Tag Archives: Ladies

Dueling Fashionistas: Lady Jane Harrington v. Jane Halliday

The latest edition of Dueling Fashionistas is fresh from the press, and ready for a vote.  First though, let’s see where the ladies who bear confusingly similar names stand in Reynolds’s portraiture:

The two Janes before you are painted in a pastoral style by the great Sir Joshua Reynolds.  In both portraits one hand is outstretched, as if directing the viewer toward the majesty she alone has seen.  Their flowing gowns are reminiscent of their muses.  Whereas Halliday’s whips on a violent breeze, Harrington’s seems composed, an extension of her easefulness.  The scenery around Harrington is also less elemental than her opponent’s disturbed backdrop of air and shadowed land.

In terms of movement, I find Halliday’s portrait irresistible.  A pale wrapper streams across her arm; her coiffure is romantically askew.  The wind is an influence she cannot control, and in rippling with it she becomes sylph-like.

Harrington’s portrait possesses more restraint.  Her hair is partially undone where it grazes over her shoulder and her gown puddles where she stands, but her general appearance recollects sublimity.  Overall, her tableau is gentler and dignified, the urn and Grecian style robes a nod to classicism over naturalism.

Lady Jane Halliday, 1779 | SIr Joshua Reynolds
Lady Jane Halliday, 1779 | Sir Joshua Reynolds
Jane Fleming, later Countess of Harrington. 1778-79 | Sir Joshua Reynolds
Jane Fleming, later Countess of Harrington. 1778-79 | Sir Joshua Reynolds

Which style do you prefer, and, moreover, does the triumph go to Lady Harrington or Jane Halliday? Which Jane is fairer and why? And do you think Reynolds did the ladies justice?

I’d love to hear your opinion! (Especially regarding Lady Halliday’s shoes — they’re sandals, right?)

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Ladies in Turkish Dress: A Visual Feast

For all of you celebrating Thanksgiving, I wish you a feast of delights, and to those of you who aren’t, I hope your week brings you something to celebrate, in edible fashion or otherwise.

The Grand Turk Giving a Concert to his Mistress, Carle Van Loo (1737)
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in Turkish Dress, Jean Etienne Liotart (1756)
After her stay in Constantinople with her husband, the British Ambassador, Mary brought Turkish dress, along with “The Secret Language of Flowers”, to Britain.
Lady Sunderlin, Sir Joshua Reynolds (1786)
Notice the Turkish details? They’re creeping in
Marie-Adelaide of France dressed in turkish costume, Etienne Liotard (1753)
Turkish woman with a tambourine, Etienne Liotard (1738-43)

Jean-Frederic Schall’s Dancing Ladies

Jean-Frédéric Schall, a French painter born in Strasbourg in 1752, was one of the last important artists to contribute to the fête galante style popularized by Antoine Watteau.  His works are mostly small in scale and executed with a characteristic liveliness in form.  His female subjects, particularly his dancers, portray an idealized femininty with delicate facial features and impossibly slim waists.

I find them utterly charming.  They’re like miniature cupcakes, sweet and lacking substance.  And they’re so 18th century, or at least how the 18th century aristocracy had hoped to appear.

Graced with innocence and ebullience, these ladies seemed a natural pairing with flower sketchings from The British Florist volumes.  Enjoy!

Lady with a Dog

Dancer with a Tambourine

A Young Lady Dancing in a Wooded Glade

 Portrait of a Lady, possibly Marie-Madeleine Guimard, ballerina of the Paris Opéra

Dancer with a Feather Hat

Dancer with a Bouquet

Dancer in a Louis XVI Costume

All drawings from The British Florist, or a Lady’s Horticultural Journal, Volumes 1-8

Rubens’ Majestic Marchesa

One can imagine the Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria held a secret behind her lively expression.

Peter Paul Rubens painted her in 1606 when he, a keen student of the Italian masters, was 28.  She was 22, a pink-cheeked newlywed from a leading family in Genoa.  A year prior in July 1605, she had married her cousin Giacomo Massimiliano Doria after receiving a matrimonial dispensation from the pope.  This was a common exemption in canon law that allowed members of consanguineous aristocratic families to marry and proved especially useful where powers were centralized among the exalted few.

