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

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

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 “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.

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

Portrait Miniatures: Intimate Expressions of Love

Portrait miniatures were popular among 16th-century English and French aristocrats.

Spreading across Europe in the 18th century, miniatures remained very popular until the latter half of the 19th century when the first photographic processes started to appear.

Today, one of the reasons we take selfies is to share on social networks, particularly for use as our profile pictures. It’s a convenient way to introduce ourselves to other people over distance.

This was one of the uses of portrait miniatures—as profile pictures : “this is me in my Sunday best.”

Portrait miniatures also brought a new innovation in matchmaking. If a nobleman was proposing the marriage of his daughter, he would send a portrait miniature via courier to potential suitors.

At about half the size of an iPhone, they were convenient for carrying a picture of a loved one at all times.

Soldiers and sailors would draw comfort from them while traveling in remote corners of the world. And wives could keep a picture of their husband close to their hearts while he was away.

Small is beautiful.

Here are ten intimate expressions of love … in miniature…

Portrait of a Gentleman by William M. S. Doyle, 1810
Portrait of a Gentleman by William M. S. Doyle, 1810
Portrait of a Lady by Charles Cromwell Ingham, 1837
Portrait of a Lady by Charles Cromwell Ingham, 1837
Portrait of a Man by Nathaniel Jocelyn, 1830
Portrait of a Man by Nathaniel Jocelyn, 1830
Portrait of a Lady by William P. Sheys, 1813
Portrait of a Lady by William P. Sheys, 1813
Self-Portrait by John Henry Brown, 1846
Self-Portrait by John Henry Brown, 1846
By my soul, I can neither eat, drink, nor sleep; nor, what’s still worse, love any woman in the world but her.Samuel Richardson, Clarissa
Mrs. Vanderbank by Christian Friedrich Zincke, 1730
Mrs. Vanderbank by Christian Friedrich Zincke, 1730
Self Portrait by George Harvey, 1830
Self Portrait by George Harvey, 1830
In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.Jane Austen, Pride And Prejudice
Rebecca Wetherill by George Hewitt Cushman, 1849
Rebecca Wetherill by George Hewitt Cushman, 1849
Portrait of a Gentleman by Moses B. Russell, 1834
Portrait of a Gentleman by Moses B. Russell, 1834
He feeds upon her face by day and night, And she with true kind eyes looks back on him, Fair as the moon and joyful as the light.Christina Rossetti, In An Artist's Studio
Augusta Temple Palmer by Jean-Baptiste Isabey, 1828
Augusta Temple Palmer by Jean-Baptiste Isabey, 1828
Portrait of a Gentleman by Joseph Wood, 1815
Portrait of a Gentleman by Joseph Wood, 1815
Love seeketh not itself to please, Nor for itself hath any care; But for another gives its ease, And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.William Blake, The Clod And The Pebble
Lola Montez by Josef Heigel c. 1820
Lola Montez by Josef Heigel c. 1820
Portrait of a Gentleman by Anna Claypoole Peale, 1832
Portrait of a Gentleman by Anna Claypoole Peale, 1832
Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
Portrait of a Lady by Frederick R. Spencer, 1830
Portrait of a Lady by Frederick R. Spencer, 1830
Self-portrait by Thomas Seir Cummings, 1825
Self-portrait by Thomas Seir Cummings, 1825
Every atom of your flesh is as dear to me as my own: in pain and sickness it would still be dear.Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Portrait of a Lady by Lawrence Sully, 1795
Portrait of a Lady by Lawrence Sully, 1795
Self Portrait by James Van Dyck, 1836
Self Portrait by James Van Dyck, 1836
I cannot let you burn me up, nor can I resist you. No mere human can stand in a fire and not be consumed.A.S. Byatt, Possession
Elizabeth Scott by Nathaniel Hancock, 1795
Elizabeth Scott by Nathaniel Hancock, 1795
General Henry Knox by Charles Willson Peale, 1778
General Henry Knox by Charles Willson Peale, 1778
Oh the heart that has truly loved never forgets, But as truly loves on to the close.Thomas Moore, Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms
Rachel Brewer by Charles Willson Peale, 1790
Rachel Brewer by Charles Willson Peale, 1790

The Last of the Mohicans: A Sweeping Romance from the Seven Years’ War

The challenge with historical drama for Hollywood movie studios is to make it appealing to a mass audience.

Too much historical accuracy and it becomes more or less a documentary. Too little and it loses the plot.

