A Fashionable Way to Deal With the Heat in the Regency Era: Sleeveless Gowns

There are times you go to research one bit of information and then you get sidetracked by something else. This blog post is a snapshot of an afternoon when I should have been researching the location of my next book but instead, became obsessed with early 19th century dresses.

While browsing Pinterest, I came across this beautiful summer weight gown that’s part of the historical clothing collection at the Museo del Traje in Madrid. I was struck by the very modern look to it and realized that it had to do with the sleeves…or the absence of them. I couldn’t recall ever seeing a woman with bare arms in any of the portraits or fashion plates I’ve looked at over the years. Was this dress worn with something over or under it in order to cover a woman’s arms? Was it proper to bare your entire arm? Down the research rabbit hole I went, abandoning my original research question, to pursue a new one. I decided to dig a bit deeper and search for more examples of these dresses. I came up with a few interesting conclusions.

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Even though I would wear this gown today without anything under it, all the gowns I could recall that were sleeveless had been shown to be worn with a long or short sleeved chemise under it. The gown in the portrait below is a perfect example. It was painted in 1813 of The Hon. Mrs. Thomas Hope by renowned English portrait artist, Henry Bone (1755-1834) who is known for his work on enamel. Notice how the small sleeves peek out from the dress. I had also seen this look on numerous fashion plates of the day.

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As I continued to search for examples of sleeveless gowns, I found this gorgeous black number. The embroidery is exquisite and I love the detail of the cut on the back! Obviously from the sheerness of the bust and the practice of the day, a chemise and stays underneath would have been essential. But did the chemise have sleeves? I think it would have looked far better if it didn’t. But I still had yet to find evidence that it was acceptable to wear a gown like that.

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When I searched the Museo del Traje, I found another option a woman had while wearing a sleeveless gown. They show a sleeveless dress paired with a matching spencer.

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I also found this sheer cotton embroidered white empire bodice from 1805 that was part of the Tasha Tudor Historic Costume Collection. It would be perfect to pair it with a sleeveless gown in hot weather.

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My search for sleeveless gowns also uncovered this fashion plate of a blue dress from 1798 that appeared in the Costume Parisian. This sleeveless gown was worn with a sheer shawl. Another way to combat the heat while possibly remaining fashionably proper.

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And, then there was this pink shawl-like Spencer from 1797.

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I was beginning to believe it was not proper for early 19th century ladies to bare their arms, until I saw this portrait from The Princely Collection in Vaduz-Vienna and knew I had my answer. This portrait of two young women said to be of the Baroness Picnon and Mme. de Fourcroy by Riesener Henri-Francois (1734-1806) depicts a seated woman in a white sleeveless gown, holding a green shawl while exposing her bare arm.

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And, then I discovered this adorable fashion print that shows a sleeveless chemise under a sleeveless dress that was printed in the Costume Parisian!

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So I would say in very warm weather, it would have been acceptable for women to wear sleeveless dresses. And, at a time when there was no air conditioning, I’m sure it gave a bit of relief.

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One Week to Wed - Laurie BensonMy book ONE WEEK TO WED, takes place over the course of the summer of 1819 and I could very easily see my heroine wearing gowns like these. And to be honest, I would love to wear them, as well.

ONE WEEK TO WED is the story of widowed Lady Charlotte Gregory who believes you can’t fall in love twice in a lifetime. But that belief is tested when she meets the dangerous Lord Andrew Pearce and he brings her respectable, quiet world back to life. One night, they find themselves alone and give in to their desires only to find their secret passion leads to shock, scandal…and a sudden marriage of convenience.

It is the first book in The Sommersby Brides trilogy and you can pick it up at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, iBooks, and kobo.

The Regency Era Wedding Gown of Princess Charlotte of Wales

Since there has been a lot of speculation on Meghan Markle’s royal wedding dress, I thought I’d show you the oldest royal wedding dress that still exists and, appropriately enough, it dates back to the Regency era. It is the wedding gown of Princess Charlotte of Wales, who was the only child of the Prince Regent (later George IV) and Caroline of Brunswick. She was born on August 7, 1796 and married Leopold of Saxe-Coburg at Carlton House in London on May 2, 1816.

