Today, I am very pleased to welcome art historian and author Lucy Paquette with a fascinating guest post on fashion in the paintings of Victorian era artist James Tissot!
No one captured the rapidly-changing fashion trends of the 1860s and 1870s like French painter James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836 – 1902). Tissot was more than merely a painter of fashionable women. His mother and her sister were partners in a successful millinery company. Tissot’s father established a booming business as a wholesale linen draper – a trader in fabrics and dress trimmings to retailers and exporters. At 19, Tissot moved to Paris to study painting, and he gained the technical skills to record the fashionable female form of this period – tall, slim figures heightened by high chignons, hats, and heels, with silhouettes changing every few years.
In Tissot’s Portrait de Mlle L.L. (Young Lady in a Red Jacket, 1864), the subject displays startling self-assurance in her red bolero jacket edged with decorative red braid and bobble fringe. Its sleeves flare out and are slit to the elbow on the outside, like the pagoda sleeves of the 1850s. The bolero, reminiscent of a Spanish matador’s costume, was in high style at this time, said to be an homage to Eugénie de Montijo (1826 – 1920), who became Empress of the French upon marrying Napoléon in 1853. Mlle L.L. pairs her dolman-cut bolero with a white menswear-like shirt that has a classic pointed collar and simple cuffs, and a black tie. She wears long drop earrings but no other jewelry, and her long, curly brown hair is worn loose, accented only with a red ribbon. Under her high-waisted, full black skirt, we see a pink slipper – and a hint of a blue stocking. She also is not wearing a crinoline – perhaps, in part, because sitting on the edge of a desk in a steel cage crinoline hardly would result in an appropriate pose. Importantly, however, it was in 1864 that Paris couturier Charles Worth (1825 – 1895) declared the steel-cage crinoline – invented in 1856 and popularized by his most illustrious client, Empress Eugénie – dead. He began to design gowns with straight fronts, moving the fullness from women’s skirts to the back, supported by a horsehair pad bustle.
Thérèse-Stephanie-Sophie Feuillant (1836 – 1912) was from a wealthy bourgeois family. She inherited a fortune from her father, and in 1860, she married Réne de Cassagnes de Beaufort, Marquis de Miramon (1835 – 1882). In the 1865 family portrait, The Marquis and the Marchioness of Miramon and their children, Tissot depicts the 29-year-old Marquise in a short, fitted black velvet jacket with dolman-cut sleeves that are heavily embroidered at the edge and accented with three sloping rows of decorative topstitching at the shoulder. It has elaborate, white-and-grey ribbon rosettes covering the buttons down the front and silver ornaments in a marquise shape at the cuffs. Her white, menswear-inspired blouse has a narrow, classic pointed collar and voluminous sleeves with simple, narrow cuffs fitted to the wrist. The blouse, which could be cotton or bleached linen, puffs out of slits toward the end of the jacket’s flared sleeves. The restrained top of the Marquise’s ensemble is a perfect foil to her cascading skirt in a lightweight and crisp grey-and-white striped silk. The Marquise’s pose emphasizes the chic, flattened front of the skirt and showcases the dramatic fullness in the back, supported by a crinolette and ending in a train. The skirt’s high waist is tied with a wide, shimmering silk taffeta sash, edged in ruffled trim. The ends of the sash flow down toward the skirt’s hem, which is finished with a row of five alternating grey and white horizontal pleats. Even with high heels, this skirt is so very long that the Marquise must have been quite long-legged.
Her lustrous brown hair is parted in the center, and braids behind each ear are overlapped over her head as if she’s wearing a tiara, with a sheer blue ribbon entwined in the coiled tresses at her nape. For a closer look, click here.
In Young Women Looking at Japanese Articles (1869), Tissot features a morning walking costume consisting of a long coat in brown wool or perhaps cashmere, with dolman-cut sleeves, and a brown taffeta skirt with a deep ruffle of knife pleats that add movement at the hem. The woman’s ensemble has no train to drag in the dirty streets. The coat has a column of dark brown buttons from the throat to the hem. The collar, cuffs, hem and hip pockets are trimmed in fur that matches the woman’s muff. The cuffs and hem also are edged with a wide stripe of dark brown fabric and a narrow stripe that echoes it. The high, draped bustle had appeared by 1868, and Tissot captured the trend in this painting. The coat’s full skirt is drawn up in two loose rows at the sides and back, and accented with a belt in a soft brown velvet that spreads into a graceful bowed, tiered bustle. The woman’s ochre-colored kid gloves match her blonde hair, arranged in long, loose curls over her shoulders and gathered up high on the back of her head. The oval Lamballe hat of brown velvet is tilted over her forehead to accommodate this hairstyle. It features small, curled plumes in colors that repeat those of her ensemble. Fastened to the back of her head with a narrow cord, it is finished with a medium-sized brown velvet bow whose wide streamers arc down to her shoulders. She wears no jewelry but single pearls dangling from her ears.
