Women’s Fashions of the Late Victorian Era

During the Victorian Era, advances in technology and distribution saw fashion change from an exclusive privilege of the wealthy elites to something that could be enjoyed by ordinary people.

The Industrial Revolution inspired a flowering of creativity in architecture, literature, and decorative and visual arts, all playing a part in influencing the latest fashions.

Changing attitudes to traditional gender roles and the rising middle class meant that by the late Victorian Era, a new age of mass consumerism had begun.

Unlike earlier centuries, when it was commonplace for women to help with the family business, Victorians thought a woman’s place was in the home.

1885 Fashion plate
1885 Fashion plate

Victorian fashion wasn’t utilitarian, it was an expression of position in society.

1888 Fashion Plate
1888 Fashion Plate

The upper class wore clothes adorned with embroideries and trims; the middle class, less extravagant; and the working class, whatever they could afford.

Depicted in this painting is a middle-class woman showing off her newly purchased bonnet at her sister’s modest home.

The New Bonnet by Eastman Johnson, 1876
The New Bonnet by Eastman Johnson, 1876

Casting off the shackles of crinolines of the 1850s and 1860s, the late Victorian era saw several innovations to bring more practicality and mobility to fashion whilst maintaining the volume of fabric.

Introduced in the late 1860s, the bustle was a framework used to expand and support the fullness of a woman’s dress at the back, leaving the front and sides flatter for ease of movement.

Reaching its greatest extension by the mid-1880s, it was popularly boasted that the cantilevers of bustles could support an entire tea service.

1884-86. Dinner Dress. American. Silk. metmuseum
1884-86. Dinner Dress. American. Silk. metmuseum

With women becoming more involved in activities outside the home, fashion designers made changes to suit.

Skirts were given more ground clearance and trains were made simpler, stronger and dragged less on the ground while keeping the same overall form.

1885 Walking Dress. French. House of Worth. Silk, glass. metmuseum
1885 Walking Dress. French. House of Worth. Silk, glass. metmuseum

Abandoned by the 1890s, the bustle evolved into skirts with a much more subtle flow from the wearer’s thin corsetted waist.

Necklines were high, while sleeve size increased.

1892 Dress. American. Silk, cotton
1892 Dress. American. Silk, cotton

Becoming bell-shaped, dresses were made to fit tighter around the hip area.

1892 Dress. American. Silk, cotton
1892 Dress. American. Silk, cotton

While sleeves and bodices initially peaked at the shoulders, size would increase considerably.

1890 Dress. American. Silk, linen
1890 Dress. American. Silk, linen

Beginning in the mid-1890s, exaggerated “leg o’mutton” sleeves grew in size until disappearing in about 1906.

1895 Afternoon jacket. French. Silk, jet, beads
1895 Afternoon jacket. French. Silk, jet, beads
1896 Wedding dress. House of Worth. Silk, pearl. Credit metmuseum
1896 Wedding dress. House of Worth. Silk, pearl. Credit metmuseum
1895 Dress. French. Silk
1895 Dress. French. Silk

Skirts started to take on a graceful, curved, “A-line silhouette”.

1897 Gown. House of Worth
1900 Ball Gown. French. Doucet. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1900 Ball Gown. French. Doucet. Silk, metal. metmuseum

A glittering extravaganza, the neoclassical motifs in the below dress add a texture and lighting effect to stand out at a formal ball.

1890 Evening ensemble. American. Silk. metmuseum
1890 Evening ensemble. American. Silk. metmuseum

Changing attitudes about acceptable activities for women also made sportswear popular, particularly for bicycling and tennis.

Bicycling; The Ladies of the Wheel by François Courboin, 1896
Bicycling; The Ladies of the Wheel by François Courboin, 1896
A june Afternoon by A. B. Frost, 1898
Le Chalet du Cycle au Bois de Boulogne by Jean-Georges Béraud, 1900
Le Chalet du Cycle au Bois de Boulogne by Jean-Georges Béraud, 1900
A Rally by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1885
A Rally by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1885

Although introduced much earlier, the riding habit became more practical, with a much simpler, more formal appearance.

