Napoleon: Hero or Tyrant?

The French still cannot agree on whether Napoleon was a hero or a tyrant.

In a 2010 opinion poll, French people were asked who was the most important man in French history. General Charles de Gaulle, who governed Free France from exile during the German occupation in World War II was voted number one, followed by Napoleon.

Only two statues commemorate Napoleon in Paris: one beneath the clock tower at Les Invalides (a military hospital), the other atop a column in the Place Vendôme. No grand boulevard, square, or place bears Napoleon’s name. Just a narrow street—the rue Bonaparte.

“It’s almost as if Napoleon Bonaparte is not part of the national story,” said professor Peter Hicks, a British historian with the Napoléon Foundation in Paris.

Join me as we explore some of the reasons why Napoleon was such a controversial figure.

Then vote below whether you think Napoleon was a hero or a tyrant.

Napoleon the Hero vs Napoleon the Tyrant

Napoleon Hero vs Tyrant
Napoleon: Hero or Tyrant?

Napoleon the Hero

Napoleon enthusiast David Chanteranne, editor of a magazine published by Napoléonic Memory, France’s oldest and largest Napoleonic association, cites some of Napoleon’s achievements: the Civil Code, the Council of State, the Bank of France, the National Audit office, a centralized and coherent administrative system, lycées, universities, centers of advanced learning known as école normale, chambers of commerce, the metric system and freedom of religion.

These were ambitions unachieved during the chaos of the revolution. He was a savior of France. If there had been no Napoleon, the Republic would not have survived.David Chanteranne

Many of the institutions started by Napoleon were copied in countries that he conquered—Italy, Germany, and Poland, and laid the foundations for the modern state.

The University of France was a central organizing body for education founded by Napoleon in 1808 and given authority over universities as well as primary and secondary education.

Napoleon set in motion a system of secular and public education reforms that are the foundation for the modern educational system in France and much of Europe. He founded a number of state secondary schools, called lycées, to provide a standardized education open to everyone. All students were taught the sciences, plus modern and classical languages. Advanced centers—notably the École Polytechnique—provided both military expertise and state-of-the-art research in science. The system offered scholarships and strict discipline and outperformed its European counterparts.

Clovis bell tower and cloister, Lycée Henri-IV, Paris. Credit Lucdew

The Lycée Louis-le-Grand is a public secondary school located in Paris, widely regarded as one of the most prestigious in France.

Napoleon is considered one of the greatest commanders in history—his campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Hundreds of groups study, discuss and venerate him; stage re-enactments of his battles in costume; throw lavish balls; and stage events. Napoleon was regarded by the influential military theorist Carl von Clausewitz as a genius in the operational art of war, and historians rank him as a great military commander. The Duke of Wellington, when asked who was the greatest general of the day, answered: “In this age, in past ages, in any age, Napoleon.” Israeli military historian and theorist, Martin van Creveld, described him as “the most competent human being who ever lived”.

Across Europe, Napoleon implemented several liberal reforms to civil affairs, including abolishing feudalism, establishing legal equality, religious toleration, and legalizing divorce. His lasting achievement, the Napoleonic Code, has been adopted by dozens of nations around the world. The Code forbade birthright privilege, granted freedom of religion and specified that government jobs should be awarded on merit alone.

The Napoleonic Code. Credit DerHexer, Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-sa 4.0

Prior to the Napoleonic Code, France did not have a single set of laws; the law was based on local customs, exemptions, privileges, and special charters granted by kings or other feudal lords. Although the Code has been altered since its inception, the general structure remains the same.

Napoleon implemented a wide array of liberal reforms in France and across Europe, especially in Italy and Germany, as summarized by British historian Andrew Roberts in his book Napoleon: A Life, p.33:

The ideas that underpin our modern world–meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances, and so on–were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon. To them he added a rational and efficient local administration, an end to rural banditry, the encouragement of science and the arts, the abolition of feudalism and the greatest codification of laws since the fall of the Roman Empire.Andrew Roberts

Andrew Roberts also claims that, contrary to popular belief, Napoleon wasn’t a warmonger. He started two wars—the Peninsula War against Portugal and Spain, and later the Invasion of Russia—versus seven coalition wars declared against Napoleonic France.

In 1806, Napoleon emancipated Jews, (as well as Protestants in Catholic countries and Catholics in Protestant countries), from laws restricting them to ghettos, expanding their rights to property, worship, and careers.

I will never accept any proposals that will obligate the Jewish people to leave France, because to me the Jews are the same as any other citizen in our country. It takes weakness to chase them out of the country, but it takes strength to assimilate them.

Weakness in the French economy during the 1790’s caused a drop in foreign trade and soaring prices. Inflation and debt escalated with the issuance of more paper money until, by 1795, inflation reached 3500%. In 1800, Napoleon founded the Bank of France, which together with a revised tax code, finally brought inflation under control, eliminated the national debt within a year and balanced the budget for the first time since 1738.

After conquering Egypt in the expedition of 1798, Napoleon founded the Institut d’Égypte. Accompanying the voyage was an immense contingent of scholars, scientists, artists, and engravers who set about studying mummies, surveying temples, and recording their findings. They produced a monumental 24-volume document called Description of Egypta comprehensive scientific account of ancient and modern Egypt, which laid the foundation for the study of “Egyptology”. They also discovered the Rosetta Stone, which proved to be the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Bonaparte Before the Sphinx by Jean-Léon Gérôme
The true conquests, the only ones that leave no regret, are those that have been wrested from ignorance.Bonaparte

The last word goes to France’s foremost Napoleonic scholar, Jean Tulard, who said that Bonaparte was the architect of modern France.

If Napoleon had not crushed a Royalist rebellion and seized power in 1799, the French monarchy and feudalism would have returned. Like Cincinnatus in ancient Rome, Napoleon wanted a dictatorship of public salvation. He gets all the power, and, when the project is finished, he returns to his plough.Jean Tulard

Napoleon the Tyrant

Professor Chris Clark, a Cambridge University historian, said of Napoleon:

Napoleon was not a French patriot—he was first a Corsican and later an imperial figure, a journey in which he bypassed any deep affiliation with the French nation. His relationship with the French Revolution is deeply ambivalent. Did he stabilize it or shut it down? He seems to have done both. He rejected democracy, he suffocated the representative dimension of politics, and he created a culture of courtly display.Professor Chris Clark

Napoleon tried to represent himself as a Caesar: his coronation crown was a laurel wreath made of gold; his icon, the eagle, was also borrowed from Rome; and he wears a Roman toga on the bas-reliefs in his tomb.

From The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David

Before crowning himself emperor, Napoleon sought approval in a rigged plebiscite in which 3,572,329 voted in favor, 2,567 against. A plebiscite was a national referendum, for which voters were not allowed to debate the issues involved. Napoleon didn’t trust voters’ opinions, so he had his loyal agents count the votes to make sure the results came out as desired. Furthermore, each “yes” or “no” was recorded, along with the name and address of the voter. The minister of police, Joseph Fouché, promptly suppressed any criticism. The combination of a ruthless police state and rigged elections became a staple of populist dictatorial regimes to the present.

Napoleon personally oversaw the productions of plays in the theaters of France. If Napoleon disapproved of a playwright’s work, his career was over. Napoleon also controlled the press, dropping the number of newspapers in Paris from over sixty in 1799 to four by 1814.

Considered a master of the use of propaganda, Napoleon recognized the power of manipulation of symbols to glorify his victories while blaming others for his failures. Like Caesar before him, he self-congratulated his military exploits and created the image of a dashing commander. Napoleon understood how to convince the population that sacrifice for one’s emperor and nation were more important than the rights of the individual. This is how he was able to assemble such large armies, no matter how bad things were.

His extravagant coronation in Notre Dame in December 1804 cost 8.5 million francs or $8.5 million in today’s money. He made his brothers, sisters and stepchildren kings, queens, princes and princesses and created a Napoleonic aristocracy numbering 3,500. By any measure, it was a bizarre progression for someone often described as “a child of the Revolution.”

“He guaranteed some principles of the revolution and at the same time, changed its course, finished it and betrayed it,” said Lionel Jospin, the Socialist former prime minister and author of The Napoleonic Evil, which has topped the best-seller lists. For instance, Napoleon reintroduced slavery in French colonies, revived a system that allowed the rich to dodge conscription in the military and did nothing to advance gender equality.

The grandiose image Napoleon created for himself, as well as the tightly controlled society that he established once in power, was a model for a totalitarian state that Hitler and Stalin would follow with such ruthlessness in the next century. Those who deified him were crushed under his iron hand. Joseph Fouche, the head of the secret police, extending Emperor Napoleon’s reach into every aspect of French society through a vast network of spies. Jean-Paul Bertaud, a Professor Emeritus of History at La Sorbonne in Paris, and a specialist on the French Revolution and military history explained what life was like under Napoleon’s iron rule:

You go to a salon, there’s a spy. You go a brothel, there is a spy. You go to a restaurant, there is a spy. Everywhere there are spies of the police. Everyone listens to what you say. It’s impossible to express yourself unless Napoleon wants you to.

Napoleon had no qualms about killing French citizens. In 1795, he mowed down the Parisian mob with cannons, an event known as the 13 Vendémiaire. He showed no hesitation in using extreme force to quell the uprising with what became known as “a whiff of grapeshot”—deadly slugs of metal packed into bags or canisters, then fired into the mob at close range, ripping through flesh with terrifying effectiveness.

In a PBS documentary, Owen Connelly Professor of History at The University of South Carolina said:

Napoleon was not one to pussy-foot around. He would use all his weapons. Nobody had really used cannon on the Paris mobs before. He was gonna shoot. He waited ’til he could see the whites of their eyes. Almost in one blast the whole thing was over. He probably killed a hundred people. He was not a very popular man with the rank and file, the man on the street in Paris after that.Professor Owen Connelly

Napoleon was famously worshiped by his troops, but did he return their loyalty? During the Egyptian campaign of 1798-1801, Bonaparte’s failed siege of the fortified city of Acre (now Akko in modern Israel) left his army poorly supplied and weakened by disease—mostly bubonic plague. To hasten the retreat back to Egypt, he ordered plague-stricken men to be poisoned. He later abandoned the remainder of his army—some 30,000—secretly returning to France to a hero’s welcome, while his loyal army remained in Egypt to fend for themselves. In exile on St Helena, he said:

I care only for people who are useful to me— and only so long as they are useful.

Later in 1812, Napoleon ignored advice from his closest advisors and invaded Russia. A doomed campaign, his inflated ego cost the lives of some 500,000 men, most dying not from fighting, but from starvation, sickness, and exposure during the long retreat back to France. When rumors of a coup in Paris reached him, he once again abandoned what remained of the Grande Armée—from the 600,000 men he took into Russia, only 93,000 survived.

Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow by Adolph Northen

As Napoleon’s power waned, his censorship was no longer able to hide his failures. He needed victories on the battlefield in order to maintain control of his empire. After his eventual defeat, his soldiers still considered him their true leader and helped him regain control of France. Under Napoleon’s command, he promised to raise them and make them all heroes once again.

The last word goes to former French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin from an article in Newsweek:

Napoleon was “an obvious failure”—bad for France and the rest of Europe. When he was shown the door, France was isolated, beaten, occupied, dominated, hated and smaller than before. What’s more, Napoleon smothered the forces of emancipation awakened by the French and American revolutions and enabled the survival and restoration of monarchies.Lionel Jospin

Hero or Tyrant? Cast Your Vote.

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Cast your vote: was Napoleon a Hero or a Tyrant?


References (Contains some Amazon affiliate links)

Why Napoleon’s Still a Problem in France – Newsweek.
Napoleon – PBS.
Napoleon: A Biography – Frank McLynn.
Reforms Under Napoleon Bonaparte – Nicholas Stark.
Napoleon – Wikipedia.
A Short History of Europe –  Lisa Rosner, John Theibault
Napoleon and the Revolution – David P. Jordan

If Only the Dead Could Talk—the Ghost of the Red Barn Murder

It was the year 1828.

In the little English village of Polstead in Suffolk, Mrs. Marten was having a bad dream.

A ghostly figure appeared to her, pointing to a spot on the ground.

The ghost was her missing stepdaughter, and the place she pointed to was inside the Red Barn, a local landmark.

Waking in a panic, she nudged her husband, the young woman’s father, beckoning him to go to the Red Barn and dig near one of the grain storage bins.

Reluctantly, her husband went out into the yard to fetch a shovel before making his way over to the Red Barn.

Buried in a sack he found the badly decomposed remains of his daughter, Maria, still recognizable from her hair and clothing.

An inquest concluded that she had been murdered.

Maria Marten
Maria Marten

Implicated by evidence found with the body, the prime suspect was one William Corder, the man Maria was supposed to have eloped with.

But Corder was nowhere to be found.

By all accounts, William Corder, the son of a local farmer, was something of a fraudster and a ladies’ man.

Called “Foxey” at school because of his sly manner, he had been found guilty of forgery and stealing in his youth.

Banished to London for bringing disgrace to his family, he would return to Polstead when his brother Thomas drowned attempting to cross a frozen pond.

And when his father and three brothers all died within the following 18 months, he had to run the family farm alone with his mother.

Corder started seeing Maria Marten, an attractive woman who was known for several relationships with men from the neighbourhood that had already resulted in two children.

The first had been fathered by Corder’s own brother, but had died in infancy, and the second from a man who refused to marry her but sent money every month to provide for the child.

Having children out of wedlock was a social taboo and so it was with some regret that Maria announced to Corder that she was pregnant.

Corder promised to do the decent thing and marry her.

But secretly, he was hatching a dastardly plan.

Corder burying the body of Maria Marten
Corder burying the body of Maria Marten

In the presence of her mother, he proposed to Maria that they elope, explaining that he had heard rumours about officers preparing to prosecute her for having children out of wedlock.

Maria heard nothing from him for a few days, then he arrived at her cottage saying they must leave at once because the local constable had a warrant for her arrest.

Corder took Maria’s things and told her to dress in men’s clothing to avert suspicion, then meet him at the Red Barn about a half mile away, where she could change before they eloped.

That was the last time Maria was seen alive.

Corder himself disappeared from the village but later returned, explaining that they were married and that Maria was staying in a nearby town because he needed to explain the situation to his friends and relatives before introducing her as his wife.

Days passed and suspicions grew as Maria did not return to the village.

Corder fled but wrote letters to Maria’s family explaining that they were living happily on the Isle of Wight, some 200 miles away.

He gave excuses as to why she hadn’t written herself, saying she was not well, her letters must have been lost, or that she’d injured her hand.

It wouldn’t be too long before Corder was discovered, leading a double life with another woman in London.

The Arrest of Corder
The Arrest of Corder

Placing an ad in the lonely hearts column of the Times newspaper, he had met and married another woman, Mary Moore, and was helping her run a boarding house.

Officer James Lea of the London police inquired about boarding his daughter there and in the process gained access, surprising Corder as he entertained guests in the parlour.

Denying all knowledge of both Maria and the crime, a search of the house uncovered some pistols bought on the day of the murder.

A passport from the French ambassador also suggested Corder was planning to flee to France, having caught wind of the discovery of Maria’s body from a friend’s letters.

William Corder's pistols
William Corder’s pistols

Tried at Shire Hall in Suffolk, such was the public interest that admittance to the court was by ticket only and the judge and court officials had to push their way through the crowds.

The press had already decided on Corder’s guilt and congratulated the overwhelming public opinion that shared the same sentiment.

Indicted on nine charges to avoid any chance of a mistrial, Corder pleaded not guilty.

Murdering Maria Marten, by feloniously and wilfully shooting her with a pistol through the body, and likewise stabbing her with a dagger.

Ann Marten, Maria’s stepmother testified about her dreams, while Thomas Marten related the story of digging up his daughter’s body.

Maria’s little brother said he’d seen Corder with a pistol before Maria’s disappearance and later, walking from the barn with a pickaxe.

