Friday, January 8, 2010

Fascinating Women: the Countess of Warwick

Friday, January 8, 2010

Loretta reports:

Fascination with corsets took me to the Worcester Art Museum to look at Bound by Fashion.  As the brochure, interview, and article explain, the show uses works in the permanent collection to examine the history of the corset.

As happened when I discovered Horace Walpole via an exhibit (posts here, here, and here), some weeks ago, I made some discoveries in a museum I’ve visited numerous times.  How many times had I gazed at John Singer Sargent’s 1905 painting, Lady Warwick and Her Son (at left)?  How much didn’t I know about the lady wearing the haughty expression?

According to the exhibition placard, the Countess of Warwick
is probably wearing an “S-curve corset.  From a frontal view, this complex corset, which was usually made of ten-fifteen sections of stays and material, formed an hour-glass shape.” 

The placard also informed me that in real life, her ladyship was an author, a socialist, a founder of agricultural colleges, and a vigorous supporter of labor movements.”  I had always assumed Sargent flattered his subjects.  He did elongate his subjects here, “to give the pair a timeless formal dignity appropriate to their high social position and the great traditions of the English aristocracy.”  He didn’t flatter her, however.  A photograph accompanying the exhibit showed that she was even more beautiful than he painted her. 

What neither photograph nor painting tells us is how complicated and fascinating a woman she was.  Here’s a wonderful glimpse of the woman herself.


Susan Holloway Scott said...

I know Sargent is often dissed as a mere "society" portraitist, but I love his paintings of women. Yes, he makes sure his subjects look beautiful, but they also always looks strong and intelligent individuals, like Daisy does here. No one's going to mess with a Sargent lady!

Thanks for this post, Loretta -- now off to go read more on the fascinating Daisy.

Lyn S said...

I had never read much about this period, but became fascinated because of Lady Warwick. According to this book, Carroll, Leslie Royal Affairs: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy New American Library 2008, she is the origin of the Daisy in the song Daisy Daisy because of her bike riding in Hyde Park.

Danielle Thorne said...

Wow, she reminds me of Susan Sarandon or Sigourney Weaver (the actresses). Beautiful hair.

LorettaChase said...

I love the son tugging on the necklace. There's another mother and son portrait, from the 16th C, with the son holding onto the jeweled gold chain around his mother's waist, which you can find on the site. I have always shamelessly loved Sargent. Boston Museum of Fine Arts had a show some years ago--hundreds of paintings--and it was a knockout. Anyone in the New England environs who's interested in this time period and collectors therein might want to check out the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum--

Ingrid said...

So was Lady Warwick still considered a beauty at the time of this portrait? For she's quite a big lady. This is jealousy speaking, not criticism, by the way. I'm always slightly shocked to see the size I am in photographs. I always manage to see myself thinner in the mirror.
In this picture Lady Warwick's size is even amplified with all those draperies, though that big bosom seems to be all her own.

LorettaChase said...

Ingrid, I have the same reaction to photographs! She was definitely still considered a beauty, and yes, that big bosom is all her own. Here's a photo that makes this clear:
Tiny waistlines were fashionable, but this is in contrast--a beauty needed a lot of substance top and bottom-the classic hourglass figure. Many beauties of the time would be considered quite hefty by our standards. But it wasn't long after her prime that bosoms & bottoms went out of style. What I particularly love and envy is her magnificent posture and the utter self-assurance.

Anonymous said...

I am the poster of the link to the story of the embroidered jacket at Plimoth. I was so pleased to see you post the story.

The link above is to a great blog about Revolutionary Boston and to a series of classes about the clothing of the era.

Finding your blog was a highlight of 2009 for me!

Ingrid said...

Indeed, quite the decolletage! It must have been perilous when looking down! I once tried on an 1860's evening bodice and I was quite shocked when I looked down - did women go out in public like that!?! Then again, the plunging necklines are back with a vengeance now. I sometimes watch breakfast TV thinking: isn't that a bit much for 8 o'clock in the morning?
I've always felt sorry for slim girls ca. 1900 when fashion prescribed curves. By the time they had gained some middle-age spread in the 1920's, the fashion was for thin girlish figures. Sometimes life is not fair.
Don't worry about your pictures, Loretta, you look admirably slim. I'm thinking of that picture of you sitting in the coach posted a while back.
Lady Warwick's red hair comes across very dark in the photograph, doesn't it?

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Thank you, Anonymous! I thought the "celebration" about the Plimoth jacket was too fascinating to let pass.

Thank you, too, for the link to a blog that had somehow (!) escaped our notice, and one that we've now added below. We can't gossip about life in the southern colony of Virginia without including a voice from New England, too. :)

Susan Holloway Scott said...

A bit off topic here -- or rather off, the topic and on to the illustration -- Loretta, in all our corset-ing, did you notice that the advertisement picture of the S-shaped corset included garters in the front? You know, the kind with the rubber bottom and metal top that continue to be a chore to fasten and unfasten (unless you're in "Bull Durham"?) To be honest, I never gave their history much thought, but it did surprise me to find them here so early. Or maybe not this early?

LorettaChase said...

Susan, the illustration came from Wikipedia. "3 MARS 1906 L'ILLUSTRATION ANNONCES - 3 Le Nouveau Corset Médical LE "CORSET PELVIEN" DE A. CLAVERIE." My French isn't great, but I see no explanation of the garters--it's mostly extolling the virtues of this corset--evidently the perfect one for getting in and out of those newfangled automobiles. Here's the link:
I note that on the corset page at Wikimedia, there's a 1901 corset with garters, too.

QNPoohBear said...

Warwick Castle is a museum in which you can view wax figures of Daisy, Countess of Warwick and other members of the household and guests. It's well worth a visit if you're in that part of England.

Drayton Bird said...

I am pretty sure she wrote a memoir which I read about 15 years ago - and which was startlingly frank, though not salacious - about life in late Victorian times, especially what went on at weekend country house parties.

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket