Tag Archives: 19th century

Anatomy of a Breakup: Søren Kierkegaard & Regine Olsen

“You, my heart’s sovereign mistress (‘Regina’) stored in the deepest recesses of my heart, in my most brimmingly vital thoughts, there where it is equally far to heaven as to hell–unknown divinity!  Oh, can I really believe what the poets say:  that when a man sees the beloved object for the first time he believes he has seen her long before, that all love, as all knowledge, is recollection, that love in the single individual also has its prophecies, its types, its myths, its Old Testament?  Everywhere, in every girl’s face, I see features of your beauty, yet I think I’d need all the girls in the world to extract, as it were, your beauty from theirs, that I’d have to criss-cross the whole world to find the continent I lack yet that which the deepest secret of my whole ‘I’ magnetically points to – and the next moment you are so near me, so present, so richly supplementing my spirit that I am transfigured and feel how good it is to be here…” 2 February , 1839.

Regine Olsen by Emil Bærentzen (1840)

The tormented philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard pursued Regine Olsen for two years before he proposed and ultimately regretted the decision he’d made.  They met in the spring of 1837 while Kierkegaard was still a student.  His liking for her was immediate.  He pursued her as a friend and then a suitor before he confessed his true feelings, which he recounted in his writings about the awkward event nine years later:

“On 8 September I left home with the firm intention of settling the whole thing.  We met on the street just outside their house.  She said there was no one at home.  I was rash enough to take this as the invitation I needed.  I went in with her.  There we stood, the two of us alone in the living room.  She was a little flustered.  I asked her to play something for me as she usually did.  She does so but I don’t manage to say anything. Then I suddenly grab the score, close it not without a certain vehemence, throw it onto the piano and say: Oh! What do I care for music, it’s you I want, I have wanted you for two years.  She kept silent.  As it happens, I had taken no steps to captivate her, I had even warned her against me, against my melancholy.  And when she mentioned a relationship with [Johan Frederik] Schlegel [future husband and former teacher], I said: Let that relationship be a parenthesis for I have first priority…She mostly kept silent.”

Not the stuff made of ladies’ dreams, is it?  Despite his fumbling, Regine agreed to marry Kierkegaard, and they were engaged for almost a year before he sealed his engagement ring in a breakup letter and put it in the post on 11 August, 1841.  Is that today’s equivalent of breaking up via text?  Among a few other lines which aren’t necessary to relate, he wrote: “Above all forget the one who writes this: forgive someone who whatever else he was capable of could not make a girl happy.”

Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard. Based on a sketch by Niels Christian Kierkegaard

Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard, 1840. Based on a sketch by Niels Christian Kierkegaard.

Regine was rightfully devastated.  She thought herself in love with a melancholic heart, and the poor girl threatened to commit suicide.  She was so put out that Kierkegaard stopped writing her “I don’t love you anymore” letters (he thought indifference would convince her of his unworthiness) and finally visited her in person on 11 October, 1841…where he said some dick things:

“…I received a letter from him [her father] saying that she had not slept that night, that I must come and see her.  I went and made her see reason.  She asked me: Will you never marry.  I answered: Yes, in ten years time, when I have had my fling, I will need a lusty girl to rejuvenate me.  It was a necessary cruelty.”

Kierkegaard was capable of intellectual romantic excesses and though he broke with Regine because of his depressive nature, his inability to be writer and husband, and what he decided was divine opposition, the complicated man remembered her fondly for the rest of his life.  Upon his death, he wished Regine to have “whatever little I  may leave behind… [his books and author’s rights].  What I want to express in this way is that to me an engagement was and is just as binding as a marriage, and that therefore my estate is her due exactly as if I had been married to her.”  It was later revealed in 1896 that her husband Schlegel refused the inheritance.  Regine is also said to have destroyed her letters to Kierkegaard, so there isn’t much from her point of view, but Kierkegaard, who some biographers say suffered from hypergraphia, later reflected:

