L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Friday, November 25, 2016

Unbecomingly capped

Madame Récamier, by Antoine-Jean Gros, circa 1825.

Fashion is very often - has always been, always will be - a mercurial and cruel mistress. Aside from any question of taste or practicality or expense, there is the very simple fact that one mode isn't equally congenial to all women, of all ages, of all sizes; what flatters one, disfigures another. The high-waisted silhouette - sometimes known as Empire, because it mostly coincided with the reign of Napoléon - is one of countless examples. The waistline started its ascent in the 1790s and didn't resume a more natural placement until toward the end of the 1820s. Generally speaking, the silhouette can be seen as a relaxation and relief from the two periods that bracket it, the weighty, paniered expanse of the the late 1700s and the riotous poofy-ness of the 1830s. But one must remember that, in spite of all the apparent freedom of movement, the youthful grace of the style, the corset still held sway. In fact, the uncomfortable item's territory grew, expanding both North and South; viewing the portraits of the day, it's easy to forget that underneath all that satiny, sylph-like glamour, ladies were usually well-trussed from their hips to their shoved-up bosoms. Also easy to forget is that the gowns portrayed by Baron Gérard and the like are usually little more than silken nightgowns; what happens when one lives in a cold climate, or when Winter comes...? The truth is that there were all sorts of other coverings and accessories, most of them rather silly looking and at odds with the silhouette; all the decorative "action" happened between the bosom and the close-dressed head, and the traditional laces and trimmings clashed with the otherwise still-Neoclassical line. But it's mostly only the portraits of mature and older women that feature this awkward, though more practical, clothing. And while a girl or a very young woman might look something like "cute" dressed in his manner - fichus, pelerines, chin-grazing ruffs, and (probably least graceful of all) lacy, ribboned, and face-scrunching caps - this did little to enhance the charms of the matron of any proportion.

Nadezhda Ivanovna Dubovitskaya, by Vladimir Borovikovsky, 1809.
Suzanna Maria Crommelin, wife of Egbert Johannes Koch, by Charles Howard Hodges, before 1820.
Countess - formerly Baroness, soon to be Princess - Charlotte von Lieven née von Gaugreben, by George Dawe, 1821.
Unidentified sitter, unknown artist, circa 1810-20.
Mrs. Brak-Haskenhoff, by Cornelis Kruseman, 1818.
Ida Louise Frederike Engels née Noot, by Heinrich Christoph Kolbe, circa 1815.
Princess Natalya Petrovna Golitsyna née Chernysheva, by Vladimir Borovikovsky, circa 1790s.
Unknown lady, by James Ward, 1811.
Portrait of a lady, by Charles Howard Hodges, circa 1820.
Mrs. Thomas Linley, by James Lonsdale, 1820.
Yekaterina Alexandrovna Arkharova, by Vladimir Borovikovsky, 1820.
Elisabeth Gertrud de Weerth née Wülfing, by Heinrich Christoph Kolbe, 1825.
Portrait of the Mother of the Captain of Stierle-Holzmeister, by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, 1819.


  1. Oh good lord the cap of Baroness Charlotte! What a hilariously overdone mish mash of elements. Thanks so much for these.

  2. That divine Juliette Recamier, still so beautiful in middle age!
    When she was young, no matter where she went, she was the center of attention. Men and women were in awe of her incredible beauty. Napoleon dreaded to find her at any important social gathering he was invited. If she was there, nobody payed any attention to him.............

    Thanks you, Stephen. I loved this post!

    1. Thank you, Maria. Yes, so beautiful. The Gérard portrait of her is my favorite; funny that the David that she hated is still the most famous image of her.