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Her wedding dress was made up of a white and silver petticoat that was worn under a net dress that was embroidered with silver lame. The neck and the sleeves of the gown were trimmed with Brussels lace while her train was the same silver and white material as her underdress. The gown was made by Mrs. Triaud of Bolton Street and reported to have cost £10,000. For her wedding, Charlotte wore a headdress of rosebuds and leaves made out of diamonds and a pair of large drop earrings.

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Princess Charlotte and her husband, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

An interested fact about Charlotte and Leopold’s wedding is that this was the first royal wedding that had commemorative souvenirs that were widely available for people to purchase. Sadly, Charlotte’s life did not end happily. On November 6, 1817, the Princess died in childbirth at the age of twenty-one.

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An engraving based on a portrait of Princess Charlotte done by Sir Thomas Lawrence completed not long before she passed away. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This is my favorite royal wedding gown. When I was writing An Unsuitable Duchess, I based my heroine’s wedding gown on Princess Charlotte’s.

* * *

AN UNSUITABLE DUCHESS

For American Katrina Vandenberg, the rules of London society are stifling. So, when a rare moment of solitude at a particularly tedious ball is interrupted, she’s disappointed…until she lays eyes on a very handsome stranger!

Julian Carlisle, Duke of Lyonsdale, is destined for a dull marriage of convenience, and Katrina couldn’t be further from the aristocratic British bride he needs. Following his heart should be easy, except he’s one of the first English noblemen to fall for an American. Is he willing to risk his political career and family’s standing to make this highly unsuitable woman his perfect duchess after all?

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Reference used:

Arch, Nigel and Marschner, Joanna, Royal Wedding Dresses. 2011.

The Evolution of Men’s Fashion in the 18th Century

When I was writing An Uncommon Duke, I had fun playing with a character quirk of my hero, Gabriel Pearce the Duke of Winterbourne. Gabriel heads up an undercover group of operatives that protect King George and the Prince Regent. His work is dangerous and much of what occurs protecting the crown is out of his control. One of the things he can control is his wardrobe and because of that, Gabriel is a bit obsessed with his clothes. Someone referred to him as the Regency version of a sharp dressed man. Researching men’s fashion in the Regency era was fun and I spent many hours on Pinterest and museum sites looking for inspiration for Gabriel’s wardrobe.

Recently I had the opportunity to see the fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled Masterwork: Unpacking Fashion. I knew I’d enjoy taking a look back at 300 years of fashion history and I’d learn some new things. I was disappointed to find it did not include men’s fashion from the Regency era, however it did include 18th century men’s fashion and some of those styles did carry over into the Regency era. The collection highlighted garments from France and Great Britian reflecting the roles these nations played as centers of textile production and as styles leaders in Europe and America. Fashions from the 18th century are from an era shaped by political and industrial revolutions as well as expanding global trade. The examples given in this exhibition reflected that.

So sit back and enjoy this peek at what fashionable men wore in the 18th century.

Banyan

Beginning in the 18th century, British gentlemen wore loose, informal gowns in the privacy of their homes as a comfortable alternative to the stiff and physically restrictive suits they wore in public. These gowns were made of imported materials from the European East India companies and went by various names such nightgowns, morning gowns, India gowns, and banyans. This banyan is made of Chinese silk that was quilted for warmth and has a fitted cut which became popular in the mid-18th century. The fitted banyan combined Persian, Turkish, and Indian influences but followed the silhouette of contemporary European coats, making them well suited to wear informally when receiving guests at home. The banyan was an essential garment for fashionable men and suggested sophisticated, worldly masculinity. This banyan was made in England in 1760-1770, and is made of blue diamond-quilted silk satin.