“I cannot quite place her impact on me in a purely erotic sense.  It is true that the fact that she yielded almost adoringly to me, pleaded with me to love her, had so touched me that I would have risked everything for her.  But the fact that I always wanted to hide from myself the degree to which she touched me is also evidence of the extent to which I loved her… Had I not been a penitent, had my vita ante acta not been melancholic, marriage to her would have made me happy beyond my dreams.  But even I, being the person I unfortunately am, had to say that without her I could be happier in my unhappiness than with her – she had touched me deeply, and I would so much, ever so much, have done everything.”  24 August, 1849

You can read more about Kierkegaard’s writing on Regine in Papers and Journals: A Selection. I also did a series of posts a while back on Napoleon’s letters (Achy Breaky Heart part one or part two) to Josephine if you find yourself in an epistolary reading mood.

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Handsome Devils and Their Digs: 1st Baron Dover

May I introduce you to this handsome fellow,

George Agar-Ellis, 1st Lord Dover, by Thomas Lawrence (1823)

his digs,

Gowran Castle, Kilkenny Ireland

and his lady wife,

Georgina Agar Ellis, Lady Dover, 19th century

Lady Dover and son Henry, attributed to Joseph Lee, after Joshua Reynolds (1832 or thereabouts).  You can also view her here.

George Agar-Ellis, 1st Baron Dover, was husband to the charming Lady Georgina, nee Howard.  He was also the father of four children, two boys (3rd and 5th Baron Dover) and two girls.

The house engraving confused me at first because a mansion is depicted, yet it is called Gowran Castle.  This is because the mansion was built on the grounds on the old castle, which was purchased by the Agar family during the Restoration, and I guess they just kept the name.  The first Agar to hold it, James Agar, Esq, expended a considerable amount in 1713 to improve the castle by casing it in stone and raising its front to two stories.  Unfortunately, by the time of its tear down date in 1816, the castle was in ruins.

I would have liked to find an image of the castle in its pre or post-remodeled glory because the old castle has a fascinating history. During the Third English Civil War, it was an important stronghold when Oliver Cromwell’s forces seized it and shot all within–except the dude who had given them the key to the castle.  He was pardoned, and Cromwell then ordered the Franciscan friar inside to be hanged and the castle burned to the ground.

After the Third Civil War ended, the remains were seized from the royalist Butler family and given to the Lord Deputy of Ireland.  Eventually, James, Duke of York, was granted a number of “forfeited” Irish properties and filled his coffers by selling them. James Agar, Esq. purchased from York, and was the last to put his stamp on the castle.

Gowran Castle post-1819 was the seat of the Viscounts of Clifden and would have been George Agar-Ellis, 1st Baron Dover’s, home had he not predeceased his father, Henry Agar-Ellis, 2nd Viscount Clifden. Lord Dover died when he was just 36, but he managed to cram in a considerable amount of accomplishments during his life.

George Agar-Ellis, Baron Dover

Study for Patrons and Lovers of Art by Pieter Christoffel Wonder (1826-1830)

Lord Dover is on the left

© National Portrait Gallery, London

When doing these posts, I like to think about what type of man I’m writing about, and I think that Lord Dover seemed not so much a devil as he was a kind, considerate man.  During his earliest youth, the borough of Gowran was described in one church record as being filled with “wretched habitations” that contributed very little to the borough’s taxable base–essentially the community was poverty stricken.  The 19th century Gowran house would have been the nicest abode around.  Lord Dover grew up to be sensitive and liberal-thinking, a self described “decided reformer” and Whig politican, maybe as a result of his personal and familial history.   His ancestors hailed from the French Comte Venaissin, who fled France due to religious persecution.  A collector of fine art, he was also a man of letters who rescued and edited his family’s letters on the Revolution, 1686-88, from the British Library where they languished in obscurity because he thought them important to English history.  He also wrote a number of books including The True History of the State Prisoner: Commonly Called the Iron Mask, mostly because he found the original history written by Monsieur Delort convoluted and and excessively flattering to King Louis XIV.  Yes, the thoughtful Lord Dover was offended that Delort bestowed compliments on the monarch while “recording one of the most cruel and oppressive acts of the Sovereign’s cruel and oppressive reign.”  See what I mean by sensitive?  His obituary is quite lengthy and lists him “involved [in] the cause of learning, the fine or useful arts, charities, and the improvement of people.”

