Over the weekend I spotted his illustration, above, on the Instagram account of the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. (As always, click on the image to enlarge it.) The illustration was drawn by George Barbier for the Journal des dames at des modes in 1913. The title translates to "The Madness of the Day," referring to the new dance crazes that were both wilder and more athletic than those of the generation before, as the scandalized older couple on the right make clear.
But there's more than just the dancing to earn their disapproval: the women's fashionable figures are slender and boyish, and their revealing evening clothes are not only cut to show more than a flash of ankle, but are worn without the sturdy corseting of the past. The men are equally slender, and sleekly androgynous with their pink cheeks and slicked back hair. The couples are elegant and stylish, and determined to turn their backs on the past as they represent the new generation.
Yet they also reminded me of another pair of couples from a hundred years before. In the 1810 print La Walse: Le Bon Genre by James Gillray, these dancers are also engaged in a scandalous new dance - the waltz - that has them touching one another with then-shocking freedom. They're wearing trendy, revealing clothing, cut narrowly close to the body, that was a complete departure from the stiff formality of the 18th c. The women wear neither stays nor hoops, and instead embrace the "modern", more slender silhouette. All four of them are so dedicated to the new fashions and dance that they've earned consideration by Gillray's scathing pen.
I also spotted another small similarity between these two illustrations: there are tassels swinging from the hems of dresses in both. I'm sure you can find others. Since fashion tends to run in cycles, none of this is surprising, and I'm certain that somewhere out there is a caricature c.2015, drawn on an iPad or other tablet, that shows a pair of lithe young couples in body-conscious clothing, swept away by the rhythm of the latest trance music in the club....
Top: La Folie du Jour, by George Barbier, Journal des dames at des modes, 1913. Courtauld Institute of Art, London Below: La Walse: Le Bon Genre, print by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, 1810. The British Museum.
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.