Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Early modern scissors

We revisited the wonderful Musee le Secq des Tournelles in Rouen, a must visit if you are in the town. The Le Secq des Tournelles, father and son, were nineteenth century collectors of wrought, gilt, silvered and cast iron. The collection was given to Rouen in 1917 and has been on display there since. There are fine examples of sewing and needlework scissors on display.

The photo to the right is of 17th and 18th century scissor cases; there is a matching display of the scissors which I don't include. These cases though engraved and filigree are relatively plain, it you want to see what can really be done with them have a look at a c1650 case in the Victoria and Albert Museum, in enamelled gold decorated with tulips and other flowers. Could this be a case for the type of “Little French scissors” that one of Ralph Verney’s sisters asked him to send her when he was in exile in France at the time of the Civil War. (Verney, 1892) This style of scissors, with or without a case can been seen hanging from women’s waists, as for example in the one of the Hollar engravings, which is from his Ornatus Muliebris Anglicanus, The Several Habits of Englishwomen, 1640.

These are all small pivot style scissors. Larger pivot style scissors can be seen in the photo to the left. Another pair of these, helpfully engraved with the date 1636, is in the Metropolitan Museum. The more ornate scissors would have been more expensive, but basic scissors appear in the probate inventory of the chapman Richard Riddings at 1 penny a pair in 1680. (Spufford, 1984)

The other style of scissors are shears, made in a single piece. The two central shears in the photo below are 16th century, and very similar to those that appear in the famous painting of a tailor by Moroni in the National Gallery, the Gallery have put an item about the painting on YouTube.

Spufford, M., 1984. The great reclothing of rural England: petty chapmen and their wares in the seventeenth century. London: Hambledon Press.

Verney, L. F., 1892. Memoirs of the Verney family during the seventeenth century.. London: Longmans.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Painted Pomp: art and fashion in the age of Shakespeare. Exhibition review

Painted Pomp: art and fashion in the age of Shakespeare. Holburne Museum, Bath. 26th January to 6th May 2013

The exhibition has three interconnecting strands. First there are the Lawson paintings, then some original clothing and accessories from the period that compliment and add to the paintings, and finally there are some reproductions of similar outfits to those depicted in the paintings, and related material from the Globe theatre.

There are nine full size portraits by William Lawson from the Suffolk collection. These are beautifully lit, and the colours are jewel like. The difference between seeing the paintings themselves and seeing reproductions is considerable. Look at the portrait of Elizabeth, Countess of Newcastle, what you cannot see in this reproduction, which you can when you are close up to it in the exhibition, is that the gown is covered either in black braid or black embroidery. The black on black is very difficult to see, but the fact that Larkin nuanced his blacks says everything about the way he depicts fabrics.

There are also cases of original items which have been chosen specifically to go with the paintings. There is a beautifully embroidered jacket from the Museum of Fashion Collection at Bath, which mirrors the two paintings in which similar embroidered jackets are being worn, and particularly the portrait of Lady Dorothy Cary wearing a jacket closed with almost identical pink ribbons. There are three pairs and one single gauntleted glove from the collection of the Worshipful Company of Glovers.  Two of the glove designs show the pelican in her piety, one has flowers on the gauntlets, and the least ornamented pair has goldwork leaves and flowers. There is a pair of white pinked leather shoes, in a very small size, on loan from the Ashmolean.  There is a heavily decorated shoe horn, and a fan from the Royal Collection, with bone guards and a leather leaf cut in the style of reticella work.  There is a case of sixteenth and early seventeenth century cutwork and needle and bobbin laces, of the styles that are depicted in the paintings, and seven examples of ruff or band tassels. There are two shirts, one from the Museum of Fashion, covered in very fine blackwork embroidery, close ups of which can be seen on the Goodwyfe blog, and the other from the Somerset Museums Service with a lace collar and inset lace motif. Another item reflecting the paintings is a seventeenth century Turkish carpet, very similar in style to those that appear under the feet of Larkin’s subjects.

To round of the exhibition there are two complete outfits from productions at the Globe, Perdita from A Winter’s Tale, and Duke Vincentio from Measure for Measure. Accompanying them is a video showing how the two characters are dressed from their smock and shirt onward. There are also a few reproduction items, hat, gloves, ruff and collar, that can be tried on by members of the public.

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of related talks and workshops details of which can be found on the Museum’s website. The museum shop also stocks the recently published book The Suffolk Collection by Laura Houliston. (English Heritage, £50. 9781848020801 - cover above)


Saturday, 2 February 2013

Doris Langley Moore and the Museum of Fashion at Bath

I spent a pleasant afternoon at the AGM of the West of England Costume Society where Rosemary Harden, curator of the Fashion Museum at Bath spoke about the origins of the Fashion Museum, which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary in the Assembly Rooms, and the museum’s creator Doris Langley Moore.

Doris Langley Moore’s collection started with fashion plates, but in 1928 she took part in a game of charades, and her hostess was so surprised that Doris could get into one of the garments that she had supplied for the protagonists to use, that she gave her the garment. Some months later Doris purchased another vintage gown which she was planning to cut up, however she balked at the idea, and thus her collection began.

Mrs Langley Moore had a wide collection of friends and acquaintances in the artistic and theatrical world of London, and when she published a book about her collection in 1949 – Women in Fashion - items from her collection where modelled by luminaries of the time such as the ballerinas Margot Forteyn and Beryl Grey, actresses Rachel Kempson and Vivien Leigh, the opera singer Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and many others. The young lady on the title page above is Vanessa Redgrave. Rosemary commented that many of the dresses in the book are no longer in the collection as it was never static. Mrs Langley Moore often sold off items as well as purchasing.

Even at this date Mrs Langley Moore was looking to open a museum. She acquired an Arts Council grant and was for a short period based in London, but in 1955 the collection moved to the home of the Marquess of Abergavenny at Eridge Castle in Kent, where it was opened by the Queen Mother. It was while the collection was at Eridge that a series of four, fifteen minute television programmes based on the collection where made. They were unusual in that, although there was no colour television in England at the time, they were made in colour. They can still be seen via the BBC archives.

The collection moved again, being based for a short period at the Royal Pavilion Brighton, before finally coming to rest at its current home in the Assembly Rooms in 1963. From that date on the Museum has instituted a “Dress of the Year” where a current fashion is chosen by a fashion journalist as exemplified by an outfit, from Mary Quant in 1963 to Sarah Burton in 2011. This year the museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an exhibition of “50 Fabulous Frocks” which opened today.