A Gentleman’s Suit

The suit above was made of red wool-silk poplin in England between 1770 and 1780. It is an example of the relative simplicity in appearance of 18th century English menswear, which influenced fashionable men’s style throughout Europe in the latter half of the century. The plain style was an alternative to the elaborately embroidered and ornately patterned men’s wear in France. This reserved style of dress became linked with broader political values and greater personal liberty that French philosophers, such as Voltaire, associated with England. Just like the banyan above, this garment has a slim silhouette which was fashionable in the 1770s. English tailors were expert in making these tailcoats appear simple, while actually doing an excellent job emphasizing a man’s physique. The fine details of this coat include a gracefully curved front, narrow sleeves, and side seams that arch toward the center of the back, creating the impression of a tapered waistline. While the suit appears simple, the color shows a lingering taste for bold color.

The tailcoat above is French and was made in the 1790s from dark brown, gray, and blue warp-printed plain weave silk with green ombré silk satin stripes. With its high turned down collar, narrow back and wide lapels, it’s typical of the exaggerated silhouette that was fashionable in post-revolutionary France. The museum curators placed it alongside the redingote (the dress) to show the harmony between men’s and women’s fashions during this period that extended to fabric as well as cut. For men, stripes were a decorative substitute for the ornate embroidery of earlier suits. It was interesting to find out that in centuries previous to the 18th, stripes had been associated with the clothing of socially marginalized groups. I think it’s worth noting that even though embroidered suits went out of fashion, embroidery on waistcoats was still popular.

 

The exhibition also included a suit of a French Incroyable (Incredible) that made me smile. The Incroyables were rakish men who lived in France following the French Revolution. They stood out among fashionable men of the time due to their tightly fitted clothing which took on extreme proportions. This coat was made in France of red wool broadcloth between 1787 and 1792, and predates the most exaggerated styles embraced by the Incryoyables in the late 1790s. As the decade progressed, the cut of their clothing became even tighter than this. The high, turned-down collar, narrow sleeves, and sharply curved coat front of this coat still manages to create the impression of an elongated figure. I think the high cut of the top of the waistcoat also helps.

The banyan featured in this exhibition is close to the one I put Gabriel in in An Uncommon Duke. It seems to be the perfect thing for a sharp dressed man to wear while lounging in the doorway of his wife’s bedchamber.

 

George IV’s Collection of Items Owned by Napoleon

In my second book, An Uncommon Duke, the plot involves an assassination attempt made on the Prince Regent, who later become King George IV (1762–1830). In order to bring him to life in my story, I read a number of biographies about him before I began writing. One small little nugget of history stuck in my mind months later.

When the British defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, George, then the Prince Regent, became very enthusiastic about celebrating the victory. He collected prints, drawings, and works of art related to the battle. He even created the Waterloo Chamber in Windsor Castle and commissioned Sir Thomas Lawrence to paint portraits of all the key players involved in the defeat of Napoleon to display on the walls. But the one point that I couldn’t let go of was his interest in collecting items once owned by Napoleon.

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Coronation Portrait of King George, IV. Painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1820. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

You might be familiar with this coronation portrait of George, which was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1820, but did you know that the table featured in the painting was made for Napoleon Bonaparte? That was the one historical tidbit that led me on a quest to find out what other items George owned that once belonged to Napoleon. Here is a sample of a few of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Table of Great Commanders. Photo courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust.

Known as the Table of Great Commanders, it was one of four commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to immortalize his reign and took six years to complete. It has an internal wooden frame covered in hard-paste porcelain with gilt bronze mounts. The image in the center of the top is of Alexander the Great and bears a striking resemblance to Napoleon. The table was given to George as a gift from Louis XVIII of France. There is a silent statement in having George’s crown on the table in the portrait above. It’s as if he is thumbing his nose to his enemy.

 

 

 

 

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Napoleon’s Writing Table. Photo courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust.

Maybe it has something to do with me being an author, but I adore antique desks and writing tables. This one, made by Jacob Frères and owned by Napoleon, does not disappoint. It’s made of elm and oak with gilded metal elements. There are two top drawers and each leg is carved with a winged, gilded lion. It is estimated to date between 1796-1815. George purchased it in 1820.