Void of embellishments, it was made of tough woolen fabric in a single dark colour and worn with matching hat and veil.

1890 Three-piece Riding Habit. Wool twill, full finish
1890 Three-piece Riding Habit. Wool twill, full finish
The Ride by Pierre Auguste Renoir
The Ride by Pierre Auguste Renoir

Crucial to a respectable appearance were hats and gloves—to be seen bareheaded was simply improper.

1899 Millinery Print. France
1899 Millinery Print. France

Dozens of fanciful designs provided women with almost endless choice.

Fashion plate showing three bust portraits of Jane Harding, Baronne de Carlsberg, and Suzanne, actresses at the Gymnase theater, Paris, wearing hats designed by Madame Carlier
Fashion plate showing three bust portraits of Jane Harding, Baronne de Carlsberg, and Suzanne, actresses at the Gymnase theater, Paris, wearing hats designed by Madame Carlier

Women who wanted a more modest appearance often preferred bonnets but they became associated with a matronly appearance.

The Summer Bonnet by Pierre Carrier-Belleuse, 1893
The Summer Bonnet by Pierre Carrier-Belleuse, 1893
1892 Evening bonnet. American. Silk, cotton, jet, feather. metmuseum
1892 Evening bonnet. American. Silk, cotton, jet, feather. metmuseum
Broadway stage performer and singer, Anna Held

Straw hats were essential summer wear for outdoor activities like croquet.

1890 Hat. American. Leghorn straw, silk chiffon
1890 Hat. American. Leghorn straw, silk chiffon
The Croquet Party by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1890
The Croquet Party by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1890

The widening of hats towards the end of the 19th century hinted at the enormous hats that were to follow during the Edwardian era.

A Portrait of a Lady in a Black Hat with a Bouquet of Flowers in her Arms by Edouard Bisson, 1895
A Portrait of a Lady in a Black Hat with a Bouquet of Flowers in her Arms by Edouard Bisson, 1895

The late 1890s returned to the tighter sleeves often with small puffs or ruffles capping the shoulder but fitted to the wrist.

1897 Two-piece dress. House of Rouff. Silk twill and silk cut velvet on twill foundation
1897 Two-piece dress. House of Rouff. Silk twill and silk cut velvet on twill foundation

Indispensable accessories for the Victorian lady, parasols of the late Victorian era were exuberant and lace-covered with extremely fine handle detail.

Here, the bright colours indicative of the French touch on the left contrast with the black parasol for mourning.

1895 - 1900 parasols. Silk, wood, metal, tortoiseshell.metmuseum
1895 – 1900 parasols. Silk, wood, metal, tortoiseshell.metmuseum

From the 1870s to the twentieth century, women’s shoes changed to include higher heels and more pointed toes.

Low-cut pumps were worn for the evening.

Ankle-length laced or buttoned boots were also popular.

Woman's Bar Shoes, 1898
Woman’s Bar Shoes, 1898
1894. Evening slippers. American. Silk
1894. Evening slippers. American. Silk
1890 Eveing boots. French. Silk, metla. metmuseum
1890 Evening boots. French. Silk, metal. metmuseum
1892 Pair of Woman’s Bar Shoes (Wedding). Suede, sueded leather, silk gauze, silk satin
1895 Women's Wedding Boots. Kid leather with sueded leather and pearls
1895 Women’s Wedding Boots. Kid leather with sueded leather and pearls

Those of the upper class who were invited to attend the royal courts of Europe would wear something altogether more extravagant and reminiscent of the 18th century.

As the wife of Washington Augustus Roebling, the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, Emily Warren Roebling ran the day-to-day supervision of the project for a period of fourteen years after husband became ill.

She wore this gown for her formal presentation to Queen Victoria in 1896.

1896 Court Presentation Ensemble. American. Silk, metal, cotton, leather
1896 Court Presentation Ensemble. American. Silk, metal, cotton, leather

Presentation at court was a special event for American women of Roebling’s social status and court protocol dictated the attire.

