Tuesday, November 16, 2010

La Belle Chocolatiѐre

Chas. W. Shonk Manufacturing & Lithograph Company (Chicago, Illinois, 1890-1935)
La Belle Chocolatiѐre
Lithograph on Tin
One might not expect to find a fine example of Victorian era advertising in its naval collection, but this original tin lithograph which is part of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s collection gives a fascinating glimpse into our unique Naval Station Norfolk history. La Belle Chocolatiѐre is believed to have come from the “Chocolate House”, one of the original houses built as part of the 1907 Jamestown Exposition. During the exposition, the house featured exhibits of the Walter Baker & Company, Limited, a manufacturer of chocolate and cocoa. The framed tin sign, found in the attic of the house, has a plaque attached that reads, " 'La Belle Chocolatiere' famous trademark of Walker Baker Chocolate Company presented to Commander, Atlantic Division, Naval Facilities Engineering Command."

The image of La Belle was taken from a pastel on parchment painting by the Swiss Artist Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789). It was painted between 1743 and 1745, and hangs in the Gallery ‘Alte Meister’ in Dresden, Germany. Its use as the Company’s trademark came from Henry Pierce, the firm’s fifth owner, who saw the original painting during a European trip in the late 1870s. He was so enamored with the image that he commissioned a large-scale replica painted for display at his offices in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The image was first used on packaging and advertisements in 1877, and became the official trademark of the company in 1883.

One of the more interesting facts about the artwork is the story behind the lady in the painting. Her true identity has never been confirmed. Legend has it that the lady in the painting was Anna Baltauf, daughter of a destitute knight and possibly a ladies’ maiden at the Viennese court. Prince von Dietrichstein sees her, falls in love and marries her against the wishes of the nobility. Another version is that Prince von Dietrichstein meets Anna Baltauf in a Viennese chocolate shop where she works as a shop girl. He falls in love with her and marries her “against strong objections from the nobility”. As a wedding present the prince hires Liotard to paint his bride as he had first seen her.

It is confirmed that during the period in which the painting was completed, Liotard stayed in Vienna at the court of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresia painting portraits of the Empress and her husband. Therefore, it is more than likely that the model was one of the young ladies at the Viennese Court. Nevertheless, the story was so intriguing that The Walter Baker Company printed its own version in the company’s recipe booklet in 1913. The image of “the beautiful chocolate girl” which has appeared on millions of cocoa tins and advertisements, and its romantic tale have become immortal.

Was the unframed tin sign part of the original exhibit in 1907? Was it found, then framed and presented to the Commander? Or was the tin sign found elsewhere, framed and presented to the Commander? How many tin signs of La Belle were originally made by Chas . W. Shonk Manufacturing & Lithograph Company? The quest to find information on this unique artifact turned up many facts however, many more questions remain unanswered.

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