Although this portrait is considered one of Rubens’ finest, not much is known about the Marchesa.  We know that her first husband died and that she remarried, but there is no recorded date for her death.  If lengthy accounts of her life exist, they appear to be moldering in libraries somewhere.

Given the date of the portrait and her elaborate styling, she is believed to be wearing her wedding finery.  The original portrait was cut down to its current size between 1854 and 1886, possibly because of water damage, and showed an open landscape to the Marchesa’s right.

In full view, she would have stood on the terrace of a palace, a scene intended to arouse an impression of wealth and power.  The tight crop makes the detailing all the more exquisite, from her luminescent silk gown to the crimson drapery behind her.  Similar to Rubens’ portrait of Maria Serra Pallavicino, her Elizabethan ruff is among the most elaborate I’ve ever seen.  I half wonder how she managed to move her head, although perhaps this is apropos her fate.

A Spinola by birth, the Marchesa married into the Dorias.  By the 16th and 17th centuries, the Dorias–a feudal, soldiering lot–had become the richest family in Genoa.  Their principal spheres of influence resided in banking and the military, and as part of the “aristocratic republic”, they occupied seats in government as ambassadors and prelates.  Six Dorias rose to power as doges between 1528-1797, which ensured their place at the top of Genoan society.

The Spinolas had a similar pedigree.  Although having descended from their heights in the 13th and 14th centuries, they held prized roles in society, making a match between the two families an exceptional one.

The Marchesa’s portrait currently hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.  It has had a long ownership history and is one of Rubens’ few surviving portraits from his Italian period of 1600-1608.  Influenced by Veronese, Tintoretto, and principally by Titian, Rubens’ style in painting the Marchesa would later make its mark on Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, two prominent 18th century painters.

This portrait of the Marchesa is one of my favorites.  She’s more than beautiful; she’s intriguing, and I’m not sure if it’s Rubens skill in enlivening his subjects or merely reflecting their depths that makes the portrait so compelling.  All I know is that canvassing the Italian aristocracy in his search for greatness works for him here.  He captures the Marchesa’s elegant intensity with such mastery that it’s hard to look away once she’s held you in her gaze.

Lady Caro Crops Her Hair

The worst I can say about Lady Caroline Lamb is that she suffered from erotomania.  This is the medical euphemism for saying she was sexually, intellectually, and psychically besotted with Lord Byron to a degree that made him squirm in his trousers.

Lady Caroline Lamb – Thomas Phillips

Their short affair lasted from March to August of 1812 and made an indelible impression on his poetry.  A number are direct rejoinders to Caro’s immoderate behavior.  (*Sigh* All the years I spent at university learning about Romantic poets and never once encountered Byron’s “Remember Thee”.  The poem was a stab at his ex-lover when, in a fit of desperation, she descended upon his household and scribbled in the flyleaf of one of his books “Remember thee!”)

 Lord Byron – Thomas Phillips

For the man she had initially spurned as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” Caro had it bad.  She is credited with being the first celebrity stalker, running her sprightly self around London trying to enflame Byron by Any Means Necessary.  She even impersonated Byron in writing, requesting his favorite miniature portrait of himself from his publishers.

Mimicry was nothing new for Caro.  As Lady Morgan recounts in her memoirs, Caro’s childhood at the Duchess of Devonshire’s household:

Caro’s unconventional education was her solace amid the madness of the aristocracy.  Her perspective turned her into a novelist and poet, and to Byron’s annoyance, a damn good copyist.  He criticized her for modeling the great originals in her work, lamenting over her ability to capture voice—especially his own.

