Sunday, October 31, 2010

Yay or Nay? Magdalena Hess of Zürich

Boo! Happy Halloween, we have already begun celebrating accordingly because Grace Peel's gown scared many last week, earning her a Nay.  To stay in spirit with the festive holiday I could have done a masquerade gown but those appear to often on here to make for a special occasion.  Instead I dipped into the portfolio of the dark art(ist)s and managed to pull forth a portrait which may chill some to the bone but could appeal to your ghoulish fashion sense.

Henry Fuseli paints Magdalena Hess (circa 1779) in her slender, blood-red dress and high, un-powdered coiffure.  Yay or Nay?

[Staatliche Kunstsammlungen]

Friday, October 29, 2010

Frontispiece Gothica

Gothic novels were the horror movies of the long eighteenth century.  They were craze comparable to that of Twilight series; there were many fans and just as many people turning their nose up at the genre.  Audiences loved the adrenaline rush of fear and forbidden romance, and to capture more bookshop browsers it was good to have a good frontispiece to pique the potential reader's curiosity.  What better way to get in the Halloween spirit than explore some gothic novel frontispieces:

Vathek by William Thomas Beckford

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The Children of the Abbey by Regina Maria Roche

Tales of Terror by Matthew Gregory Lewis

The Castle Spectre by Matthew G Lewis

Caleb Williams by William Godwin

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Obsession-Causing Portrait

What was it about painting the Duchess of Devonshire?

Her son, Hart, said none of her numerous portraits captured her true likeness.  She was the lady who made Thomas Gainsborough, an expert portraitist, throw down his paintbrush in frustration and claim the image defeated his talents.  Despite this setback, we can credit Gainsborough for perhaps the most famous depiction of Georgiana.  We also have Gainsborough to thank for creating a painting which became an obsession for many.

With a knowing look and a raised eyebrow she studies the viewer from under her powdered hair and cocked picture hat, a hat named after this very painting due to women rushing to their milliners asking for a hat just like as they saw in the picture.  The hat design was one of Georgiana's own, and had a resurgence in the Victorian era where it was known as Gainsborough hat.  The painting experienced a resurgence as well in the Victorian era when it vanished.  The famous painting we see today is only a portion of the original work that so frustrated Gainsborough in 1783.

A print showing the original layout
When Georgiana sat for Gainsborough in it was at the height of her popularity.  She was a fashion leader, active in politics, and a familiar face in the tabloids.  When she died prematurely in 1806 the nation mourned her death.  By 1830 she was all but forgotten.  So is the course of celebrity.  Somehow the painting once exhibited at the Royal Academy ended up in the possession of a simple schoolteacher who was vexed by the full-length portrait not fitting over her fireplace so she cut it down to just above the sitter's knee.  The painting then spent the next 40 or so years passing through various owners before the value was realized and it was auctioned at Christies in 1875.  The Morgan Family had every intention of buying the painting and if they had been successful the Duchess might be safe in the Morgan Library today.  Unfortunately Adam Worth, an American career criminal had already decided he must have the painting, no matter what the cost.  Once again the masterpiece was tragically cut down, this time from Worth stealing it while it hung on display. The weeping garden background that so typified Gainsborough's style was now lost forever from the painting.

1871 print showing where it was originally cut
Georgiana's portrait is now Worth's captive while he continues his crime sprees.  He creepily refers to it as "The Noble Lady" as if it isn't a inanimate object, and stores it in a false bottom trunk where it remains for about twenty-five years.  Five of those years Worth spent in jail and it was only when he was released he agree to let "The Lady...go home" in exchanged for some leniency.  Despite being hidden from the world, the portrait was well taken care of and in pristine condition  As soon as Pierpoint Morgan heard of the retrieval of the painting his father intended to buy he immediately forked over $150,000 for it, an unheard of amount for artwork at the time.  Morgan displays the Duchess to the public for a short period before doing the same thing Worth did when the painting was in his possession, keeping it all to himself.  Morgan selfishly refused to even let prints be made of the acclaimed, and now especially famous, painting.

