(FASHION). ~ [An Album of 50 Watercolours depicting Women’s Fashion. Paris, 1867-8].
Oblong folio (210 × 285 mm), 50 leaves (including title-page) each bearing a large pencil, ink and watercolour drawings, many heightened with gum arabic, unsigned but dated at foot. Contemporary black morocco, panelled sides elaborately decorated in gilt and blind, small ticket giving 27-29, Galerie Feydeau, Passage de Panoramas, Paris. Minimal rubbing to corners and spine end, but a superb survival.
A wonderful collection of contemporary fashion designs for the year 1867-8. The title-page, (marked ‘5ème volume) is an emblem of the ever-changing nature of fashion ― two richly-dressed women stand between marker posts for the years 1867 and 1868, one in deep winter attire with bonnet, scarf, cape and muff, the other in the light spring garments of the following year. Between them an elegant dandy stands with a velocipede (suggesting modernity, movement and rapidity) and above is a cartouche enclosing a naked woman below the legend: ‘Comment l’habiller-t-on?’ (‘how will they dress?’). The final leaf is similarly emblematic, with a splendidly-attired young woman in green stepping from 1868 to 1869 over a running stream.
Anonymous and evidently once part of a sequence, these brilliant watercolours depict Parisian fashions at their most colourful and sumptuous. Those showing off fabrics with new chemical or aniline dyes of green, mauve and blue are often heightened with gum arabic, adding a lustrous sheen, evocative of rich and heavy silks then much in vogue. Skirts are full and often multi-layered, with arrangements for lifting the outermost layer for walking. Special attention is paid to the backs of these outfits, with a good number seen from the side or behind, showing the elaborate ruffles and bows (which would develop into fully-blown bustles in the following decade). There are stripes, plaids, pleats, ruffles, embroidery, lace and beadwork. Hairstyles are also carefully depicted, with long and thick tresses in a variety of braids and tresses, as well as luxuriantly loose styles.
The anonymous artist was a highly accomplished fashion artist, brilliantly equipped to render details and textures of fabrics, dress and deportment, of the type employed by designers and couturiers to show off to prospective customers their latest creations. This is a remarkable record of a golden age of Parisian dressmaking at the height of nineteenth-century haute couture when designers such as Charles Worth were claiming the city as the focus of the fashionable world.