Although history relegates her to the archives of the sexually diseased, she was witty and singular.  Her work and legacy deserve a closer look.  Dickens called her “One of the most interesting stories of fashionable life . . . [a] really clever woman—a heroine in a way. . .”  Byron recognized her eccentricity saying, “I do not at all know how to deal with her, because she is unlike everyone else.” (BLJ 2:222)

Lady Caroline Lamb – Sir Thomas Lawrence (1805)

Caro’s reputation, through much her own fault, was defamed by her peers.  In a letter of November 1824 written to Captain Thomas Medwin, Byron’s biographer and close friend, she imparts her version of a salacious tale following their breakup:

“. . . unhappily, we continued occasionally to meet. Lord Byron liked others, I only him–The scene at Lady Heathcote’s is nearly true–he had made me swear I was never to Waltz. Lady Heathcote said, Come, Lady Caroline, you must begin, & I bitterly answered–oh yes! I am in a merry humour. I did so–but whispered to Lord Byron ‘I conclude I may waltz _now_’ and he answered sarcastically, ‘with every body in turn–you always did it better than any one.  I shall have a pleasure in seeing you.”–I did so you may judge with what feelings.  After this, feeling ill, I went into a small inner room where supper was prepared; Lord Byron & Lady Rancliffe entered after; seeing me, he said, ‘I have been admiring your dexterity.’ I clasped a knife, not intending anything. ‘Do, my dear,’ he said. ‘But if you mean to act a Roman’s part, mind which way you strike with your knife–be it at your own heart, not mine–you have struck there already.’ ‘Byron,’ I said, and ran away with the knife. I never stabbed myself. It is false.”

Take the tale out of context and Caro does seem crazy, but if we are to trust her word, Byron taunted her nearly as much as she harassed him.  They were that broken couple, terrible together, terrible apart.

It didn’t help that Caro refused to shrug off her individuality.  Her inability to comport like other ladies made the ton jittery and even estranged her friends.  She possessed an artful way of living but was artless, by her own account “not a woman of the world.”

Physical and emotional hardships persisted throughout her life.  At age 19, she married William Lamb for love.  By 26, she’d lost a daughter and tried to raise her mentally handicapped son.  She’d turned from her former piety, aped the ton’s moral ambiguities, and taken Byron as a lover.  She was a woman like no other, cropping her hair when hair, no matter how tightly wound upon the head during the day, was long and heavy against the neck at night.  As she said about herself once:

“…everybody wishes to run down and suppress the vital spark of genius I have, and in truth, it is but small (about what one sees a maid gets by excessive beating on a tinder-box). I am not vain, believe me, nor selfish, nor in love with my authorship; but I am independent, as far as a mite and bit of dust can be.” *

Further Information:

A Day in the Life: A Lady’s Maid

The Chamber Maid Brings Tea, Pehr Hillestrom, 1775

A lady’s maid’s day, unlike that of her peers, starts as soon as her mistress wakes.  The hour is variable, depending on the individual mistress and whether the household resides in the city or the country, but generally, a lady’s maid begins her official work later than the rest of the servants.

Attending to her mistress’s person comprises the first task of the morning.  After ablutions are taken care of and her mistress’s hair and body are dressed, a lady’s maid is responsible for tidying her mistress’s rooms.  This may not be the case with experienced ladies’ maids, but in households where there are few servants or a lady’s maid is relatively new, learning the finer details of upkeep are an important part of her position.  Even after a lady’s maid has graduated from general housemaid duty, washing hair combs, removing stains from soiled garments, and starching muslins number among the many exigencies of personal attendance that must be addressed on a regular basis.

Lady Fastening Her Garter (otherwise known as La Toilette), François Boucher, 1742

In households where maids are numerous, it may seem weird for a lady’s maid to act the part of a housemaid.  It’s really not.  The primary reason is to ensure her mistress’s privacy in both everyday situations and in rarer occasions when the mistress falls ill.  Although chambermaids and maids of all work will by necessity enter the mistress’s rooms, it is best to keep these visits limited.  All work in the rooms must be done out of the mistress’s sight.  Timing, therefore, is absolutely essential.

As soon as the mistress departs her rooms in the morning, a lady’s maid tidies and refreshes all belongings and articles under her care.  In a time before central air, a shut-up room would go stale throughout the night.  A good airing, therefore, is the first order of duty.  Windows are thrown open, bed curtains drawn apart.  Any clothes that remain out of closet are put away in the dressing room.  The accessories associated with ablutions must also be put to rights.

