Thursday, October 27, 2011

Paris, 1855

The Event:  The Exposition Universelle of 1855 was the second international exhibition in an age that would come to celebrate its industrial and artistic accomplishments.  Following on the heels of the Great Exhibition of 1851, held in High Park, London, it was slightly less successful attracting a mere 5,162,330 visitors.  Covering 39 acres of exhibition space along the Champs-Elysees, it was physically larger than its predecessor but financially, it was a bust.  From May 15- Nov. 15, 1855, It was as much a celebration for the recently restored monarchy of Napoleon III as it was an acknowledgement of France's industrial might.

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.
Beaux-Arts Pavilion

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.

Brooklyn Museum
Printed, painted or woven treatments were all possible techniques in the manufacture of these silks, as well as, light weight muslins. The image below is of evening dress.  The shorter sleeve, lower neckline and richness of the material would have been suitable for a matron of the period.  The embossed velvet on the flounces would have made the skirt fairly heavy, but the silk ground would have been lighter than paper.  As many as six petticoats of varying weights and stiffness would be needed before the invention of the cage crinoline the following year.  The cabbage rose, as a motif, will be very common in many examples of textiles in this period.

Official reception of Queen Victoria
In August of 1855, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert paid a state visit to France.  Among the many receptions and state balls, was a visit to the Expostion.  Queen Victoria had enjoyed England's own in 1851 and commented in her diary at that time of the novelty of being able to shop for goods.  Shopping seemed to be a past time that she enjoyed, and she did her share in Paris.

Purchased for Albert's study, this writing table is a more accurate interpretation of the styles of the French court under Louis XVI.  The tapered leg, ormolu mounts, rectilinear lines are faithful to the 18th century.  The woods are not.  This style will compete, but not, replace the interest in the more curvilinear rococo revival which will remain popular for the rest of the century.

Napoleon III, Queen Victoria, Empress Eugenie, Prince Albert
For the state visit to France, Prince Albert is said to have designed the textile for the dress below.  His inspiration was apparently an english country garden.  Printed or painted silks were popular imitations of those from the 18th century.  This fabric, with it's more linear approach to the design, betrays it as 19th century.  An 18th century pattern would have been more meandering in it's execution.
Royal Dress Collection, Kensington Palace

Skirt detail

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.

1 comment:

  1. That beautiful dress 'in the window' belonged to Empress Eugenie inspired by a portrait of Madame Moitessier by Ingres (1856) in the National Gallery of London. The dress in the image is made entirely of paper! It can be found in the book Paper Illusions : The Art of Isabelle de Borchgrave! [ISBN 798-0-8109-7133-2] The actual collection was first shown in France in 1998 as "Papiers a la Mode". Since then the collection has traveled around the world to critical and popular acclaim.