Suggesting that he never intended to marry Maria, the prosecution claimed that she had discovered Corder’s criminal past and had accused him of stealing money sent by her child’s father.

William Corder awaiting trial
William Corder awaiting trial

Admitting to being in the barn, Corder said they had argued and that he had then left her alone only to hear a pistol shot while he was walking away.

Running back to the barn, he said he found Maria dead with one of his pistols beside her.

Although he pleaded with the jury to give him the benefit of the doubt, it took them only 35 minutes to find him guilty.

That you be taken back to the prison from whence you came, and that you be taken from thence, on Monday next, to a place of Execution, and that you there be hanged by the Neck until you are Dead; and that your body shall afterwards be dissected and anatomized; and may the Lord God Almighty, of his infinite goodness, have mercy on your soul!

After several meetings with the prison chaplain, Corder confessed to accidentally shooting Maria in the eye as she was changing out of the man’s clothing he suggested she wear as a disguise.

Estimates of the number of people in attendance at his execution ranged from 7,000 to 20,000.

Just before the hood went over his head, he confessed again:

I am guilty; my sentence is just; I deserve my fate; and, may God have mercy on my soul.

Corder’s body was put on display in the courtroom with the abdomen cut open to reveal the muscles.

Over 5,000 people queued to see the gruesome sight.

The execution of William Corder, the Red Barn Murderer
The execution of William Corder, the Red Barn Murderer

Later, in front of an audience of students from Cambridge University, electric wires were attached to Corder’s body to demonstrate the contraction of muscles using electrical currents.

What must have gone through the minds of those students to see a dead body move?

How many wondered about the scientific possibility of ghosts communicating from the dead?

Here was a story that had all the elements to ignite the public’s imagination.

A poor girl murdered by a wicked squire; the supernatural communication with the dead; and Corder’s new life resulting from a lonely hearts advertisement.

19th-century fascination with the macabre knew no bounds.

Pieces of the rope used to hang Corder sold for a guinea each.

Part of Corder’s scalp with a shriveled ear still attached was displayed in a shop in London’s Oxford Street.

A lock of Maria’s hair sold for two guineas.

Polstead village became a tourist mecca with an estimated 200,000 visitors in 1828 alone.

Stripped for souvenirs, the Red Barn eventually burned down in 1842, but not before planks were removed from the sides, broken up, and sold as toothpicks.

The Victorian play “Maria Marten”, or “The Murder in the Red Barn” was a sensational hit throughout the mid 19th century and possibly the most performed play of the era.

Even 19th-century fairground peep shows had to add extra apertures for viewers during shows of the murder.

19th-century fairground peep show
19th-century fairground peep show

Victorians portrayed Corder as a cold-blooded monster and Maria as the innocent victim, pure as the driven snow.

To suit Victorian sensibilities, her reputation and her children by other fathers was omitted, while Corder’s appearance deliberately aged to exaggerate his wickedness.

Doubts were raised about the veracity of Ann Marten’s dreams of Maria’s ghost.

How could she have known the exact location of Maria’s body unless the ghost really did appear … or the story was fabricated?

Ann was only one year older than Maria and rumours circulated of a possible affair between Ann and Corder.

Could Ann have been the murderer?

We’ll never know.

One thing is for certain—Maria’s ghost, whether dreamed or imagined, played a decisive role in the fate of William Corder and solving the Red Barn murder.

Memorial to Maria Marten in St Marys church yard Polstead, Suffolk. Credit Keith Evans
Memorial to Maria Marten in St Marys church yard Polstead, Suffolk. Credit Keith Evans

Francois Flameng: Interpreter of Beauty

Beautiful places, beautiful people, beautiful clothes—Francois Flameng loved to paint them all.

Born in an art studio in Paris in 1856, Flameng may have known from an early age that he was destined to be an artist.

Indeed, in many ways, he had everything going for him.

Paris was the center of the art world and his father was a celebrated engraver who had once wished to be a painter.

All of his father’s regrets were channeled into making his son a success.

Specializing in history painting and portraiture, Francois Flameng became a professor at the Académie des Beaux-Arts—the premier institution of fine art in France.

If you’d like to add a little atmosphere as we view a gallery of Flameng’s work, press play.

Napoleon I and the King of Rome at Saint-Cloud in 1811 by Francois Flameng
Napoleon I and the King of Rome at Saint-Cloud in 1811 by Francois Flameng
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna by Francois Flameng, 1898
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna by Francois Flameng, 1898

Many of his studies in Italy are rich in architectural detail in the most vivid light and color.

The Carnival in Venice by Francois Flameng
The Carnival in Venice by Francois Flameng
Ile Pointeaux by Francois Flameng
Ile Pointeaux by Francois Flameng
Equestrienne Au Cirque Fernando by Francois Flameng - c. 1890
Equestrienne Au Cirque Fernando by Francois Flameng – c. 1890
Intelligence by Francois Flameng
Intelligence by Francois Flameng
Reception at Malmaison in 1802 by Francois Flameng, c.1894
Reception at Malmaison in 1802 by Francois Flameng, c.1894
A Concert in Versailles by Francois Flameng
A Concert in Versailles by Francois Flameng
Napoleon I and the King of Rome at Saint-Cloud by Francois Flameng, 1896
Napoleon I and the King of Rome at Saint-Cloud by Francois Flameng, 1896
Portrait of a Lady by Francois Flameng
Portrait of a Lady by Francois Flameng

Flameng would often use a camera lucida to create an optical superimposition of his subject.

Allowing him to duplicate key points of the scene on the drawing surface, it would aid in the accurate rendering of perspective.

How a camera lucida device is used to help with drawing composition
How a camera lucida device is used to help with drawing composition

Once he had the sketch to ensure proportion and perspective were correct, he would paint rapidly yet with such fine detail that within an hour he had what took most artists four hours to complete.

Princess Zinaida Yusupova with her sons Felix and Nikolai at Arkhangelskoye by Francois Flameng - 1894
Princess Zinaida Yusupova with her sons Felix and Nikolai at Arkhangelskoye by Francois Flameng – 1894
Mrs Adeline M. Noble by Francois Flameng
Mrs Adeline M. Noble by Francois Flameng
Napoleon I hunting in the Forest of Fontainebleau, 1807 by Francois Flameng
Napoleon I hunting in the Forest of Fontainebleau, 1807 by Francois Flameng
An Elite Soldier of the Imperial Guard by Francois Flameng
An Elite Soldier of the Imperial Guard by Francois Flameng
I have always thought that portraits ought to be arranged as pictures.Francois Flameng

Flameng said that fashions and hairstyles changed so often that the exact likeness captured in a portrait was gone within a few short years.

Therefore, he said, portraits should aim to be pleasant works of art that one would purchase to adorn the wall of a drawing room, even if it were not a portrait of one’s own image.

Zinaida Yusupova with the famous Yusupov family La Pelegrina pearl by Francois Flameng - 1894
Zinaida Yusupova with the famous Yusupov family La Pelegrina pearl by Francois Flameng – 1894
Maria Fedorovna by Francois Flameng, 1894
Maria Fedorovna by Francois Flameng, 1894

Flameng found that he learned as much about the social aspects of his work as he did the actual practicing of his art.

Making sittings more agreeable for models he had to learn their tastes and habits, likes and dislikes.

That way, he could encourage them to pose in ways that reflected their personality and remain in one position for a long time without noticing it as much.

Portrait of the Duchess Dora Leichtenberg by Francois Flameng - 1896
Portrait of the Duchess Dora Leichtenberg by Francois Flameng – 1896

Of equal importance to remaining true to his artistic integrity was producing a work that was pleasing to the subject and also to her friends and acquaintances.

Portrait of Mme D by Francois Flameng - 1911
Portrait of Mme D by Francois Flameng – 1911

When subjects disagreed with his choice of arrangement or style of composition, he would use all his skill to gradually encourage her to see his point of view without contradicting or offending, always admitting she was right, but gently helping her drop her own preconceived mental image.

Family Portrait of a Boy and his two Sisters admiring a Sketch Book by Francois Flameng, 1900
Family Portrait of a Boy and his two Sisters admiring a Sketch Book by Francois Flameng, 1900
The Chess Game by Francois Flameng
The Chess Game by Francois Flameng
The People of Paris Come to Versailles by Francois Flameng
The People of Paris Come to Versailles by Francois Flameng
Offizier des Chasseurs à Cheval Regiments of the Napoleonic Imperial Guard by Francois Flameng
Offizier des Chasseurs à Cheval Regiments of the Napoleonic Imperial Guard by Francois Flameng
Portrait of Madame Max Decougis by Francois Flameng
Portrait of Madame Max Decougis by Francois Flameng
Even the ordinary woman is a thousand times more worthwhile to paint than the ordinary man. But women are never ordinary.Francois Flameng
Portrait of a Lady by Francois Flameng
Portrait of a Lady by Francois Flameng

Flameng painted the colors and pageantry of war.

But he was no stranger to its violence.

At age 14, he was playing with fellow students at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, when a bombshell exploded in the courtyard.

It was a gift from the Prussians to mark the onset of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and it prompted him to enlist.

Accepted in the ambulance corps, when Paris fell to the Prussians, he saw seven children killed under the window of his father’s house in Montparnasse.

Napoleon and his staff reviewing the mounted chasseurs of the Imperial Guard by Francois Flameng
In the Woods by Francois Flameng
In the Woods by Francois Flameng
A portrait painter should not only be endowed with talent, but also possess the qualities of a philosopher, of an observer, of a psychologist, and be provided with inexhaustible patience.Francois Flameng
Lady Duveen, née Salamon by Francois Flameng, 1910
Lady Duveen, née Salamon by Francois Flameng, 1910
Portrait Of Mademoiselle Herpin by Francois Flameng - 1908
Portrait Of Mademoiselle Herpin by Francois Flameng – 1908
Picnic by Francois Flameng
Picnic by Francois Flameng
Evening by Francois Flameng
Evening by Francois Flameng
Napoleon After The Battle Of Waterloo by Francois Flameng
Napoleon After The Battle Of Waterloo by Francois Flameng
Portrait of a mother with her children in the garden by Francois Flameng
Portrait of a mother with her children in the garden by Francois Flameng
An Evening's Entertainment for Josephine by Francois Flameng
An Evening’s Entertainment for Josephine by Francois Flameng

Francois Flameng didn’t only paint beauty.

Renowned for his paintings that showed some of the horrors of the First World War, he was an accredited documenter for the War Ministry and named honorary president of the Society of Military Painters.

Flameng’s war paintings were derided by many critics for being too realistic and not including heroic drama.

World War I by François Flameng
World War I by François Flameng
The offensive of the Yser, First French line near Het-Sas, by François Flameng
The offensive of the Yser, First French line near Het-Sas, by François Flameng
World War I Attack by François Flameng
World War I Attack by François Flameng

Lafayette—the Hero of Two Worlds

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer.

To many of us, he is simply the famous Frenchman who fought in the American Revolutionary War.

But there is much more to this amazing man than meets the eye.

Here are 10 fascinating facts about the Marquis de Lafayette that you may not be aware of.

1
Lafayette was made a King’s Musketeer at age thirteen

At just 13 years old, Lafayette entered the King’s Musketeers as a junior commissioned officer.

He was in exalted company alongside legendary musketeers like Charles de Batz de Castelmore d’Artagnan—the real-life historical basis for Alexandre Dumas’s character d’Artagnan in the novel The Three Musketeers.

Reserved for nobles, the Musketeers were among the most prestigious of the military companies of the Ancien Régime—the old political and social system that had been in place in France since the late Middle Ages.

D'Artagnan at the monument to Alexandre Dumas, Paris, France
D’Artagnan at the monument to Alexandre Dumas, Paris, France

Founded in 1622 to guard the king while he was outside of the royal residences, the uniform changed from the flamboyant cavalier style of d’Artagnon to the more utilitarian dress that Lafayette would have worn (shown as the two central figures below).

Uniforms of Musketeers of the Guard, 1660-1814
Uniforms of Musketeers of the Guard, 1660-1814

In 1664, the two companies were reorganized into “Grey Musketeers”, from the color of their matched horses, and “Black Musketeers”, mounted on black horses.

Lafayette’s six years in the Black Musketeers must have served him well for what lay ahead.

2
Lafayette was instrumental in the outcome of the American Revolutionary War

Not only was Lafayette effective as a military officer with hands-on engagement in several battles, for which he was commended by Washington himself, he was also instrumental in securing French finance, troops, and ships to aid the American cause.

Charming, tall, and idealistic, the 19-year-old Lafayette had defied the French king’s orders and enlisted to fight in America for the prospect of glory, chivalry, and liberty.

Nation Makers by Howard Pyle depicts a scene from the Battle of Brandywine
Nation Makers by Howard Pyle depicts a scene from the Battle of Brandywine

Shot in the leg at his first battle at Brandywine Creek in Pennsylvania, it wasn’t long before Lafayette was back on his feet again, spending the winter of 1777 camped at Valley Forge alongside Washington and the Continental Army.

Starvation, disease, malnutrition, and exposure killed more than 2,500 American soldiers by the end of February 1778.

Despite his privileged aristocratic upbringing, Lafayette willingly endured the hardship along with everyone else.

Lafayette (right) and Washington at Valley Forge
Lafayette (right) and Washington at Valley Forge

So severe were the conditions at times that even Washington was in despair.

unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place… this Army must inevitably… starve, dissolve, or disperse, in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can.

A year later, Lafayette returned to France, where his wife Adrienne gave birth to a son they named Georges Washington Lafayette.

And he also secured the promise of 6,000 French troops.

Marie Adrienne Francoise de Noailles, Marquise de La Fayette (1759-1807)
Marie Adrienne Francoise de Noailles, Marquise de La Fayette (1759-1807)

Lafayette sailed for America once more in March of 1780 in the frigate Hermione.

3
Lafayette became an American citizen before becoming  a French citizen

After the Revolutionary War in 1784, Lafayette visited America again.

He met Washington at Mount Vernon, addressed the Virginia House of Delegates and the Pennsylvania Legislature, and went to the Mohawk Valley in New York to help make peace with the Iroquois.

For his troubles and gratitude for his selfless service during the war, Harvard granted him an honorary degree, and the states of Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia granted him American citizenship.

Lafayette later boasted that he had become an American citizen before the concept of French citizenship even existed.

Greater coat of arms of the United States
Greater coat of arms of the United States

4
Lafayette was a lifelong abolitionist

Washington and Lafayette at Mount Vernon, 1784 by Rossiter and Mignot, 1859
Washington and Lafayette at Mount Vernon, 1784 by Rossiter and Mignot, 1859

Lafayette was a staunch opponent to the concept of slavery.

His writing was adopted as part of the French Constitution and included revolutionary ideas such as the freedom and equality of all men.

Although his work never specifically mentioned slavery, he made his views clear in letters to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

Hoping that Washington and Jefferson might adopt his ideas to free the slaves in America, he proffered that slaves could be made free tenants on the land of plantation owners.

But his ideas fell on deaf ears, so in 1785, he bought a plantation in the French colony of Cayenne to put his experimental ideas into practice.

A lifetime abolitionist, he was also a pragmatist and recognized the crucial role slavery played in many economies.

George Washington did eventually begin implementing Lafayette’s practices in his own plantation in Mount Vernon.

And Lafayette’s own grandson, Gustave de Beaumont later released a novel discussing the issues of racism.

One of Lafayette’s publications was monumental in expediting France’s abolition of slavery in 1794—the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

5
Lafayette helped write the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

Passed by Frances’ National Constituent Assembly in August 1789, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen is an important document in the history of human and civil rights.

Directly influenced by Thomas Jefferson, it states that the rights of man are held to be universal and valid at all times and in every place.

It became the basis for a nation of free individuals protected equally by the law.

Inspired by the Enlightenment, the Declaration provided the rationale for the French Revolution and had a major impact on the development of freedom and democracy in Europe and worldwide.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

6
Lafayette created the French Tricolor

After the French Revolution broke out, Lafayette was appointed commander-in-chief of the National Guard of France, tasked with maintaining order.