Like Tolkien's Gollum and the ring, these men wanted to keep Gainsborough's portrait of Georgiana all to themselves, and like Tolkien's tale, the painting eventually made it to its rightful place and balance was restored.  In 1993 the portrait was once again up for auction and this time the then Duke of Devonshire knew where it needed to be.  As its former captor wished, the Duchess was finally going home.  The Duke and the Chatsworth trust bought the portrait so Georgiana could once again preside over her former home, Chatsworth, and be in the public eye rather than hidden away. After all, art is rarely meant to be hidden.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Move over Rosie from The Jetsons, you weren't the first robot to capture the heart of thousands.  Long before R2D2 and Roombas there were automata, androids which operated on clockwork mechanic.  Automata have existed for centuries and although they operate on primitive mechanics, they are quite the genius little devices.  Eerie, yet enchanting, the surviving automata still have the same effect on viewers today

Automaton building was not a career but more of a hobby.  Usually the creators were mostly self-taught and their talents could earn them royal favor.  King Frederick of Prussia was enamored with the mechanical toys and had quite the collection.  Louis XV was quite fond of a mechanical duck which would eat a grain and consequently poop out a very lifelike duck defecation.  A musician automaton that was given to Marie Antoinette miraculously survived the Revolution enough to be repaired in the 19th century and is still in working order (video below).  Antoinette's mother, Empress Marie Theresa was presented with one of the most famous or infamous automata of the century, The Turk.  This life-sized android could play chess against human opponents and was rarely defeated.  Ben Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte both lost to The Turk although I can only imagine one throwing a temper tantrum about it.  However, as many suspected, The Turk was only a partial automaton and a human operator squeezed into the machine to act as the brains of the operation.

What is perhaps the most interesting about these 18th century androids is that although they could perform a task, their many purpose was to entertain.  So much detail went into their creation.  A scribing boy thoughtfully moves his eyes while writing a poem.  An artist creates portraits in pencil and pauses to blow away the graphite dust.  A silver swan drifts through glittering water, preens itself then catches a fish.  It is easy to imagine a full room of silken courtiers gasping in awe at the robotics and yet those surviving automata on display in museums seem to have the same effect on contemporary viewers.  Their entertainment value is timeless, see for yourself:

The Silver Swan of Bowes Museum

Automata of Pierre Jaquet-Droz(Trailer en francais)

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Ladies Room

Have you ever walked into a public restroom with where the lavatories were exposed with no privacy barriers?  Yes, yes, men we know you use the urinals without a thought many times.  Well, the experience nowadays may send some ladies running for the hills but in bustling 18th century London, these were the types of public restrooms you got if you went somewhere posh.  While public restrooms weren't as common as they are today you could find them in popular watering holes for the rich such as Henry Kingsbury portrayed in his satire of the Vauxhall Garden Ladies Room.  His satire was an excuse to portray well-to-do, fashionable ladies doing something everyone does behind closed doors (just as many satires of women did) but it serves the great purpose now of giving us an idea, however exaggerated, of how ladies did their business in order to avoid lifting various layers of their robe a l'anglaise skirts while hiding behind a bush.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Yay or Nay? Grace Peel

Does anyone have the craving for pink frosted cupcakes? I blame the Baroness de Neubourg-Cromiere who earned a Yay for her Queen Frostine meets Glinda gown.  After such a flouncy princess outfit I can't help but put forth a foil for our judging pleasure.

Benjamin West paints (allegedly) Grace Peel (1757/8) in her simple mustard gown and unique lace throwback to previous centuries accessories.  Yay or Nay?

[Winterthur Museum]
[Image source and great article]

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tart of the Week: Sophia Musters

Many smitten men through time have sung the praises and dangers of a beautiful face.  One of the legendary beautiful faces of 18th century England was that of Mrs. Sophia Musters whom many found hard to resist.

Sophia Heywood was born in 1758, her father being the governor of Plymouth she was thrown into the path many aristocratic young ladies were forced into.  By the age of eighteen her parents had found Sophia a husband who was convenient to them, John Musters.  John was rich, good looking, and not too much older than Sophia.  Sadly Sophia had feelings for George Pitt who, as a younger son, was not a convenient marriage for the Heywoods. Sophia and John married in 1776.  A child was born to the couple every year for the next four years, sadly though, their last daughter did not make it past infancy.  Life at their country home, Colwick Hall was quiet.  Both John and Sophia were patrons of the arts.  Many portraits during this time exist of both husband and wife as well as John's various horses and Sophia's beloved spaniels, giving the outside world the idea that the Musters were in isolated bliss.

