Monday, December 21, 2020

Tableau Vivant: From Parlor Game to The ‘Gram


n a typical year at Clermont, December would’ve seen us doing our traditional Tableau Vivant event. But, as we’ve heard so many times, 2020 is no typical year. So instead, let’s take a little look at where Tableau Vivant comes from.

As may be apparent, the term “Tableau Vivant” is French. The words literally mean “Living Picture” and they refer to a game that was popularized in 18th and 19th Centuries. Way back before televisions and Nintendo 64s, after-dinner entertainment consisted of parlor games. Perhaps you’d play Blind Man’s Bluff – a sort of blindfolded version of Marco Polo. Or maybe it would be The Minister’s Cat – a word game where you use each letter of the alphabet to describe the titular feline.

Or just possibly it would fall upon you and your friends to create tableaus for the other guests to correctly identify. Teams would position themselves in recreations of famous works of art or scenes of historical significance. You may arrange yourselves according to da Vinci’s The Last Supper or recreate

the assassination of Julius Caesar. Once in position, you would have to hold your pose until the tableau was identified. Essentially this game serves as a static version of charades. No miming, but much more attention to detail. Oftentimes, the team creating the tableau would do so behind a sheet or curtain, painstakingly getting into position before they were revealed.

Tableau Vivant was a complex parlor game that may easily have fallen behind other more active games in terms of popularity. But this tradition is far from dead. Setting aside Clermont, where we revel in and hold fast to all things historical, Tableau Vivant can be seen in pop culture over and over again.

For example, both Gilmore Girls and Arrested Development feature episodes where characters take part in a Festival of Living Pictures. We see Lorelei Gilmore place herself in “Dance at Bougival” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and George Michael Bluth as Adam in Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”. Or if you aren’t a fan of either show, you might prefer another modern interpretation of Tableau Vivant known as the Mannequin Challenge.

In November of 2016, a viral trend went around where people would freeze in whatever pose they were in and hold it while being filmed. Usually the same song would play over every video. People tried to hold complicated poses, recreate funny scenes, or just get as many folks as possible to stay still in one long panoramic film. The trend became so popular that celebrities such as Paul McCartney, Taylor Swift, and even former first lady, Michelle Obama participated. Entire

sports teams posted videos in their locker rooms or on planes, totally frozen. Tableau Vivant literally became a viral video trend, over 250 years after it was first popularized.

Which brings us to 2020. Again, a year like no other. A year where Clermont had no tableaus but again, the trend showed its face to a modern audience. When folks were first in quarantine around March and April, they were desperate for ways to entertain themselves. And old ways are sometimes the best ways. Using items found in their homes, people began to recreate famous pieces of art – sound familiar? Museums shared the recreations to their Instagrams, the tableaus became more ambitious, and this 18th Century pastime provided
entertainment for many, many people.

So, there you have it, our Tableau Vivant may have had to be a throwback post on our Facebook this year (Check it out here)but we can rest easily knowing that this parlor game will probably never go out of style.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Some of the Lesser Known Livingstons of the American Revolution

     On this blog we often talk about Robert R. Livingston, Henry Beekman Livingston and Margaret Beekman Livingston and their importance during the American Revolution. However there were more than a few other Livingstons who played important roles in the war. From soldiers to statesmen and even loyalists you could swing a cat during the Revolution and not hit a Livingston.

    James Livingston was the grandson of Robert "the nephew" Livingston. Robert "the nephew" was the nephew (surprise, surprise) of Robert Livingston, the First Lord of Livingston Manor. He came to America to help his uncle with his business ventures. His grandson James was born in New York but was living in Quebec when the Revolution broke out. He raised a regiment of men, soon to be known as the 1st Canadian Regiment and joined his distant cousin by marriage, Richard Montgomery, at Chambly.

    After Chambly James took part in the Battles of Quebec City, Fort Stanwix, both Battles of Saratoga and the Battle of Rhode Island. Perhaps his most important contribution to the war effort came in 1780 while he was in command at Verplanck's Point. His men spotted a British ship in the river and James gave the order to fire on it, driving it back down the river. This turned out to be the Vulture which was supposed to carry Major John Andre to New York City with the plans for West Point that he had obtained from Benedict Arnold. With his ship gone, Andre was forced to travel on foot and was captured, unravelling the entire plan.

    Philip Livingston was the son of Philip Livingston, the Second Lord of Livingston Manor. The

Philip "The Signer"

younger Philip was a merchant in New York City before the war. He was also something of a politician. He was a member of the Albany Congress in 1754, where Benjamin Franklin first proposed a plan of union for the thirteen colonies. Philip was also a member of the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. When the war broke out several of his houses around New York City were occupied by the British while his house on Long Island was briefly used by George Washington's as a headquarters. He became a member of the First and Second Continental Congresses. During the Second Continental Congress he signed the Declaration of Independence.  When Philadelphia fell in 1777 it moved to York where Philip continued to serve despite declining health. He passed away in York in 1778.


William Livingston

William Livingston was another son of Philip Livingston, the Second Lord of Livingston Manor. He attended Yale like his brother. He became a lawyer and publisher of a weekly journal in New York City. In 1772 William moved to New Jersey. He was appointed to Congress from July of 1774 to June of 1776 when he was not reappointed for not backing Independence. However he must have come around as he was soon appointed brigadier general of the New Jersey militia, where he would be in almost constant movement and communication with George Washington as New Jersey proved to be a frequent meeting place for the Continental and British armies. In 1776 William was elected governor of New Jersey, a position he held into his death in 1790. In 1787 William attended the Constitutional Convention and became one of the signers of the document.

William Alexander, Lord Stirling
    A Livingston by marriage to Philip Livingston the Second Lord of Livingston Manor's daughter Sarah, William Alexander rose to the rank of major general during the Revolution. Alexander was heir to the title of Earl of Stirling but was denied the title by the House of Lords in 1762. Despite this he referred to himself as Lord Stirling for the rest of his life. During the Battle of Long Island Lord Stirling led a rearguard action that saved the American army but cost Lord Stirling his freedom. He was exchanged in a prisoner exchange and went on to serve at Trenton, Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth. He also helped to expose the Conway Cabal that planned to replace George Washington with Horatio Gates. Lord Stirling died in Albany shortly before the war ended probably of the effects of alcoholism. 

    On the loyalist side Captain Martin Livingston led a company of loyalists in South Carolina. His brother Michael served as a sergeant in his company. Martin served as Savannah but was killed on April 24, 1781 at Camden, South Carolina in skirmishing before the Battle of Hobkirks Hill or the Second Battle of Camden where American forces led by Nathaniel Greene faced off against British soldiers and loyalists under the command of Francis Rawdon. 

    However Martin and Michael were not true Livingstons. Their parents were Swiss with the last name Liebenstein. When the parents moved to America they anglicized their name to Livingston. 

    We have only begun to scratch the surface of Livingstons in America. In the coming years you can look forward to more information about Livingstons famous and not.