PBS’s Masterpiece is in many ways a better medium for faithful storytelling of historical dramas. The 2006 Masterpiece production of Jane Eyre, for example, won 4 awards with 14 nominations.

And documentaries can be as absorbing as a movie with the right combination of Computer Graphics, on-location filming, and engaging narrative.

Simon Schama and Lucy Worsley host very engaging history documentaries.

The Last of the Mohicans by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1850
The Last of the Mohicans by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1850

Last of the Mohicans was no history documentary.

It was mastery of cinematography and soundtrack.

Press play to add atmosphere as we explore the Last of the Mohicans.

A sweeping romantic epic, with Homeric sadness to rival a Greek tragedy.

When the Grey Hair is dead, Magua will eat his heart. Before he dies, Magua will put his children under the knife, so the Grey Hair will know his seed is wiped out forever.

If there is one moment in the entire film that captures the genius of director Michael Mann, it is the split second Alice Munro looks directly into the camera before jumping to her death.

Tragedy, despair, hopelessness … all in that one fleeting moment.

That’s powerful. That’s movie making.

Alice jumps to her death.

The hauntingly beautiful score of Trevor Jones won the movie an academy award for best sound.

Clannad’s romantic ballad “I Will Find You” is like a Celtic promise of undying love.

Spectacular scenery from the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains and mesmerizing sounds combined harmoniously to create an atmosphere that could have been crafted by English romantic poets Byron and Shelley.

The action scenes were extraordinary—enough to satisfy even the most die-hard fight-scene aficionado.

In the final confrontation Chingachgook, the Last of the Mohicans, smashes Magua’s arms, rendering him useless, unable to do anything but stand there and wait for the final death blow.

Preparing for the kill. The spectacular setting for the final confrontation between Chingachgook and Magua.

Michael Mann’s attention to detail is second to none.

The whole production team hiked their equipment 45 minutes each day into the Appalachian wilderness to reach the breathtaking locations that make this movie special.

The tension Mann creates as the British travel across exposed terrain surrounded by Hurons, hidden in thick woodland … silent … waiting to attack, is extraordinary.

And the ensuing battle is something only Hollywood budgets can depict effectively.

ambush

The movie deserves praise for renewing interest in Native American culture and helping break the stereotype of the gunslinging cowboys and Indians westerns.

The set of Fort William Henry and the costumes were painstakingly researched for accuracy.

Daniel Day Lewis trained for six months to add weight and acquire the skills that a frontiersman like Daniel Boone would have learned from the Iroquois.

Actor Daniel Day-Lewis trained hard to learn frontiersman skills like those of Daniel Boone.

Madeleine Stowe has the timeless, delicate beauty that made her so perfect for the role of Cora.

From his scarred, weather-beaten face, to his evil stare and authentic Native American roots, Wes Studi epitomized the hate and vengeance that was Magua.

Steven Waddington is a fine British actor with the wonderful clarity of diction that comes with a Royal Shakespeare Company tenure.

His role as Major Duncan Heyward captured the obsessive sense of honor and duty that was so important to British culture of the time.

Cora Munro, Magua and Maj. Duncan Heyward

Last of the Mohicans was the No.1 movie on its opening weekend, was the 17th highest-grossing film of 1992 and won an academy award for best sound.

Landscape Scene from 'The Last of the Mohicans' by Thomas Cole, 1827
Landscape Scene from ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ by Thomas Cole, 1827

The Magical Miniature World of Antique Dollhouses

Welcome to the magical world of antique dollhouses.

Early dollhouses were elaborate European cabinet-style “baby house” display cases.

Doll's house from Petronella de la Court (Amsterdam 1670-1690) in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht - The Netherlands.
Doll’s house from Petronella de la Court (Amsterdam 1670-1690) in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht – The Netherlands.

The 17th-century dollhouse of wealthy Dutch widow Petronella Oortman is of such historical significance that it resides permanently in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Dolls’ House of Petronella Oortman, c. 1700
Dolls’ House of Petronella Oortman, c. 1700

Like other rich women in Amsterdam and the Hague, Petronella had a dollhouse built that she curated over many years, starting in 1686, and filling it with expensive decorative materials and miniatures.

The Comptoir (office) in the dollhouse of Petronella de la Court, Amsterdam 1670-1680
The Comptoir (office) in the dollhouse of Petronella de la Court, Amsterdam 1670-1680

Petronella’s dollhouse was also painted by Dutch artist Jacob Appel in 1710.

