has a flickering LED bulb behind the vellum fireplace screen. The picture lights and wall sconces are attached to the wall via a glued-on magnet. They’re easy to remove for turning the lights on and off.

Picture lights abound in Poirot’s second flat, so I was delighted to find them in miniature. The round shades of the wall sconces are reminiscent of certain table lamps observable in both flats. The running deer is similar to certain ceramic pieces in the second flat, including mantel decorations.

The brass clothing valet was also a delight to have found; I’ll probably be moving it to the study. I intend to fill the decanters and possibly the glasses and add a bottle of liqueur. I made the chairs, side table, fireplace, and plant stand from scratch, but bought the brass/glass/acrylic furniture.

An aerial view. Obviously, symmetry is important! The area rug was made by heat-bonding a piece of bluish-gray cotton to a stiff felt backing so it would lay very flat. The distinctive wood grain of the chairs, side table, and plant stand were lifted directly from the show. In the opening scene of Third Girl, the camera pans down the lovely wood dining table. I took a screen capture of the wood grain and just printed it out on my computer to use for the furniture.

Fans should understand this reference… 馃檪

Refreshments on the coffee table. Included is a cup of hot chocolate with a dollop of whipped cream and a spoon, and two plates of macarons. (We actually see Poirot and Mrs. Oliver sharing some macarons in his apartment in Elephants Can Remember.) The wooden box opens and contains cigars; next to it is a cigarette case and a table lighter. White square ashtrays are on the side table.

Coming soon, I hope… the study!聽 馃榾

Poirot’s sitting-room painting of… Prague?

Since I’ve been creating certain set pieces in miniature, it has led to an investigation of various artworks that appear in Poirot’s flat(s). For fans of the show, one of the best-known paintings has to be the muted architectural scene that appears behind the fruit bowl in Flat #1. I’ve previously blogged about how Poirot seems to have been abnormally attached to this piece: it was first situated in his Belgian apartment building; then he seems to have nabbed it and take it to his first English residence in Styles St. Mary; and even after he “retires” to grow vegetable marrows, he conveys it to The Larches!

I became curious about that image, and reverse-image-searching for it online had yielded no results. After creating a miniature of it, however, I decided to try again. The painting seemed a bit of an anomaly with Poirot’s other flat furnishings, I thought. In light of how the painting travels with him from Belgium, it would make sense if the picture itself was by a Belgian artist, just to connect it with the character. Indeed, I wondered if it might be a copy or print of a Fran莽ois Jean Louis Boulanger, a 19th-century Belgian artist (he’s called French in that link– don’t believe it!) whose style of “romantic realism” is strongly allied to the image. He painted a number of Ghent and Brussels cityscapes, so surely that would be a logical reason for the presence of that picture in the sitting room. But searching yielded nothing.

But a closer scrutiny revealed the building in Poirot’s picture as actually being the Bridge Tower of the famous Charles Bridge of Prague, Czech Republic! So much for the Belgian angle. After that revelation, further searching finally revealed the origin of the image. No paintings came up, incidentally, but a lithograph by one Vinzenz Morstadt (Czech) did:

Considering the composition, I think there can be no doubt that the painting in the sitting room was modeled after this particular lithograph. Whether the lithograph was also a painting by Morstadt that was copied, or was painted by another of his contemporaries (of whom Boulanger was one), or was just created by Joe Set Designer for the room because it looked Fittingly Continental, I cannot say. But at least most of that mystery is now elucidated, though why Poirot would be keen on a painting of Prague landmarks I also can’t say. (Incidentally, Suchet traveled to Prague for the very first time a couple of years ago. I wonder if fans in Prague have long been delighted at the sight of one of their best-known landmarks behind Poirot’s fruit bowl…?)聽 馃檪

Framed miniature: acrylic paint, illustration board, and balsa wood.

Building a miniature fireplace…

I’ve been well and truly bitten by the miniature bug. I’ve painted miniatures before, but haven’t done much concentrated building in three dimensions (with the exception of my Poirot library). But now I’ve got designs on building vignettes of a miniature flat…

Here are some photos from my construction project of a miniature fireplace. It’s made out of balsa wood, foam board, heavy kraft paper, and illustration board (which is versatile stuff). It’s painted with acrylics, and the “marble” mantle top is illustration board, painted and then glazed. The figurine of the running deer was a different plastic miniature which I painted white and attached to a balsa base– I didn’t sculpt it.聽 馃槈

Poirot and Japp, acrylic on canvas board

This is a small canvas board, 5×7″. I really like the mysterious lighting and the comparative lack of color in the image, as well as the “blurry” Japp in the background. But as I try to explain to people, when painting a film screenshot like this (image from The Big Four), half the battle is just finding a shot where the lighting IS good. They’ve already done all the work of making a good screen image; I just adapt it to paint.聽 馃檪