I think he might be the least eligible “devil” I’ve written about, but it’s refreshing to have a nice guy around these parts once in a while.  You can see more pictures of Lord Dover at the National Portrait Gallery, and if you’ve an exceptionally good eye, you can play where’s Lord Dover in famous Trial of Queen Caroline by Sir George Hayter.  Good luck!

A History of English Miniatures

As is often the case, I recently came across a very dry history book with some hidden gems in it.  Miniatures: Ancient and Modern was written by Cyril Davenport and published in 1908 and although I wouldn’t recommend reading it if you’re a miniaturist dilettante like I am, it does offer a useful perspective on how English miniatures changed from the 16th through the 19th centuries.  The short answer is not much in terms of shape and overall presentation. Excluding the style exhibited in the day’s favored painter,  miniature portraits gradually grew more sophisticated in terms of backgrounds and range of mediums, but they are still miniatures.

England’s Three Periods of Miniature Art

Thomas Wriothesley, First Earl of Southampton by Hans Holbein the Younger (1535) (c) Met Museum
Thomas Wriothesley, First Earl of Southampton by
Hans Holbein the Younger (1535) (c) Met Museum

The 16th century Tudor period marks the first time in English history when miniatures appear in large numbers.  They are influenced by the work of Hans Holbein, the younger and are fairly uniform in design.  Simple blue or red backgrounds predominate and men are the likeliest subjects, although important high-born ladies and Queen Elizabeth do appear.

The shape of the miniature is round, the medium gouache or oils, on vellum or paper, wood or metal, respectively, and no shadows present themselves on the portrait itself. Davenport’s definition of a miniature is no larger than 7×7 inches, which sounds fairly large to me if you wanted to admire someone in the palm of your hand (I always thought miniatures were somewhere in the range of 2×2 inches or less, but I guess not). Anything larger than 7×7 inches gets classified as a cabinet painting, which would measure no more than 2×2 feet.

The black and white mother and son portrait miniatures are from Elizabeth’s reign.  If you do know what Henry, Prince of Wales looks like, you might be wondering if this miniature is actually of his younger brother, Charles I.  Here’s a portrait from 1610-12 painted shortly before Henry death at age 18, making the age depicted in the miniature improbable.

Maybe the miniature below is a keepsake of what Henry would have looked like if he hadn’t died (hmm, I wonder if that was done)?  Or maybe the painter sucked at his art? Another of history’s mysteries, if you’re up for some sleuthing.  You can see Anne’s miniature in color here–the jewels in her hair and ruff are crazy!

The style of the 17th century Stuart period takes a nod from the work of Anthony van Dyck.  Instead of being strictly blue or red, backgrounds add distinctive scenery and short oval shapes compete with the rounds of the previous century.  The mediums have not yet changed.  I personally like the first miniature of a Lady as Flora that was painted by Issac Oliver between 1575 and his death in 1617, making it straddle the Tudor and Stuart period.  The duke in the second miniature has smug looking lips though, so I can’t recommend him.

Portrait of a Lady Dressed as Flora

books-2Before daguerrotypes came onto the scene and resounded the miniature death knell, the third period extended into the 18th and 19th centuries.  They styles is a reflection of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s paintings.  Transparent watercolors were introduced, the shape turned oval, and ivory is a popular medium on which to paint.  Ladies also start to appear in miniatures with regularity, though I must say I’ve seen a lot of ladies in 17th century miniatures.

The first three below are 18th century, the fourth is from the 19th, and the fifth is late 19th to early 20th century.

Archibald Robertson by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1786-91) (c) Met Museum
Archibald Robertson by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1786-91) (c) Met Museum

 

Portrait of a Woman, Said to Be Madame Récamier by Nicolas François Dun (1812-14) (c) Met Museum
Portrait of a Woman, Said to Be Madame Récamier by
Nicolas François Dun (1812-14) (c) Met Museum

One last medium that I haven’t mentioned is enamel.  Portraits on enamel have been around since the Byzantine period and during the 16th-19th centuries, were more popular on the continent than in England.  I like how glossy they look.  The colored Mary Wortley Montagu miniature at the top of the post is also enamel.

