I have been utterly obsessed with the fashion, art and culture of the mid to late 18th century since I was stunned by the gaudy opulence of the fictional rococo period film in 1959 musical Singin’ in the Rain.

Not even doing my GCSEs and my spare time (which was almost all my time) was spent pouring though endless tabs of wonderfully superfluous but flowery articles about panniers, the history of women’s hair styles of the era, and the unadulterated glamour and opulence of the rococo-era Palace of Versailles.

The fairest – and most nasal – lady in all of France. The pouf, hairstyle most people use to represent the era, was actually only at this spectacular height in the 1770s, after la Reine de la Mode Marie-Antoinette wore the style to the opera, styled by society coiffeur Léonard, a flamboyant rococo equivalent to the Beverly Hills celebrity stylists of today. a style was widely throughout European society and beyond.

Part of my new year’s resolution was to learn more about art, and since coming to London, my desperately embarrassing nerdy fascination with centuries-old fashions I have discovered other people care about this stuff too!

I wrote a blog post earlier in the on an exhibition I attended at the Royal Academy of Arts, detailing the works of portrait artist Jean-Étienne Liotard. Expanding my knowledge into the art and cultural opinions of the era has only helped to give rich context to my rather superficial knowledge of the fashion and aesthetics of the era.

A trip to the Wallace Collection taught me the difference between Baroque, Rococo and Neo-Classical styles, a distinction one must absolutely know!

Rococo is a more floral, naturalistic evolution of the more grand, austere baroque movement. 

The two cabinets in the picture are Japanese and the middle French, the influence of Japan’s ornate style is clear, the black and gold colouring and rigid lines one of the most defining elements of Boulle marquetry, the name attributed to the design method in baroque furnishing.

The Neoclassical style became in vogue during the middle of the 18th century, when Roman ruins were discovered. Although hugely different from the so called frivolous styles of rococo, a blending of the two looks can be seen in various transitional furniture.

St James’ Park and the Mall is one of my favourite paintings of the era, the light-hearted mood of the time depicts the upper, middle and lower classes intermingling in a park from a much more formal and restrained era. 

The inclusion of a sole but dignified black woman in fashionable middle class clothes is a beautiful nuance in what can seem like a binary period of history.

One of my favourite celebrities of the 18ème siècle, I fell in love with the Honourable Mrs Graham when I bought a biscuit tin made by a Liverpool manufacturer with her fabulously haughty face on it.

Her identity was a mystery to me until I found her on an unrelated article on 18th cenury fashion months later.

Isn’t a Sèvre everybody’s dream mantelpiece porn?

The light-hearted, liberal mood of the time is reflected in many art forms from the period, artists such as Rowlandson Gainsborough and embracing the new informality and a subjects new desire to appear personable and natural rather than stately and divine. 

Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire working the camera (or the painter’s brush) in 1775, working the latest looks from Château de Versailles, painred by Georgiana and Marie-Antoinette were reportedly pen pals, and she, along with the rest of Britain’s upper classes, were either very saddened or very worried that they’d receive the same fate as the French royal family.

We can but imagine how the world would have looked through the eyes of an 18th century socialite, but art helps us get that little bit closer!

A 1780’s satirical print by Thomas Rowlandson, depicting ‘The Devonshire’ giving out free kisses to secure votes for her political Whig favourite, Charles James Fox. She famously wore a bunch of fuzzy fox tails on her hat as a publicity stunt!

Huzzah, my art/fashion history pilgrimage is complete!



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