Lavishly embroidered, the sumptuous textiles and long train are characteristics of a formal gown appropriate for the occasion.

Originally intended to be worn at home for afternoon tea with family and friends, by the late 1900s, tea gowns were worn through the evening for dinner and other events.

Although just as elegant as formal wear, tea gowns were worn without corsets or assistance from a maid.

Comfortable and relaxing, they would be harbingers of things to come.

1900 Tea gown. French. House of Worth. metmuseum
1900 Tea gown. French. House of Worth. metmuseum

By the close of the Victorian era, women were liberated from tight-laced corsets, restrictive layers of crinolined or bustled fabric, and society’s expectation of a woman’s role.

1891 Corset. French. Silk. metmuseum
1891 Corset. French. Silk. metmuseum

There was a new woman in town and she was more confident, self-assured, and ready to meet her true potential than ever before.

No longer were women seen as either “fragile” or “voluptuous” as portrayed in earlier decades, but athletic, emancipated, and ready to enter the workforce.

Gibson Girls in beach attire by Charles Dana Gibson, 1898
Gibson Girls in beach attire by Charles Dana Gibson, 1898

She was the Gibson Girl, and she would fight for the right to vote in the 20th century.

Art for the Day – Daniel Ridgway Knight

More than 100 years ago, high above the banks of the Seine River in Rolleboise, France, Daniel Ridgway Knight set up his easel to paint working women in the fields, vineyards, and gardens surrounding the beautiful valley.

Today, if you were to sit and have lunch at the restaurant of Hotel Domain de la Corniche, you would be overlooking the same stretch of river depicted in several of Ridgway Knight’s paintings.

Hotel Domain de la Corniche
Hotel Domain de la Corniche

Born in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania in 1839, Knight trained in Paris under Gleyre at the École des Beaux-Arts. Gleyre taught a number of prominent artists, including Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Whistler.

After some years working under Meissonier, a painter of immensely detailed Napoleonic military scenes, Knight bought a house and studio in Poissy on the Seine.

Winning several awards at the Paris Salon, the Exposition Universelle, 1889, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Daniel Ridway Knight is best remembered for his soulful depictions of women going about their daily work in and around the Seine River valley—sometimes stopping to talk, to rest, and to dream.