Fanny Burney described Sophia as "most beautiful, but most unhappy" as well as being the toast of the town.  John was happy being a country gentleman but Sophia flourished in a metropolitan environment.  She was adorable yet swore like Lady Lade.  The men couldn't stay away from the charming Mrs. Musters and who was she to deny them the attention?  Once, at a ball, a man approached Sophia with a glass of chalk and water and used this clever pickup line: "Chalk is thought to be a cure for the heartburn; I wonder whether it will cure the heartache?"* No word on whether the line worked.  It wasn't long before Sophia threw caution to the wind and dove into numerous love affairs.  There was and Penniston Lamb who would go on to marry Caroline St Jules (The illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and Lady Bess Foster) and also her first love, George Pitt.  Rumors also surfaced about other men as well such as the Prince of Wales (who wasn't he attached to!) and even Joshua Reynolds who spent man hours with the beauty behind closed doors, either painting her or giving her private painting lessons. 

As with all 18th century aristocratic affairs, infidelity never stays secret for long.  John was furious over the discovery of being cuckolded, he took an artistic revenge and had Stubbs paint Sophia out of their portrait in front of Colwick Hall.  As commenter, Jennifer pointed out in a past post, " It was only in the late '80s that restorers realized what was behind the layers of paint and restored it to it's original form."  How ancient Egyptian of him! 

Despite the jealousy and deceit earlier in the marriage, somewhere down the road the couple kissed and made up.  Perhaps once Sophia got the wild child out of her system and John felt he could forgive her, they realized they could settle down to a contented marriage.  When Sophia died at 61 in 1819 John was heartbroken.  In her memory, he commission a tomb sculpture portraying a weeping woman so that someone will eternally morn the beautiful Mrs. Musters.

*I've seen other texts saying she had said this to the man, oh gossip!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Book Review: Evelina

For those familiar with my book reviews, you could be aware I seldom stray away from my beloved non-fiction.  But variety is the spice of life and fiction can't always be ignored especially in terms of classical fiction.  I am ashamed to say one of the classical fictions that had been a stranger to me was Fanny Burney's Evelina, or, the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World.  I was familiar with the spunky author but not her actual work so I was long, long overdue to give a Burney book a try.  The further and further I got into the book the more ashamed I was with myself for not reading Evelina sooner, where has this book been all my life!  I laughed, rolled my eyes, gasped with scandalized shock, and whined to a bewildered Lauren about how things were just not going in the happy ending direction that I so wanted.  It was fantastic.

 Evelina is the epistolary tale about a teenage orphan who has been kindly raised by a charitable vicar due to her mother's premature death and father's estrangement.  Living happily in the country all her life she is invited to leave her beloved foster father for the first time to be a guest of the Mirvan family.  An unexpected arrival of Captain Mirvan, the bulsterous patron of the family sends the Mirvans and Evelina with them to London where a Pandora's box of experiences now lay before the naive, but beautiful country girl who is now the attention to many of the men of London.  First there is Mr. Lovel, the macaroni whom Evelina instantly offends, then the dashing Lord Orville, and of course the tedious Sir Clement Willoughby who can't seem to leave Evelina alone, much to her chagrin.  But it is when Evelina's long lost French grandmother arrives looking for her, that Evelina finds her life has gotten more complicated than it ever was.  What's a girl to do?
Fans of Jan Austen will immediately see why Fanny Burney was an influence of the famous author.  Both lady-writers capture their scenery and immerse the reader into the story; you feel the main character's pain and rejoice with her victory.  The characters are varied from the stoic Evelina to the hilarious and mischievous Captain Mirvan or sarcastic Mrs Selwyn, who were both favourites of mine.  Any and every Austenite should pick up this book although its appeal crosses many genre's. It was my guy-friend, Joel who lent me his copy of Evelina; so I can honestly say I would recommend this book to anyone, which I've already been doing with great enthusiasm. 

There are a variety of editions Evelina which was originally published in 1778. I read Broadview's edition (which is now sold with an unfortunate cover rather than the appropriate Canaletto which graced mine) edited by Susan Kubica whose delightful footnotes added to my pleasure of the book.  There is also a free e-book edition offered by Girlebooks.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Halloween's Tarty Treasures

Every year it seems there are more and more tartly 18th century costumes.  This year is no different, I still have some sort of sick pleasure in viewing all the campy creations meant to exhibit the wearer's legs and décolleté.  I was delighted to see one was dubbed "Naughty Antoinette."  This year I noticed some of these costumes exhibit the accurate panniers shape to the mini-skirt; fun!  I think a court of ladies dressed as such would result in the perfect assembly for a hen or bachelorette party.  Why the heck not, when else do you have every excuse to be outrageous and over the top?