He proposed a new symbol for the Guard: a blue, white, and red cockade.

French revolutionaries wearing Phrygian caps and tricolor cockades and sans-culotte carrying earlier tricolor
French revolutionaries wearing Phrygian caps and tricolor cockades and sans-culotte carrying earlier tricolor

Combining the red and blue colors of Paris with the royal white, it was the origin of the French tricolor.

Multiple French flags as commonly flown from public buildings
Multiple French flags as commonly flown from public buildings

7
Lafayette and his family narrowly escaped execution in the French Revolution

As the French Revolution deepened, it became ever more extreme.

Lafayette had tried to maintain order and steer a middle ground.

But when radicals asserted control, a Reign of Terror ensued that swept even Lafayette into mortal danger.

Lafayette criticized the growing influence of the radicals and called for their parties to be “closed down by force”.

It was a risky move in the political climate of the time.

Marie Antoinette's execution in 1793 at the Place de la Révolution

An escape attempt by King Louis XVI and his family dubbed the “Flight to Varennes” had extremists like Georges Danton pointing the finger at Lafayette for allowing it to happen on his watch.

And one of the most influential figures of all—Maximilien Robespierre—labeled Lafayette a traitor.

Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre
Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre

Sensing the public mood had changed against him, Lafayette left Paris and Danton put out a warrant for his arrest.

8
Lafayette spent 5 years in prison

Hoping to return to the United States, Lafayette traveled through the Austrian Netherlands in what is now Belgium.

Expecting right of passage as a fleeing refugee, Lafayette’s luck ran out when he was recognized by the Austrians and treated as a dangerous revolutionary.

Held prisoner until such time as the monarchy was reinstated in France, he tried to use his American citizenship to secure his release.

Lafayette in prison
Lafayette in prison

Although unsuccessful, Washington and Jefferson were able to use diplomatic loopholes to get money to Lafayette, which he was able to use to secure his family’s safety.

U.S. Minister to France and future president, James Monroe used his influence to win the release of Lafayette’s wife Adrienne and their two daughters.

Lafayette is reunited with his wife and daughters
Lafayette is reunited with his wife and daughters

9
Lafayette’s reputation was used to gain support for entry into World War I

Lafayette’s name and image were repeatedly invoked in 1917 in seeking to gain popular support for America’s entry into World War I.

In a speech given in Paris during the First World War, Charles E. Stanton included a memorable expression that would become the famous phrase, “Lafayette, we are here.”

WWI poster 'Lafayette, we are here now'
WWI poster ‘Lafayette, we are here now’

Stanton visited the tomb of Lafayette along with General John J. Pershing to honor the nobleman’s assistance during the Revolutionary War and assure the French people that the people of the United States would aid them in World War I.

America has joined forces with the Allied Powers, and what we have of blood and treasure are yours. Therefore it is that with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great republic. And here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue. Lafayette, we are here.

Sadly, Lafayette’s image suffered as a result when veterans returned from the front singing “We’ve paid our debt to Lafayette, who the hell do we owe now?”

10
Lafayette is buried under soil taken from Bunker Hill

Lafayette died on 20 May 1834, and is buried in Picpus Cemetery in Paris, under soil taken from Bunker Hill.

For his accomplishments in the service of both France and the United States, he is sometimes known as “The Hero of the Two Worlds“.

Death of General Lafayette by Gondelfinger, 1834
Death of General Lafayette by Gondelfinger, 1834
US Marines Decorating Grave of Lafayette, Picpus Cemetery, Paris 1889
US Marines Decorating Grave of Lafayette, Picpus Cemetery, Paris 1889

American journalist, historian, and author, Marc Leepson, concluded his study of Lafayette’s life:

The Marquis de Lafayette was far from perfect. He was sometimes vain, naive, immature, and egocentric. But he consistently stuck to his ideals, even when doing so endangered his life and fortune. Those ideals proved to be the founding principles of two of the world’s most enduring nations, the United States and France. That is a legacy that few military leaders, politicians, or statesmen can match.
Statue of Lafayette on north end of University of Vermont Green, sculpted by John Quincy Adams Ward, 1883
Statue of Lafayette on north end of University of Vermont Green, sculpted by John Quincy Adams Ward, 1883

Boston’s 17th-Century Burying Grounds

The Grim Reaper made frequent visits to colonial Boston.

Disease and the difficulties of childbirth sent many men, women, and children to an early grave.

Seven smallpox epidemics had struck Boston by 1730.

The 1721 outbreak infected over half of Boston’s 11,000 population and left 850 dead.

Almost a quarter of Boston’s 17th-century grave markers are for children below the age of 10.

Losing a spouse to disease meant that remarriage was not only encouraged but was important to the survival of their families.

Headstone carving designs often symbolized the omnipresence of death.

Skull and Crossbones headstone design. Credit Robert Linsdell
Skull and Crossbones headstone design. Credit Robert Linsdell

Headstone Carving Symbols

Used since the medieval period as a symbol of mortality and reflecting the Puritan religious influence, the Winged Skull or Death’s Head is the most common headstone carving design in Boston’s oldest burying grounds.

Winged Skull or Death's Head headstone carving
Winged Skull or Death’s Head headstone carving

Moving up on the cheerfulness scale is the much more genial Winged Face or Cherub.

Also called a “Soul Effigy“, it was a common headstone carving in the mid 1700s.

Winged Face of Cherub Headstone carving
Winged Face of Cherub Headstone carving

Popular after the American Revolution, the Urn-and-Willow symbolizes both death and mourning.

Urns are classical symbols of death because of their ancient use for holding ashes.

Weeping willows, as the name implies, symbolize sorrow at the loss of a loved one.

Urn and Willow Headstone carving
Urn and Willow Headstone carving
Three headstone carving designs placed side by side. Credit Ingfbruno
Three headstone carving designs placed side by side. Credit Ingfbruno

Wealthy Bostonians enthusiastically embraced Heraldic designs such as coats-of-arms which symbolized lineage and status.

The fruit around the edges symbolized eternal plenty.

Heraldic Headstone carving
Heraldic Headstone carving

Boston’s 17th-Century Burying Grounds

Within Boston’s three oldest burying grounds lie the remains of many of America’s pilgrims and Patriots of the American Revolution.

All three are on the Freedom Trail—a 2.5 mile path through downtown Boston passing 16 sites of historical significance.

Boston's Freedom Trail
Boston’s Freedom Trail
Map of Boston, Massachusetts
Map of Boston, Massachusetts

King’s Chapel Burying Ground

Of Boston’s three 17th-century burying grounds, the oldest is King’s Chapel Burying Ground—simply called “the burying place” when it was first opened in 1630 on the outskirts of the new Puritan Settlement.

King’s Chapel Burying Ground, Boston, 1833

Seeking religious freedom and new economic opportunity in the “New World”, those buried here in the first 30 years were predominantly English-born immigrants.

King's Chapel Burying Ground
King’s Chapel Burying Ground

Over 1,000 people are buried in the tiny space, but only 600 gravestones and 29 tabletop tombs remain.

King's Chapel Burying Ground
King’s Chapel Burying Ground

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

Established in 1659 and located in Boston’s North End, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground was the city’s second cemetery and was originally named “North Burying Ground”.

1200 marked graves include remains of notable Bostonians from the colonial era up to the 1850s.

Looking worse for wear, the gravestones protrude at odd angles, some leaning towards the water in Boston Inner Harbor, as if pulled by a giant magnet.

Copp's Hill Burying Ground
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
Copp's Hill Burying Ground
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

Ivy covers these old stones as Mother Nature tries to reclaim all traces of the dead.

But when even these stones finally return to nature, the stories of those they mark will live on in the hearts and minds of others.

Copp's Hill Burying Ground
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

Rank has its privileges, even in death.

And so it was for Cotton Mather, a Puritan minister, prolific author, and pamphleteer.

Mather played a prominent role in the case of the Irish Catholic washerwoman “Goody” Ann Glover, who was convicted of witchcraft and the last person to be hanged in Boston as a witch.

But it is his later involvement in the Salem witch trials for which Cotton Mather is best remembered.

An accused ‘witch’ during the witch trials in the late 1600s. Credit Jessolsen
Trivia
Goodwife, usually abbreviated to Goody, was a polite form of address for women used in England, Scotland, and Colonial America.

After Ann Glover’s daughter was accused of stealing laundry by her employer Martha Goodwin’s own daughters, Ann found herself being accused of making the Goodwin children ill through witchcraft.

The majority of Boston’s population in the 1680s was Puritan and prejudiced against Catholics and foreigners.

A scandalous old Irishwoman, very poor, a Roman Catholic and obstinate in idolatry.Cotton Mather

Believing that the inability to say the Lord’s prayer in English was the mark of a witch, Goody Glover’s recital in Irish at her trial did not go down well with her accusers.

Whether Goody Glover chose not to speak English, or couldn’t speak it well enough is unclear, but either way she was sentenced to death on November 16, 1688, becoming the first Catholic martyr to be killed in Massachusetts.

300 years later, Boston City Council proclaimed November 16 as Goody Glover Day.

Mather Tomb at Copp's Hill Burying Ground
Mather Tomb at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

Legend has it that the holes in Daniel Malcolm’s gravestone (below) were made by British soldiers using it as target practice.

Captain Malcolm was a member of the Sons of Liberty opposed to the Townshend Acts which were passed by the British parliament to raise revenue in the colonies to pay the salaries of governors and judges and would eventually lead to the Boston Massacre of 1770.

Daniel Martin gravestone, Copp's Hill Burial Ground
Daniel Martin gravestone, Copp’s Hill Burial Ground

Granary Burying Ground

Founded in 1660, Boston’s third-oldest cemetery is the final resting place for many notable revolutionary patriots.

Buried here are Paul Revere, the five victims of the Boston Massacre, and three signers of the Declaration of Independence: Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Robert Treat Paine.

Gateway to the Granary Burying Ground, Tremont Street, Boston, 1881
Gateway to the Granary Burying Ground, Tremont Street, Boston, 1881

The cemetery has 2,345 grave-markers, but historians estimate that as many as 5,000 people are buried here.

Granary Burying Ground
Granary Burying Ground
Granary Burying Ground
Granary Burying Ground

When you’re as revered as Paul Revere, you get a prominent memorial.

Paul Revere's memorial at the Granary Burying Ground
Paul Revere’s memorial at the Granary Burying Ground

Paul Revere is best known for alerting the colonial militia to the approach of British forces before the battles of Lexington and Concord in the early stages of the Revolutionary War.

Paul Revere’s midnight ride

Paul Revere also created the famous engraving of the Boston Massacre of 1770 in which British soldiers shot and killed people while under attack by a mob.

Three people in the crowd of demonstrators were killed instantly and two died later—all are buried in the Granary Burying Ground.

The bloody massacre perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regt.
The bloody massacre perpetrated in King Street Boston on March 5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regt.
Boston Massacre Victims at Granary Burying Ground
Boston Massacre Victims at Granary Burying Ground

Another Patriot of the Revolution resting in this peaceful place is the merchant and statesman John Hancock—a signer of the Declaration of Independence with one of the world’s most famous and stylish signatures.

John Hancocks Signature

As one of the colonies’ wealthiest men, Hancock used his money and influence to support the colonial cause.

Accused by the British of smuggling in 1768, his sloop Liberty was confiscated.

Although charges were later dropped, his ship was never returned—instead being refitted for service in the British Royal Navy.

Allegedly, Bostonians working for Hancock had locked a British customs official in the ship’s cabin to evade taxes while they unloaded a cargo of Madeira wine.

John Hancock's memorial at the Granary Burying Ground
John Hancock’s memorial at the Granary Burying Ground

Samuel Adams was a statesman, philosopher and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

Resting in Granary Burying Ground, he was one of 12 children born in a time of high infant mortality. Only two of his siblings lived past their third birthday.

Samuel Adams's memorial at the Granary Burying Ground
Samuel Adams’s memorial at the Granary Burying Ground

Adams’s 1768 Massachusetts Circular Letter calling for non-cooperation among colonial Patriots prompted the occupation of Boston by British soldiers and eventually resulted in the Boston Massacre of 1770, the Boston Tea Party of 1773, and the American Revolution of 1776.

July 4th at Granary Burying Ground. Credit Peter H. Dreyer, City of Boston Archives
July 4th at Granary Burying Ground. Credit Peter H. Dreyer, City of Boston Archives

There are many more tales from this fascinating period in America’s history.

Next time you’re in Boston, be sure to walk the Freedom Trail, stop to look at the 17th-century burying grounds, and marvel at the stories they hold.

Versailles: the Grandest Palace of Them All

King Louis XIV was so proud of Versailles that he would often give tours to visiting dignitaries himself and even wrote the first guidebook.

Ah, here he comes now. Why don’t we just see if we can tag along on his next tour.

Equestrian portrait of Louis XIV of France by René-Antoine Houasse, c.1670
Equestrian portrait of Louis XIV of France by René-Antoine Houasse, c.1670
Greetings.
Welcome to my home, my court, and of course, my playground: Versailles.
I am Louis XIV, the greatest French King who ever lived.
Those closest to me say I am the best King in the world!
It is true, no … ?
Be careful with your answers, my friends …
Ah, but enough about me, let us enjoy this tour of my magnificent home.
We shall begin with les jardins … excusez moi, the gardens.
Come, come, my little petit pois, follow me …

To say that Louis liked space is somewhat of an understatement. By the end of his reign, Versailles covered a staggering 37,000 acres—bigger than the city of San Francisco.

After the revolution, only a fraction remained, but even so, today it still covers 2,014 acres—twice the size of New York’s Central Park—making it the largest royal domain in the world.

The Palace of Versailles c. 1668 by Pierre Patel
The Palace of Versailles c. 1668 by Pierre Patel

It takes aerial views to fully appreciate the sheer scale of Versailles. The multiple wings and hidden courts of the palace are just part of a huge complex around the town of Versailles.

Aerial view of the Palace of Versailles
Aerial view of the Palace of Versailles

The landscaped Gardens of Versailles have 200,000 trees, and each year, 210,000 flowers are planted.

Aerial view of the Grand Trianon, Domain of Versailles
Aerial view of the Grand Trianon, Domain of Versailles

At almost a mile long, the Grand Canal appears to vanish into the distance.

Aerial View of the Domain of Versailles. Credit ToucanWings
Aerial View of the Domain of Versailles. Credit ToucanWings

Built in the shape of a cross, the Grand Canal runs east to west, traversed by arms running north to the Trianon Palace (a little getaway for the King) and south to the Menagerie (a precursor to the modern zoo).

This east-west orientation was no coincidence. It meant that the sun would rise and set in alignment with the palace.

Grand Canal, Versailles
Grand Canal, Versailles
Palace of Versailles seen from the end of the Grand Canal
Palace of Versailles seen from the end of the Grand Canal
Orangery Garden and the Swiss Ornamental Lake, Versailles. Credit ToucanWings
Orangery Garden and the Swiss Ornamental Lake, Versailles. Credit ToucanWings
Orangery Garden and the Swiss Ornamental Lake, Versailles. Credit ToucanWings
Orangerie Garden and the Swiss Ornamental Lake, Versailles. Credit ToucanWings

Housing more than a thousand trees in planters, most of which are citrus, the Orangerie is a grand extension to the gardens built to store delicate plants during the winter months.

The Orangerie of the Château de Versailles c. 1695
The Orangerie of the Château de Versailles c. 1695

Citrus fruits were expensive and highly prized in the 17th century and the preserve of the wealthy.

Between May and October, the plants are moved outdoors to the Parterre Bas for display.

Orangerie at Versailles. Credit Panoramas
Orangerie at Versailles. Credit Panoramas

While the French populace starved, Louis was far too preoccupied with his water problem to notice.

He couldn’t get enough water pumped to the gardens to run his 1400 fountains simultaneously.

Along came the architect André Le Nôtre (1613–1700) to the rescue—the undisputed master of the baroque garden. His skills with mechanical engineering, chemistry, and horticulture made Versailles’s fountains a reality.

