Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Georgian Jungle: More 18th c. Men in Leopard

Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Isabella reporting,

Last year I wrote a post about a sharp-dressed 18th c. English gentleman, and how the centerpiece of his sartorial splendor was a leopard-print waistcoat. I hadn't realized that leopard-patterned menswear was trendy long before 1980s heavy metal bands – once again, I have Mark Hutter, Colonial Williamsburg's tailor in the Historic Trades program, to thank for opening my eyes – but after I blogged about Baron Cawdor's portrait, I began spotting more 18th c. Men in Spots everywhere I looked.

The young Italian gentleman, top left, (this is a detail of a larger painting) is not only sporting a leopard-print waistcoat beneath his blue coat, but matching leopard breeches. Since the fashion for leopard print most likely originated in Italy, with Englishmen on their Grand Tour bringing the style home as a rakish souvenir, it's not surprising to find the fashion at its most extreme here. But I particularly admire the expression on the face of the lady in this painting: most likely she's studying the drawing in the gentleman's hands, but I have to think there's also a little bit of Fashion Police in the way she's pulling back, a genteel double-take at those jungle-cat breeches.

The stylish fellow, right, is Jean-Georges Noverre (1727-1810.) He was an innovative French dancer and balletmaster, and served as the maitre des ballets of the Paris Opera at the request of Marie Antoinette. He was prominent in artistic circles throughout Europe – he was friends with Voltaire, Mozart, and David Garrick – and clearly he dressed with artistic flair, too. There's nothing shy about the spreading leopard-patterned lapels on his coat. I can't quite tell from the reproduction, but it's possible that the leopard is actual fur, not printed, the ultimate statement in exoticism.

But not all leopard-wearing men were gentlemen or accomplished artists. This portly, unshaven character lounges to one side of a 1772 satirical print called The Macarony Dressing Room. Believe it or not, he isn't the foppish macaroni, but you'd never know it from the leopard-print waistcoat and matching breeches, plus the patterned stockings and short boots – even though he's in the print as a figure of ridicule. To the average, print-buying Englishman, the high fashion of leopard print would have been suspect at best. I'm sure there's also significance to his unusual hat and the outsized nosegay of flowers (lupins?) sprouting from his chest. Any art historians out there willing to interpret their meaning?
(Thanks to Mike Rendell of the Georgian Gentleman blog for recently posting this print.)

Top left: Detail, An Interior with Elegant Company, by Venceslao Verlin, c. 1770, private collection.
Right: Portrait of Jean-Georges Noverre, by Jean-Baptiste Perronneau, c. 1780, Louvre Museum.
Bottom left: Detail, The Macarony Dressing Room, by Charles White, printmaker, after a painting by Captain Minshull. 1772. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

7 comments:

Susie Felber said...

Men in spots! Love it. Funny and love the supporting evidence.

tanya said...

are you sure its all leopard - print? it would surprise me if some was actual leopardskin - leopards have a very short fur almost like velvet (my mum has na antique one her dad brought back from africa )

Costume Page said...

I think you're right about Noverre - the soft, irregular shape & cut of the collar I think is meant to represent actual leopard skin.
They did go in for leopard print too though - in the Paxton House collection of Patrick Home's clothes from his Grand Tour there's a leopard-print cape - painted spots on silk with embroidered 'paws' at each corner(!)as part of his costume from the royal Berlin Carousel of 1750. That is theatrical costume though, so you might expect it to be over the top.
Also love the lady's expression in the 1st image! The arch of her body carries on right through to her towering hair!

Isobel Carr said...

Yes, they absolutely did leopard fabrics. The V&A has a BLUE velvet leopard print coat c. 1780.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Hi, Susie Felber! Yes, Men in Spots really is (or are?) hard to resist.

Tanya, I think sometime it's printed - velvet was particularly popular for its plushness - but my guess is that M. Noverre's lapels are real fur. As you say, it's a short-haired fur, and would work.

Page, I'm going crazy imagining a leopard-print cape!! Do you have photographs of it? Theatrical or not, I'd love to see it.

Isobel, I remember the V&A's blue velvet leopard! You found the link to the coat last time, and I'll repeat it here (and thank you again for wrestling with the V&A search engines to find it)

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O127151/coat-unknown/

Catherine Johnson said...

Fantastic!

Luke Harby said...

http://bit.ly/1dONni5

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