Dollhouse of Petronella Ortman by Jacob Appel, c. 1710
Dollhouse of Petronella Ortman by Jacob Appel, c. 1710

Popular among 17th-century German, Dutch, and English nobility, these dollhouses were less about play than they were ornamental conversation pieces—often filled with real miniature silver and porcelain objet d’art.

Dolls’ House of Petronella Oortman, c. 1700
Dolls’ House of Petronella Oortman, c. 1700

In fact, children were off-limits for these extravagant trophy collections for fear of them being damaged.

Incredible detail included tiny chandeliers, mirrors, and even portraits hung on walls. Doors had real hinges and connected adjoining rooms.

Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France. Credit Christina
Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France. Credit Christina

Sara Rothé was another famous owner of dollhouses.

An 18th-century art collector from the Northern Netherlands, she made two dollhouses that were miniature copies of her two homes.

Frans Hals Museum dollhouse. Credit Sailko
Frans Hals Museum dollhouse. Credit Sailko

Skilled at embroidery, she embroidered most of the cloth furnishings in the dollhouses.

Perfectly scaled replicas of bedspreads, wool rugs, upholstered chairs, and hardwood floors completed the interior décor.

Dollhouse of Sara Rothé (1699-1751, Amsterdam) now displayed in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem
Dollhouse of Sara Rothé (1699-1751, Amsterdam) now displayed in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem

Although initially handmade by individual craftsmen, following the industrial revolution, dollhouses were increasingly mass-produced, and as such, were more affordable.

Firms specializing in dollhouse manufacture began to spring up in Germany and England. German companies included Christian Hacker, Moritz Gottschalk, Elastolin, and Moritz Reichel.

Bäumler family doll house nuremberg, ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko
Bäumler family doll house nuremberg, ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko
Doll's house from Colmar, Alsace, eastern France (German territory from 1871 - 1918). Credit Esther Westerveld
Doll’s house from Colmar, Alsace, eastern France (German territory from 1871 – 1918). Credit Esther Westerveld
Bäumler family doll house Nuremberg, Germany ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko
Bäumler family doll house Nuremberg, Germany ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko

German firms were the leaders up until World War I, with their dollhouses regularly exported to the United States and Britain.

Bäumler family doll house Nuremberg, Germany ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko
Bäumler family doll house Nuremberg, Germany ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko
Bäumler family doll house Nuremberg, Germany ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko
Bäumler family doll house Nuremberg, Germany ca 1650-1700. Credit Sailko
Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France (German territory from 1871 - 1918). Credit Anca Pandrea
Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France (German territory from 1871 – 1918). Credit Anca Pandrea
Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France (German territory from 1871 - 1918). Credit Christina
Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France (German territory from 1871 – 1918). Credit Christina
Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France (German territory from 1871 - 1918). Credit Christina
Alsatian Museum, Strasbourg, France (German territory from 1871 – 1918). Credit Christina

English counterparts to the German firms were Silber & Fleming, Evans & Cartwright, and Lines Brothers.

Antique English Dollhouse. Credit Paul Keleher
Antique English Dollhouse. Credit Paul Keleher
Constance Dahl's 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter
Constance Dahl’s 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter
Constance Dahl's 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter
Constance Dahl’s 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter
Constance Dahl's 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter
Constance Dahl’s 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter
Constance Dahl's 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter
Constance Dahl’s 1882 Dolls House. Credit Clem Rutter

Showcasing the very finest goods of the period, Queen Mary’s Doll’s House was built for Queen Mary, the wife of King George V in 1924.

At five feet tall, it contains an incredible collection of working miniatures: running water, toilets that flush, electric light switches, working elevators, and even a garage with cars that have running motors.

Writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) and Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book) contributed special books, written and bound in scale size.

Queen Mary's Dolls' House constructed for Queen Mary in 1924. Credit. Rob Sangster
Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House constructed for Queen Mary in 1924. Credit. Rob Sangster

American dollhouses were introduced by the Bliss Manufacturing Company towards the end of the 19th century. Firms like Roger Williams Toys, Tootsietoy, Schoenhut, and the Wisconsin Toy Co began to flourish in the early 20th century.

