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.