So who has an 18th century-themed Halloween costume this year?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Yay or Nay? Baroness de Neubourg-Cromiere

Last week we analyzed Jean-Baptiste Belley's experiments with accessories and he came out with a Yay.  Perhaps the Giordet could have suggested another pose for him though...  It is now time to leave the fashionable male and return to uber-feminine frocks.

Alexander Roslin paints the Baroness de Neubourg-Cromiere (1756) in her long-sleeved pink masquerade gown.  Yay or Nay?

[Nationalmuseum, Stockholm]

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sights of London via Canaletto

When Canaletto, the painter who enamored British tourists with his paintings of Venice, came to London those familiar with his work were excited to see his portrayals of their beloved city.  Strangely enough, critics found Canaletto's depictions of London lackluster in comparison with his former works.  Oh well, I still this they're great, Signore Canal!  I enjoy the sights of London; even those that don't exist any more.  One of the wonderful things about Canaletto and his fellow city-scape painters is that we are transformed to the bustling city, even the parts we, in the 21st century, never got to know.  Here are some of the sights we do know, and how they look now.

The Thames and the City, 1747

Westminster Abbey with a procession of Knights of the Bath, by Canaletto, 1749

Westminster Bridge, 1746

Thursday, October 14, 2010


"I didn't yet understand the word 'fop,' but I sure wanted to be one, even if I had to cut off one of my own hands to look this dashing."
-John Waters, on his childhood fascination with Cyril Ritchard's role of Captain Hook, in his book, Role Models [excerpt here]

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Huzzah for Bosoms!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month which I always forget about until I pass a TV with football players in pink shoes.  Sad, I know, but breast cancer effects so many people that it is easily something that is thought about on weekly, if not daily basis.  The same is true for people of the past.  Louis XIV who saw himself as an Apollo crumbled when his mother succumbed to breast cancer.  Both of James II's wives, Lady Anne and Mary of Modena, fell victim to breast cancer.  The early eighteenth century feminist writer Mary Astell died following a mastectomy to remove a cancerous breast.

Mastectomies were chancy but not wholly uncommon.  Modern doctors now credit the 18th century for the first successful procedures of delivering women from breast cancer.  The credit is shared by the French doctor, Jean Louis Petit and the Scottish doctor, Benjamin Bell.  Figuring out the connection between breast cancer and the lymph nodes in the armpits, both doctors removed the lymph nodes, breast tissue, and even breast muscles.  Ouch!

While we still don't have a cure, I can imagine our contemporary treatments, however painful, are a vast improvement on a Petit or Bell mastectomy.

Visit to donate a free mammogram and buy some goodies to help support breast cancer research.  Mary Astell would approve!

Monday, October 11, 2010

BookMooch Needs to be Taught Some Etiquette

Some of you may have noticed I have had some trouble with the book swap site, Boochmooch in the last few weeks.  A representative from the site has finally got in contact with me and the result literally had me shaking in anger.

I recommend everyone staying as far away from the site as possible.  Bad business is bad business and news of bad business on the web can quickly go viral.  Details of my experience can be found here.

Racky and Madame "Right Now"

In the November following Georgiana's death, her daughter, Harryo, wrote to her married sister to tell her how quality family was going without her or her mother.
"Caroline began last night before the Bessboroughs and all of us assembled, reading out loud a letter of Madame de Maintenon..."
Madame de Maintenon, or Françoise d'Aubigné was a simple widow whom the great Sun King, Louis XIV fell in love with later in his life.  She was very pious Catholic so when the king set his eyes on her, she made it known she would not become a royal mistress.  Her allure was so great that Louis resorted to marrying Madame de Maintenon, but in secret.  She was never recognized as queen but there was an unspoken knowing among all at Versailles that she was to be regarded with the same respect a queen would have.  Although she was not always popular with those close to Louis such as his family, Françoise and her simplicity kept the king grounded and their relationship was that of two friends who respected each other.*

Harryo continues her account,
" which she excuses her conduct toward Louis and says, ['If I did not go to his room, to whom would he be able to confide his secrets'] or words to that effect, and describing in short scenes too what we are so often witnessing.  This was to lead to every sort of question to Lady E.,whether Madame de Maintenon was right in her conduct, whether she was ambitions or only making generous sacrifices, etc.  I fancied Lady E. was embarrassed."
Three years later Bess married the Duke of Devonshire, in a marriage that was not so secret.