George IV as Prince Regent, after Lawrence Henry Bone (1816) (c) Met Museum
George IV as Prince Regent, after Lawrence
Henry Bone (1816) (c) Met Museum

Unlike miniatures from the 16th century onward, early examples of Roman miniatures from the first and second centuries A.D. were painted on gold leaf and encased in glass plaques.  The Greeks produced encaustic miniatures, painted on wood with hot beeswax, while Renaissance Italians and Germans also excelled at encaustic works, setting their miniatures in relief with most of their subjects in profile.

Clearly, there’s always been a desire to carry a beloved’s portrait around, making me think that miniatures are kind of romantic.  Yes, they were given as diplomatic gifts and created to commemorate an age or occasion, but I can’t help but feel that many of them are as sentimental as a picture or a photograph in locket, which has got me thinking . . . what’s the history of lockets?

For more information on miniatures, do see:

Victoria & Albert Museum Portrait Miniatures Collection

And if you’d like to know what was going on across the pond, visit the Metropolitan’s Museum of 18th century American miniatures and 19th century American miniatures.  Of particular note is the daring Sarah Goodridge’s self-portrait.  Gotta love a lady with pluck!

Pale Ruby and Blossom-Coloured Cheeks: April 1814 Fashion

Spring has finally sprung in my nook of the world, and these gorgeously flushed cheeks and breezy dresses are exactly what the doctor has ordered. From Ackermann’s Repository:

walking dress April 1814

“PROMENADE DRESS A fine cambric round robe, with high bodice and long sleeves, not so full as of late; embroidered stomacher front and high collar, trimmed with muslin or lace; Tuscan border of needle-work the feet.  A Cossack mantle of pale ruby, or blossom-coloured velvet lined with white sarsnet and trimmed entirely round with a broad skin of light sable, ermine, seal, or the American squirrel; a short tippet of the same, the mantle confined at the throat with a rich correspondent silk cord and tassels, very long. A mountain hat of velvet, the colour of the mantle, finished round the verge with a narrow vandyke trimming; a small flower placed in the hair beneath, on the left side.  Half boots colour of the mantle and glove of primrose kid or pale tan.”

morning dress April 1814

“MORNING DRESS A petticoat and bodice of fine jaconot muslin, finished round the bottom in vandykes and small buttons.  The Rochelle spencer composed of the same material, appliqued with footing lace down the sleeve, and trimmed at each edge with a narrow, but full border of muslin.  Double fan frill of muslin round the neck, very full, continuing round the bottom of the waist, where it is gathered on a beading  of needle-work.  Bourdeaux mob cap, composed of lace, with treble full borders, narrowed under the chin.  A small flower placed backward, on the left side.  Hair much divided in front, and in full waved curls on each side.  Necklace of twisted gold and pearl, with pendant cross in the centre.  Spring Greek kid slippers; and gloves of the same.”

Ackermann’s Repository, April 1814

A Carriage to Match Milady’s Dress: Ethereal blue in 1818-1819

walking dress may 1818

“Bridal morning robe of fine cambric, richly embroidered, and trimmed with puckered muslin round the border and down the front, which folds over á la Sultan.  Elizabeth spenser and bonnet of etherial blue; the spenser elegantly ornamented in a novel style with white satin, &c.  The bonnet of blue satin and fine net, crowned with a superb bouquet of full blown white roses; a Brussels lace cornertte is worn with this elegant bonnet.  Cachemire shawl drape, with a rich variegated border: triple ruff of broad Brussels lace.  Half-boots of etherial blue kid, the upper part of fine cachemire coloured cloth.” From Ackermann’s Repository, May 1818

four wheeled carriage with new patent movable axles circa 1818

“Patent moveable axles for four wheeled carriages.” From Ackermann’s Repository, March 1819

Review of ‘The Flower of Empire’

The Flower of Empire

To call the Flower of Empire an exhaustive work on “how it [the Amazonian water lily] touched nearly every aspect of Victorian life, art, and culture,” is not an understatement.  It is a 328 page promise.