An even more elegant ensemble in brown is the centerpiece of Tissot’s At the Rifle Range (The Crack Shot, 1869). This sporting woman wears a black silk bodice with long, fairly full sleeves that narrow to a wide fitted cuff, under which can be seen the buttoned white cuffs of the blouse underneath. The matching black silk skirt is enlivened with nearly a dozen rows of frills and ruching and is lightly trained. Her dove grey, dolman-cut jacket is of a heavy fabric printed in a darker grey paisley design. Its sweeping neckline, wide unstructured sleeves and square peplum are trimmed in brown fur. A matching overskirt is draped à la polonaise over her hips and bustle. Her black silk Lamballe hat, tied around the back of her head with a narrow black velvet ribbon, is trimmed in light blue silk ribbon and matching silk flowers, with a bow of wide black velvet ribbon at the back. It is tipped at a steep angle to accommodate her heavy chignon. She wears no jewelry except a large ring on the third finger of her left hand. Like the Marquise de Miramon, this woman must be very tall, even if wearing high heels, and she cuts an imposing figure in every way.
The woman in Reading the News (c. 1874) wears a tailored yachting gown cut from a heavy white fabric, probably cotton, and trimmed in navy blue ribbon and soft white cotton fringe.
The form-fitting jacket bodice has long, narrow set-in sleeves with shaped cuffs, and a pointed waist. The band collar is bordered at the top and bottom with navy blue ribbon that runs down the center front and along the bottom. The narrow white lace of a fitted blouse peeks from the collar and cuffs, softening the ensemble – and, under that, a tight, high black collar creates an elegant pedestal for the head.
The underskirt ends in long box pleats lined in navy blue. A matching overskirt is draped à la polonaise over her hips and punctuated by narrow navy blue sashes fastened by a circular gold brooch at the sides. The large, high bustle is ornamented only by two short, peplum-like streamers from the bodice back, their rectangular shape outlined in navy blue ribbon and soft white cotton fringe. On her head is a pale yellow, pleated straw circle, tipped forward and curved down in front to shade the eyes and up in back to accommodate a very high chignon of coiled false hair. This lightweight, practical and charming hat is embellished with four concentric circles of lacy white ruffles.
Tissot painted this untrained gown from two other angles in The Ball on Shipboard (c. 1874). The bodice front has a navy blue bib with a column of white buttons from throat to waist. Again, these women are quite tall – or, in standard fashion plate style, their leg length has been exaggerated to show the ensembles to advantage. These two women wear short, pale yellow gloves and yellow straw boaters with wide black silk grosgrain ribbon bands and streamers. The boaters are angled forward to accommodate their large braided chignons of false hair. One woman carries a large black fan.
The blonde model in The Bunch of Lilacs (1875) wears a lightweight white morning gown in two pieces. The loosely-cut bodice has a square neckline trimmed in a band of blue ruching and a scalloped hem, with a sort of fichu tucked under it. The eighteenth-century-style Sabot sleeves are tied at the elbow with sheer blue ribbon before flaring into a deep ruffle. The draped tablier (apron) overskirt and the straight underskirt are cut from white muslin and feature tiers of softy gathered, scalloped flounces, each accented with a band of blue ruching. The underskirt is edged with a row of white knife pleats, while the train in light blue has an edge of blue knife pleats and white flounces that spread over a length of heavy white cotton. Just visible from the side is white drapery and a blue streamer hinting at a large bow over a high, soft bustle. A wide blue silk sash runs diagonally across the overskirt, and the woman dangles a bonnet that matches her ensemble from a black cord over her little finger. As a contrast to the pastel tones of her gown, the woman wears a black velvet ribbon on her right wrist and one around her throat. English painter Louise Jopling (1843 – 1933) wrote in her autobiography: “It was the fashion, in those days, to wear a broad band of velvet round the neck, and it would have been considered indecent if, with a low, square-cut bodice, it had been omitted.” In Too Early (1873), Hush! (The Concert, c. 1875), and In the Conservatory (Rivals, c. 1875), Tissot also depicts women wearing black ribbons at their throats and wrists.
The blonde in this painting, whom I believe to be Louise Jopling’s pretty sister, Alice – according to Louise, she modeled for Tissot at this time – wears a light fringe and has gently scooped her hair behind her head. It t is topped by an extraordinarily large braided coil of false hair – another fad of this period.
Though we cannot see the front of these gowns in The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (c. 1876), clearly all the interest is in the back – and by this date, the bustle has shifted downward.
