Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Intrepid Ladies: Anna Maria Garthwaite

Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Susan reporting:

The eighteenth century is an incomparable era for ladies' gowns. The extravagant shapes created by poufs, gathers, bows, ruffles, and pleats exemplify Rococo design at its best, and there are few fashions in history that are more fantastically feminine. (Here, here, and here are a few of the examples we've drooled over recently.)

But part of what makes 18th c. gowns so memorable is the silk from which many were cut and sewn. The English silk industry was based in Spitalfields, and one of the most prolific and influential designers of the time was Anna Maria Garthwaite (1688-1763).

Anna Maria was born a clergyman's daughter from Leicestershire. Nothing is known of her artistic training, or of how she gained the necessary technical skills for working with scaling and repeats. How a genteel country spinster could have become such an accomplished artist in such a specialized field remains one of those tantalizing historical mysteries.

Anna Maria moved to Spitalfields with her widowed sister in 1728, and soon found great success there, painting as many as eighty original watercolor designs a year. She sold her designs directly to the master weavers, who wove them into the large-scale brocades and damasks so popular at the time. Her patterns were distinctive for their swirling, asymmetrical interpretations of flowers and leaves, and her use of vibrant colors gives them a lively immediacy.

Spitalfields silk, and Anna Maria's designs in particular, were especially popular in the American colonies, who were forbidden to trade directly with France by England's Navigation Acts. Her bold damasks are identifiable in several colonial portraits, and remnants of her fabrics survive in many American collections.

Unlike many female artists of the past, much of Anna Maria's work still exists. Hundreds of her watercolor designs, painted between 1728-1756, have been preserved in the collection of the Victoria & Albert. Even more fascinating are the existing examples of silk, both in lengths of fabric and made up into garments, that can be traced back to her designs. Though fashionable taste shifted away from her bold, over-sized patterns in the second half of the 18th c., Anna Maria's influence can be seen in the swirling patterns of late 19th c. Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau textiles.

It is, quite simply, beautiful stuff.

For more examples of her work, check out Silk Designs of the Eighteenth Century, which features her watercolors in the collection of the V&A. This blog also offers more detail about the Spitalfields weavers, as well as some glorious examples.

Above top: detail, silk design by Anna Maria Garthwaite, c. 1730
Above middle: detail, silk design by Anna Maria Garthwaite, c. 1733
Below right: Red damask silk gown, c. 1775, from fabric designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite, 1751. From the collection of the museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York


Katy Cooper said...

Those are just gorgeous. That red damask is ravishing.


Jane O said...

These are so beautiful. I am such a sucker for fabric. Any time I travel I end up buying fabric, and I now have boxes and boxes of stuff I am going to sew into something some day.

Victoria said...

Gorgeous! Great post today! I'm going to look up more of her patterns now......

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Anna Maria's work is a delight for fabric-lovers, isn't it? :)

Through very strange coincidence, today I was in New York, and went to one of my fav museums, the Frick. There I visited one of my fav pictures, Hogarth's glorious portrait of Miss Mary Edwards. And yes, her gown has been documented as being made from another red Garthwaite silk brocade. Check it out for yourselves here:$611*38985

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Whoops, must correct myself in that last comment. No, Mary Edwards' red silk hasn't been "documented" as being a Garthwaite design - only suggested. Mea culpa for getting too enthusiastic! But there is an undeniable resemblance between Miss Edward's gown and the one from the FIT collection...

Emma J said...

How pretty!

Jolene said...

Just finished a delightful book which chronicles the beginnings of the English silk industry in the 15th century, Figures In Silk by Vanora Bennett. Excellently "woven" into the love story (protagonist is mistress of Richard III) is the organization of craftswomen to bring the complexity and quality of Venetian silk trade to the UK, both as an artistic and an economic force. Well researched and a good read.

candid said...

You have probably seen these:

Spectacular stuff!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Spectacular indeed! I'm adding several to our Pinterest boards. Many thanks for sharing.

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