And this promise is a good thing, mostly.  Beyond writing an elegant account, Tatiana Holway ties a thread round a diverse group of characters and events surrounding the Amazonian water lily, from eventual extraction in the wild to arduous bloom in captivity. For those who enjoy the historical intricacies of progress, have a soft spot for botany and adventure, and are intrigued with personality quirks of say, a bachelor duke, a taciturn German plant hunter, and an ingenuous head gardener, this is a welcomed book in the enthusiast’s library.

Victoria Regia from 1851 text

The story begins during an 1837 geographical expedition into British Guiana when Schomburgk, the German plant hunter, discovers a monstrous lily in the Berbice River.  His plan?  Name the discovery in Queen Victoria’s honor and have it sent back to England, but what follows is extreme plant bureaucracy.  The water lily was not just a botanical specimen, but emblematic of a national passion for imperialism.   It caused bitter fights among scientists, contributed to England’s revival as a public garden nation, and influenced the building of the Crystal Palace.  All on account of a flower?  Well, sort of.

The Flower of Empire focuses on the water lily in the same manner the tulip mania of 1637 focused on tulips: it’s the backdrop for character study.   The mad scurry to get the water lily to germinate and flower in England delves into the hearts involved, and sparks the public’s hunger for virgin discoveries.  Ultimately, The Flower of Empire presents a cultural climate of obsession, power, and triumph.  It’s not for the impatient or for those who dislike process, but for the most part Holway balances the scholarly with flashes of pop entertainment, offering character idiosyncrasies when the wait for the water lily feels drawn out.

The Flower of Empire Releases Today

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An 18th Century Perspective on Elizabeth Bennet

In anticipation of an upcoming review I’ve been reading Susannah Fullerton’s Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece.  I’ll be posting the full review on December 16th, Jane Austen’s 237th birthday, but in the meantime, I wanted to share with you an 18th century perspective that shows just how incredible the character of Elizabeth Bennet truly was.

Unproven portrait of Jane Austen at Bath, age 15 | Johann Zofanny
Unproven portrait of Jane Austen at Bath, age 15 | Johann Zofanny

Jane Austen started writing Pride and Prejudice in October 1796 at the age of twenty.  She would no doubt have been exposed to the popular publications of the period, including the ever so entertaining Lady’s Magazine: or, Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex.  A few years prior to Austen putting pen to paper for what was then called First Impressions, The Lady’s Magazine published in their 1791 edition “A Letter from a Father to his Daughter on Relative Duties,” part of which is excerpted below.

“Of all the weaknesses the younger part of your sex are most prone to are pride and affectation, and there are none scarce which render more contemptible in the eyes of the thinking and sensible part mankind; therefore as you value the esteem of your friends, crush them in the bud.  The ingenious Mr Addison says “Pride in a woman destroys all symmetry and grace; and affectation is a more terrible enemy to a fine face than the small pox.  

And yet there is no passion so universal or steals into the heart more imperceptibly than pride; at the same time, there is not a single view of human nature, under its present condition, which is not sufficient to extinguish in us all the secret seeds of pride.  As nothing appears more odious and disgusting than pride and affectation, to nothing is more amiable in your sex than humility; it adds a beauty to every feature and a luster to all your action.”*

These epistolary tutelages served as continual nudges against youthful waywardness, advising sons on achievement in politics and education, and daughters on obedience and humility.  Based on works they produced, writers like the young Jane Austen must have felt the thorn in these infuriatingly narrow instructions at one time or another.

From 'Pride and Prejudice' film showing Jane and Elizabeth | 2005
From ‘Pride and Prejudice’ film showing Jane and Elizabeth | 2005

Elizabeth Bennet was a character written from the breed of proud, independently-minded women who were mightily disapproved of by the majority of gentlemen (and a whole lot of gentlewomen) during the 18th century. She is, in many ways, diametrically opposed to the ideal gentlewoman and her genius, of course, is in being appealing nevertheless.  As Fullerton says, “She was a highly unconventional, new sort of heroine, and it is easy for modern readers to underestimate just how astonishing she was for readers of the time.”  What’s interesting is that Austen made Elizabeth THE favorite daughter of her father and despite all obstacles of temperament, she is our heroine.  As Fullerton points out, according to the values of the time Jane Bennet would’ve been the appropriate choice.  I think we can all say thank goodness she wasn’t Austen’s choice, as today only Elizabeth would be ours.