 

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Cloak once owned by Napoleon. Photo courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust.

Another item of Napoleon’s that came into George’s possession was this beautiful cloak. Out of all the items I discovered George owned that belonged to Napoleon, I think this is my favorite. I’d love to have it in my closet! I just might be a bit overdressed wearing it to pick up my son from school.

According to the Royal Collection Trust website, “It is recorded in July 1816 in the Carlton House Inventory as ‘Said to be a Cloak worn by Bonaparte’ and ‘A large cloak made of scarlet cloth with large hood.  The hood and front are embroidered with gold. Parts of the inside of the front of the cloak are lined with silk and also embroidered with gold.  It was transferred to Windsor Castle in March 1837.  It is recorded in the North Corridor Inventory at Windsor as being a ‘Cloak of Napoleon 1st said to have been brought by him from Egypt, and taken out of his carriage by the Prussians after Waterloo.  An Aide de Camp of Marshal Blücher who visited Windsor Castle about 1870 vouched for the truth of the above and said he himself took the cloak from Napoleon’s carriage’.”

 

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Bowls and stands once owned by Napoleon. Photo courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust.

These two silver-gilt bowls have an interesting story behind them. According to the Royal Collection Trust’s website, “These decorative bowls were said to have been modelled on the breast of Venus, although the more likely model was Napoleon’s sister, Pauline de Borghese (1780–1825). As Prince Regent, George IV acquired both bowls and one stand in 1815 and commissioned a second stand to match the following year.” The bowls are marked with a Paris guarantee mark of 1798-1809 and the maker’s mark is of Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot. The stand that George commissioned is struck with London hallmarks for 1816-1817 and a maker’s mark of Paul Storr.

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Robe sword and scabbard once owned by Napoleon. Photo courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust.

 

This robe sword and scabbard dates from 1802-1803. It’s believed the original copy of this sword was given to Napoleon when he was elected First Consul in 1799. The marks on this one makes one assume it was crafted as a replacement for the original. When George acquired this sword, a certificate accompanied it swearing that it had belonged to Napoleon. The sword is silver-gilt with enamel, ivory, gold and steel. The scabbard is made of wood, mother-of-pearl, and silver-gilt. Today it can be found in the Grand Vestibule at Windsor Castle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shooting gun once owned by Napoleon. Photo courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust.

And finally, this gun owned by Napoleon was presented to George by Lieutenant Brooke of the Royal Horse Guards in 1817. The note accompanying indicates that it was “constantly used by Bonaparte”. It was manufactured by Lepage as a sporting gun and is made of blued steel and carved walnut. You can also find this gun in the Grand Vestibule at Windsor Castle.

Reference Used:  The Royal Collection Trust.

If you’re interested in finding out more about An Uncommon Duke, check out my Bookshelf page or these fine retailers:

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks , Kobo, and WHSmith

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How to Smell Like a Regency Era Gentleman

I fully admit to having a thing about the way my characters smell. I kinda get a bit obsessive about it. Maybe it’s because I can still recall which cologne each of my ex-boyfriends wore and, if I smell them today, the scent will bring back a distinct memory. And before you question that statement, I’m referring to smelling the cologne, not an ex-boyfriend.

Creating a distinct smell for a female character that lives during the Regency era is much easier than figuring out how I’d like my heroes to smell. I’ve read about so many male characters smelling of Bay Rum, that I was beginning to question whether there were other scents available to men. So during my recent trip to London I was on a mission to find out what scents gentlemen favored during the Regency era. There were two shops, in particular, that I wanted to visit because they’re chemists and perfumers who have been around since the late 18th century and catered more to a male clientele. Lucky for me, each shop had very helpful salesclerks that were happy to show me some of their oldest scents.