Le Nôtre created a network of reservoirs and canals stretching for 18 1/2 miles outside the château. A massive pumping machine thought to be the Eighth Wonder of the World brought water from the Seine River.

View over the palace gardens and the palace at Versailles in c.1860
View over the palace gardens and the palace at Versailles in c.1860

Leakage and breakdowns of the pump meant that it only supplied half the required amount of water. So Louis gave the go-ahead for an extravagant plan to divert water from the River Eure over 60 miles away.

One tenth of France’s entire military worked on the project, digging a canal and aqueduct, plus all the shipping channels and locks to keep the workers supplied with raw materials.

Were it not for the outbreak of war bringing the work to a halt, Louis’s big water problem would have been solved.

Fountain in the Gardens of Versailles. Credit edwin.11
Fountain in the Gardens of Versailles. Credit edwin.11
Le Bassin d'Apollo - the Greek god Apollo rising from the sea in a four-horse chariot. Credit J. degivry
Le Bassin d’Apollo – the Greek god Apollo rising from the sea in a four-horse chariot. Credit J. degivry
Fountain in the Parc de Versailles. Credit edwin.11
Fountain in the Parc de Versailles. Credit edwin.11
Fountain in the Parc de Versailles. Credit Gaudry daniel
Fountain in the Parc de Versailles. Credit Gaudry daniel
Gardens of Versailles. Credit G CHP 2
Gardens of Versailles. Credit G CHP 2

Scattered throughout the gardens are over three hundred statues and sculptures of everything from flute playing shepherds (Acis), to daydreaming princesses (Ariadne), to sea monsters, and Trojan priests (Laocoön) being attacked by giant serpents.

Acis Playing His Flute by Jean-Baptiste Tuby, 1674
Acis Playing His Flute by Jean-Baptiste Tuby, 1674
Daydreaming Ariadne at Versailles. Credit Yair Haklai
Daydreaming Ariadne at Versailles. Credit Yair Haklai
Sea monster sculpture in the Gardens of Versailles. Credit Gaudry daniel
Sea monster sculpture in the Gardens of Versailles. Credit Gaudry daniel
Laocoön and his sons (1696). Credit Adesio2010
Laocoön and his sons (1696). Credit Adesio2010
Louis XIV of France by Nicolas-René Jollain Le Vieux
Louis XIV of France by Nicolas-René Jollain Le Vieux
Ah, there you are my little petit bonbons.
As you can see, I’m working on my next building project.
How did you like mes jardins? … excusez moi, my gardens?
Exquisite, no?
Bon. You answered correctly. You are keeping your head today.
Come along, come along, follow me—we have much to see inside …
Marble Courtyard at the Palace of Varsailles
Marble Courtyard at the Palace of Varsailles

At the beginning of each day would be a routine called the leveethe royal awakening ceremony.

To see the King rubbed down with rose-water, watch him shave, or even go to the bathroom, was considered a great honor.

The King's Apartment, Palace of Versailles
The King’s Apartment, Palace of Versailles
Palace of versailles, Hall of Mirrors. Credit Thibault Chappe
Palace of versailles, Hall of Mirrors. Credit Thibault Chappe

Following this elaborate wake-up ritual, Louis would then pass through the Hall of Mirrors on his way to the chapel.

Facing the gardens and the rising sun, shafts of sunlight would stream into the room, filling it with a golden light.

Halls of Mirrors at Versailles. Credit Myrabella
Halls of Mirrors at Versailles. Credit Myrabella

Self-styled the “Sun King”, Louis chose the sun as his personal symbol.

Naturally, his courtiers thought the sun shined out of his derrière. One look from Louis in their direction had their heads spinning.

When the King condescends to glance at someone, that person considers his fortunes made and says to others “the King looked at me!”Primi Visconti, chronicler to the French court

Cunning as he was, Louis was a master at keeping people dangling with the words, “we’ll see.”

Louis's sun symbol on the gates of Versailles. Credit Dennis Jarvis
Louis’s sun symbol on the gates of Versailles. Credit Dennis Jarvis

In the chapel, he required all in attendance to face him, not the altar, so that they could witness the King worshipping God.

He saw himself as the living embodiment of the Greek God Apollo—god of music, prophecy, healing, and the sun.

Chapel in Palace of versailles. Credit Thibault Chappe
Chapel in Palace of versailles. Credit Thibault Chappe
Chapel in Palace of versailles. Credit Thibault Chappe
Chapel in Palace of versailles. Credit Thibault Chappe
Royal chapel of the Palace of Versailles. Credit Jebulon
Royal chapel of the Palace of Versailles. Credit Jebulon
Louis XIV, King of France
Louis XIV, King of France
Bonjour, my little petit fours.
How do you like my stockings? Ooh la la! You will not find a finer pair in all the world!
Bon. You answered correctly.
I must leave you now for my little “coucher”—my sundown ceremony.
Enjoy yourselves, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do …
Au revoir.

Bravado might well have been Louis’s middle name—he certainly had the stats to back up the swagger:

700 rooms, over 2,000 windows, 1,250 fireplaces, 67 staircases, 5000 pieces of furniture, 6000 paintings, 352 chimneys, hundreds of mirrors (357 in the Hall of Mirrors alone), dozens of chandeliers (43 in the Hall of Mirrors), and even its own opera house!

The Palace of Versailles stands at a crossroads in history. Copied throughout Europe, it marks the pinnacle of decadence and the beginning of the end for absolute monarchy.

Queen's grand apartment. Credit Dom Crossley
Queen’s grand apartment. Credit Dom Crossley
Bedchamber of the dauphin. Credit Tim Schapker
Bedchamber of the dauphin. Credit Tim Schapker
Small apartment of the king - Louis XVI Library. Credit Fanny Schertzer
Small apartment of the king – Louis XVI Library. Credit Fanny Schertzer
Small apartment of the king in the Palace of Versailles. Credit Lional Allorge
Small apartment of the king in the Palace of Versailles. Credit Lional Allorge
Antechamber of the Emperor at Grand Trianon at Château de Versailles. Credit Moonik
Antechamber of the Emperor at Grand Trianon at Château de Versailles. Credit Moonik
The peace salon, Versailles. Credit Coyau
The peace salon, Versailles. Credit Coyau
Grand Condé's reception in Versailles by Jean-Léon Gérôme
Grand Condé’s reception in Versailles by Jean-Léon Gérôme
Stairway inside the Petit Trianon. Credit Trizek
Stairway inside the Petit Trianon. Credit Trizek
Pet Salon Petit Trianon, Versailles. Credit Heleashard
Pet Salon Petit Trianon, Versailles. Credit Heleashard
The King's Desk. Louis XV's roll-top secretary, designed between 1760 and 1769. Credit TCY
The King’s Desk. Louis XV’s roll-top secretary, designed between 1760 and 1769. Credit TCY
Royal Opera House, Versailles. Credit Tanya Hart
Royal Opera House, Versailles. Credit Tanya Hart
Visit of Queen Victoria to Paris in 1855, the dinner offered by Napoleon III in the hall of the Opera of Versailles, August 25, 1855
Visit of Queen Victoria to Paris in 1855, the dinner offered by Napoleon III in the hall of the Opera of Versailles, August 25, 1855

Who were the real heroes of Versailles? Not those who lounged in its luxuries, surely?

The real heroes were the architects, builders, laborers, and the 30,000 soldiers drafted in to help, many of whom died from fever and disease in the swampy conditions of the early Versailles.

We salute you, citizens of France. You did not die in vain. Your work lives on as a testament to human achievement.

The construction of the Palace of Versailles by Adam Frans van der Meulen
The construction of the Palace of Versailles by Adam Frans van der Meulen

Such excesses don’t last forever. The revolution brought sweeping change and streets filled with the blood of the decadent.

And across a blue ocean, a new country was in its infancy. A land that would welcome the downtrodden masses with open arms.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Emma Lazarus
Château de Versailles at night. Credit Romaric Juvanon
Château de Versailles at night. Credit Romaric Juvanon

References
Wikipedia.
The Sun King’s Garden: Louis XIV, Andre Le Notre and the Creation of the Gardens of Versailles by Ian Thompson.
The Khan Academy.

20 Exquisite Paintings of 18th-Century Ladies by Joshua Reynolds

Sir Joshua Reynolds
Sir Joshua Reynolds

Sir Joshua Reynolds RA FRS FRSA (1723 – 1792) was an influential eighteenth-century English portrait painter.

He promoted the “Grand Manner” of painting which idealized subjects to convey a sense of nobility.

Knighted by King George III in 1769, Reynolds was a founder and first president of the Royal Academy of Arts.

Although he had little technical training as an artist, he possessed an instinct for color and composition. His figures appear in a natural attitude of grace and he gives them an air of distinction. Even the most ill-tempered sitters were elevated to a position of dignity.

Reynolds had a gift for capturing the personality of the sitter—what critics called “realizing their individuality.” Using his imagination, he would weave a story into each portrait.

His compositions have a symmetry of outline and flow of lines reminiscent of Raphael. In fact, he borrowed from many sources: Rembrandt’s lighting and color harmonies; Rubens’s splendor; Titian’s decoration.

Yet to all his works, he added his personal touch that makes them uniquely Reynolds.

Which is your favorite 18th-century lady painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds?

British Hero Admiral Lord Nelson: Victor at the Battle of Trafalgar, 1805

Born a small sickly baby, the son of a Rector in Norfolk, England, Nelson would go on to become the greatest British military hero of all time.

When we think of Admiral Lord Nelson, a vision of a tall man standing atop a 169ft column at Trafalgar Square in London probably enters our mind.

But it may come as a surprise to discover that he was about the same height, or perhaps even shorter than his archenemy Napoleon.

Read more …

According to a measurement taken in the old Admiralty Board Room, he was 5ft 4ins, but a supposedly life-sized effigy in Westminster Abbey is 5ft 5ins, and calculations from his uniforms make him as much as 5ft 6ins.

What he lacked in stature, he most certainly made up for in courage, leadership, and an excellent grasp of strategy.

After losing the sight in one eye at the Siege of Calvi in 1794, and an arm at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797, most of us might have forgiven him if he’d taken more of a backseat role at that point.

But not Nelson.

He went on to win his greatest victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 by leading from the front and paying the ultimate sacrifice.

With 33 ships, he decimated a joint force of 41 ships from the French and Spanish navies.

The difference in casualties is staggering: Nelson lost a total of 1,666 killed or wounded, whereas the French and Spanish lost 13,781 killed, wounded or taken prisoner.

Moreover, the victory foiled Napoleon’s plan to invade Britain.

Nelson was lauded a conquering hero and commemorated with one of the most famous monuments in the world.

The Battle of Trafalgar by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield (1793 - 1867)
The Battle of Trafalgar by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield (1793 – 1867)
Trafalgar by Auguste Mayer, 1836
Trafalgar by Auguste Mayer, 1836
The Battle of Trafalgar by John Christian Schetky, 1841
The Battle of Trafalgar by John Christian Schetky, 1841
Scene of the Battle of Trafalgar by Louis-Philippe Crépin, 1807
Scene of the Battle of Trafalgar by Louis-Philippe Crépin, 1807
Churruca's Death by Eugenio Alvarez Dumont, 1892
Churruca’s Death by Eugenio Alvarez Dumont, 1892
The Battle of Trafalgar by Juan Vallejo
The Battle of Trafalgar by Juan Vallejo
The Battle of Trafalgar
The Battle of Trafalgar
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Thomas Luny
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Thomas Luny
Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Thomas Buttersworth
Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Thomas Buttersworth
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Thomas Luny, 1810
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Thomas Luny, 1810
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Samuel Drummond
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Samuel Drummond
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Thomas Luny
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Thomas Luny
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 - Beginning of the Action by Thomas Buttersworth
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 – Beginning of the Action by Thomas Buttersworth
The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1808
The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1808
The Death of Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Samuel Drummond, 1806
The Death of Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Samuel Drummond, 1806
The Death of Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Samuel Drummond, 1806
The Death of Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Samuel Drummond, 1806
Destruction by Fire of the Gun Ship 'Achille' at the Close of the Battle of Trafalgar by Richard Brydges Beechey
Destruction by Fire of the Gun Ship ‘Achille’ at the Close of the Battle of Trafalgar by Richard Brydges Beechey
The Fall of Nelson, Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Denis Dighton, c.1825
The Fall of Nelson, Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805 by Denis Dighton, c.1825
Trafalgar by George Chambers, Jr
Trafalgar by George Chambers, Jr
Northumberland House and Whitehall from the North Side of Trafalgar Square, London, by Moonlight by Henry Pether, 1867
Northumberland House and Whitehall from the North Side of Trafalgar Square, London, by Moonlight by Henry Pether, 1867

The Other Lady Diana Spencer: the tragic story of the princess that never was

We all know, love, and remember the Lady Diana Spencer whose wedding in 1981 was watched by an estimated 750 million people, and whose life was cut short by a tragic accident.

But did you know there was another Lady Diana Spencer—an 18th century ancester who was also destined to marry the Prince of Wales in a fairytale wedding?

The Early Years

Lady Anne Churchill (1682-1715), daughter of the 1st Duke of Marlborough and 2nd spouse of Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland, and her daughter Diana.
Diana and her mother, Lady Anne Churchill (1682-1715), daughter of the 1st Duke of Marlborough and 2nd spouse of Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland

Born in London in 1710 to the English statesman Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland and Anne Spencer, Countess of Sunderland, Diana was the youngest of five children and the favorite grandchild of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough—one of the most powerful women in England and close friend to Queen Anne.

Affectionately called “dear little Di” by her family, Diana’s first taste of tragedy was at six years old with the death of her mother.

When her father remarried, the couple had three children, but each one died in infancy. Two died shortly after birth, with a third—her little brother William—dying before he was two years old.

Her next heartache came with the death of her father when she was 12, making her an orphan, followed shortly by the passing of her grandfather, the Duke of Marlborough. Diana was now entirely in the care of her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough.

As she grew up, Diana became a tall, fair-haired and attractive young lady with a compassionate nature and charming personality.

Suffering from the effects of gout, her grandmother found it painful to write and so Diana became her full-time assistant, writing letters that her grandmother dictated.

They became inseparable and her grandmother said of Diana that she had more sense than any woman she knew.

The Royal Marriage Plot

The Dowager Duchess of Marlborough and Lady Diana Spencer, by Maria Verelst, 1722
The Dowager Duchess of Marlborough and Lady Diana Spencer, by Maria Verelst, 1722

When it was time for Diana’s coming of age, both her looks and her relationship with the wealthy Dowager Duchess, made her one of the most eligible high-society brides in the country.

Among her suitors were the Duke of Somerset’s grandson, the Viscount Weymouth, and the Earl of Shaftesbury. The Earl of Chesterfield proposed marriage by writing to the Dowager Duchess while traveling in the Netherlands in 1731:

The person, the merit and the family of Lady Diana Spencer are objects so valuable that they must necessarily have … caused many such applications of this nature to Your Grace.

All were turned down. None were good enough for her granddaughter. The Dowager Duchess wanted to reach higher—to the top.

The next great tumult in Diana’s life was developing a disfiguring skin disease, for which the Dowager Duchess paid a princely sum to have treated by a prominent surgeon.

Waiting for the right suitor was proving costly, so the Dowager Duchess put her plan into action. Aware of his debts, she offered the King’s eldest son, Frederick, Prince of Wales, the enormous sum of £100,000 to marry her granddaughter. A date and secret location were agreed upon.

The Prime Minister Foils the Plot

Everything was going swimmingly until the Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, caught wind of the plan through his network of spies.

For diplomatic reasons, he preferred a European match and wanted the Prince to marry Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, a duchy of the Holy Roman Empire.

Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford and Prime Minister of Great Britain (left) preferred Augusta of Saxe-Gotha (top right) as a match for Frederick, Prince of Wales (lower right)
Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford and Prime Minister of Great Britain preferred Augusta of Saxe-Gotha as a match for Frederick, Prince of Wales

Alas, Diana would not get her royal wedding, and time was of the essence, so the Dowager Duchess settled on the Duke of Bedford’s younger brother, 21-year-old Lord John Russell, presuming that he would eventually become Duke of Bedford himself.

