|Hayter, "The Music Lesson" 1830|
I know that many of the fashion plates I put up each month make readers wonder what women were thinking. In this regard, the 1830s plates seem to take the cake. Fashions in the first half of the decade were extravagant and exuberant. Gigantic sleeves ruled. Hair reached heights it hadn’t seen since the 18th century, and the styles were like mad sculptures. I love them, but then again, I have a better idea of how they really looked. Even the dresses we see in museums rarely capture the true look of these fashions: Sometimes they’re missing the sleeve puffs or corset, or the color’s faded, or they lack accessories—or a head, for that matter. If you can’t see the hair arrangement, you get only a partial sense of the look.
A good way to get a sense of these fashions is through portrait paintings. Susan has sent me a number of images that show the vast difference between fashion plates and paintings. “The Music Lesson,” by Sir George Hayter, is a fine example. The famous portrait artist, working in oil, had the tools, talent, and financial backing illustrators did not. He could give his paintings depth and texture. He could show the transparency of lace. He could create the illusion of life and three dimensions, in other words. He could bring to painterly life what magazine Illustrators could only hint at it.
|von Amerling, Countess Julie von Woyna|
|March 1831 Fashions|
While some of the latter were extremely talented, and created quite beautiful plates (more beautiful than many of the abysmal scans we see online lead us to believe), they were not famous artists commissioned by wealthy families to spend as much time as it took to make a splendid painting. It’s all the more impressive, given the limitations, how well these illustrators managed to convey the designers’ ideas.
I do urge you to click on the painting links to get close and personal. You still mayn't love the fashions, and the hair might be an acquired taste—but at least you'll have a truer image.
Sir George Hayter, Portrait of the Hon. Charlotte Stuart (1817-1861) and the Hon. Louisa Stuart (1818-1891) aka "The Music Lesson." (original in Government Art Collection, British Embassy, Paris). Friedrich von Amerling, Countess Julie von Woyna 1832. Both images via Wikipedia.
Clicking on the image will enlarge it. Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.