As neatness is a lady’s maid’s prerogative, dust and grime are directly under her purview.  Not even a loose thread on the carpet is tolerated by a meticulous lady’s maid.  The general notion here is to return the room to its original state—as if nobody had touched anything.  Wash basins, glasses, and water jugs must be cleaned of soap scum and fingerprints.  To keep up with the steady decline of cleanliness in the room, a strict schedule of supplying fresh water and changing towels is encouraged.

 

By James Gillray, 1810

After the mistress’s rooms are picked up and dusted, the thread and needle work begins.  Plain work (darning stockings, mending linens) occupies a large deal of this time.  Exactly how much is determined by the amount and state of garments in the laundry.

Before the laundry goes out to the washerwoman, it’s the lady’s maid’s job to sort through the dirty pile to determine what needs mending or what items are beyond repair.  As a sartorial accountant of sorts, it’s important for a lady’s maid to maintain an inventory of her mistress’s wardrobe from the start of her employment.  Any time a garment leaves the room for the purposes of laundering, she is expected to write up a bill of any costs associated with the garment’s upkeep.

Considering the number of times a mistress changes her outfit in a single day, preventing theft and accounting for misplaced or missing items in the wardrobe is necessary if a lady’s maid is inclined to keep her post.  Since she stands to benefit from her mistress’s cast-offs (as she will likely receive them), a wise lady’s maid serves as steward of her mistress’s belongings and keeps a hawk’s eye on anything that leaves the room.

The Jealous Maids

This does not mean a lady’s maid is encouraged to wear anything spangled or luxurious that is handed down to her.  To put on the airs of a mistress by wearing her tarnished finery, even under the mistress’s allowance, is a common offense.  According to anonymous Lady, “A neat and modest girl will wear nothing dirty and nothing fine.”

With these parameters set, a lady’s maid has the discretion to do with her mistress’s unwanted garments as she sees fit.  Charity is always encouraged.  In those days, linen was the only suitable fabric for dressing wounds.  As such, old scraps were in high demand in hospitals.  The poor were also endlessly in need of clothing and a lady’s maid could do much good by donating items to the impoverished.

I touched on this in the last post, but it’s worth noting that a lady’s maid enjoys more freedom than the average domestic.  Once her day’s work is complete, she has leave to improve her mind by reading.  Along with other activities such as sewing, her evening hours are largely devoted to leisure.  This is both a blessing and a curse.   Because ladies’ maids experience privileges denied other domestics and they appear to have the ear of their mistress, they were often subject to jealousy from their peers.

Another downside of the position is that ladies’ maids seem to have more down time than the rest of the household.  In reality, they are at the beck and call of mistresses who keep late hours.  Suffice it to say, a lady’s maid does not sleep until her mistress does.  The life of a lady’s maid, then, revolves around the schedule, temperament, and demands of her mistress.  Her happiness, too, but judging by the quantity of complaints surrounding the position, that would require an altogether separate post by yours truly.

The Last Shift, Carrington Bowles

Additional posts about a lady’s maid and domestic servants:

Wanted for Hire: Lady’s Maid

La Distraite, 1778, Gallerie des Mode

A while back I wrote a series of blog posts about the lives of female and male  domestic servants.  I think being American, and, well, not being an aristocrat in a former century, makes them a point of fascination for me.  They’re highly hierarchical, for one.  As we’ve seen with Daisy, the scullery maid in Downton Abbey, the lowest servant is ordered around by everybody else–seemingly all at once.  Also, this may seem obvious, but servants are  an entire class of people whose primary purpose is to nod and comply.  They live and breath usefulness, and although they are hardly born of a higher class, they are to comport in a manner befitting the dignity of their “family.”

We know this was not always the case—it never is where discretion is required—but given the high turnover rate of domestics, we can imagine that staying mum was not always top priority.  The memoir The Lady’s Maid: My Life in Service by Rosina Harrison, Lady Astor’s lady’s maid, is not a tell-all, but neither is it a wholly flattering account of the position.  The memoir tells it like it is: being a servant is a whole lot more complex than one might presume.

Lady Preparing for Masquerade, The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

As the most senior female domestic, a lady’s maid is below only that of nursemaids, and this, I gather, is debatable.  Compared with the household maids who serve the family at large, she is paid well, performs the lightest work, and is usually allowed access to the library.   In addition, she is the primary witness to her lady’s daily well-being, maintaining a uniquely confidential position similar to a gentleman’s valet.

