James Tissot’s Fashion Plates (1864-1878):  A Guest Post by Lucy Paquette

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!

In the Conservatory (Rivals), c. 1875, by James Tissot. Oil on canvas, 15 1/8 by 20 1/8 in. (38.4 by 51.1 cm). Private Collection. (Photo: Wikiart.org)

In the Conservatory (Rivals), c. 1875, by James Tissot.
Oil on canvas, 15 1/8 by 20 1/8 in. (38.4 by 51.1 cm). Private Collection.
(Photo: Wikiart.org)

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. Continue reading

The Peacock in Myth, Legend, and 19th Century History

Peacock and Peacock Butterfly by Archibald Thorburn, 1917.

Peacock and Peacock Butterfly by Archibald Thorburn, 1917.

In his 1836 book On the Mental Illumination and Moral Improvement of Mankind, Reverend Thomas Dick calls the peacock “the most beautiful bird in the world.”  There are few that would dispute this description; however, throughout history, there has always been more to the peacock than its dazzling plumage.  At various times and in various cultures, it has served as a symbol of good and evil, death and resurrection, and of sinful pride and overweening vanity.  And much like its avian brethren, the crow and the raven, the peacock has figured heavily in folktales and fables, as well as in countless superstitions that still exist today. Continue reading

The Beauty Rituals of 19th Century Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Georg Raab, 1867.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Georg Raab, 1867.

Born in Munich on December 24, 1837, Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie became Empress of Austria when she married Emperor Franz Joseph at the age of sixteen.  Though now widely acknowledged as one of the most beautiful women of 19th century Europe, Sisi, as she was known to her intimates, was not considered a great beauty in her youth.  Some biographers have even referred to her as sturdy and boyish with a “round peasant face.”  Highly sensitive to any perceived deficiencies in her appearance, Sisi embarked on a lifetime of starvation diets and extreme beauty rituals which have since become the stuff of legend.  Continue reading

The Origins of the Unicorn

The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino, 1602.

The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino, 1602.

According to historians, the legend of the unicorn first emerged in 398 BC courtesy of the Greek physician Ctesias.  Ctesias wrote an account of India, titled Indica.  He attests that all recorded within his account are things that he has witnessed himself or that he has had related to him by credible witnesses.  This account of India, though largely lost, has been preserved in a fragmentary abstract made in the 9th century by Photios I of Constantinople.  In the twenty-fifth fragment, Ctesias writes of the unicorn, stating: Continue reading

Fashionable Caps for 19th Century Matrons both Young and Old

Louise de Guéhéneuc, duchesse de Montebello by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon, early 19th century.

Louise de Guéhéneuc, duchesse de Montebello by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, early 19th century.

The 19th century cap was a modest necessity.  Worn by spinsters and matrons both young and old, it neatly covered a lady’s hair while she was at home and abroad.  At face value, such a basic article of clothing seems to have changed little throughout the century.  However, a closer look at the fashionable caps of women of the 1800s reveals that styles did in fact subtly evolve.  Through lace, ribbons, and trimmings, ladies of the age continually reinvented the cap, transforming it from what might otherwise have been a merely utilitarian scrap of fabric into a fashionable, feminine confection that said as much about a woman’s personal style as her French bonnets, cashmere shawls, and India muslin gowns. Continue reading

Riding Habits of the 19th Century

Equestrian Portrait of Mademoiselle Croizette by Carolus-Duran, 1876.

Equestrian Portrait of Mademoiselle Croizette by Carolus-Duran, 1876.

Riding habits of the 19th century were both fashionable and functional.  They were designed to flatter the figure, camouflage the dirt, and withstand the physical rigors of horseback riding.  These basic, practical considerations did not change a great deal from season to season.  As a result, the favored fabrics, cuts, and colors of riding habits at the end of the century were, in general, not hugely dissimilar from those at the beginning.  As an 1842 issue of The Lady’s Companion states:

 “While carriage and walking-dresses are continually changing in fashion, there occurs but little or no variation in the style of riding habits.”

Continue reading

Shawls and Wraps in 19th Century Art, Literature, and Fashion History

(Portrait of Olimpia Łosiowa, 1818-1820.)

Portrait of Olimpia Losiowa, 1818-1820.

From the Regency era to the end of the 1860s, there was no fashion accessory as versatile and ubiquitous as the shawl.  Available in all weights of fabrics, including silk, lace, muslin, and cashmere wool, and priced for all budgets, shawls graced the shoulders of women in every strata of society.  They were no less well-represented in art and literature of the day.  Shawls were referenced in the novels of such literary luminaries as Elizabeth Gaskell and William Makepeace Thackeray.  They were also featured in countless portrait paintings, draping the figures of fashionable 19th century ladies of every age. Continue reading

Art and Inspiration: The Paintings of Auguste Toulmouche

The Love Letter by Auguste Toulmouche, 1863.

The Love Letter by Auguste Toulmouche, 1863.

Fashionable 19th century Parisian painter Auguste Toulmouche is best known for his depictions of richly clad women set against the backdrop of luxurious interiors.  His paintings have been called “elegant trifles” and the ladies who feature in them have been referred to as “Toulmouche’s delicious dolls.”  One critic even compared the interiors of a Toulmouche painting to daintily decorated jewel boxes.  Unsurprisingly, the 19th century public had a great appetite for these visual treats.  Toulmouche’s paintings were popular, both with the upper and middle classes, and even with post-Civil War Americans. Continue reading

Art and Inspiration: The Paintings of Gustave Léonard de Jonghe

Vanity by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe.

Vanity by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe.

As a writer and art lover, I often find inspiration in the artwork of the general period in which I am writing.  18th and 19th century paintings, especially, can evoke a particular thought or feeling that is helpful to me in my creative process.  Perhaps an expression in a portrait triggers an idea for a trait in one of my heroines.  Or perhaps a landscape inspires me to set a scene in a park.  Often, inspiration is triggered by nothing more than a particular color – a red scarf or a pair of blue shoes. Continue reading

The Pet Parrot: As Depicted in 18th and 19th Century Art, Literature, & History

Woman at the Piano with Cockatoo by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, (1870).

Woman at the Piano with Cockatoo by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, (1870).

When thinking of 18th and 19th century pets, we inevitably imagine dogs or cats or small, caged canaries.  Large and colorful exotic birds are not generally the type of animal we envision inhabiting the pages of a Georgian or Regency novel, much less an actual Georgian or Regency home.  It may surprise you to learn that parrots were, in fact, quite popular as pets during the 18th and 19th centuries. Continue reading