Friday, June 28, 2013

Casual Friday: The Dashing Officer and the Woman in White

Friday, June 28, 2013
Loretta reports:

After reading yet another book about Charles Dickens, I was compelled to revisit this painting—because I had had no idea that his daughter Kate posed for it.  His children, from all I've read, didn't have an easy time of it.  But Kate, who was apparently his favorite, must have been resilient.  She became an artist as well as an artist's model, and lived to nearly 90.

So here's a quiz, for those of you who closely follow our presentations about historic dress.  What's odd in this picture—the description at the museum (please click on link below) offers a clue—and how would you explain it? 

John Everett Millais, The Black Brunswickers, 1860, Lady Lever Art Gallery, part of the National Museums Liverpool (the image here is courtesy Wikipedia).


22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not having any idea until reading the description what year or period the painting was supposed to be set in, I assumed at first glance it was Victorian. The thing that did seem a little odd to me is that the girl's dress resembles what I'd expect a Victorian wedding dress to look like, and if it were a wedding dress, the red sashes and bows would seem out of place.

Mrs Bertin said...

I shall venture a guess and say that the lady's dress is a little off. If this was meant to happen before the Battle of Waterloo the waist should have been higher and the silhouette a little more A-line.

Anonymous said...

Mrs Bertin is spot on. And the back of the skirt suggests a bustle may be underneath.

Regencyresearcher said...

What about her right arm? Isn't it in an awkward position?
The material, shape, and general air of the dress are confusing and conflicting .The trouble is that the dress suggests too many different periods.
If one looks at it as a painting it is grand( except for that arm) but don't use it as a model for a regency dress.

Regencyresearcher said...

Now I see she is holding the door so he can't leave.The picture of Napoleon on the wall isn't something a loyal subject of the King would have at the time the picture is supposed to represent. As a look into the historic past the painting fails. It succeeds in is embodiment of the way women want to keep their loved ones at home and away from war.
Didn't they call this the sentimental school or something?

Laura Morrigan said...

My guess, going by the description is that the painting is from a later date as it depicts a battle that the gentleman has yet to fight in?

Anonymous said...

The first impression that the dress gives to me is one of profound sadness. It strikes me that it is white, white satin and creased from folding. I looks as if she is wearing her wedding dress and has unpacked it to wear on the occasion of his leaving. Was it her best gown? Was she giving him a "picture" of a happier day to carry in to battle? Was she trying to give a cheerful sendoff and ignore the reality of the situation? I think the painting captures the final moment when she is trying to prevent the inevitable.

Laura Mitchell said...

Overlooking all the symbolic aspects, why is there a picture of Napoleon in the scene (I think that was painted around 1808)?

hopegreenberg said...

Mrs. Bertin is being kind. The waist and bustle owe more to the 50s, the bodice and sleeves to the 30s. He got the blue collar and cuffs right on the uniform but the death's head should, I believe, be on his shako. But how much more effective it is here, as her hand guards his heart from its encroach. However, none of it matters! What a moving painting. But the engraving of Napoleon is just cruel. If the soldier is heading off to Quartre Bras she has reason to try and stop him--Napoleon won that one.

hopegreenberg said...

BTW thanks for posting this. I thought it might be fun to see what kind of reaction this painting got. The Royal Academy certainly was not kind: page here

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Anonymous said...

Interesting comments, although I'm surprised more commenters didn't notice that the date of the painting was 1860, long after the original Napoleon.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I've taken time to read all of the comments. Your readers have a wide understanding of both history and fashion.

My own observation was simpler. If she is trying to detain him, it's strange that her hand is on the door knob and his is on the edge of the door.

Sharon

Dana S. said...

My first impression when I looked at the woman in the picture was that the dress and hairstyle seemed slightly reminiscent of a young Queen Victoria (rather than someone from the regency period). If it was done deliberately to not be quite truthful to the time period it is supposed to represent, then I would guess that maybe this slight resemblance was intended? I think at the time the portrait was done Albert had been ill but had not passed away. Could be though that I'm stretching it and there was no connection :). It is very moving regardless.

Reina M. Williams said...

It is a moving painting and I agree with other commenters about the period of the dress. I wonder, what is the significance of the red ribbon armband? It appears different than what is on her other arm.

Isobel Carr said...

Their costumes don’t go together in any shape, way, or form. And the pic of Napoleon on the wall behind them makes zero sense in context.

Karen Anne said...

I think it's a great picture, regardless. I was surprised to read that the models posed separately, although now that I think of it, that was probably more comfortable for them.

Elena Yatzeck said...

The wikipedia description suggests that this is a purposeful palimpsest--is it fair to say that the Napoleon picture is a "mistake?" Or the dress? Only if the intention is pure documentation! :-)

Leslie Carroll said...

I was focused on the relationship between the couple. She is trying to prevent him from leaving, her hand on the doorknob. He is trying to pry the door open. The little dog (hers?) represents fidelity (hers, presumably, as well). He's off to near certain death and she knows it. The white dress also represents purity. She'll remain true to him, no matter what. It's more likely the painting is intended to be set in the past and the artist only had access to contemporary garments.

QNPoohBear said...

In addition to what everyone else said, the green wallpaper is not right either. I believe that's more Victorian in style. The little dog looks like it's begging for a treat.

Unknown said...

I noticed several things about the painting that were incongruous. The dress did not match the time period supposedly being painted. Neither did the hair style which looked like a Queen Victoria "do", which was a much later hairstyle for the period. The dress showed numerous fold lines where some seemed to be perfectly matched and others I could not figure out how the dress could have been folded in order to have unmatched fold lines. The male model looked so much like an earlier portrait of Charles Dickens as a young man I found it hard to believe it was not. The description of using "lay" forms for each model to be separately painted I think has another reason than just the 2 models would soon tire. I think that it did not fit propriety's standards of the day, after all, we are speaking about the Victorian age. Two unmarried persons, at least to each other, embracing as models? I can't see that as passing muster, ha ha, I created a pun! I'd welcome other thoughts on my thoughts.

Unknown said...

Unknown is actually kfield2 but I'm having trouble leaving my comment.

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