Diana came with the handsome dowry of £30,000 and another £100,000 on the death of the Dowager Duchess.

John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford
John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford

Two years into the marriage, on the untimely death of her brother-in-law, Diana’s husband inherited the Dukedom—just as her grandmother had predicted—and became Duchess of Bedford.

That same year, the pregnant Lady Diana was thrown from her carriage in an accident that caused the premature birth of their son, John.

Sadly, more tragedy was to beset Diana as her little boy died the day after his baptism.

The Duke was now desperate to father an heir and just a few months after the death of their son, the Duchess was pregnant again. But the hand of fate was not on her side and she miscarried, only to be blamed for not taking enough care of herself.

Diana’s Demise

In the spring of 1735, the Duchess’s morning sickness signaled that she was pregnant for a third time.

Bloomsbury Square in London, 1725
Bloomsbury Square in London, 1725

But all was not as it should be. She started to lose, rather than gain, weight, and was diagnosed as having tuberculosis.

The Dowager Duchess insisted she be moved to Southampton House in Bloomsbury Square.

And it was there that she died in late September of 1735 at the age of 25.

A Princess Reborn

226 years later, a baby was born to Viscount Althorp, the direct descendant of the 18th-century Lady Diana’s brother John.

Christened Diana, she would get to marry her Prince … and the rest is history.

Embed from Getty Images

References

Wikipedia
The First Lady Diana (Lady Diana Spencer 1710-1735) by Victoria Massey Contains Amazon affiliate link—We earn a small commission from qualifying purchases through Amazon. Thanks for supporting our work.

The Tragic Story of a Beautiful Countess Who Became a “Victim of Cosmetics”

Born in Cambridgeshire in 1733 to Irish parents, Maria Gunning was the eldest of seven children.

Her father, John Gunning, was from Castlecoote, County Roscommon and her mother, Bridget Bourke, was the daughter of Theobald Bourke, 6th Viscount Mayo.

Although her mother descended from Irish nobility, the family lived in relative poverty.

By 1740, their situation in Cambridgeshire had worsened, and they decided to begin a new life in John Gunning’s hometown of Roscommon, Ireland.

When it was time for Maria’s and her sister Elizabeth’s coming of age, their mother encouraged them to take up acting to earn a living.

Acting wasn’t considered a respectable profession in 18th-century Ireland, but it could open doors to wealthy benefactors.

Besides, the sisters were astonishingly good looking, and if nothing else, acting would most certainly put them in the spotlight of admiring eyes.

Mary Gunning. Credit gomgsite.net
Mary Gunning, Countess of Coventry

Befriending well-known actors like Peg Woffingham in Dublin, the sisters were soon moving in lofty circles.

At a ball held at Dublin Castle in 1748, they were presented to the Earl of Harrington, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

William Stanhope, 1st Earl of Harrington
William Stanhope, 1st Earl of Harrington

Not possessing any suitable ballgowns, Maria and Elizabeth had to borrow costumes from a local theatre.

But they made such an impression on the Earl that by 1750, he granted their mother Bridget a pension. With that, Bridget packed her bags and took the two girls back to England.

Attending local parties and balls in Cambridgeshire, the two sisters became well-known celebrities.

News of their beauty spread to London, and in 1750, they were invited to attend the court of St James.

London newspapers were having a field day.

Not only were they the talk of the town but Maria was noted for her lack of tact, and when asked by the aging King George II what royal spectacle she most wanted to see, she said she’d like to see a royal funeral.

Fortunately for the girls, the King found it highly amusing.

George II by Thomas Hudson, 1744
George II by Thomas Hudson, 1744

Within two years, her sister Elizabeth was married off to a Duke, and she was married to an Earl with a Neo-Palladian mansion in the Worcestershire countryside.

Croome Court, Croome D'Abitot. Credit Mike Peel
Croome Court, Croome D’Abitot. Credit Mike Peel

George William, 6th Earl of Coventry whisked her away to Paris for their honeymoon.

Paris was a magical place and the fashion capital of the world.

But alas, Maria was not happy.

She couldn’t speak the language and her husband wouldn’t let her wear the rouge face powder that was all the rage.

When she defied him and wore it to dinner one evening, he took out his handkerchief and rubbed it off her face.

The French Court was a little too haughty for her taste.

George, 6th Earl of Coventry

Maria, Countess of Coventry

But back in England, her popularity went from strength to strength.

She was mobbed whenever she appeared in Hyde Park—eventually needing a guard.

Her husband, on the other hand, had already started to stray and had become involved with another famous beauty—the courtesan Kitty Fisher.

And so began a rivalry of beauty.

Maria wore the heavy make-up which had become popular in London society.

Sophisticated ladies of the French court, like Madame Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV, had set a fashion of pale white skin with red rouged cheeks. The base ingredient of the make-up was lead.

Madame de Pompadour at Her Toilette, 1758
Madame de Pompadour at Her Toilette, 1758

Fashionable women (and men) were poisoning themselves with lead-based cosmetics.

The lead would cause inflammation of the eyes, attack tooth enamel, and cause skin eruptions.

The blemishes encouraged women to apply even more make-up to hide them, and eventually the lead would get into the blood and poison them to death.

1750. Box for rouge and patches. Gold and platinum. metmuseum
1750. Box for rouge and patches. Gold and platinum. metmuseum

On 30 September 1760, Maria, the beautiful Countess of Coventry, died prematurely at the age of 27.

Known for her beauty and her vanity, she was remembered in social circles as a “victim of cosmetics”.

Countess of Coventry by Jean-Étienne Liotard, 1749
Portrait of a pensive woman on a sofa (Countess of Coventry) by Jean-Étienne Liotard, 1749

16 Stunning Sofas from the 18th and 19th Centuries

Today, furniture fills our living and working spaces. It makes a statement about our taste for practicality and aesthetics.

But it wasn’t always so.

At the beginning of the 18th century, only the aristocracy or merchant class could afford furniture as luxurious expressions of individuality.

Then from around 1760, something remarkable happened. The standard of living for the general population began to increase for the first time in history.

This was the dawn of the industrial revolution and the beginnings of what would become a consumer society.

18th-century luminary Sir Joshua Reynolds observed a general progression from buying basic needs to purchasing more luxurious goods.

The regular progress of cultivated life is from Necessaries to Accommodations, from Accommodations to Ornaments.

In this statement was implied the increasing importance of design, which simultaneously created and followed taste, and in so doing, helped stimulate consumer demand and foster economic stability.

Perhaps no other industry demonstrated this better than furniture making. And what piece of furniture was more prominent than a sofa?

The Georgian Era

Some think of the Georgian era as the golden age of furniture.

The drama and exuberance of Baroque, the intricate asymmetrical patterns of Rococo, the graceful lines, sensuous curves, and elegant proportions of Neo-Classical—all helped define Georgian era furniture.

The very names of the period are synonymous with timeless quality—Queen Anne, Chippendale, Sheraton, Hepplewhite.

1760 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded beechwood, upholstered in modern red velours de Gênes. metmuseum
1760 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded beechwood, upholstered in modern red velours de Gênes. metmuseum
1765 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded beech, modern silk lampas. metmuseum
1765 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded beech, modern silk lampas. metmuseum
1770 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded mahogany, modern silk damask. metmuseum
1770 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded mahogany, modern silk damask. metmuseum

Sofas with a wide central section and a single outward-facing seat at each end were called a canapé à confidents and were meant to be where people could share confidences.

Examples were made primarily in the Louis XV and Louis XVI periods, highly decorative, and the shape and carving were designed to harmonize with the wall paneling.

The artisan’s skill shows particularly in the carving of roses and olive branches tied by a ribbon at the top of each end.

This piece was described by comte de Salverte as the finest of its kind in the Louis XVI style.

1780 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded beechwood upholstered in modern blue dotted silk. metmuseum
1780 Sofa. French. Carved and gilded beechwood upholstered in modern blue dotted silk. metmuseum

The Regency and Federal Era

Roughly coinciding in date and style, the British Regency and American Federal styles were defined by a lighter, more delicate interpretation of the classical Greek and Roman influences.

The shape of this sofa derives from plate 35 in Thomas Sheraton’s “Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Book” (1793).

1800 Sofa. American. Mahogany, white pine, birch. metmuseum
1800 Sofa. American. Mahogany, white pine, birch. metmuseum

The modern black horsehair and gilded tacks of this scroll-back sofa help define it as the classic New York form as it would have looked when it first came out of the workshop.

1810 Sofa. American. Mahogany, white pine, tulip poplar. metmuseum
1810 Sofa. American. Mahogany, white pine, tulip poplar. metmuseum
1815 Sofa. American. Mahogany, gilt brass, tulip poplar. metmuseum
1815 Sofa. American. Mahogany, gilt brass, tulip poplar. metmuseum

A highly sophisticated blend of line, detailed carving, and subtle color merge with antique legs in the shape of dolphins, hinting at the maritime influences of the time. In Greek mythology, dolphins swam to the aid of shipwrecked sailors.

1820. Sofa. American. Mahogany, ash, maple, pine. metmuseum
1820. Sofa. American. Mahogany, ash, maple, pine. metmuseum

Owned by Thomas Cornell Pearsall, a wealthy New York merchant and shipowner, the skillful execution of the details derives from Greco-Roman seating forms illustrated and described in the 1808 supplement to the London “Chairmakers’ and Carvers’ Book of Prices.”

1820 Sofa. American. Mahogany, tulip poplar, cane, gilded brass. metmuseum
1820 Sofa. American. Mahogany, tulip poplar, cane, gilded brass. metmuseum

Noteworthy in this design is the unusual trimming of rich stamped brass, rather than the woven galloon or series of brass-headed nails that were customary in this period.

1820 Sofa. American. Mahogany. metmuseum
1820 Sofa. American. Mahogany. metmuseum

Italian architect Filippo Pelagio Palagi designed this set of furniture for the principal drawing room next to the royal bedroom of Carlo Alberto, king of Sardinia.

The sculptural detail of the crest rails and the quality and refinement of the veneering help distinguish this sofa, made by Gabrielle Cappello, whose workshop produced many of Pelagi’s designs.

1835 Sofa. Italian. Mahogany veneered with maplewood and mahogany, covered with modern silk brocade. metmuseum
1835 Sofa. Italian. Mahogany veneered with maplewood and mahogany, covered with modern silk brocade. metmuseum

The Victorian Era

With the Victorians, out went the simpler classical lines of Georgian and Regency and in came a more imposing style, with elaborate decoration, heavily carved pieces, plenty of organic curves inspired by nature and glossy finishes.

1843 Sofa. French. Applewood or pearwood, ebonized walnut, beech, gilt-bronze mounts. metmuseum
1843 Sofa. French. Applewood or pearwood, ebonized walnut, beech, gilt-bronze mounts. metmuseum
1853 Sofa. American. Rosewood. metmuseum
1853 Sofa. American. Rosewood. metmuseum

This sofa is part of a suite of Louis XVI–style furniture that railroad executive John Taylor Johnston (1820–1893) purchased in about 1856 and used in the music room of his residence at 8 Fifth Avenue.

1860 Sofa. American. Maple, gilt bronze. metmuseum
1860 Sofa. American. Maple, gilt bronze. metmuseum

Exemplifying the Rococo Revival style, which was popular in America during the 1840s and 1850s, the sofa below combines curvilinear forms reminiscent of 18th-century France with the exuberant, naturalistic ornamentation of the mid-Victorian period.

Distinguished by a voluptuous serpentine crest with luxuriant, griffin-flanked bouquets, the central floral garland is supported by a Renaissance-style urn and paired dolphins.

1855 Sofa. American. Rosewood. metmuseum
1855 Sofa. American. Rosewood. metmuseum
1870 Sofa. American. Rosewood, ash, pine, mother-of-pearl. metmuseum
1870 Sofa. American. Rosewood, ash, pine, mother-of-pearl. metmuseum

The Beautiful French Porcelain of Sèvres

Despite a turbulent century of changing taste and technology, Sèvres Manufatory in the suburbs of Paris remained at the forefront of European ceramic production throughout the 1800s.

Founded in Vincennes in 1740 and relocated to Sèvres in 1756, King Louis XV, who had been an early investor, took possession in 1759.

With the French Revolution in 1789 came changing fortunes, with the factory losing many aristocratic patrons. It’s future looked in doubt.

Then, in 1800, along came engineer and scientist, Alexandre Brongniart (1770–1847), to run the troubled enterprise. The turnaround couldn’t have been more dramatic.

During the first decade of Brongniart’s tenure, the Empire taste was in vogue, with abundant use of gilding, rich borders, and ornate figural scenes.

1813 Breakfast Service tray. Sèvres Manufactory. metmuseum
1813 Breakfast Service tray. Sèvres Manufactory. metmuseum

Newly developed enamels enabled luxurious marble and hardstone textures as simulated backgrounds.

According to factory archives, the process of decoration began with the blue ground of the border followed by the marbled center ground, requiring two layers. Gilding for the border was then applied with the figure in the center painted last.

1807 Plate. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1807 Plate. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum

To celebrate the coronation of King Charles X in 1825, a dinner set was produced, painted with famous views from each of France’s départements (administrative offices).

1827 Plate from the 'Service Des Départements'. metmuseum
1827 Plate from the ‘Service Des Départements’. metmuseum

Decorated with scenes of cacao cultivation to make drinking chocolate, this coffee service from 1836 shows how Brongniart used themes related to the objects’ purpose.

1836 Coffee service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1836 Coffee service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1836 Tray for Coffee service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1836 Tray for Coffee service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum

Enormous variety in object type and decoration were hallmarks of Sèvres Manufactory. In the first half of the 19th century alone, it produced 92 different vase designs, 89 cups, every form of dinner, dessert, tea, and coffee service, as well as jugs, basins, and toiletry items.

Characteristic of nineteenth-century decorative arts was the reinterpretation of historical styles. While the form of this cup derives from Renaissance Italy, the use of vibrant reds, greens, blues, and yellows contrasts with the muted whites and browns of earlier wares.

1837 Standing Cup. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1837 Standing Cup. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum

Evoking the medieval Gothic style was another obsession of the 19th century. These vases illustrate the playfulness of mixing Gothic inspiration with Renaissance enamel techniques to achieve new aesthetic effects.

1832 Gothic vases. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1832 Gothic vases. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum

Eclecticism of design influences was matched by exuberance. This Chinoiserie tea and coffee service evokes the forms and motifs of China and the Near East.

Blending Asian forms with European decoration expressed a fascination with exoticism. The scrolling feet, double-walled forms, and simulated bamboo handles were found on Chinese porcelains sold in Paris in the 1820s.

1855 Chinoiserie Coffee and Tea Service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmusem
1855 Chinoiserie Coffee and Tea Service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmusem

Intended as the focal point of an elaborate table centerpiece during the dessert course, this ambitious fruit or flower basket imparts a sense of the grandeur of nineteenth century dining.

1823 Fruit or flower basket. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1823 Fruit or flower basket. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum

Presented to the winner of first prize at the Exposition Universelle of 1878, this cup, made in a Renaissance-revival style drew much criticism at a time when tastes were changing toward modernism.

One critic wrote “the colors are insipid and often vulgar; the decoration rarely quits the beaten track of the usual Sèvres flower and figure subjects. Sèvres is lingering in the traditions of the past. It remains deaf to the fame of living and modern art.”

1879 Standing cup with cover. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1879 Standing cup with cover. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum

But it was the Art Nouveau movement that was the nail in the coffin for the traditional historicism that had been the trademark of Sèvres throughout the 19th century.

Decorative arts moved closer to nature, often capturing the asymmetry of natural forms, as evident in this coffee service from c. 1900.