*For further reading, a new biography on Madame de Maintenon has just hit shelves this summer.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Yay or Nay? Jean-Baptiste Belley

Oh dear, Mrs Loring was run out on a rail for her Nay of a gown.  But as Heidilea pointed out, perhaps it is Copley who should get the Nay since the dress was his creation, not a seamstress' of the homely Mrs Loring!  This week we will steer clear of any more fake dresses and homely Copley women and check out some French menswear.

Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson paints Jean-Baptiste Belley (1797) in his Convention member uniform to which he added some chic accessories.  Yay or Nay?


Friday, October 8, 2010

Prostitute Cooties

For many years prostitution and the English theater went together like peanut butter and jelly.  Actresses and whores were considered to be one and the same and prostitutes would line up in the theaters like our modern-day mollies line the boulevards.  However when celebrity skank*, Mary "Perdita" Robinson decided to get her own box seat at the theater it ruffled the feathers of a certain gentleman who decided to attack her publicly and anonymously through the Morning Post.  What an ungentleman-like manner. 
I know no rank of prostitution that can either lessen the crime or disgrace it; and, however profligate the age may be, I believe that the greatest libertine of our sex would revolt at the idea of handing a wife, sister, or daughter, in to a box where they were certain of being surrounded by public prostitutes. 

The managers owe it to the public, they owe it to themselves, to preserve the side-boxes for the modest and reputable part of the other sex; or at least, it is their duty to refuse them to actresses, swindlers, wantons in high keeping, who have the presumption to ask for them

Based on what we know of the London residents who patronized the theater, and box seats, I have a feeling if the managers enacted this request the playhouses would be quite empty!

*which was the general consensus by the public at the time due to her public affair with the Prince of Wales as well as having her name attached to numerous other affluent men.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Wig-Maker is Back in Town

It's that time again! Now that it's October you might be like me and scrambling to pull together a fabulous ensemble for masquerade night.  For the past three years I have posted the good, the bad, and the ugly in 18th century costumes.  To bring in Halloween 2010, here is the good, or should I say absolutely amazing!

Antoinette's Atelier shop on Etsy has some of the best wigs I have seen not on a drag queen's head.  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, "fit for a drag queen."  They are absolute show-stoppers.  The wigs are powdered, edgy, and made to order.  While browsing the shop you'll notice the classics such as the ship at sale and the pompadour. 

If you already spent your guineas on a wig for the big night, never fear, Antoinette's Atelier has other necessities such as shoes, stays, and art.  However, I think the wigs are the crown jewels of the shop.  Which is your favorite? I can't possibly decide!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ranelagh Gardens

Ranelagh Gardens (pronounced Rawn-a-lah or Ran-a-ley in some cases) was one of the 18th century watering holes of the social elite of London.  Like a classic newest big thing, Ranelagh was instantly popular which instantly gave it a reputation for being a prime place of celebrity spotting and showing off your newest fashionable wear.  Those finely dressed and with enough shillings to be admitted to the public gardens were entertained by the scenery in the form of tree-lined roads, a man-made lake, and even a Chinese pavilion which was built later in 1750 when their was a fad for all things oriental.  Ranelagh was also an ideal setting for a masquerade.

The gardens' main attraction (which rivaled the attraction of people-watching) wasn't lovely flowers, no, it was the architectural wonder known as the Rotunda.  The Rotunda housed musical performances such as the composer, Mozart who performed there as a child.  Those entering the Rotunda would be awed by the centerpiece, a large, ornate support containing the heat sources so you could walk about even in the cold of winter while other pleasure gardens were still closed.

Despite its extreme popularity, Ranelagh's 18th century heart, that is the Rotunda, was destroyed in 1805 after a drop in visitors.  The gardens remained but lacked the atmosphere they once boasted in the previous century.  The soul of Ranelagh was now gone.  However the atmosphere is still captures in the immortalized prints and paintings of the romping ground.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Jean-Étienne Liotard, Still Life: Tea Set, circa 1781–83

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Yay or Nay? Hannah Loring

Last week we examined a lady with an usual name but a good sense of fashion, Mrs Wilbraham Bootle. The response was an overwhelming "Yay" and a "you must give me the name of her seamstress!"  Perhaps Winter 10/11 will mark the return of muffs!  It's about time, right?  In the meantime let's look at someone who dove into the return of the ruff fad.  

John Singleton Copley paints Hannah Loring (1763) in her sage green Van Dyck-inspired ensemble. Yay or Nay?

[Detroit Institute of Arts]