19th-century Dollhouse. Credit Joanbanjo2
19th-century Dollhouse. Credit Joanbanjo2
19th-century Dollhouse. Credit Joanbanjo
19th-century Dollhouse. Credit Joanbanjo
President Carter's daughter Amy poses with her dollhouse at the White House, 1978
President Carter’s daughter Amy poses with her dollhouse at the White House, 1978
Exterior of the Astolat Dollhouse Castle, built between 1976 and 1986 in USA. Credit Dr Michael and Lois Freeman
Exterior of the Astolat Dollhouse Castle, built between 1976 and 1986 in USA. Credit Dr Michael and Lois Freeman

Norfolk Island: “Hell in Paradise”

Does a tiny Australian island in the South Pacific with evergreen pines, jagged cliffs, pure blue waters, and sandy beaches sound like your idea of paradise? Welcome to Norfolk Island—site of an 18th-century penal colony.

Norfolk Island pines. Image credit thinboyfatter
Norfolk Island pines. Image credit thinboyfatter
Bird Rock (off the north coast). Image credit Steve Daggar
Bird Rock (off the north coast). Image credit Steve Daggar
Captain Cook Lookout. Image credit Steve Daggar
Captain Cook Lookout. Image credit Steve Daggar
Emily Bay, Norfolk Island. Image credit Steve Daggar
Emily Bay, Norfolk Island. Image credit Steve Daggar

A remote island paradise in the South Pacific—looks wonderful, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t so great for the convicts sent here from England in the 18th century. Norfolk Island served as a penal colony from 1788 until 1855.

A Brief History of Norfolk Island Penal Colony

Captain James Cook was the first European to set foot on Norfolk Island in October 1774, as part of his second voyage to the South Pacific. He named the island after Mary Howard, Duchess of Norfolk (c. 1712 – 1773).

Such were the challenges of receiving news at sea for 18th-century explorers, that at the time Cook named the island after her, the Duchess had been dead for 18 months.

Captain James Cook by Nathaniel Dance-Holland. Mary Howard, Duchess of Norfolk by James Hoare
Captain James Cook by Nathaniel Dance-Holland. Mary Howard, Duchess of Norfolk by James Hoare
Norfolk Island. Image credit TUBS

Exactly where is Norfolk Island? Think “remote” and you’ll be close. On a map of the globe, it appears as a tiny speck somewhere east of Australia and northwest of New Zealand.

In 1786, Catherine the Great of Russia announced she was restricting sales of hemp and flax to English buyers. At the time, Britain’s Royal Navy was heavily dependent on flax for making sails, and hemp for ropes—any constraints on their supply threatened Britain’s sea power.

In a letter from Comptroller of the Navy Sir Charles Middleton to then Prime Minister William Pitt, he explained,

It is for Hemp only we are dependent on Russia. Masts can be procured from Nova Scotia, and Iron in plenty from the Ores of this Country; but it is impracticable to carry on a Naval War without Hemp.

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The potential to provide an alternative source for hemp and flax is argued by some historians, notably Geoffrey Blainey in Tyranny of Distance, as one of the main reasons Britain used Norfolk Island as a penal colony.

Lloyd’s Evening Post ran an article dated 5 October 1787, observing:

Should England cease to render her services to the Empress of Russia, in a war against the Turks, there can be little of nothing to fear from her ill-will. England will speedily be enabled to draw from her colonies the staple of Russia—hemp and flax.
Bomboras, Norfolk Island. Image credit Steve Daggar
Bomboras, Norfolk Island. Image credit Steve Daggar

Sir John Call, 1st Baronet (1731 – 1801) was a member of parliament and former chief engineer with the East India Company. Upon learning that flax grew in abundance on Norfolk Island, he proposed that the island be colonized as quickly as possible.

send a party to secure Norfolk Island as soon as Circumstances may admit of it…. to prevent its being occupied by the Subjects of any other European Power.

And so on 6 March 1788, colonization of Norfolk Island began with a party of 15 convicts and seven free men.

During the first year of the settlement, more convicts and soldiers arrived from Australia. A letter from an Officer of Marines was published in a London newspaper:

The island is fully wooded. Its timber is in the opinion of everyone the most beautiful and finest in the world…they are most suitable for masts, yards, spars and such. The New Zealand flax-plant grows there in abundance. European grains and seeds also thrive wonderfully well on Norfolk Island.
Norfolk Island jail. Image credit Steve Daggar
Norfolk Island jail. Image credit Steve Daggar

Norfolk Island was reserved for “the worst description of convicts“, which usually meant anyone convicted twice of a crime—”doubly-convicted capital respites“—or convicts who were sentenced to death for committing fresh colonial crimes, but were spared the gallows in favor of life on Norfolk Island.