Employing the form of a fennel plant, the application of enamel to the unglazed porcelain created a matte surface similar to the plant’s actual texture, and heightened the sense of realism.

Sèvres was exploring techniques that would define the ceramics industry in the 20th century.

1900 Art Nouveau-inspired Coffee Service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1900 Art Nouveau-inspired Coffee Service. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum

Mr Darcy’s Shirt

In the 1995 BBC rendition of Pride and Prejudice, Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr. Darcy includes a notable cream linen shirt. This attire takes center stage in a celebrated scene where Darcy emerges drenched from the Pemberley pond, coincidentally crossing paths with Elizabeth Bennet. Regarded as one of the most iconic moments in British television history, this particular sequence has etched itself into the collective memory of viewers.

The famous Regency period shirt turned British actor Colin Firth into an international heartthrob virtually overnight.

The shirt worn by actor Colin Firth during his portrayal of Mr. Darcy as he emerged from the Pemberley pond in the BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice production
The shirt worn by actor Colin Firth during his portrayal of Mr. Darcy as he emerged from the Pemberley pond in the BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice production. Credit Folger Shakespeare Library

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Considered by many to be the definitive adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the 1995 BBC/A&E co-production is one of the most successful period dramas ever created.

And it’s not hard to see why: superlative acting, attention to detail in costume and sets, and faithfulness to Jane Austen’s 1813 novel … that is, except for one scene—the Lake Scene.

One of the most unforgettable moments in British TV historyThe Guardian

An amusing moment in which Darcy tries to maintain his dignity while improperly dressed and sopping wetWilliam Grimes, NYTimes

Although absent from Jane Austen’s novel, the Lake Scene has garnered adulation the world over from an army of fans, and spawned a host of imitations, including this reenactment by Benedict Cumberbatch for charity.

It’s one thing to see Colin Firth donning a wet shirt clinging to his well-honed physique in today’s context, but from the perspective of the early 1800s, what we’re really looking at is Darcy in his underwear. Prior to the 20th century, shirts were worn as undergarments. Not until the seventeenth century were men’s shirts allowed to show; but when they did, it carried the same suggestive undertone as visible underwear today. And as late as 1879, a shirt with nothing over it was considered improper.

Did you know?

It was quite common for men of the eighteenth century not to wear any underpants. Shock, horror! They relied instead on the long tails of their undershirts and on lining sewn into their breeches to perform the same function as drawers.

Showing the typical cut of the late 18th century, this finely finished shirt has gussets below the arm for freedom of movement and a shoulder gusset for a better fit through the neck and chest. Approximating the shape of the body, it allowed for more fullness at the front without adding bulk at the waist.

1780. Shirt. French. Linen. metmuseum
1780. Shirt. French. Linen. metmuseum
1780. Shirt. French. Linen. metmuseum
1780. Shirt. French. Linen. metmuseum

Created from linen fiber in 1816 by Elizabeth Wild Hitchings for her husband Benjamin Hitchings, a sea captain. Hand-stitching shirts for the family was common practice for wives or servants prior to about the mid-19th century. Elegant stitching was a hallmark of the care taken prior to the widespread use of the sewing machine.

1816. Shirt. American. Linen. metmusem
1816. Shirt. American. Linen. metmusem
1816. Shirt. American. Linen. metmusem
1816. Shirt. American. Linen. metmusem
Do not presume to understand a mannequin’s feelings. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love youMr. Mannequin
1816. Shirt. American. Linen. metmusem

References

  • Some Thoughts on Men’s Shirts in America, 1750-1900 by William L. Brown III The History of Underclothes by C. Willett and
  • Phillis Cunnington What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial and Federal America by Linda Baumgarten

20 Enchanting Paintings of Regency England by Edmund Blair Leighton

Perhaps no painter captures the romance of the English Regency better than Edmund Blair Leighton.

Just as we, today, are enchanted by the nostalgic feeling from this era of elegance and extravagance, balls and duels, eligible bachelors and debutantes, so too was Edmund Blair Leighton (1851 – 1922)—a Victorian painter of historical genre scenes.

Leighton loved to paint highly detailed, idealized depictions of the time of regency novelists like Jane Austen, and Romantic poets like Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Strictly speaking, the Regency covers the nine years from 1811 to 1820 when King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son, the Prince of Wales ruled England as Prince Regent before his accession as King George IV.

But the broadest definition of the period, characterized by trends in fashion, architecture, culture, and politics, begins with the French Revolution of 1789 and ends with Queen Victoria’s rise to power.

Known as “the first gentleman of England” for his charm and culture, George IV commissioned several immense building projects including the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, the remodeling of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, and the foundation of King’s College London and the National Gallery.

The Regency was a time of war and glory overseas and cultural awakening at home.

In 1816 by Edmund Blair Leighton
In 1816 by Edmund Blair Leighton
The glance that enchants by Edmund Blair Leighton
The glance that enchants by Edmund Blair Leighton
A Wet Sunday Morning by Edmund Blair Leighton
A Wet Sunday Morning by Edmund Blair Leighton
The Windmiller's Guest by Edmund Blair Leighton
The Windmiller’s Guest by Edmund Blair Leighton
A Favor by Edmund Blair Leighton
A Favor by Edmund Blair Leighton
The Elopement by Edmund Blair Leighton
The Elopement by Edmund Blair Leighton
My Next-Door Neighbour by Edmund Blair Leighton
My Next-Door Neighbour by Edmund Blair Leighton
The Gallant Suitor by Edmund Blair Leighton
The Gallant Suitor by Edmund Blair Leighton
The Golden Train by Edmund Blair Leighton
The Golden Train by Edmund Blair Leighton
Wedding march by Edmund Blair Leighton
Wedding march by Edmund Blair Leighton
The Wedding Register by Edmund Blair Leighton
The Wedding Register by Edmund Blair Leighton
Lady in a Garden by Edmund Blair Leighton
Lady in a Garden by Edmund Blair Leighton
The Lord Of Burleigh by Edmund Blair Leighton
The Lord Of Burleigh by Edmund Blair Leighton
The New Governess by Edmund Blair Leighton
The New Governess by Edmund Blair Leighton
Off by Edmund Blair Leighton
Off by Edmund Blair Leighton
A Picnic Party by Edmund Blair Leighton
A Picnic Party by Edmund Blair Leighton
Sweet Solitude by Edmund Blair Leighton
Sweet Solitude by Edmund Blair Leighton
Ribbons and Lace by Edmund Blair Leighton
Ribbons and Lace by Edmund Blair Leighton
Where there's a will by Edmund Blair Leighton
Where there’s a will by Edmund Blair Leighton
Yes or No? by Edmund Blair Leighton
Yes or No? by Edmund Blair Leighton

12 Dashing Men of the Regency Era

The Regency (1795–1837) was a period when King George III of England was deemed unfit to rule and his son, the Prince of Wales, ruled as his proxy as Prince Regent. On the death of his father in 1820, the Prince Regent became George IV.

It was a time of great elegance and achievement in the fine arts and architecture, shaping and altering the societal structure of Britain and influencing the world.

Upper-class society, in particular, flourished in a Renaissance of culture and refinement.

Here are 12 men from the Regency Era—some war heroes, some artists, but all embodying the proud spirit of the age.

1. Alexander Ivanovitch, Prince of Chernichev (1786-1857) by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1818

Alexander Ivanovitch, Prince of Chernichev (1786-1857) by Sir Thomas Lawrence - 1818

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10 Fascinating Facts About Chinoiserie

1. Chinoiserie was once the most coveted fashion of the aristocracy

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Europeans became fascinated with Asian cultures and traditions. They loved to imitate or evoke Asian motifs in Western art, architecture, landscaping, furniture, and fashion.

China seemed a mysterious, far-away place and the lack of first-hand experiences only added to the mystique.

Chinoiserie derives from the French word chinois, meaning “Chinese”, or “after the Chinese taste”. It is a Western aesthetic inspired by Eastern design.

The fact remains that four thousand years ago, when we did not know how to read, they knew everything essentially useful of which we boast todayVoltaire

To immerse yourself in the Chinoiserie experience, optionally play the traditional East Asian music.

A folding screen was one of the most popular expressions of Chinoiserie, often decorated with beautiful art.

Themes included mythology, scenes of palace life, nature, and romance in Chinese literature—a young lady in love could take a curious peek hidden from behind a folding screen.

Chinese Folding Screen. 18th century. Wood, glass paper, Imperial Furniture Collection, Vienna. Credit Sandstein
Chinese Folding Screen. 18th century. Wood, glass paper, Imperial Furniture Collection, Vienna. Credit Sandstein
The Toilette by François Boucher, 1742
The Toilette by François Boucher, 1742

2. Chinoiserie’s popularity grew with rising trade in the East

Rising trade with China and East Asia during the 17th and 18th centuries brought an influx of Chinese and Indian goods into Europe aboard ships from the English, Dutch, French, and Swedish East India Companies.

The European Factories in Canton by Thomas Allom, 1838
The European Factories in Canton by Thomas Allom, 1838

By the middle of the 19th century, the British East India Company had become the dominant player in East Asian trading, its rule extending across most of India, Burma, Malaya, Singapore, and British Hong Kong.

A fifth of the world’s population was under the trading influence of the British East India Company.

East India House by Thomas Malton the Younger (1748-1804)
(British) East India House by Thomas Malton the Younger (1748-1804)

3. Chinoiserie began with tea drinking

Drinking tea was the height of fashion for ladies of good taste and required an appropriate chinoiserie mise en scène.

Tea drinking was a fundamental part of polite society; much of the interest in both Chinese export wares and chinoiserie rose from the desire to create appropriate settings for the ritual of tea drinkingBeevers
Tea Leaves by William McGregor Paxton, Boston, MA. metmuseum
Tea Leaves by William McGregor Paxton, Boston, MA. metmuseum
1743. Tea Service. Italian. Porcelain. metmuseum
1743. Tea Service. Italian. Porcelain. metmuseum
1762 Tea Caddy. British. Silver. metmuseum
1762 Tea Caddy. British. Silver. metmuseum
1730. Sugar Box. Austrian. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1730. Sugar Box. Austrian. Hard-paste porcelain. metmuseum
1770 Tea Casket, British, Staffordshire. White enamel on copper painted in polychrome enamels. metmuseum
1770 Tea Casket, British, Staffordshire. White enamel on copper painted in polychrome enamels. metmuseum

Tea and sugar were expensive commodities during the eighteenth century and this chest could be locked to secure its valuable contents.

Containing two canisters for tea (green and black) and a larger one for sugar, the pastoral scenes, and Italianate landscapes, combined with Rococo gilding against a pink ground, create an opulent effect.

1770 Tea Casket, British, Staffordshire. White enamel on copper painted in polychrome enamels. metmuseum
1770 Tea Casket, British, Staffordshire. White enamel on copper painted in polychrome enamels. metmuseum
1726 Pair of Tea Caddies. British. Silver. metmuseum
1726 Pair of Tea Caddies. British. Silver. metmuseum

4. Aristocratic women were famous collectors of chinoiserie porcelain

Among them were Queen Mary, Queen Anne, Henrietta Howard, and the Duchess of Queensbury—all socially important women, whose homes served as examples of good taste and sociability.

Wealthy women helped define the prevailing vogue through their purchasing power. One story tells of a keen competition between Margaret, 2nd Duchess of Portland, and Elizabeth, Countess of Ilchester, for a Japanese blue and white plate.

Chinoiserie porcelain from Frankfurt c. 1700
Chinoiserie porcelain from Frankfurt c. 1700
Faience with Chinese scenes. Nevers Manufactory. c. 1680
Faience with Chinese scenes. Nevers Manufactory. c. 1680

Reflecting the English factory’s focus on Asian porcelains as a primary source of inspiration, this plate with its skillfully composed chinoiserie decoration, is an ambitious work from the 1750s, the decade during which Bow first achieved commercially viable production.

1755. Plate. British. Bow Porcelain Factory. Soft-paste porcelain
1755. Plate. British. Bow Porcelain Factory. Soft-paste porcelain
1755 Chines Musicians. Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory. Soft-past porcelain. metmuseum
1755 Chines Musicians. Chelsea Porcelain Manufactory. Soft-past porcelain. metmuseum

Distinguished by the chinoiserie scenes painted by Charles-Nicolas Dodin, these elephant vases from c. 1760 are thought to have been commissioned by Mme. de Pompadour, chief mistress of Louis XV of France. They are among the rarest forms produced by the famous Sèvres manufactory in the suburbs of Paris.

Pair of Vases. Charles Nicolas Dodin, Sèvres, France, 1760. Walters Art Museum
Pair of Vases. Charles Nicolas Dodin, Sèvres, France, 1760. Walters Art Museum

5. Chinoiserie is related to the Rococo style

Both styles are characterized by exuberant decoration, a focus on materials, stylized nature, and subject matter depicting leisure and pleasure.

Chateau de Chantilly. The Apartments of the Princes of Condé
Chateau de Chantilly. The Apartments of the Princes of Condé
The Cabinet of chinoiserie. Nymphenburg Palace, Munich, Germany. Credit Yelkrokoyade
The Cabinet of chinoiserie. Nymphenburg Palace, Munich, Germany. Credit Yelkrokoyade
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1745 Nécessaire with watch. German. Gold and mother-of-pearl, lined with dark-red velvet. metmuseum
1735 Wall clock. French. Étienne LeNoir. Soft-paste porcelain and partly gilded brass. metmuseum
1735 Wall clock. French. Étienne LeNoir. Soft-paste porcelain and partly gilded brass. metmuseum

Exotic chinoiserie accents in the pagoda-shaped outline of the tureen’s lid exemplify an interpretation popular in southern Germany.

1771 Tureen and stand. Silver, silver gilt. German, Augsburg. metmuseum
1771 Tureen and stand. Silver, silver gilt. German, Augsburg. metmuseum

6. European monarchs gave special favor to Chinoiserie

King Louis XV of France and Britain’s King George IV thought Chinoiserie blended well with the rococo style.

Entire rooms, such as those at Château de Chantilly, were painted with chinoiserie compositions, and artists such as Antoine Watteau and others brought expert craftsmanship to the style.

Highly ornamental, yet elegant, Western interpretations of Eastern themes were fanciful expressions, often with exotic woods and marbles used to further the effect.

A room furnished in the Louis XV style
A room furnished in the Louis XV style
Chinese Gallery at Her Majesty's Palace at Brighton by John Nash, 1820
Chinese Gallery at Her Majesty’s Palace at Brighton by John Nash, 1820

Built in 1670 at Versailles as a pleasure house for King Louis XIV’s mistress, the Trianon de Porcelaine was considered to be the first major example of chinoiserie. It was replaced by the Grand Trianon 17 years later.

Trainon de Porcelaine
Trainon de Porcelaine. Credit Hervé GREGOIRE (top right image)

Frederick the Great, King of Prussia had a Chinese House built in the gardens of his summer palace Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany.

Garden architect Johann Gottfried Büring designed the pavilion in the style of Chinoiserie by blending Chinese architectural elements with ornamental rococo.

The Chinese House at Sanssouci, Johann Friedrich Nagel, 1790
The Chinese House at Sanssouci, Johann Friedrich Nagel, 1790
The Chinese House, designed by Johann Gottfried Büring between 1755 and 1764; a pavilion in the Chinoiserie style: a mixture of rococo elements coupled with Oriental architecture.
The Chinese House, designed by Johann Gottfried Büring between 1755 and 1764; a pavilion in the Chinoiserie style: a mixture of rococo elements coupled with Oriental architecture.
Group of tea drinking Chinese (Johann Gottlieb Heymüller) Chinese Tea House Chinese House Sanssouci. Credit Steffenheilfort
Group of tea drinking Chinese (Johann Gottlieb Heymüller) Chinese Tea House Chinese House Sanssouci. Credit Steffenheilfort

7. Europeans manufactured imitations of Chinese lacquer furniture

Frequently decorated with ebony and ivory or Chinese motifs of pagodas and dragons, Europeans such as Thomas Chippendale helped popularize Chinoiserie furniture.