*Find the full letter on page 42 here

Borovikovsky’s Blue Sashed Ladies

It’s been ages since the first Lady Brawlers of Sarah Siddons v. Anonymous Lady v. Mary Robinson and I think it’s about time we’ve another taste of dueling fashionistas.  This offering, I admit, relies on simplicity and is not so much a copied look as it is composed of basic fashion staples.  The ladies each don a white gown, two of muslin or lawn, and one of satin.  The sashes range from sky blue to royal blue, and the similarities might be blamed on Borovikovky, who we can assume favored the look and maybe even conceived of it before he acquired his sitters.  I do have a surprise for you, however, with the entry of a young sitter by Gainsborough.  This sitter, in addition to the necessary white gown and blue sash, has added a black hat and red shoes to the ensemble.

Fashionista #1 – Docile Young Lady with Pearl Arm Band

Portrait of Elena Aleksandrovna Naryshkina – Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky (1799)

Fashionista # 2 Precocious Young Lady  with Golden Bracelet

Portrait of Marie Ivanovna Lopukhina – Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky (1797)

   Fashionista # 3 Young Mother with Brocaded Shawl

Portrait of E.B. Rodzianko – Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky (1821)

Fashionista #4 Young Master with Saucy Red Shoes

Master John Heathcote – Thomas Gainsborough (1771/1772)

Time to vote ladies and gents.  Who wore it best?

Artful Deceit: Italian Picture Dealers

Italian Picture Dealers by Thomas Rowlandson (1812)
Lithograph, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

The stereotype of the Italian picture dealer lasted from before Rowlandson’s time to well after.  Contemporaries warned that those with more beauty than brains had best beware: “The simple fact [is] that every third man in Italy is a picture dealer, and that no picture dealer is supposed to find any impediment to his fortune in his conscience . . . ” The Atheneum, Volume 18 (1826)

Copies were in wide circulation and it wasn’t always an expensive suit that was preyed upon.  Enthusiasm was dangerous as well:

“Instances have been known of English connoisseurs, in their anxiety to secure a genuine picture, paying an enormous sum to the head of a religious community, whose chief treasure it has been considered; and to make assurance doubly sure, they have, at his reverence’s instigation, affixed their seals at the back of the picture. On its coming into their possession, they find the seal untouched, and take no small credit to themselves for having secured to their country another invaluable Rafaelle or Corregio. The fact is, that an admirably executed copy was fitted with great nicety into the back of the original picture, and on this the reverend father got his generous customer carefully to affix his seal. The original picture in front was then removed, and the connoisseur carries the copy into his own country for a genuine production!” New Monthly Magazine, 1841

A Woman with a Parasol

Come summer I am absurdly jealous of ladies and their parasols.  What modern accessory marries charm and practicality half so well?  I have not discovered it, though I do have a tendency to reach for my collection of floppy hats once the sun rides high.  Sunscreen and my face are frenemies with a capital F, you see, and while I hope to maintain the Nicole Kidman aesthetic of limiting direct exposure whenever possible, brims that stretch to my shoulders get rather ridiculous looks, not to mention they are impossible to keep on one’s head in the wind.

Thus the want of a modernized parasol.

Vertumnus and Pomona – Jean Ranc (1710-1720)

A Bit of Sunshade History

Once an object of royal privilege, the parasol had its origins in the ancient east, migrating from China to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.  It eventually spread to the arid climes of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, but after the collapse of the Roman Empire it fell out of favor with the public until the Italian renaissance.  In the centuries’ gap in between, the parasol shaded the holy heads of popes, bishops, and doges from the eighth to the 16th centuries.  Its use was largely ceremonial.
Italy -- doges of Venice and t... Digital ID: 817921. New York Public Library

Northern(ish) Europe was late to the parasol party.  The French style mavens adopted it around the 17th century, but their early parasols were a far cry from the silk sunshades of Versailles.  When the first engravings of the parasol appeared in France in the 1620s, the parasol was still reserved for the wealthy.  These iterations, though evolved from the first creation, were unwieldy and required the assistance of a brawny servant who could manage its weight.