A Garden above the Seine, Rolleboise by Daniel Ridgway Knight
A Garden above the Seine, Rolleboise by Daniel Ridgway Knight
A Field of Flowers by Daniel Ridgway Knight
A Field of Flowers by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Women Washing Clothes by a Stream by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1898
Women Washing Clothes by a Stream by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1898
Watering the Garden by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1912
Watering the Garden by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1912
Two Women Fishing by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Two Women Fishing by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Three Women in a Landscape by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1881
Three Women in a Landscape by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1881
The Siesta by Daniel Ridgway Knight - 1882
The Siesta by Daniel Ridgway Knight – 1882
The Sewing Circle by Daniel Ridgway Knight
The Sewing Circle by Daniel Ridgway Knight
The Seine at Vernon by Daniel Ridgway Knight
The Seine at Vernon by Daniel Ridgway Knight
The Rose Garden by Daniel Ridgway Knight
The Rose Garden by Daniel Ridgway Knight
The Meeting by Daniel Ridgway Knight, c. 1888
The Meeting by Daniel Ridgway Knight, c. 1888
The Honeymoon Breakfast by Daniel Ridgway Knight
The Honeymoon Breakfast by Daniel Ridgway Knight
The Flower Boat by Daniel Ridgway Knight
The Flower Boat by Daniel Ridgway Knight
The Grape Harvest by Daniel Ridgway Knight. Image courtesy of Rehs Galleries, Inc., NYC
The Grape Harvest by Daniel Ridgway Knight. Image courtesy of Rehs Galleries, Inc., NYC
The Dancing Lesson by Daniel Ridgway Knight
The Dancing Lesson by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Madeleine in a wheat field by Daniel Ridgway Knight. Image courtesy of Rehs Galleries, Inc., NYC
Madeleine in a wheat field by Daniel Ridgway Knight. Image courtesy of Rehs Galleries, Inc., NYC
The Conversation by Daniel Ridgway Knight
The Conversation by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Spring Blossoms by Daniel Ridgway Knight. Image courtesy of Rehs Galleries, Inc., NYC
Spring Blossoms by Daniel Ridgway Knight. Image courtesy of Rehs Galleries, Inc., NYC
Reverie by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1866
Reverie by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1866
Picking Flowers by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Picking Flowers by Daniel Ridgway Knight
On the Terrace by Daniel Ridgway Knight
On the Terrace by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Mending by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Mending by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Julia on the Terrace by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1909
Julia on the Terrace by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1909
In the garden by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1898
In the garden by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1898
In Her Garden by Daniel Ridgway Knight
In Her Garden by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Hailing the Ferry by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1888
Hailing the Ferry by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1888
Girl by a Stream, Flanders by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1890
Girl by a Stream, Flanders by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1890
Flower Girls by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Flower Girls by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Fishing by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Fishing by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Fishing by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Fishing by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Far Away Thoughts by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Far Away Thoughts by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Daydreaming by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Daydreaming by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Daydreaming by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Daydreaming by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Contemplation by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Contemplation by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Confidence by Daniel Ridgway Knight - circa 1899
Confidence by Daniel Ridgway Knight – circa 1899
Coffee in the Garden by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Coffee in the Garden by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Chrysanthemums by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1898. Image courtesy of Rehs Galleries, Inc., NYC
Chrysanthemums by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1898. Image courtesy of Rehs Galleries, Inc., NYC
Brittany Girl Overlooking Stream by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Brittany Girl Overlooking Stream by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Baiting the Hook by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Breakfast in the Fields by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1884. Image courtesy of Rehs Galleries, Inc., NYC
Breakfast in the Fields by Daniel Ridgway Knight, 1884. Image courtesy of Rehs Galleries, Inc., NYC
Autumn Evening by Daniel Ridgway Knight
Autumn Evening by Daniel Ridgway Knight
A Pensive Moment by Daniel Ridgway Knight
A Pensive Moment by Daniel Ridgway Knight

Dante Gabriel Rossetti—art meets poetry

Dante Gabriel Rossetti—even his name is a work of art.

It is said that to understand him, we must first understand that although he is best remembered for his paintings, he was first and foremost a poet.

O lay your lips against your hand
And let me feel your breath through it,
While through the sense your song shall fit
The soul to understand.



Early life

Born in London to an English mother and Italian father in 1828, Rossetti’s childhood was suffused in the atmosphere of medieval Italy. As a literary scholar, his father obsessed over the works of Dante and spoke mostly Italian.

Home schooled, Rossetti often read the Bible, along with the works of Shakespeare, Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, and William Blake. He became fascinated with the Gothic horror stories of Edgar Allan Poe.

These influences would become a major source of artistic inspiration for Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his early twenties
Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his early twenties

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

Attending preparatory art school followed by the Royal Academy, Rossetti soon grew tired of the mechanistic approach to teaching and preferred to stay at home painting what he desired.

He saw early Victorian art as trivial, sentimental and unimaginative and yearned for a return to pre-Renaissance purity of style and aim.

Feminine Beauty

Poetry and image are closely intertwined in Rossetti’s work. Appreciating female beauty through art was sacred to him. In both poetry and painting, he explored his own fantasies and conceptions about earthly and spiritual love through the theme of female beauty.

In 1850, Rossetti met Elizabeth Siddal, who would become an important model for the Pre-Raphaelite painters. First spotted by a friend in a London hat shop, she became Rossetti’s muse, passion, and eventually his wife.

Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1882
Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1882

When vain desire at last and vain regret
Go hand in hand to death, and all is vain,
What shall assuage the unforgotten pain
And teach the unforgetful to forget?