Norfolk Island gaol. Image credit Steve Daggar
Norfolk Island gaol. Image credit Steve Daggar

In reality, only about 15% of convicts had done anything deserving of the death sentence. Most were guilty of non-violent crimes against property, for which the average sentence was three years.

Even so, treatment of prisoners was harsh. One of the more severe governors, Ralph Darling, commanded that,

every man should be worked in irons that the example may deter others from the commission of crime to hold out as a place of the extremest punishment short of death.
Convict labourers in Australia in the early 20th century
Convict labourers in Australia in the early 20th century

They worked in the mill, built roads, officers houses, and other government buildings.

For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke describes Norfolk Island as a “Hell in Paradise.”

An 1846 report by magistrate Robert Pringle Stuart exposed the horrors of torture and incessant flogging, the scarcity and poor quality of food, the inadequacy of housing and corruption of overseers.

There were several unsuccessful mutinies, all desperate attempts to escape the hardships. On visiting Norfolk Island to comfort mutineers sentenced to execution, Father William Ullathorne, Vicar general of Sydney, remarked:

the most heartrending scene that I ever witnessed. A literal fact that each man who heard his reprieve wept bitterly, and that each man who heard of his condemnation to death went down on his knees with dry eyes, and thanked God.

An audio-visual historical presentation on the island shows visitors what life was like on an oppressive penal colony.

Sound and Light Show on Norfolk Island telling tales of the convict era. Image credit denisbin
Sound and Light Show on Norfolk Island telling tales of the convict era. Image credit denisbin

Norfolk Island ceased to be a penal colony in May 1855 after the convicts were transferred to Tasmania. Transportation ceased, and it was left abandoned.

But a year later in June of 1856, the British government permitted the relocation of the Pitcairners to Norfolk Island. Descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers—including those of Fletcher Christian—arrived from the Pitcairn Islands to occupy many of the old penal settlements, and continue their lives as farmers and whalers.

A gravestone in the cemetery marks the passing of the granddaughter of the famous mutineer Fletcher Christian (who just happened to marry another Fletcher Christian from Pitcairn):

In loving memory of Peggy Christian, the loving wife of Fletcher Christian who died on Norfolk Island, May 12, 1884 aged 64.
Norfolk Island Cemetery. Image credit Bob Hall
Norfolk Island Cemetery. Image credit Bob Hall

The new community of Pitcairners would have appreciated the mutiny attempts of the mistreated convicts, as the 1935 award-winning movie Mutiny on the Bounty, starring a clean-shaven Clark Gable portrayed.

Captain Bligh:Mr Christian, they respect but one law – the law of fear…I expect you to carry out whatever orders I give, whenever I give them.

Fletcher Christian: Now you’ve given your last command on this ship. We’ll be men again if we hang for it.

Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian in a screenshot from the trailer for the film Mutiny on the Bounty., 1935
Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian in a screenshot from the trailer for the film Mutiny on the Bounty, 1935

The cemetery is full of convicts’ graves and those of the descendants of the “Mutiny on the Bounty” Pitcairners.

Norfolk Island Cemetery. Image credit Bob Hall.
Norfolk Island Cemetery. Image credit Bob Hall.

Today, Norfolk Island is part of the Australian Convict Sites UNESCO World Heritage Site and represents, “… the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts.”

The only inhabitants of the jail today are a gaggle of geese. Here they are working the roads in a chain gang.

Norfolk Island jail. Image credit Steve Daggar
Norfolk Island jail. Image credit Steve Daggar

And the only guards left on the island are the “masked boobies”, a gannet-like bird that breeds on tropical islands in the south pacific. But at 3 ft (91 cm) tall with a 5 ft (160 cm) wingspan, you don’t want to get on the wrong side of these guys.

Masked boobies, Norfolk Island. Image credit Steve Daggar
Masked boobies, Norfolk Island. Image credit Steve Daggar

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Madame Lebrun – Marie Antoinette’s portraitist

A story of joy and tragedy in an age of revolution.

Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (1755 – 1842), also known as Madame Lebrun, was a leading French artist whose clientele included royalty and aristocracy—most notably the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette.

Madame Lebrun’s ability to characterize her subjects in a flattering, stylish manner made her very popular.

So enamored was the queen with her work that she was hired to paint 30 portraits of Marie Antoinette and her family, earning her the reputation as the official portraitist.

A sensuous, radiant use of color, reminiscent of Rubens and Van Dyck marked Madame Lebrun’s unique style and gave her such alluring appeal.