Chippendale’s design book The Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director: Being a large Collection of the Most Elegant and Useful Designs of Household Furniture, In the Most Fashionable Taste provided a guide for intricate chinoiserie furniture and its decoration.

1776 Rolltop Desk. German. Oak, cherry, pine, mahogany, veneered with maple, burl woods, holly, hornbeam (all partially stained), tulipwood, mahogany, and other woods; mother-of-pearl; partially gilded and tooled leather; gilt bronze, iron, steel, brass, partially gold-lacquered brass. metmuseum
1776 Rolltop Desk. German. Oak, cherry, pine, mahogany, veneered with maple, burl woods, holly, hornbeam (all partially stained), tulipwood, mahogany, and other woods; mother-of-pearl; partially gilded and tooled leather; gilt bronze, iron, steel, brass, partially gold-lacquered brass. metmuseum
1754 Harpsichord converted to a piano. French. Wood, paint, gilding, polychrome, gilded pewter, ebony, bone, felt. metmuseum
1754 Harpsichord converted to a piano. French. Wood, paint, gilding, polychrome, gilded pewter, ebony, bone, felt. metmuseum
Chinoiserie cabinet. Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, Madrid, Spain. Credit Daderot.
Chinoiserie cabinet. Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, Madrid, Spain. Credit Daderot.

8. Marco Polo was the first European to describe a Chinese garden

Marco Polo visited the summer palace of Kublai Khan at Xanadu in around 1275.

There is at this place a very fine marble Palace, the rooms of which are all gilt and painted with figures of men and beasts and birds, and with a variety of trees and flowers, all executed with such exquisite art that you regard them with delight and astonishment.Marco Polo
Chinese Garden by François Boucher, 1742
Chinese Garden by François Boucher, 1742

Evolving over three thousand years, the Chinese garden landscaping style became popular in the West during the 18th century.

Built in 1738, the Chinese House within the gardens of the English Palladian mansion at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, was the first of its kind in an English garden.

Chinese House, Stowe Landscaped Gardens, Buckinghamshire, England
Chinese House, Stowe Landscaped Gardens, Buckinghamshire, England

Hundreds of Chinese and Japanese Gardens were built around the world to celebrate the naturalistic, organic beauty of their asymmetric design.

One admires the art with which this irregularity is carried out. Everything is in good taste, and so well arranged, that there is not a single view from which all the beauty can be seen; you have to see it piece by pieceJesuit priest Jean Denis Attiret, 1739
The Pagoda in Kew Gardens, London. Credit Marco Felhofer
The Pagoda in Kew Gardens, London. Credit Marco Felhofer
The Chinese Garden of Friendship, Sydney, Australia. Credit Wyncliffe
The Chinese Garden of Friendship, Sydney, Australia. Credit Wyncliffe
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Credit Damahevi
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Credit Damahevi

9. Wealthy gentlemen preferred Banyans to formal clothing

Made from expensive silk brocades, damasks, and printed cottons, banyans were types of dressing gown with a kimono-like form and Eastern origin. Worn with a matching waistcoat and cap or turban, they were so popular among wealthy men of the late 18th century that they posed for portraits wearing the banyan instead of formal clothing.

Joseph Sherburne (a wealthy Boston merchant wearing an elegant banyan) by John Singleton Copley, 1770
Joseph Sherburne (a wealthy Boston merchant wearing an elegant banyan) by John Singleton Copley, 1770
Banyan. Second half of 18th century. Silk, wool, linen. metmusem
Banyan. Second half of 18th century. Silk, wool, linen. metmusem

10. Chinoiserie enjoyed a renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s

Intimating the most elaborate past of the Chinese court, the Chinoiserie roundels of this Lanvin robe de style alternately resemble embroidered Manchu court badge motifs or the glinting scales of Mongol armor interpreted in Western embroidery.

1924 Robe de Style. French. Lanvin. Silk, metallic thread, glass. metmuseum
1924 Robe de Style. French. Lanvin. Silk, metallic thread, glass. metmuseum

Stressing tubular simplicity, Callot Soeurs used the reductive rubric of Art Deco to combine Chinoiserie with other styles, resulting in an intoxicating fusion of exoticisms.

1924 Evening Dress. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1924 Evening Dress. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum

Known for their Chinoiserie, Callot Soeurs also featured the long fluid vestigial sleeves of Ottoman coats.

1926. Evening Ensemble. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum
1926. Evening Ensemble. French. Callot Soeurs. Silk. metmuseum

References
Wikipedia
V&A Museum
The Met
The British Museum

The History of Handbags — a 5-Minute Guide

Today’s designer handbags have a long and storied history.

Early Europeans used handbags just as we do today—to store personal belongings needed for the day. Clothing had no pockets until the 17th century, so men also carried handbags for things like coins, alms, and relics.

Worn attached to a belt, this 16th-century buckle bag had 18 secret compartments. For the aristocratic gentleman, it was a status symbol.

1500s. French. Goat's leather belt puch with iron frame and 18 pockets, some behind secret closures. French. Silk. Tassenmuseum Netherlands
1500s. French. Goat’s leather belt puch with iron frame and 18 pockets—some behind secret closures. French. Silk. Tassenmuseum Netherlands

The First Man-Purse?

The sporran played a similar role in the highlands of Scotland—part utilitarian, part symbol of wealth and status.

A belted plaid with sporran as worn by a reenactor of Scottish history.
A belted plaid with sporran as worn by a reenactor of Scottish history.

A 16th-Century Messenger Bag?

As pockets became an integral part of clothing during the 17th century, men no longer needed to carry handbags for anything other than the bulkiest of items—books, documents, and letters.

Late 1500s. Leather book bag. Tassenmuseum Netherlands
Late 1500s. Leather book bag. Tassenmuseum Netherlands

Chatelaine Bags

From the 16th century, women often wore a decorative clasp at the waist with a series of chains attached, called a chatelaine. Suspended from it were useful household accessories such as scissors, keys, and sewing tools. Crafted from precious metals, chatelaines were considered as jewelry and status symbols.

Wedgwood Chatelaine, Indianapolis Museum of Art. Chatelaine, Tassenmuseum Netherlands. Chatelaine bag, LACMA.
Wedgwood Chatelaine, Indianapolis Museum of Art. Chatelaine, Tassenmuseum Netherlands. Chatelaine bag, LACMA.

Reticules or Indispensables

17th- and 18th-century ladies preferred to carry their particulars in small bags with drawstrings that were known as reticules in France and “indispensables” in England.

Lady from 1830 carry a French reticule handbag. LACMA
Lady from 1830 carry a French reticule handbag. LACMA
Left: A Colonial Coquette by Charles Henry Turner. Right: Frederik VI of Denmark and family out for a stroll by Johannes Senn, 1813
Left: A Colonial Coquette by Charles Henry Turner. Right: Frederik VI of Denmark and family out for a stroll by Johannes Senn, 1813. Both ladies are clutching a reticule.

Using embroidery skills learned from a young age, ladies created designs of great artistry and beauty.

c1680. French. Silk, metal. metmuseum
c1680. French. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1799. Reticule. French. Silk satin with weft-float and supplementary weft-float patterning, silk floss and chenille passementerie with silk fly fringe, and silk cord. LACMA
1799. Reticule. French. Silk satin with weft-float and supplementary weft-float patterning, silk floss and chenille passementerie with silk fly fringe, and silk cord. LACMA

The Dawn of the Designer Handbag

The Industrial Revolution brought steam railways and travel became increasingly popular.

In 1841, Yorkshire entrepreneur Samuel Parkinson, whose Butterscotch confectionary was appointed to the British royal household, wanted to treat his wife to a custom-made set of hand luggage.

He had noticed that her purse was too small and not made of a sturdy enough material for traveling. So he had leather handbags made for her in varying size for different occasions.

Waiting at the Station, Willesden Junction by James Tissot, 1874
Waiting at the Station, Willesden Junction by James Tissot, 1874

Besides durability, Parkinson wanted to distinguish his luggage from that of lower class passengers.

London-based luxury leather goods company H. J. Cave & Sons was more than happy to oblige. Its Osilite trunk became so famous that it won several prizes in the 19th century, including first prize in Paris in 1867.

But most importantly for Mrs. Parkinson, she got to own the world’s first designer handbag.

H. J. Cave’s designs are known to have inspired Louis Vuitton (1857) and a young Guccio Gucci (1910).

Gallery of handbags and purses through history

1700s

c 1720. European. Silk, metal. metmuseum
c 1720. European. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1740. American. Linen, silk. metmuseum
1740. American. Linen, silk. metmuseum

1800s

1800. American. Silk, paper. metmuseum
1800. American. Silk, paper. metmuseum
1800. Mexican. Glass, cottom, linen. metmuseum
1800. Mexican. Glass, cottom, linen. metmuseum
1820. French. Metal. metmuseum
1820. French. Metal. metmuseum
1820. French. Silver. metmuseum
1820. French. Silver. metmuseum
1825. French. Silver. metmuseum
1825. French. Silver. metmuseum
1830. French. metal. metmuseum
1830. French. metal. metmuseum
1850. European. Metal, cotton. metmuseum
1850. European. Metal, cotton. metmuseum
1860. Italian. Silk. metmuseum
1860. Italian. Silk. metmuseum
c 1880. Mexican. Glass, linen, silk. metmuseum
c 1880. Mexican. Glass, linen, silk. metmuseum
1885. American. Cotton, silk, metal. metmuseum
1885. American. Cotton, silk, metal. metmuseum
1890. American. Silk, metallic. metmuseum
1890. American. Silk, metallic. metmuseum
1890. French. Leather. metmuseum
1890. French. Leather. metmuseum
c 1890. French. metla. metmuseum
c 1890. French. metla. metmuseum

1900s

1900. American. Silk, metal, glass. metmuseum
1900. American. Silk, metal, glass. metmuseum
1910. Scottish. Wool, metal. metmuseum
1910. Scottish. Wool, metal. metmuseum
1913. American. Tiffany. Gold. metmuseum
1913. American. Tiffany. Gold. metmuseum
1914. European. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1914. European. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1915. French. Silk, metal, metallic. metmuseum
1915. French. Silk, metal, metallic. metmuseum
1920. Italian. Metal, glass. metmuseum
1920. Italian. Metal, glass. metmuseum
1920. Philippines. Piña, silk. metmuseum
1920. Philippines. Piña, silk. metmuseum
1925. American. Glass, silk. metmuseum
1925. American. Glass, silk. metmuseum
1925. French. Leather, metal, stone. metmuseum
1925. French. Leather, metal, stone. metmuseum
1930. American. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1930. American. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1930. American. Leather, plastic. metmuseum
1930. American. Leather, plastic. metmuseum
1933. American. Leather. metmuseum
1933. American. Leather. metmuseum
1950. French. Cartier. Leather, wool, wood. metmuseum
1950. French. Cartier. Leather, wool, wood. metmuseum
1950s. American. Phelps. Cotton, leather. metmuseum
1950s. American. Phelps. Cotton, leather. metmuseum
1958. Italian. Gucci. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1958. Italian. Gucci. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1965. Italian. Gucci. Leather, wood, metal. metmuseum
1965. Italian. Gucci. Leather, wood, metal. metmuseum
1965. Spanish. Loewe. Leather, metal. metmuseum
1965. Spanish. Loewe. Leather, metal. metmuseum

References
Museum of Bags
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Wikipedia
LACMA

The “Beau Monde” High Fashion of the 18th Century

On August 1, 1714, Queen Anne of Great Britain drew her last breath, and the first of a series of Georges ascended to the throne, marking the dawn of an extraordinary new era of exploration, invention, industry, and art—the Georgian Era.

As the rural economy shifted to an urban industrial one, huge advances in science, design and engineering brought wealth to a new class of merchants, businessmen, and financiers.

This nouveau riche “middling sort”, or middle class, imitated the lifestyle of the aristocracy. Looking fashionable was a full-time occupation, and a tall order—since the Georgian aristocracy didn’t do things by halves.

Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England. Credit Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England. Credit Blenheim Palace
Imperial pleasure palace Schoenbrunn, courtyard by Bernardo Bellotto, 1761.
Imperial pleasure palace Schoenbrunn, courtyard by Bernardo Bellotto, 1761.

Unlike the 17th century, it was parliament, not the monarchy, that held sway over governing the country.

Plush new town homes were built to house the politicians and their servants for the London season—corresponding to the sitting of parliament.

Park Crescent, London. Credit spudgun67
Park Crescent, London. Credit spudgun67

Fashion established the social pecking order. Aristocratic elites aped each other’s tastes, the middle class watched and learned, and the press fanned the public’s fascination with the glitterati.

This was the age of the Beau Monde.

Pleasure gardens, exhibitions and assemblies were open to all who could afford tickets.

Vauxhall Gardens by Thomas Rowlandson, 1785
Vauxhall Gardens by Thomas Rowlandson, 1785

At Vauxhall Gardens, London, a shopkeeper’s wife and daughters could rub shoulders with the landed gentry.

Men looked resplendent in their finery …

1760. British Suit. Wool, gilt metal. metmuseum
1760. British Suit. Wool, gilt metal. metmuseum

… a declaration of fashion on both sides of the Big Pond.

John Hancock by John Singleton Copley, 1765
John Hancock by John Singleton Copley, 1765

Men’s attire remained fairly static throughout the 18th century—predominantly coats, waistcoats and breeches—with stylistic changes to the fabric and cut.

Suits ranged from the elaborately embroidered silks and velvets of formal “full dress” to hard-wearing woolen garments more suitable for outdoor sport and country pursuits.

The 18th-century Beau Monde male wanted to look as fashionable as possible with seemingly little effort—exuding an air of “nonchalance.”

c. 1800. Man's ensemble. Silk cut and voided velvet on plain-weave foundation with supplementary weft-float patterning and silk embroidery. LACMA
c. 1800. Man’s ensemble. Silk cut and voided velvet on plain-weave foundation with supplementary weft-float patterning and silk embroidery. LACMA
c. 1755 Man's ensemble. Silk cut, uncut, and voided velvet (ciselé) on satin foundation. LACMA
c. 1755 Man’s ensemble. Silk cut, uncut, and voided velvet (ciselé) on satin foundation. LACMA

But it was women who really stole the show.

1750. British. Woman's Dress and Petticoat with Stomacher (Robe à l'anglaise). Brocaded silk satin. LACMA
1750. British. Woman’s Dress and Petticoat with Stomacher (Robe à l’anglaise). Brocaded silk satin. LACMA
Portrait of Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Bevern by Antoine Pesne, 1739
Portrait of Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Bevern by Antoine Pesne, 1739
Fan 1760s Netherlands. Credit KCI
Fan 1760s Netherlands. Credit KCI

Between 1720 and 1780, ladies wore imposing Robes à la Française (French Dress) and Robes à l’Anglaise (English Dress).

Derived from the loose negligée sacque dress of the early part of the century, Robes à la Française had an open funnel-shaped front—often with stomacher panel—and wide rectangular skirts of expansive fabric decorated with delicate Rococo designs.

c. 1765. Robe à la Française. European. Silk. metmuseum
c. 1765. Robe à la Française. European. Silk. metmuseum
1765. Robe à la Française. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1765. Robe à la Française. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1765. Robe à la Française. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1765. Robe à la Française. French. Silk, cotton. metmuseum
1765. Woman's Dress and Petticoat (Robe à la française). Silk plain weave (faille) with silk and metallic-thread supplementary-weft patterning, and metallic lace. LACMA
1765. Woman’s Dress and Petticoat (Robe à la française). Silk plain weave (faille) with silk and metallic-thread supplementary-weft patterning, and metallic lace. LACMA
1760. Robe à la française. French. Silk plain weave (faille) with silk and metallic-thread supplementary weft patterning, and metallic lace trim. LACMA
1760. Robe à la française. French. Silk plain weave (faille) with silk and metallic-thread supplementary weft patterning, and metallic lace trim. LACMA
c1775. Robe a la Francaise. French. Silk bobbin lace. mfa.org
c. 1775. Robe a la Francaise. French. Silk bobbin lace. mfa.org

Obtaining such a silhouette took some hidden magic—an undergarment structure of panniers.