Join us in the Gallery as we listen to DeBussey’s La damoiselle élue—influenced by the life and work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Bocca Baciata by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1859
Bocca Baciata by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1859
Helen of Troy by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1863
Helen of Troy by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1863
Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1864
Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1864
The Blue Bower by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1865
The Blue Bower by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1865
Sybilla Palmifera by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1866-1870
Sybilla Palmifera by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1866-1870
Monna Vanna by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1866
Monna Vanna by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1866
Regina Cordium by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1866
Regina Cordium by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1866
Monna Rosa by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1867
Monna Rosa by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1867
The Loving Cup by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1867
The Loving Cup by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1867
A Christmas Carol by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1867
A Christmas Carol by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1867
Reverie by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1868
Reverie by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1868
Blue Silk Dress (Jane Morris)
Blue Silk Dress (Jane Morris)
Veronica Veronese by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1872
Veronica Veronese by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1872
Mariana by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1870
Mariana by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1870
The Bower Meadow by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1872
The Bower Meadow by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1872
Pandora by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1871
Pandora by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1871
Aurelia (Fazio's Mistress)
Aurelia (Fazio’s Mistress)
Snowdrops by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1873
Snowdrops by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1873
A Triple Portrait of May Morris by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1874
A Triple Portrait of May Morris by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1874
Damsel of the Sanct Grael by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1874
Damsel of the Sanct Grael by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1874
A Sea-Spell by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1877
A Sea-Spell by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1877
A Vision of Fiammetta by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1878
A Vision of Fiammetta by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1878
La Donna Della Finestra by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1879
La Donna Della Finestra by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1879
The Day Dream by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1880
The Day Dream by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1880
Mnemosyne by Dante Gabriel Rossetti - 1881
Mnemosyne by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – 1881
Joan of Arc by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1882
Joan of Arc by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1882

References
Wikipedia.org
VictorianWeb.org
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“The Master of Swish” – Boldini’s Elegant Portraits of High Society Women

Self-portrait by Giovanni Boldini, 1892
Self-portrait by Giovanni Boldini, 1892

In a dusty old Parisian apartment in 2010, a startling discovery was made.

No one had set foot on the premises for 70 years.

Hidden, as if in a time capsule, was a portrait by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini.

It was of Marthe de Florian, a French actress and demimondaine during the Belle Époque. She was known for having famous lovers including a string of French premiers—Georges Clemenceau, Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau,  Paul Deschanel, and Gaston Doumergue.

The apartment belonged to de Florian’s granddaughter, who left Paris to live in the South of France at the outbreak of World War 2, and never returned.

Evidence of the painting’s authenticity lay in a love-letter and a biographical reference dating it to 1888, when the actress was 24.

Boldini is best known for his dazzling, elegant depictions of fashionable high society women.

A 1933 Time magazine article called Boldini the “Master of Swish”—one look at his striking, fluid brushstrokes explains why.

He was preeminently the artist of the Edwardian era, of the pompadour, the champagne supper and the ribbon-trimmed chemiseTime Magazine.

Born in Ferrara in 1842, the son of a painter of religious subjects, he moved to Florence to study painting when he was 20 and met the “Macchiaioli”—Italian precursors to Impressionism. It was their influence that set him on a course initially as a landscape artist, then as a portraitist.

On moving to London, he found fame painting society members including the Duchess of Westminster and Lady Holland.

From 1872, he lived in Paris, where he befriended Edgar Degas and became the most fashionable portraitist in Paris.

He lived to be 88, having married only two years earlier. At his wedding breakfast, he made a little speech:

It is not my fault if I am so old, it’s something which has happened to me all at once.

Vote for your favorites from the “master of swish” as you listen to The Swan by Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns.

Miss Bell by Giovanni Boldini, 1903.

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The Art of Reading in the Victorian Era

Victorians were avid readers.

Just as we bury our faces in our mobile devices on the morning commute, so too did Victorians with the latest penny fiction.

The increased literacy rate from schooling, cheaper production, and broader availability of books through libraries all benefited reading.

The Dame’s School by Thomas Faed RA HRSA – 1879.

Towards the latter half of the 19th century, gas and electric lighting also meant that reading after dark didn’t have to be by candlelight or messy oil lamps.

