5/31/2008

Portrait of the week - Adelaide Brownlow


Adelaide, countess Brownlow, by Frederic Leighton, 1879.

This portrait of the English countess is not very typical of the time and shows different influences than those inspiring most artists at the time.

One of the main points of interest is the dress worn by the lady which has little (or more exactly nothing) to do with the fashion of the day. It is long and flowing, but without the corseted waist or hoop-skirts underneath. That is no wonder, but Adelaide and her husband were member of the cultural salon 'The Souls'.

The Souls was established when the Home Rule meant that many existing social forums mostly were used to discus Gladstone and politics and for those who saw little amusement in that (or at least wanted to do other things besides that) they had somewhere to turn to. Many of the members, like the Brownlows, were aristocrats interested in the aesthetic movement at the time.

It is this liking for this cultural phenomenon that can be most clearly seen in this portrait. One of the key elements of the aesthetic movemebt was to turn away from the ugly of the day and return to the beauty, away from the Victorian society and with a lot of heritage from the Romantic era. This was done with choosing a dramatic, and not very modern, back-drop to the lady herself, as well as her dress. It is a dress that seems to have more to do with a Renaissance dress. It was not something worn by everyone, but members of this movement actually chose this kind of clothing over what was considered 'normal'. It was worn because it was considered more appealing to the eye - and to the body and it continued to influence fashion (or certain parts of it) all the way to the turn of the century.

The picture is now to be found at the staircase at Belton House, England.

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