After our recent blog posts (here and here) on recreating the exaggerated hair styles of the the 1770s, I've been seeing more examples of the Georgian big-hair everywhere I look. This caricature comes via one of our Twitter friends, historian Sarah Murden of the blog All Things Georgian.
The drawing, left, was made to be engraved as a popular satirical print to be sold in the print-shops of the day. The artist is a Swiss caricaturist, working in London, with the wonderful name of Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (We've seen his prints before on the blog hereandhere.) This drawing is called The French Lady in London; in some of the print versions, it also has the additional title of Or, the Head Dress for the Year 1771.
It is, obviously, a satire of the extreme hairstyles and caps that fashionable ladies adopted in the 1770s. The woman's towering headdress not only forces her to bend to enter the room, but it also unsettles the gentleman (who drops a scroll featuring G.A. Stevens's Lecture upon Heads), and terrorizes the cat, the parrot, and the fat little dog on the floor. Behind her on the wall is a large drawing featuring a The Pic [Pico, or Peak] of Tenerife, a famously tall volcano in the Canary Islands whose distinctive shape echoes the lady's headdress.
While her hair is tall, it's her cap that really adds to her height, an elaborate construction of pleated ribbons and lace and what appears to be giant butterfly wings in the front. I'm not sure what the two large posts or pegs thrust into the cap are supposed to be (they don't appear in the engravings.) I'm guessing they're some sort of extra-strong supports - rather like tent-stakes - that the size of the headdress requires to stay upright.
But there's another level of satire here, too. The lady is French, and her exaggerated hair is just one more way that the English can ridicule that country across the Channel. To the average Englishman, French ways and fashions were effeminate and subversive, meant to undermine sturdy English values and fortitude. For much of the 18th c. Britain was at war with France, and prints like this carry a patriotic message as well. Grimm has made sure that his French lady is an easy target, for what better way to treat the enemy than to mock them?
(As a side note: some 18th c. English ladies writing or speaking to close friends used the phrase "the French lady" as a slangy euphemism for their menstrual period - "I'm feeling low this week with a visit from the French lady." Which is, of course, Not a Compliment.)
But as a professional satirist, Grimm knew the value of pleasing all his possible markets. The companion print to this one is called The English Lady at Paris, and he's no more flattering to the sturdy, stolid English lady than to the French one.
Above: The French Lady in London, by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, c. 1771. Yale Center for British Art.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.