Woman Reading by Candlelight by Peter Ilsted (1861 - 1933)
Woman Reading by Candlelight by Peter Ilsted (1861 – 1933)

Novels were often serialized in monthly parts, making them more easily accessible and shared. Weekly or monthly segments often ended on a “cliff-hanger” to keep readers hooked and anticipating the next installment.

Perhaps the best know serialized novels were the “Penny Dreadfuls”. Costing just one old penny, they focused on the exploits of detectives, criminals, or supernatural entities.

Penny Dreadful from 1860 on the popular outlaw Dick Turpin.

The price of new books—often only available as a set of three—was out of reach for most working class people, so they borrowed from circulating libraries such as Mudie’s (founded 1842), which dispatched books all over Britain for a modest subscription fee.

For the wealthier classes who could afford first editions, reading from their own collection would be an everyday occurrence.

In the Library by Auguste Toulmouche – 1872.

Six months after the original publication, books became cheaper, being issued as single volumes. And the growth of the rail network helped make novels cheaper still at railway stations.

There would always be something new to read for a long journey.

The Travelling Companions by Augustus Leopold Egg – 1862.

Fiction was thought to hold influential power over readers. George Eliot wrote that people are,

imitative beings. We cannot, at least those who ever read to any purpose at all . . . help being modified by the ideas that pass through our minds.

The 18th-century view that reading contemporary novels was a time-wasting leisure activity gave way to 19th-century ideals on their ability to educate.

Victorians believed that although novels lacked the cultural seriousness of classical texts, they did nevertheless bring awareness of historical periods and places that might help bring about social reform and develop Christian moral values.

By the mid-1800’s, the most widely read novel in England was the anti-slavery Uncle Toms Cabin of 1852 by American Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Interrupted Reading by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot – circa 1870.

But if novels could influence for the good, they could also influence for the bad.

Novels were thought to corrupt the working classes by giving them ideas above their station or encouraging them to emulate the life of fictional criminals.

Cultural opinion leaders were particularly concerned about fiction’s effect on women. They argued that women were more susceptible to excitement and often over-identified with characters in novels that could make them more dissatisfied with their lives.

Forbidden Books by Alexander Mark Rossi – 1897.

Thank goodness the novelists themselves started to push back against the disillusioned ideology of the critics. They assumed readers could make up their own minds and did not need protecting. George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, George Gissing, and George Moore trusted their readers’ sense of responsibility.

Left: George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) by Frederick William Burton, 1864. Right: Thomas hardy by William Strang, 1893.

By the late 19th century, novels had become a pleasurable pastime with the freedom to read anywhere.

Summer Sunlight by Frederick Childe Hassam – 1892.

Reference

The British Library

Tissot’s Victorian Ladies

James Tissot (1836 – 1902), was a French painter and illustrator.

He painted scenes of Paris and London society—and especially fashionably dressed women.

Click here to continue learning about James Tissot
Self-portrait in 1865
Self-portrait in 1865.

Born in Nantes, France, his father was a drapery merchant and his mother designed hats. Their involvement in the fashion industry influenced his artistic flair for painting the finer details of women’s clothing.

Tissot enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to study in the studios of Hippolyte Flandrin and Louis Lamothe—both known for their decorative art skills. It was here that Tissot became acquainted with Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet and James Whistler.

In 1863, Tissot found the niche that would bring him critical acclaim and wealth: portraits depicting modern life.

He moved to London in 1871, where he quickly developed his reputation for painting elegantly dressed, fashionable women.

The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists quotes Edmond de Goncourt in 1874 as writing that Tissot had ‘a studio with a waiting room where, at all times, there is iced champagne at the disposal of visitors”.

Tissot’s popularity among wealthy British industrialists gave him an income usually reserved for the top strata of society.

a studio with a waiting room where, at all times, there is iced champagne at the disposal of visitorsPhilip J. Waller.

Tissot painted elegant ladies from high society in enchanting everyday scenes. Vote for your favorites from this list of 20 beautiful Tissot paintings.