The sheer blue gown on the left has a deep neckline edged in ruffles enhanced by a column of blue silk taffeta bows. The long, slim, set-in sleeves end in a deep ruffle, accented by a single bow at the wrist. Bows decorate the hips at the gathered-up sides (an underskirt is implied by the front division of the overskirt and also can be seen under the sheer bodice), and tiers of ruffles and ruching edge the gown from the front to the train that spills out behind the dress, a sea of froth for the two large taffeta bows and streamers which float over an elaborate, swaying concoction of of ruching, frills and knife pleats that draw the eye to that fabulous soft, low bustle. The prim, round black hat perched at an angle over her chignon and tied under her chin seems calculated to recede into the background.
The woman on the right, in the gown of white striped muslin, presents an even more stunning focal point with her pose. Her neckline, high in back with a yellow ribbon accent, surely dips in front, and her long, slim sleeves and hips also are trimmed in crisp silk taffeta bows. Once again, the sheer fabric reveals an underdress, and the skirt sways to an end in a half-dozen layers of gathered ruffles and a more moderate train than the other gown. Though this gown is less elaborate, the two yellow taffeta bows could not be more arresting. Hovering at an angle behind the blonde’s heavy braided chignon and fringe, her hat – yellow straw trimmed in white and yellow taffeta bows – matches her dress so perfectly that it blends rather than recedes like the black hat.
The brilliant yellow gown in Evening (1878), modeled by Tissot’s young mistress and muse, Kathleen Newton (1854 – 1882), shows off the new cuirasse bodice and Princess line seaming created by couturier Charles Worth. Fitted over a blouse in ornate white lace with Sabot sleeves trimmed in double rows of yellow silk bows at the elbows, it is a different style of gown altogether from previous Victorian dresses. It has no waist seam: the seams run continuously from the shoulder to the hem, and the shape is created by sewing long, fitted fabric pieces together. The Princess seam created a tall, slender look. It depended on the curaisse bodice, a tightly-laced, boned corset that encased the torso, waist, hips and thighs.
This lavish creation combines side panels of golden silk damask that nip in at the waist, juxtaposed with diamond-shaped side panels of horizontal stripes in ivory and pale yellow. They are outlined in narrow golden cord and accentuated with a wide, fringed golden sash affixed to the hips. While in front, the dress skims the floor with a hem of wide white lace, a vertical band of ruching flowing down the back divides the overskirt into a very low bustle ornamented with a profusion of golden and pale yellow bows and pleated ruffles. They bloom into deeper layers of matching pleated ruffles combined with narrow rows of white lace, exploding into an astonishing, trailing black velvet train richly embroidered with elaborate Chinese designs. It is the dress of all dresses. The yellow neck ruff and frothy lace hat topped in golden silk bows, flowers and feathers over the thick, curly blonde fringe and chignon carry the vertical line upward, and the golden silk fan provides a theatrical block to visual distractions in the room beyond. Mrs. Newton wears no jewelry but a half-dozen golden bangles on her left wrist, which stand out over her elbow-length white gloves.
During the 1860s and 1870s, the steel-cage crinoline went out of fashion and skirt volume moved to the back of the skirt over a crinolette, then up and out and finally down with the padded bustle, until the Princess seam and cuirasse bodice resulted in a dramatic narrowing of the silhouette of women’s fashion. James Tissot recorded all the gorgeous details in his oil paintings. He was so observant and adept at representing every detail of fashionable life that in 1869, in a review of Tissot’s painting, Young Ladies Looking at Japanese Objects, exhibited at the Paris Salon, the critique for L’Artiste wrote, “Our industrial and artistic creations can perish, our morals and our fashions can fall into obscurity, but a picture by M. Tissot will be enough for archaeologists of the future to reconstitute our epoch.”
Angus, Emily et al. The Fashion Encyclopedia: A Visual Resource for Terms, Techniques, and Styles. Hauppauge: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., 2015.
Ashelford, Jane. The Art of Dress: Clothes and Society, 1500-1914. London: The National Trust, 1996.
Laver, James. Costume and Fashion: A Concise History, fourth edition. London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd., 2002, reprinted 2007.
Nunn, Joan. Fashion in Costume: 1200-2000, second edition. Chicago: New Amsterdam Books, 2000.
© 2016 by Lucy Paquette. All rights reserved.
Lucy Paquette is the author of THE HAMMOCK: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot. Since 2012, she has blogged about the life and times of James Tissot, combining previous scholarship with original research and discussions of his paintings in public and private collections and at auction, at https://thehammocknovel.wordpress.com/.
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The Hammock: A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, brings Tissot’s world from 1870 to 1879 alive in a story of war, art, Society glamour, love, scandal, and tragedy.
Illustrated with 17 stunning, high-resolution fine art images in full color
Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library
(295 pages; ISBN (ePub): 978-0-615-68267-9).
View Lucy Paquette’s videos:
“The Strange Career of James Tissot” (2:33 min.)
“Louise Jopling and James Tissot” (2:42 min.)
Take Lucy Paquette’s BuzzFeed Personality Quiz: Which Female Victorian Artist Are You?