Measurements from the 1650s tell of parasols weighing 1600 grams or about three and a half pounds—three and a quarter pounds too heavy for a gentle lady to prop on her shoulder or hold over her head.  Stripping the parasol to its bones would have rendered whalebones at lengths of 80 centimeters that were held together by a copper ring; a handle of solid oak; and a choice of heavy fabrics made of oilcloth, barracan, or grogram.  In cheaper parasols, one might have used straw.

Around 1688 ladies parasols matured into an elegant accessory used much like a fan.  An engraving from Nicolas Arnault shows “…the appearance of a mushroom, well developed and slightly flattened at its borders, the red velvet which covers it is divided into ribs or rays, by light girdles of gold, and the handle, very curiously worked, is like that of a distaff, with swellings and grooves executed by the turner.  Altogether, this coquette’s Sunshade is very graceful, and of great richness.”
[Woman holding a parasol walki... Digital ID: 824666. New York Public Library
Luxury in sunshades became the thing.  Silk fringes and feather plumes, handles of Indian bamboos and changing silks, replaced dull practicality and fashionable ladies ran after their whims.  By the middle of the 18th century, the Parisians preferred taffety to all other fabrics and preferred the convenience of picking up a parasol along the way over the danger of going without.  In 1769 parasols were so trendy that a small business sprang up on the Pont Neuf where, at the cost of two farthings, those crossing the bridge could rent a parasol and return it on the other side.  The French, one must assume, did not walk fast.

Le Pont Neuf. Digital ID: ps_prn_cd11_155. New York Public Library

A couple under a parasol in a garden – Jean-Baptiste Mallet (1791-1793)

England’s affair with the parasol was somewhat less enthusiastic.  You may have noticed by now that I’ve excluded men from all our parasol talk.   Historical accounts claim they stuck to manly accessories like cloaks and hats to fend off the elements.  Jonas Hanway, an English doctor who must have trudged through more than one rainy afternoon with a scowl on his face, thought this prejudice absurd.  Even though parasols and their umbrella cousins were considered effeminate, Hanway was a doctor, damn it all, and he was not going to risk his health on some silly society opinion.

Jonas Hanway, the first Englis... Digital ID: 824663. New York Public Library

Above:  Jonas Hanway being heckled for his parasol/umbrella.  

Below: looking proud.

Jonas Hanway and his umbrella. Digital ID: 824683. New York Public Library

Starting in 1756 he would walk through the London streets, brash as Robinson Crusoe, umbrella in hand, recalling perhaps: “I covered it with skins, the hair upwards, so that it cast off the rain like a penthouse, and kept off the sun so effectually that I could walk out in the hottest weather, with greater advantage than I could before in the coolest. . .”  (Daniel Defoe’s lines written in 1719, one of the first references by an Englishman to the umbrella)

Robinson Crusoe brings in the ... Digital ID: 1697950. New York Public Library

Never mind that to carry a parasol or umbrella was to risk announcing that one was without a carriage.  Dr. Hanway was a thinking man who spurred on England’s umbrella revolution because he dared and it paid off.  Thirty years after his spirited jaunts about London, ladies were stepping out in the park, twirling pretty handles over their shoulders, and gentlemen weren’t looking at umbrellas so scornfully.  Well, almost.

Parasols for 1795. Digital ID: 817999. New York Public Library

Parasols for 1795

All images except except Mallet’s and Ranc’s are from the NYPL digital gallery. Go browse and discover.  Their collection is marvelous.

Also, for those who like a bit of amusement with their history:

The newest thing in umbrellas. Digital ID: 824646. New York Public Library

Hands free!  “The newest thing in umbrellas”

Some new ideas in umbrellas. Digital ID: 824678. New York Public Library

The next newest thing.  Be an umbrella

Bartine’s sunshade hat. Digital ID: 824699. New York Public Library

From 1890 . . . when gentlemen really gave in

 And lastly, which umbrella type are you?