Favorite decades: 1910's, 1800's, 1870's
Favorite artists: Anthony van Dyck, Giovanni Boldini, Henry Fuseli, Thomas Lawrence
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Henrietta, Lady Jenkinson by Philippe Mercier, 1742, the Temple Newsam House
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Gown from silk made by Anna Maria Garthwaite (1690-1763), 1740’s England, altered 1780’s (fabric made in Spitalfields, London), the Victoria & Albert Museum
Originally, the gown was probably a sack back, with loose box pleats at the back to allow for maximum display of the silk pattern. The gown would have been open down the front, with folded-back robings and rectangular cuffs at each elbow. The last conversion in the 1780s to the style of that time was quite clumsily executed, suggesting that perhaps the gown had been handed down to a maid.
Design & Designing
The design is brocaded in coloured silks on oyster-coloured satin. Two large sprays of flowers fill the width of the repeat, linked by upward and downward trails of bright pink berries and rose buds. Among the identifiable flowers are roses, morning glory and auricula. From both sprays the flowers on upward stems are brocaded in shades of pink, fawn, lilac, white and black, while those hanging down are in shades of blue, yellow and red. A variety of greens colour the stems and leaves, and the flowers are shaded naturalistically by the weaving technique.
The freelance textile designer Anna Maria Garthwaite (1690-1763) received at least 40 commissions for silk designs from a Spitalfields master weaver called Mr Gregory. The design for this silk was one of them. There were a number of members of the Weavers’ Company with the name Gregory, so we do not know his exact identity, but the designs she produced for him are some of Garthwaite’s prettiest and most fashionable, and include patterns for brocaded lustrings, damasks, tissues and satins.
Boy’s robe, ca 1750 France, the Victoria & Albert Museum
This boy’s robe dates from a era when young boys in Europe wore garments with skirts, a custom with unclear origins, but which most likely had to do with making it easier for them to urinate. The style was common until about 1920. A boy usually received his first breeches or trousers between four and seven years of age, sometimes in a special ceremony held by the family.
Formal day dress, ca 1735 England (Spitalfields) (altered 1740’s and 1780’s), the Victoria and Albert Museum
By the 1730s the open robe was beginning to replace the mantua as formal day wear. The beautifully patterned Spitalfields silk indicates a degree of luxury. The accompanying quilted petticoat suggests that the ensemble was probably worn for afternoon tea parties rather than in the evening at the opera or theatre. The pattern of the silk, with pear-shaped fruits and exotic flowers, is typical of the 1730s. The gown itself was altered in the 1740s and probably again in the 1780s.
Dress, ca 1745 (restyled ca 1760) England, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Yellow silk brocaded with polychrome silks in floral motifs. Robe: neck and front lines with matching bands of ruching; sack (Watteau) back with stitched-down pleats; short fitted sleeves with double asymmetrical ruffles; panier accomodating skirt with slits at hipline, fullness knife-pleated into waistline; linen bodice lining. Underskirt: fullness pleated into tie-tape waistband; scallped ruffle and ruching in ribbon motif applied to front.
A Lady in a Garden taking Coffee with some Children by Nicolas Lancret, 1742 (probably), The National Gallery (London)
This painting, one of Lancret’s most ambitious of the works and often considered his masterpiece, was exhibited at the Salon of 1742. The subject is a pastoral idyll in contemporary dress. It may have been intended as a portrait of a particular family taking its ease in the kind of idealised park setting popularised by prints after the paintings of Watteau.
Informality is the keynote of both the landscape and the figures, who occupy the left part of the composition. A woman, presumably the mother, offers a spoonful of coffee to the younger child, observed by a man (presumably the father) who holds out a tray to a servant holding a silver coffee pot. The traditional title of the painting, ‘The Cup of Chocolate’ is, therefore, a misnomer. Behind the mother is the focal point of the setting, a stone vase filled with roses on an elaborate pedestal, which forms the left pier of the fountain basin to the right. The informality of the scene is underlined by the doll lying on the ground beside the fountain and the dog on the right rooting among the hollyhocks.
Portrait of Mrs Samuel McCall, Sr by Robert Feke, 1746 US (Philadelphia), Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
While the dress may have existed, it might have been painted from memory or copied from an image, such as an engraving. (The dress was probably artistic, not worn in everyday life. The museum confirms this in the description below.) It was common practice in the 18th century, especially in colonial and early America, for artists to paint ready-made “bases”, so to speak, on which to later fill in a clients’ head or just their face. This patron must have paid more for her portrait than the patron of the previous image, since this one is more detailed and has more naturalistic shading. The source I’ve linked to at the American Folk Art Museum briefly talks about how one artist could have many different styles.
One of several portraits of Philadelphia’s McCall family, this painting features a young woman standing erect in front of an Ionic column and beside a swath of crimson drapery and a Rococo marble-topped table on which she rests her hand. Imposing, elegant, and spare, it shows how Robert Feke provided dignified portraits for his clientele, whether in Philadelphia, Boston, Virginia, or Barbados.
The first major native-born artist of the British North American colonies, Feke is known for his relatively large, impressive portraits. He borrowed from the tradition of Baroque portraiture, including swags of brightly colored drapery, columns, elegant dresses, and props. His grand portraits of colonists dressed and posed in the guise of English nobility evoke a quality of dignity and grace, and as exemplified in this excellent example, showcase a combination of grandeur and simplicity.
At the time Feke painted Anne McCall, she had been married for nine years to her cousin, Samuel, a prominent Philadelphia merchant. Here, she is dressed in a radiant, crystal-buttoned, blue silk dress, with a salmon pink underskirt, accentuated at the narrow waist by a tassel belt. She gracefully holds a peony in her long, tapering fingers.
Mary McCall by Robert Feke, ca 1746 US (Philadelphia), Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
Feke is considered the first important American-born artist. He developed a style that was distinct from the prevalent English technique practiced in the Colonies. This “native style” became popular, and Feke earned a living as an itinerant portraitist, traveling between Boston, Philadelphia, and Newport, Rhode Island. Little is known of Feke; his later life is particularly mysterious. After embarking from Newport in 1750, possibly bound for commissions in Barbados, he was never heard from again.
Mary McCall was a member of the Philadelphia Dancing Assembly, which hosted dances every two weeks and was a vital part of the social life of colonial Philadelphia. She holds a single flower, a common device in Feke’s portraits, in this case possibly indicating McCall’s availability for marriage. Seven years after this portrait was thought to have been painted, McCall married the merchant William Plumstead, whoserved as mayor of Philadelphia in the mid-1750’s.