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My first stop was D.R. Harris & Co., Chemists and Perfumers on St. James’s Street. This shop was established in 1790. During the Georgian era they gained a reputation as purveyors of Lavender Water, Classic Cologne and English Flower perfumes. While I was there, I sampled some of the men’s fragrances that were around during the Regency era. Here is what I discovered. Classic Cologne is a typically fresh fragrance, Freshening Cologne has a tangy lemon note, and Traditional Cologne is a warmer scent with subtle orange notes.

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Two of their other oldest fragrances caught my eye. They were  Albany, named after the fashionable bachelors’ residence on Piccadilly, and Mayfair, named after the exclusive area of London where the Regency era elite resided. It was surprising to see such a modern technique of naming a product. I liked both of these fragrances so much, that I brought bottles of them back with me. Albany is a blend of lavender and citrus, and Mayfair had a sweeter floral fragrance.

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I also did smell Bay Rum. It was not to my taste at all and, for the record, none of my heroes will smell like it. I expected a very warm fragrance leaning more towards spicy rum. It actually smelled more like bay leaves.

 

 

Another shop I visited is Truefitt & Hill, which is also on St. James’s Street. This is the oldest barbershop in the world and was established in 1805.

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Famous Regency era men who were patrons of this shop include the sons of George III, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Byron, and Beau Brummell. Aside from the services of the barber shop, they also sell men’s cologne and shaving products. Sadly, I was not able to find out which scent was favored by Brummell.

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Statue of Beau Brummell on Jermyn Street in London

 

It was amusing to learn that their Freshmen Cologne was specifically blended in 1805 with fashion conscious Cambridge and Oxford students in mind. According to the shops description, it has “top notes of Lemon, Bergamot, Rosemary, Mint and Orange Blossom surrounding a heart of Clary Sage, Lily of the Valley, Jasmine and Ylang-Ylang which comfortably rest on a base notes of Musk and Oakmoss.”

Their Spanish Leather cologne dates back to 1814. I’ll often have my heroes smelling like leather, depending on what they are wearing or if they’ve been riding. To find a fragrance named leather made me laugh. It is described by Truefitt &Hill as “a rich, but subtle blend, with top notes of Fruit, Bergamot, Orange and Pimento, with a heart of Carnation, Cinnamon, Patchouli, Rose, Orris and woody notes, all resting on a base of Amber, Moss and Musk, Vanilla and Tonka.”

So now I have different scents to distinguish my characters, and you now know what a Regency era gentleman might have smelled like if you were standing beside him under the glittering chandeliers of a London ballroom. And best of all, you can still buy these fragrances today!

If you’re interested in learning more about these shops or buying some of there products, here are the links to their websites:

D.R. Harris & Co.

Truefitt & Hill

 

 

 

 

 

Works by 18th Century French Artist Vigée Le Brun at The Met

A few days ago I went to see the Vigée Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Elizabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) is considered to be one of the finest eighteenth-century French painters and among the most important women artists of all time. She was known for her expressive portraits of French royalty and the aristocracy. She was the same age as her patron, Queen Marie Antoinette, and their association caused Vigée to flee France during the Revolution. According to the exhibition catalog, “Vigée Le Brun exemplifed success and resourcefulness in an age when women were rarely allowed either.”

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Self-Portrait with Cerise Ribbons by Vigée Le Brun, ca.1782 (Kimbell Art Museum)

This exhibition was stunning, and I highly recommend seeing it if you’re in the New York City area. There are restrictions on photographing many of the beautiful paintings, including those of Marie Antoinette, and honestly, the photos I did take do not do justice to Vigée’s fine brushwork. Nevertheless, I thought I’d share a few pieces with you, along with some fun tidbits about the paintings and the women who sat for them.

