Monthly Archives: June 2011

Fragonard’s La Giambetta

Who is this lady and when was she painted?  I can’t quite find out.  “La gambette” is the familiar word for leg in French.  La Giambetta = leggy girl?  

She is an alabaster wonder, perhaps the unachievable female standard in paleness for the time.  Fragonard, in particular, paints skin in the prettiest style and his use of light, white rather than golden, complements the lady.   The salmon-pink background also appears to be a sensual allusion to the way skin flushes and gives the impression of skin, all around.  Very appropriate for the boudoir, I think!


Thomas Lawrence’s Pinkie (the girl, not the finger)

Sarah Goodin Barrett Moulton, the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, was painted in 1794, a year before she died of whooping cough.  Her family nickname was Pinkie, which owns for the painting’s name and the pale pink ribbon she wears.  Her gown is perfectly girlish, a sheer lawn in the style of Marie Antoinette–airy enough to survive the sweltering Jamaican heat.

I adore the fluid movement of her gown and her proud expression, but what do you suppose she’s doing with her left hand?  Catching the ribbon?  And is it just me or does the bottom right corner of the painting look to have a paved road twisting around a bend?

Isabelle de Borchgrave’s Paper Gowns

Yep, one step out into the rain and these stunning dresses would dissolve into wood pulp.  They are made 100% out of paper.  Hard to believe, right?  At a passing glance, even the close up can almost fool a costume enthusiast.  Looks like very stiff silk.

Isabelle de Borchgrave, painter by training turned costume artist by passion, wields rag paper with the lightest touch, stenciling, shaping, and voila!  18th century costume that nobody can wear.  All the more delightful, I say.  I love unusual art and this is no exception.  Working with textile designers, de Borchgrave also recreates Medici and Elizabethan costume, as well as various other periods, including recreating looks from paintings like Van Dyck. Her work was most recently shown at the Legion of Honor is San Francisco, but unfortunately, the exhibition ended a few weeks ago. Watch the video below if you’ve 11 minutes of concentration to spare.

Otherwise, here’s a couple more 18th century lovelies:

Court dress with panniers

Men’s waistcoats, coats, and lace cravat/jabot

For more pics and info:

Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

Pulp Fashion: The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave

Exhibition Video

Portrait of an English Schoolboy

One rule about schoolboys you must observe: they are unruly.  Early attendees of schools such as Eton, Oundle, and Rugby were under no fear of their headmaster’s stern hand.  Rather, these beastly tyrants annihilated each other in what is affectionately remembered as “mob rule.” 

Excepting the shy, sensitive boys, early pupils ran roughshod over each other, erecting traditions such as fagging, carousing about the local countryside, and fighting amongst themselves in pint-sized coups. 

Ah, the terrors.  Or, rather, not so much this anymore . . .

A Visit to the Boarding School, George Morland, 1788

This bad behavior, in part, spawned from the public schools’ need for fee-paying students.  During the early Georgian period, most young children were educated at home with a governess or, in the case of a male, a tutor.  After discovering that the acceptance of non-paying scholars did not allow for suitable growth, the schools decided to develop a platform with the express purpose of readying noblemens’ sons for university.  This occasioned the worst sort of student who had no mind of being a student at all. 

Lordlings, accustomed to the pomp and bluster associated with their future status, reigned over their schools like mini-dictators.  They brought with them personal tutors, rented local lodgings, and lived under no direction but their own, looking for trouble at all hours.  George III, on the occasion of meeting an Eton pupil, was known to ask, “Have you had a rebellion lately, eh, eh?” 

As most children are wont to be hellions without supervision, these boys were no different.  Learning Latin–the primary course of study at the time–by no means exhausted their minds.  Subjects outside the classical curriculum such as science, mathematics, and geography were considered “extras” or private studies to take up on Saturdays.  The Dissenting Academies, two of which were located in London, began in the Restoration period as pedagogical institutions for dissenting clerics and, unlike other schools, were taught exclusively in English.  They exposed their students to the most progressive educational atmosphere available at the time.  Daniel Defoe attended Newington Green and other notables such as William Godwin (founder of philosophical anarchism) and Richard Harley, Earl of Oxford, cut their teeth on the curriculum at the Dissenting Academies.

An 18th Century Classroom

The middle to latter part of the century saw reformation within the school administration, altering the frat boy lifestyle.  One of the major changes was boarding.  Under supervision, however poor, the boys were no longer able to let rooms in town and drown in their cups till dawn.  Gambling and drinking (and wenching for the older boys) were still mainstays of their education—a custom which would serve them well when they later joined Gentleman’s clubs like White’s, Brook’s, or Boodles—but partying was now conducted under the eyes of the headmaster.  Although sports were disapproved of by some headmasters, organized games likes cricket and football also diverted the boys’ rampaging energy.  Matches within and between schools brought the kind of structured rivalry we know and love today.

Lady Georgianna, Girl Band Extraordinaire

Every once in a while I come across something that is too delightful not to share–and perhaps only for diehard 18th century fans! 

Lady Georgianna is a period tribute band made up of three members: a mezzo soprano, a harpsichordist, and a cellist.  Their mission is to give their audience a “Georgian experience” that one might get from, say, visiting Vauxhall or Ranelagh.  As they often perform in parks, dressed in costumes with period trumpery such as feathers and ribbons, it might just be the closest one can get to reliving the pleasure garden experience.  Although they are currently on tour, they do perform other themed shows such as Georgianna’s Ghostly Adventures and–so exciting if you are taking part in the Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Blog group discussion on Evelina– Ladies of Misrule with readings from Burney’s novel.

If you live in the UK, my dears, you are in luck!  They do have upcoming tour dates if you’ve a mind to venture back in time and spend an afternoon in Georgian style. I’ll be here, stateside, watching the videos.

18th Century Costume Archives: 1794 Muslin and Lawn

Doris Langley Moore, one of the first prominent fashion historians, collected gowns and trumpery from the 1920s through the 1940s.  She amassed such an extensive collection that after several successful exhibitions, she donated her treasures in 1963 to what would become the Fashion Museum in Bath.

These lovely ladies in 1794 style dress are from Moore’s The Gallery of Fashion 1790-1822.  If you don’t fancy squinting, the original description reads: (Left) Round gown of clear lawn with cherry-colored sash.  (Right)  Muslin spotted with silver and headress à la Turque.  Madame de  Staël, the famous salonnière, was a known fan of this headress style.  Interestingly, her father was Jacques Necker, Louis XVI’s finance minister, appointed in 1777.  She was also a staunch opponent of Napoleon’s bid for European domination.