Self-portrait by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1790
Self-portrait by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1790

A Mother’s Pride and Joy

In 1776 she married Jean-Baptiste Le Brun, an artist and art dealer, and four years later gave birth to a daughter, Jeanne Julie Louise, whom she called “Julie”.

I shall not try to describe the joy I experienced upon hearing the first cries of my child. All mothers know this exhilaration.

Julie was the apple of her mother’s eye. A pretty, happy little girl, whom her mother delighted in painting and sketching.

Self-portrait with her daughter Julie, 1786
Self-portrait with her daughter Julie, 1786

The work of an artist is demanding. And so it was for Madame Lebrun, who could not devote enough time to her daughter—something that would come back to haunt her in later life.

Revolution

As revolution gripped France and fearing she would be condemned for her close association with the monarchy and nobility, Madam Lebrun left the country with her daughter.

Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1778
Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1778

Her husband and brother were briefly imprisoned, and following the execution of Marie Antoinette, her husband sued for divorce to save his life.

After traveling through several European countries and finding a warm reception among the foreign nobility who knew of her talent and social reputation, Madame Lebrun settled in Russia.

Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia, 1799
Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia, 1799

It was in St Petersburg that her daughter Julie married a Russian nobleman—Gaetan Bernard Nigris—much to her mother’s dismay.

She broke off relations with her daughter and eventually resettled in Paris in 1805 during the reign of Napoleon I.

As might be expected of the former portraitist to Marie Antoinette, she was not well received in France.

However, her artistic talent was much in demand elsewhere in Europe. She painted several prominent British figures including the poet Lord Byron.

Tragedy Comes in Threes

In 1813, she learned that her former husband Jean-Baptiste LeBrun had died.

Soon after Waterloo, her daughter Julie was taken seriously ill.

Rushing to be by her side, all resentments forgotten, it was sadly too late.

Julie Le Brun by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1789
Julie Le Brun by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1789

The once pretty features of Julie were twisted by physical pain and she died shortly after.

Images of a happy girl that had been such a delight to paint, haunted Madame Lebrun.

Less than a year passed and her brother, Etienne, died.

She stayed in Paris until her death on 30 March 1842 when her body was taken back to Louveciennes and buried in a cemetery near her old home.

Madame Lebrun’s love of art was her constant companion through the best of times and the worst of times.

In her memoirs, she reveals her fascination with drawing:

My notebooks and those of my classmates were filled in the margins with sketches of little faces and profiles; on the walls of our dormitory, I drew little figures and landscapes with charcoal… during my playtime, I traced all sorts of images that came to my mind in the sand.

On her tombstone epitaph are the words, “Here, at last, I rest…”.

But her work lives on.

Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1778
Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1778
Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1783
Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1783
Marie Antoinette, Queen of France by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1788
Marie Antoinette, Queen of France by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1788
Julie Nigris as Flora, Roman Goddess of Flowers by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1799
Julie Nigris as Flora, Roman Goddess of Flowers by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1799
Alexandra and Elena, Daughters of Paul I of Russia by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1796
Alexandra and Elena, Daughters of Paul I of Russia by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1796
Portrait of Countess Catherine Skavronskaya by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1790)
Portrait of Countess Catherine Skavronskaya by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1790)
A baby, Portrait by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun, 1790
A baby, Portrait by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun, 1790
Mademoiselle Brongniart by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1788
Mademoiselle Brongniart by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1788
Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1783
Marie Antoinette by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1783
Baroness Anna Sergeevna Stroganova and Her Son Sergey by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1793
Baroness Anna Sergeevna Stroganova and Her Son Sergey by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1793
Princess Maria Cristina di Borbone by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1790
Princess Maria Cristina di Borbone by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1790
Duchesse de Guiche by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1784
Duchesse de Guiche by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1784
Lady Folding a Letter by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1784
Lady Folding a Letter by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1784
Madame Rousseau and her daughter by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1789
Madame Rousseau and her daughter by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1789
Portrait of Madame Mole-Raymond by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1787
Portrait of Madame Mole-Raymond by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1787
Corisande Armandine Léonie Sophie de Gramont by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, c1806
Corisande Armandine Léonie Sophie de Gramont by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, c1806
Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg, Queen of France, and her children by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1787
Marie-Antoinette de Lorraine-Habsbourg, Queen of France, and her children by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1787
Self-portrait in a Straw Hat, 1782
Self-portrait in a Straw Hat, 1782

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