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The Maréchale-Comtesse de Mailly in Van Dyck Costume by Vigée Le Brun, 1783 (Private Collection)

Blanche Charlotte Marie Felicite de Narbonne-Pelet, the Maréchale-Comtesse de Mailly (1761-1840) was a close friend of Queen Marie Antoinette and was known for her kindness and sense of mischief. Her husband was marshal of France and was guillotined during the French Revolution in 1794. Blanche and their son barely escaped the same fate and went into hiding in Paris. In 1797 the administration of Sarthe returned to her all the marshal’s unsold properties and the money raised from the properties already sold. On Napoleon’s orders, she was obligated to spend her time at the imperial court and to send her seventeen year old son, Adrien, to the Ecole Militaire. When he was wounded during the Russian campaign in 1812, Adrien was saved by Napoleon, who would not allow the last of the Mailly line to perish. Blanche lived to the age of seventy-nine.

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The Comtesse de Gramont Caderousse Gathering Grapes by Vigée Le Brun, 1784 (The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

Marie Gabrielle de Sinety, Comtesse de Gramont Caderousse (1761-1832) was also a close friend of Queen Marie Antoinette. The comtesse is depicted as a grape harvester in keeping with the Queen’s love of contrived rusticity. Vigée persuaded Marie to forgo powdering her hair for this painting, wishing to show her ebony black locks. This was a radical departure from the powered hair usually worn by women of court and the privileged classes. After one particular sitting, Marie left and went to the theater as she was. According to Vigée, this action set the fashion of unpowered hair, which became wide-spread.

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Comtesse Du Barry de Cérés by Vigée Le Brun, 1784 (Toledo Museum of Art)

The Comtesse Du Barry de Cérés was born Anne Marie Thérèse de Rabaudy Montoussin (1759-1834) and she married the comte Jean Baptiste Du Barry de Cérés, thirty-six years her senior when she was eighteen. According to Vigée, Anne had a “charming and sweet face though you could see something false about her eyes.” That falseness was evident when she diverted public attention away from her liaison with Charles Alexandre de Calonne, controller general of finances, by spreading rumors that it was Vigée Le Brun who was engaged in an affair with the man. This rumor hurt Vigée’s reputation.

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The Marquise de Pezay and the Marquise de Rougé with Her Two Sons by Vigée Le Brun, 1787 (National Gallery of Art)

This portrait was commissioned by the Marquise de Rougé, who appears in the center of the painting with her two sons, Alexis and Adrien. By the time this portrait was painted she had been widowed about four years. Her husband, Colonel Marquis de Rouge died while returning from a distinguished military career. The other woman in the painting is her dear friend The Marquise de Pezay, who was also a widow. This is one of my favorite paintings in the exhibition. I love the iridescent gown of the Marquise de Pezay, and there is a sweetness in the way the boys are snuggling up with their mother. But I think the aspect of the painting that touched me the most was that it includes two girlfriends. It is a sweet tribute to what must have been a very close friendship.

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Countess Ekaterina Vasilievna Skavronskaya by Vigée Le Brun, 1790 (Institut de France, Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris)

When Vigée arrived in Naples in 1790 she met Ekaterina Vasilievna, née Engelhardt (1761-1829) at dinner. Ekaterina was the wife of the Russian plenipotentiary in Naples. Vigée recalled her as “sweet and pretty as an angel. I remember her telling me that in order to go to sleep she had a slave under her bed who told her the same story every night. She was utterly idle all day, had no education, and her conversation was quite empty. But in spite of all that, thanks to her lovely face and her angelic sweetness, she had an incomparable charm.” Ekaterina is believed to be staring at a miniature of her husband in this portrait.

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The Princess von und zu Liechtenstein as Iris by Vigée Le Brun, 1793 (Private collection)

This is my favorite story about any of the paintings in this exhibition. When Vigée was in Vienna, Prince Alois I von und zu Liechtenstein (1759-1805) requested two enormous paintings. One of his wife Princess Karoline Felicitas Engelberte von und zu Liechtenstein (1768-1831) and the other of her sister. Vigée decided to paint the princesss of Liechtenstein as Iris. This is Vigée’s recounting of this painting in her Souvenirs: “That young princess was very shapely; her pretty face had a sweet and heavenly expression, which gave me the idea to represent her as Iris. She was painted full-length, soaring into the air. Her scarf, in the colors of the rainbow, fluttered about her. You can well imagine that I painted her barefoot; but when that painting was placed in the prince’s gallery, her husband and the heads of the family were very scandalized to see the princess without shoes, and the prince told me he had a pretty pair put under the portrait, telling the grandparents that the shoes had just slipped out and fallen onto the floor.” At the time, the prince was thirty-four and the princess was twenty-five. Prince Alois liked the painting so much, he also commissioned the present bust-length version that is displayed in this exhibition. I found it sad the cheeky prince died at the young age of forty-six.

