Agriculture, Industry and the Beaux-Arts were housed in pavilions not unlike the Crystal Palace of England's Joseph Paxton. Here, 34 countries displayed their best offerings in the hopes of being awarded a coveted ribbon or royal patronage.
|Singer Sewing Machine, display|
Being interested only in the "material world", I will choose to omit the contributions offered in the agriculture and industry pavilions. Our focus will be on the Beaux-Arts.
If you ever get to Paris, you must visit the Musee d'Orsay. Once an old train station, it is worth the visit just to view the architecture. If you enjoy the decorative arts of the 19th century, then be sure to visit these galleries, where, much like the Victoria and Albert museum in London, many items from this exhibition are on display. Particularly wall coverings and some furnishings.
While 19th century design can appear daunting and confusing to the student, eventually with a little study it can be mastered quite easily. Understanding these movements in architecture and the decorative arts can go a long way to understanding fashionable taste and dress. While the English were engrossed in the design elements of a medieval past, they had been making this association since the mid 18th century, the French, under Napoleon III and his consort Eugenie, revisited the royal courts of the ancien regime. Eugenie in particular had an interest in the age of Marie Antoinette and was herself responsible for the eventual preservation of the Chateau of Versailles, it was scheduled for demolition and re-development in the 1860's!, and the restoration of the crown jewels.
Typical of mid 19th century interpretations, a less than scholarly approach yielded some rather fantastic ideas. Married to industry and the might of the machine, the results could be quite horrific. While the movement we now recognize as the Rococo period had ended by the reign of Louis XVI, it was more than acceptable to borrow from it in this new revival under the "Second Empire".
|Rococo Revival desk with porcelain placques|
|Installing Textile Display|
Dress silk from Lyon. Under the patronage of the Empress and eventually through the demand by couturiers such as Worth, the silk industry in France will supply some of the most incredible designs for dress and furnishings.
Here, the design elements reflect the swag, garland and smaller lover's bow knot details much in favor under the reign of Marie Antoinette, but the larger red patterned bows and printed Chantilly lace pattern give this textile a more contemporary mid 19th century twist.
|Collection, The Hague|
Manufacturers were quick to realize the potential for creating textiles particularly suited to the fashion trade. These fabrics were printed or woven, "en disposition" and were well suited to the flounces required of the fashions of the period.
Opposite, a receipt for a textile of apple green, which would have been printed with "co-ordinates" of solids, trimmings and fillers such as dots or "ditsie's" not dissimilar to the dress below.
Note how the sleeves are cut from the same fabric of the flounce but in such a way as to appear woven "en disposition". Such effects continued to be achieved throughout the remainder of the century and appear again in the designs of the Edwardian age.
|Official reception of Queen Victoria|
|Napoleon III, Queen Victoria, Empress Eugenie, Prince Albert|
|Royal Dress Collection, Kensington Palace|
Perhaps the fashionable, if not dull, Madame Moitessier, saw this silk at the Exposition Universelle the year prior to the painting of her portrait by Ingres. For 1856, this gown is the height of fashion and a rather daring choice for both patron and painter. Generally, painters preferred their sitters to wear solids. In this way, the portrait was less likely to look "dated" over time. The painted, or perhaps, woven silk with co-ordinating ribbons and fringe trim are captured beautifully here. The posture of the subject is more classical in inspiration than the costume chosen. The sitter competes with her dress for the attention of the viewer and engages us directly with her gaze.
For those of us who love to reproduce, an amazing example. Source unknown and uncredited.
The 19th century exhibitions were important transmitters of taste in all aspects of the arts. In an age of rising consumerism coupled with the insecurities of an uncertain middle class, design was becoming more homogeneous. What would be fashionable in Paris was as likely to be in step throughout western Europe and her colonies.