Panniers, 1750. metmuseum
Panniers, 1750. metmuseum
Panniers 1780. Credit LACMA
Panniers 1780. Credit LACMA

But, oh, what power the dress held over the male of the species …

Porcelain figurine dancer wearing a pannier
Porcelain figurine dancer wearing a pannier

The robe à la française compelled men everywhere to declare their love on bended knee.

The Declaration of Love by Jean François de Troy, 1731
The Declaration of Love by Jean François de Troy, 1731

Court etiquette demanded an altogether higher level of commitment to fashion. Size mattered. And one name stood out across Europe as synonymous with court fashion—Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette in a court dress worn over extremely wide panniers, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1778
Marie Antoinette in a court dress worn over extremely wide panniers, Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1778
1765 Robe à la française. Silk satin with weft-float patterning and silk passementerie. LACMA
1765 Robe à la française. Silk satin with weft-float patterning and silk passementerie. LACMA

You may be wondering, what’s the point? Well, the whole idea behind such width was to provide a panel where woven patterns, elaborate decorations and rich embroidery could be displayed and fully appreciated.

c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum

For the wearer of this little number, the only way to pass through doorways was literally sideways.

c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
c. 1750. Court dress. British. Silk, metallic thread. metmuseum
1755 Mantua. England. Silk, silver-gilt thread, linen thread, silk thread, hand-sewn. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
1755 Mantua. England. Silk, silver-gilt thread, linen thread, silk thread, hand-sewn. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A variation on the Robe à la Française was the Robe à l’Anglaise, having a tight, fitted back, rather than the draped pleats of the Française.

1750. Robe à l'Anglaise. British. Silk.
1750. Robe à l’Anglaise. British. Silk.
1750. Robe à l'Anglaise. British. Silk
1750. Robe à l’Anglaise. British. Silk
1776. Robe à l'Anglaise. British. Silk
1776. Robe à l’Anglaise. British. Silk

Another popular style of gown in the 18th-century was the Robe à la Polonaise (Polish Dress).

Characterized by a close-fitting bodice and skirt gathered up into three separate puffed sections at the back, the polonaise was suspended by rows of little rings sewn inside the skirt, or sometimes ribbon ties forming decorative bows.

1780 Robe à la Polonaise. French. Silk. metmuseum
1780 Robe à la Polonaise. French. Silk. metmuseum
1780 Robe à la Polonaise. French. Silk. metmuseum
1780 Robe à la Polonaise. French. Silk. metmuseum

In the latter part of the 18th century, fashion became simpler and less elaborate. Spurred by modern Enlightenment thinking, the fashionability of Rococo went into decline.

1790s, American, silk. metmuseum
1790s, American, silk. metmuseum
French cartoon showing contrats between fashions of 1793 on the left and those of 1778 on the right
French cartoon showing contrast between fashions of 1793 on the left and those of 1778 on the right

Following the French Revolution, people began dressing for individual expression rather that social status.

In trendsetting France, out went the aristocracy and in came Napoleon’s first Empress, Joséphine de Beauharnais sporting the “Empire Silhouette”. High-waisted, with a long, flowing skirt, it was a look that would take Europe by storm.

Joséphine in coronation costume by Baron François Gérard
Joséphine in coronation costume by Baron François Gérard
1800 Empire Silhouette Dress, LACMA
1800 Empire Silhouette Dress, LACMA

The 18th-century Beau Monde was over … but the 19th century would see its own excesses.

Beware the Full Moon. Beware the Lunar Society

The year was 1775. Some very strange events had been observed at an elegant white mansion in Birmingham, England.

In the afternoon before each full moon, one by one, black carriages would start to arrive. Out of each carriage appeared a lone cloaked figure, which moved stealthily to the front entrance and disappeared inside the ghostly building.

Soho House in Handsworth, Birmingham, a regular venue for meetings of the Lunar Society. Derivative works by David James based on photo by Wehwalt
Soho House in Handsworth, Birmingham, a regular venue for meetings of the Lunar Society. Derivative works based on photo by Wehwalt

The local police received many worrying reports: the cook heard howls of laughter; the gardener remembered squeals of excitement; and the butler reported seeing flashes of light.

Were these men doing the work of Satan? Were they sprouting thick hair and long pointed teeth? Were they preparing to go hunting for human flesh?

No, it was something far more sinister. For these were members of a society of intellectuals called the “lunarticks”, and they gathered to do something that, today, we find highly disagreeable.

They talked to each other.

But this was no idle chit chat—their conversations were about things the world had never seen.

The main ringleader was an English manufacturer named Matthew Boulton. Dubbed the Richard Branson of his day, Boulton harnessed the newest technology—steam power—to mechanize factories and mills. He supplied the Royal Mint with steam-powered machines to foil the scourge of counterfeiters that had taken over Britain’s coinage—and made enough new copper coins to pay real wages to the working poor across Britain.

Plaster bust of Matthew Boulton. Credit Birmingham Museums Trust
Plaster bust of Matthew Boulton. Credit Birmingham Museums Trust

Boulton was guilty of industrial revolution on a grand scale. From humble beginnings, he expanded his father’s buckle-making business into the largest manufacturing complex in the world—the Soho Manufactory— producing all manner of fine decorative metal work.

1770. Clock case, Matthew Boulton. Credit metmuseum.org
1770. Clock case, Matthew Boulton. Credit metmuseum.org
c. 1770. Candelabrum. Matthew Boulton. Credit Art Institute of Chicago
c. 1770. Candelabrum. Matthew Boulton. Credit Art Institute of Chicago
1770. Pair of perfume burners. Matthew Boulton. Credit metmuseum.org
1770. Pair of perfume burners. Matthew Boulton. Credit metmuseum.org

Boulton’s co-conspirator was a wickedly clever man from one of the most notorious families in history—the Darwins. Erasmus Darwin was an English physician, natural philosopher, physiologist, and slave-trade abolitionist.

Grandfather of the infamous evolutionary Charles Darwin, Erasmus Darwin’s poems included stanzas about natural history, and a statement of evolution and the relatedness of all forms of life.

Erasmus Darwin by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1770
Erasmus Darwin by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1770

They called themselves “lunarticks” (a play on the word lunatics), and later, the “Lunar Society” because they only met on days with a full moon, claiming that it provided enough light for a safer journey home.

But in truth, the full moon inspired their wicked genius and they fed off each other’s intelligence like a group of vampires feeding off blood.

For it was the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and members of the Lunar Society were developing concepts and techniques in science, agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and transport that would change the world.

Boulton and Darwin were not alone—they had recruited others to join their Lunar Society, including Boulton’s own business partner, James Watt.

Watt modified Newcomen’s steam engine, improving it’s efficiency and cost-effectiveness. It powered the industrial revolution not just in Britain, but around the world. Every light bulb in existence bears his name—”watt”, the unit of power.

James Watt and the Steam Engine by James Eckford Lauder. Scottish National Gallery
James Watt and the Steam Engine by James Eckford Lauder. Scottish National Gallery

The famous Staffordshire potter, Josiah Wedgwood (1730 – 1795) was also a member of the Lunar Society. He founded the Wedgwood Company in Stoke-on-Trent, England, and is credited with bringing the entire pottery trade into the industrial age through the division of labor and mechanization.

Josiah Wedgwood. Derivative works by David James based on photograph by stephen betteridge
Josiah Wedgwood. Derivative works based on photograph by stephen betteridge

In 1765, his factory’s fine porcelain caught the attention of British Royalty. Queen Consort Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz gave official permission to call it “Queen’s Ware”.

c 1780. Platter. Josiah Wedgwood. Credit metmuseum.org
c 1780. Platter. Josiah Wedgwood. Credit metmuseum.org
c. 1785 Detail of Medusa, Josiah Wedgwood at the Art Institute of Chicago. Credit Anne Peterson, flickr
c. 1785 Detail of Medusa, Josiah Wedgwood at the Art Institute of Chicago. Credit Anne Peterson, flickr
c. 1790. Belt Clasp with a Female Making a Sacrifice. Josiah Wedgwood with metal frame by Matthew Boulton. Credit Walters Art Museum
c. 1790. Belt Clasp with a Female Making a Sacrifice. Josiah Wedgwood with metal frame by Matthew Boulton. Credit Walters Art Museum

Their influence spread far and wide in a network that reached the American colonies. There, a co-conspirator named Benjamin Franklin helped spread their evil, industrial ways.

Franklin was introduced to the Lunar Society when he traveled to Birmingham, England, in 1758, with the intention of improving “Acquaintance among Persons of Influence”. With the lunarticks, he had hit the jackpot, and returned to Birmingham in 1760 to conduct experiments with electricity at Boulton’s house.

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

Another world-changing meeting had finally come to a close and the Lunar Society left Boulton’s home. One by one, black carriages arrived and then vanished into the night … until the next full moon.

Soho House in Handsworth, Birmingham, a regular venue for meetings of the Lunar Society. Derivative works by David James based on photo by Wehwalt
Soho House in Handsworth, Birmingham, a regular venue for meetings of the Lunar Society. Derivative works based on photo by Wehwalt

Further Reading

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The Colorful Shoes of the 18th Century

Adorned with decadent decorative arts and steeped in affectation, it’s no surprise that the French Court led European preference for elaborate clothing and accessories—everything from luxurious wigs to the colorful shoes of the 18th century.

Just as the formal ladies’ Robe à la Francaise showcased lavish embroideries and silk damask fabrics, so too did footwear display the very best of the era’s woven artistry.

Both ladies and gentlemen were expected to be fluent in fine arts, music, and dancing and behave with the utmost grace and poise.

This exuberance was no less manifested in the footwear of the period—the colorful shoes of the 18th century.

1700. French. Silk, leather
1700. French. Silk, leather
1709. European. Silk
1709. European. Silk
c1710s. European. Silk. Leather
c1710s. European. Silk. Leather

Trending toward the lighter floral decoration of Rococo in the first quarter of the 18th century, the predecessor to the classic buckle was the latchet tie (shown below).

When buckles did become available later in the century, they were often retrofitted to latchet tie shoes to extend their life.

1720. British. Silk, leather
1720. British. Silk, leather
1721. British. Silk, metal
1721. British. Silk, metal
1729. British, Silk
1729. British, Silk

“Bargello” or flame stitch was an embroidery style most commonly used for upholstery and personal accessories, but also for shoes.

The bold zigzag wool canvas pattern shown below extends to the heels, which was unusual for the time—more often being silk or leather.

1729. British. Wool, linen, metal
1729. British. Wool, linen, metal
1729. British, Wool
1729. British, Wool
1729. British. Silk. Metallic
1729. British. Silk. Metallic
1739. European. Wool
1739. European. Wool

Wel-established in the 17th century and continuing into the 18th was a decorative style of braid with multiple parallel rows.

Pinched toes, high throat, flared tongue with small side opening, and sturdy high heel rounded out this popular style.

Ties were still in fashion and were the main method of closure until the buckle was introduced later in the century.

1739. British, silk
1739. British, silk
1739. European. Silk, gold, leather
1739. European. Silk, gold, leather
1740. British. Silk. Metallic
1740. British. Silk. Metallic
1745. British. Silk
1745. British. Silk

Inspired by an Indian floral design, this pair of ladies shoes (below) shows the penchant for patterned fabrics.

Ladies would sometimes embroider the upper themselves and take it to a shoemaker to be made into shoes. Published in ladies magazines, embroidery patterns had become popular by the last quarter of the 18th century.

1749 British silk
1749 British silk
1755. British. Silk, metal
1755. British. Silk, metal

Eye-catching textile designs were a favorite choice of aristocratic ladies.

The red heel and white strip along the shoe’s front edge coordinate well with the uppers.

A wide metallic ribbon down the center of the vamp was a popular decoration of the period.

1759. British. Silk, leather, metal
1759. British. Silk, leather, metal
1759. European. Silk
1759. European. Silk

Popular for about 100 years, striped braid is shown below toward the end of its fashionable period in the monochrome preference.

Despite a buckle that would hide the intricate pattern, the braided tongue was fashioned with an attractive star design.

1759. European, Silk
1759. European, Silk

Bold and colorful, the finely worked flame-stitch canvas upper was a common embroidery style.

The higher, more upright heel and blunt toe—free from the upturn of earlier designs—shows the progression of fashion through the 18th century. Gone is the metallic decoration down the vamp’s center, but of note is the unusual printed silk adorning the heel.

1769. British. Wool. Linen. Silk
1769. British. Wool. Linen. Silk

Fashionable from the late 1770s were pointed tongues—sometimes reworked from an original square tongue as shown below.

Increasingly favored as the 18th century progressed were simpler, lighter textile designs. In this case, the silk uppers have been carefully cut to show off the brocaded motifs.

1770. British, silk
1770. British, silk
1775. French. Silk, metallic
1775. French. Silk, metallic

Plainer than ladies shoes, those of gentlemen did, however, have decorative aspects. Red heels were a favorite among aristocrats—a style inherited from the French courts of the 17th century.

1779. British, leather
1779. British, leather
1780 American silk
1780 American silk
1780. British. Silk
1780. British. Silk
c1780. French. Leather
c1780. French. Leather
1785. European. Silk, leather
1785. European. Silk, leather
1789. European. Silk
1789. European. Silk

Embodying the pointed toe and tongue from ladies styles, this rare pair of children’s shoes (below) is in unusually good condition.

This type of flat-heeled shoe was common among boys and girls, although the bright color suggests they complemented the more colorful feminine dress of the period.

1790 European leather
1790 European leather
1795. American. Silk
1795. American. Silk

20 Handmade Dolls Tell the History of Fashion

This is the story of how a series of exquisite handmade dolls, representing the history of French haute couture made their way to the United States as an expression of gratitude.

The year was 1948 and France was still suffering from the effects of World War II. Housed in boxcars and dubbed the “Friendship Train”, American aide organizations had sent large-scale relief the year before.

Read more …

Now it was France who wished to show its gratitude for America’s generosity by creating the “Gratitude Train”—a set of 49 box cars filled with French-made gifts, like handmade toys and priceless works of art.

The French fashion houses banded together to create something very special.

They tasked their most talented designers with creating a set of fashion dolls that would show the evolution of French fashion.

Measuring 24 inches tall with bodies made from open wire, the designers used human hair to fashion the hairstyles.

Using period paintings, literature, and fashion plates as references, each designer chose a year between 1715 and 1906.

Representing their creative interpretations, the designers used the same level of care and attention to detail as they did for full size work.

It was a unique moment in the history of French couture.

“1715 Doll”. Marcel Rochas (French, 1902–1955)

"1715 Doll". Marcel Rochas (French, 1902–1955)
“1715 Doll”. Marcel Rochas (French, 1902–1955)

“1733 Doll”. Jean Bader (French)

"1733 Doll". Jean Bader (French)
“1733 Doll”. Jean Bader (French)

“1755 Doll”. A. Reichert (French)

"1755 Doll". A. Reichert (French)
“1755 Doll”. A. Reichert (French)

“1774 Doll”. Jean Dessès (French (born Egypt), Alexandria 1904–1970 Athens)

"1774 Doll". Jean Dessès (French (born Egypt), Alexandria 1904–1970 Athens)
“1774 Doll”. Jean Dessès (French (born Egypt), Alexandria 1904–1970 Athens)

“1779 Doll”. Lucille Manguin

"1779 Doll". Lucille Manguin
“1779 Doll”. Lucille Manguin

“1785 Doll”. Maggy Rouff (French, 1896–1971)

"1785 Doll". Maggy Rouff (French, 1896–1971)
“1785 Doll”. Maggy Rouff (French, 1896–1971)

“1787 Doll”. Mendel

"1787 Doll". Mendel
“1787 Doll”. Mendel

“1791 Doll”. Martial & Armand

"1791 Doll". Martial & Armand
“1791 Doll”. Martial & Armand