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Countess Ekaterina Vasilievna Skavronskaya by Vigée Le Brun, 1796 (Musée du Louvre)

After receiving a number of commissions from Russians in Vienna, Vigée decided to travel on to St. Petersburg in 1795. This portrait of Countess Ekaterina Vasilievna Skavronskaya was painted after Ekaterina had been widowed for three years. It is considered a boudoir painting due to the relaxed nature of her dress and is believed to have been painted for her younger sister, Tatyana. Providing a seat and something to lean on were comforts that Vigée liked to give her sitters.

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Countess Anna Ivanovna Tolstaya by Vigée Le Brun, 1796 (Private Collection)

Anna Ivanovna (1774-1825) was married to Count Nokolai Alexandrovich Tolstoy, a renowned collector of books and prints and an intimate friend of the future Tzar Alexander I. Anna was well known for her tall stature and her friends nicknamed her “La Longue”. She commissioned this portrait by Vigée in keeping with her mother’s preference for women artists. The chemise dress is reminiscent of the attire Queen Marie Antoinette favored in the 1780s.

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Luise von Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of Prussia by Vigée Le Brun, 1802 (H.R.H. George Friedrich, Prince of Prussia, Hohenzollern Castle)

When Vigée left St. Petersburg she traveled to Berlin, capital of the Prussian kingdom. Three days later she was summoned by Queen Luise (1776-1810) to Potsdam Palace to paint her portrait. The queen treated Vigée more like a hostess than a patron. She offered rooms to Vigée at the castle, but the artist declined preferring to rent a room in a modest hotel. The queen sent her coffee, provided her with a loge at the theater, invited her to visit Pfaueninsel and its castle in a carriage supplied by the court, and gave Vigée two bracelets that the artist had admired. Sadly, the thoughtful queen would die at the young age of thirty-four.

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Tatyana Borisovna Potemkina by Vigée Le Brun,1820 (Private Collection)

Tatyana Borisovna Potemkina (1797-1869) suffered from lung disease and, accompanied by her husband, left Russia to seek medical treatment abroad. While they were in Paris she posed for Vigée. The painting suggests the sitter’s reserve and withdrawn personality.

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The Duchesse de Berry in a Blue Velvet Dress by Vigée Le Brun, 1824 (Private Collection)

The Duchesse de Berry is a woman who I keep running across in my research and in a few of the antiques I’ve purchased. In fact, I’ve written a number of blog posts that include her. Marie-Carolina Ferdinanda Luisa di Napoli e di Sicilia, princesse de Bourbon-Naples (1798-1870) was married at seventeen to the second son of the future Charles X, Charles-Ferdinand d’Artois, duc de Berry. Destined for the throne, he was assassinated two years after their marriage by a fanatic bent on eliminating the house of Bourbon. Shortly after her husband’s death, the duchesse gave birth to their son, Henri, duc de Bordeaux, later comte de Chambord. She was a fashion trend-setter of her day and after her husband’s death, she devoted the rest of her life to trying to restore the Bourbons to the French throne, in the form of her son.

Viewing art is such an individual experience, even if we are standing in a gallery surrounded by other people. When we look at a painting, we bring our life experiences with us and see the work through our own unique perspective. I’ve told you about some of my favorite paintings from this exhibition. I’d love to know what your favorite is. Make a note in the comments section and let me know.

Reference:

Vigée-Lebrun,  Joseph Baillio, Katharine Baetjer, Paul Lang, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. Print.