I pored over The Lady’s Maid; Her Duties, and How to Perform Them by Lady to get the definitive low down on the requirements of the position.  Distilled in a short recap, I imagine an advertisement for a lady’s maid might look something like this:

A Lady’s Maid Soaping Linen, Henry Robert Morland (between 1765 and 1782)

Although the position was coveted among the servant classes, a competent lady’s maid was hard to find.  They had the same reputations as governesses.  That is to say, terrible.  According to the anonymous Lady,

Sounds like a catch 22, doesn’t it?  As they say, however, silence is golden.  The best lady’s maid stuck to this maxim, avoided idle gossip, and used her relatively high positions in the household to reign over the lower servants with kindess and grace.  To what exten this paragon actually existed, only history can tell.

Coming up: A Day in the Life: A Lady’s Maid

Other posts about a lady’s maid:

Ringling Museum: Ladies’ Fans, Part 2

Earlier last week I posted pics of 18th century fans, circa 1750 to be precise, from France and the Netherlands. After a few days lolling around Sarasota and wondering whether a series of postings to a) show additional pics of their C18-19 fan collection and b) extend my current Water for Elephants/Ringling Circus preoccupation would be appropriate for a site mostly devoted to Georgian England and Revolutionary France tidbits, I’ve decided that a week’s deviation from the usual topic might just be diverting.  You agree?  Good.  If not, I’ll see you next week!

The Fans

The left fan I must not have thought much of while at the museum because I have no picture of it in my possession.  Oops! The middle fan (2) caught my eye right away.

It’s of Napoleon and Marie Louise, the Duchess of Parma and Napoleon’s second wife.  The fan is circa 1810, made just prior to her becoming Empress in 1811.  I wonder if they were all the rage to carry or more of a promotional campaign on the Empire’s part?  My French isn’t exactly amazing; otherwise I would take the pains to translate the inscription on either side of the fans.  My guess without translation is that the fan commemorates the uniting of two empires, namely the French and the Austrian-Habsburg.  Oh, well look at that little bit of irony!  Vive la révolution!

 I find this fan visually pretty in a pale, ephemeral sort of way.  It’s the color of tea-stained rags with hints of relief in white and dove gray.  The scene presented to us is a wine festival with musicians and dancers, families and couples, all enjoying an evening out.  Odd color scheme for for what’s being staged, but it is an old fan dating to 1710.  It’s also Italian.  As with many fine fans, the paper is vellum and the sticks are ivory.  This contrasts with the Napoleon and Marie Louise fan whose sticks are wood.

The last fan in the bunch is another French one from 1750.  It’s typical of the period, ivory sticks, watercolor on paper leaf, and a tranquil peasant scene.

 The Making of Fans from the Ringling Museum

“The main components of a folding fan consist of two end sticks, called guards sticks, that protect the painted leaf within.  Typically, the painting was done in watercolor after which the shaped leaf was carefully scored and pleated, allowing the fan to unfold as it was opened.  The interior sticks and spine supporting the fans leaf,  made of materials as varied as elephant ivory, tortoise shell, mother-of-pearl, exotics woods or bone, are joined at the base of the sticks with a single rivet.  The most expensive examples would then have gold or silver leaf applied to the carved decoration.  Handmade paper, woven silk, and vellum were all used to fashion the leaf.”

On tap for tomorrow:  Pictures of Ca’ d’Zan, the Ringling Family Mansion

Ringling Museum: Ladies’ Fans, Part 1

Other than being a delightful ode to all things circus, the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida is a surpising resource for the 18th century.  Not only does it have an original 1788 Vigee-Lebrun of Marie Antoinette, their collection of fans is spectacular.  Take, for instance, this trio from the 1750s.

The left (1) is French and features figures on a landscape.  It’s a pretty example of watercolored leaf paper over ivory sticks.  The predominant design is lace on a black backdrop, black being an unsual color for the time except when used in mourning.  I don’t, however, believe it’s a mourning fan as it was not specified as such at the museum.  If my recollection is correct, full mourning fans would have been made of black crepe during this period with half-mourning allowing white and/or dull colors to grace the garments and accessories.

The middle fan (2) is also French and shows a fête au jardin or garden party.  I have a close-up photo below because it’s very busy.  The sticks in particular are incredible.  Like the previous fan, the medium is watercolor on paper leaf, but it’s made with mother-of-pearl sticks in addition to ivory.

Unlike the first two, the bright red fan on the right is Dutch.  The technique is gouache on paper leaf.  This technique is similar to watercolor except with a higher pigment to water ratio and a chalk-like substance added to the mix.  This creates opacity and a high degree of reflection, making the colors stunning.  The ivory sticks aren’t quite as decorative as fan 2, but the village scene therein is precious.

The additional fans are closed and therefore not very interesting.  So then, the Marie Antoinette Vigee-Lebrun. As a side note, did MA actually read? I’m not so sure!

A Lady’s Weapon Against Stench: Pomanders and Vinaigrettes

When I get past the the overall sumptousness of the Georgian period with its lush embroidered fabrics, exquisite flourishes of gilt and marble and precious imports, I inevitably think of the stench.  It’s not a pleasant topic and one we–thank ye gods to modernity–can avoid when romantizing the past, but let’s face it, London was a sty.  Even before the industrial age, the Thames was a gurgling pot of indelicacy, the streets teeming with what we shall call the ever present eau de malodorous monkey.   In short, not good.

Mary Denton by George Gower – 1573

Pomander and Chain – 1526-1575

While men might have straightened their shoulders and suffered through the miasma (though they, too, had stench-ridding weapons), ladies and their sensitive sniffers required relief. They found it in the form of pomanders which first came to the rescue in the 14th century.  Carried over from Arabia, these scented objects take the name from the French “pomme d’ambre“, referring to the pomme or apple shape of the container, and ambergris, the waxy resin substance used as the recipe’s base from which perfumes are then added. 

Pomanders became popular in plague years when physicians theorized disease was trasmitted through befouled air.  Alas, woefully untrue, as physicians would later discover, but pomanders still had plenty of practical uses.  Worn around the neck or the waist for immediate access, their form was as varied as their bearer.  Aristocrats carried perforated miniature globes made of fine metals and decorated with precious stones and/or intricate designs.  These globes were the predecessors of the vinaigrette, used around the early 1700s throughout the mid 19th century.  Similar to the popular orange and clove pomanders of today, the  lower classes might fashion a ball of aromatic gum pounded with rose water and blended with wax.  Occassionally the recipe included apple pulp.  Sometimes a lanced bag filled with aromatics such as herbs and dried flowers would also be used.

Pomander – a very literal interpretation – late 16th -17th centuries

Although pragmatic, as stench has a way of emanating without proper sanitation, the vinaigrette box was first and foremost an object of pretension.  Used almost exclusively by women by the 1820s, every female aspiring to the gentility wore one at her waist or stashed one in her reticule.  They were mostly made of silver, sometimes gold, and were necessary accoutrements to improve a lady’s sense of comfort and grace.  Their composition was slightly different than the pomander, having a hinged lid on the box and beneath that, a grill.  As the vinegar was corrosive, the grill was often gilded to prevent deterioration to the silver from ascetic acid. 

During this period only the finest vinagrettes sported grillwork in relief or ornamentation (the Victorians preferred their boxes to appear much like jewelry–examples of these are very pretty).  Most had a simple punched grill.  Novelty shapes did exist, mostly as wallet, satchels, and shells, although they could come in any shape one desired.  Many of the surviving Georgian vinaigrettes bear the Birmingham stamp as 90% of English made vinaigrettes were manufactured there.

The basic recipe for the substance within the vinaigrette was exactly as we define vinaigrette today: vinegar with herbs and spices.  The liquid was then added to the sponge that sat beneath the grill.  Vinegar emits a strong odor, albeit not as splendiforous as violets or roses, but as anyone who has visited the circus and battled dung with a scented wrist can attest, shit covered in perfume is still shit. Vinegar, at least, wages the battle admirably.