Costume Jewelry in the Georgian Era

A few days ago, I went shopping for a birthday gift for a friend. She likes to wear rather large statement pieces of jewelry, and I found a perfect necklace for her at Henri Bendel. Today, wearing costume jewelry is quite common, but did you know there was something similar to costume jewelry during the Georgian era? It’s true. In the 18th and 19th centuries, all that glittered was not gold.

Although the Merriam-Webster dictionary dates the term “costume jewelry” to 1927, jewelry made out of inexpensive materials to resemble gold and fine gems dates back much earlier. The first type of fake jewelry I’d like to discuss is paste stones, which are fake gem stones. Paste is a particular type of imitation gem stone that is made out of glass with a high lead content and has been around since the 18th century.

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A paste demi parure, ca. 1820. Courtesy of Bonhams.

 

According to Collector’s Weekly, “in 1724 the French jewel designer Georges Frédéric Strass created ‘paste,’ a kind of leaded glass that he cut and polished with metal powder until it appeared to shimmer like a diamond in the light. These white ‘diamante’ or ‘strass’ were a hit with glamorous Parisian high society.” Eventually the popularity of paste spread.

During the Georgian era it wasn’t technically possible to cut and polish diamonds the way we can today, and diamond jewelry had to be made around the shapes in which the diamonds were found. The advantage to using paste was that these stones could be cut and polished into the shapes jewelers needed for their designs. Therefore, some of the most exquisite pieces of Georgian jewelry are made out of paste.

Paste earrings from my private collection, ca. 1775-1790.

Early paste stones were backed with either clear or colored foil to reflect the light. The backs of foiled paste stones are “closed” which means the back of the stones are covered with silver or gold to protect the foil backing. If you look into the center of a white paste stone, you may see a black dot that was placed there to help the piece resemble a diamond.

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White paste earrings, ca. 1790. Courtesy of Three Graces.

I think it’s worth noting that you wouldn’t have been embarrassed to wear paste jewelry. The people who wore these pieces would not have been poor and weren’t wearing them to deceive people into thinking they were wearing precious gemstones. The settings they were placed into and their high sparkle made them very desirable in their own right.

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Lozenge-shaped cross in openwork decorative scrollwork set with paste stones, ca. 1809. Courtesy of Three Graces.

If you own antique paste jewelry, it’s important not to get it wet—especially if there is foil behind the stones. The moisture could ruin the stones’  appearance. Brushing the jewelry with a soft dry toothbrush is an ideal way to remove any dirt. You can also polish your piece with a soft dry cloth. Another thing to keep in mind, paste stones are softer than many natural gemstones, so they should be stored separately.

Another form of Georgian “costume jewelry” is Pinchbeck. Pinchbeck resembles gold but is made from a combination of copper and zinc. The formula for this metal was developed by Christopher Pinchbeck, a London clockmaker who lived from about 1670 to 1732.

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A bloodstone and pinchbeck fob seal. Courtesy of Bonhams.

Pinchbeck was an affordable substitute for gold, and records indicate that travelers often carried jewelry and accessories made from Pinchbeck if they felt they were at risk for robbery during their journey. Their more expensive pieces were kept safe at home.

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18th century portrait miniature with pinchbeck locket frame with engraved border. Courtesy of Bonhams.

Pinchbeck could be worked into the same intricate designs as gold, and it retained its yellow color unlike other gold substitutes of that period which were prone to fading. In the mid-19th century Pinchbeck’s popularity waned when nine karat gold became legal,which allowed buyers to purchase jewelry made from a less expensive type of gold. And about that time the plating process known as electro-gilding was invented, adding to Pinchbeck’s decline.

So the next time you look at a portrait from the Georgian or Regency eras, consider that the jewelry worn might not be what it appears.

References used:

http://www.bonhams.com

http://www.collectorsweekly.com/fine-jewelry/paste

http://www.georgianjewelry.com

Goldemberg, Rose Leiman, Antique Jewelry: A Practical and Passionate Guide. 1976.