12/20/2012

The elegant snowball fight

The snowball fight

Date: Late 19th century or early 20th century
Sitters: Unknown
Provenience: Öland, Sweden

A rather unusual CDV depicting two ladies dressed for winter - engaged in a snowball fight! The picture is from rural Sweden and shows them in a garden, dressed in skirts and jackets suitable for the winter and quite fashionable. The ensembles are matching and if you look closely at the clothes you can see trimmings (most notable on the darker clad woman). They are probably quite well off - one of the signs are the little hats they are wearing - poorer women at this time would most likely not have owned something like that, they used shawls instead. The fur scarves they are wearing also hint at some money.

And yet they are involved in a snowball fight! It is not just for show either - note the white in the face and on the jacket on the lighter dressed woman, that's not a damage on the photo but snow! No wonder she doesn't look quite happy...

12/07/2012

Fashion from January 1845

1845 - January

Date: January 1845
Originally published in: Stockholms mode-journal
Description: A gentleman and four women (and three women busts, or what to call them)

The magazine (translated from Swedish), describes the clothes as (from left to right - but for some reason there is no description of the third woman):
Man in a sleeveless, blue coat, with velvet collar and lined with velvet too. Underneath he is wearing a tail coat with a low collar and wide lapels. To this he is wearing a white, very long piqué vest with gold buttons and a small, standing collar, and a black neck-scarf. The trousers are somewhat close-fitting. 
The woman next to him is wearing a velvet bonnet, with a back made of atlas silk in the same colour as the bonnet. The inside of the bonnet is also lined with atlas. The striped gown is made of green silk taffeta. . Over this is worn a light green cashmere wool coat with narrow ribbons of black velvet and big buttons.
The seated woman is dressed in a bonnet made of silk decorated with flowers. She is wearing a blue silk coat and underneath that a plain, light cashmere wool dress.
[The woman next to her is wearing a bonnet and a blue dress under a lace-trimmed purple coat.]
The woman looking in the mirror is wearing a Spanish mantilla (or as the magazine likes its fashion terms in French: mantille) in black with a hood (in the Swedish text it was called kapuchon - a take on the French termn 'capuchon', nowadays the Swedish word is spelled 'kapuschong'). To this she is wearing a mustard coloured silk dress. 

Note that compared to just a few years later (see here) the different coats and styles have not been given any names.

5/24/2012

The V&A wedding dress

Victoria and Albert museum - Wedding-dress
Front of the dress
One of the highlights of the Victoria and Albert Museum fashion exhibition must be this little dress. (Little as in made for someone rather short, by today's standard, I hasten to add.)

It is made of white cotton muslin with a flowery wool embroidery at the bottom of the skirt, silk satin collar and wadded rouleaux in the front. It was made sometime around 1830 by an unknown person and worn by an equally unknown person - it was probably made in either France or Britain. It is very typical of its time with the big balloon sleeves and slim waste - the fashion had made some drastic changes in the last ten years. This is the total opposite of the Regency fashion.

It must also be noted that the museum labels this as a probable wedding-dress, but nobody knows for sure. It is based much on the amount of work gone into this dress, it must have been made for a special occasion. Wedding dresses in the 19th century could very well be white, but not necessarily (many women would just wear their Sunday best, or take into account to have a wedding dress made that could very well be worn afterwards too) and it didn't become really popular until the wedding of queen Victoria in 1840 when she chose to wear white - some ten years after this dress was made.

Victoria and Albert Museum - Wedding-dress
Side of the dress
The side of the dress is by far the least flattering for the wearer - the big sleeves hide the slim waste and making the whole thing rather look like a balloon.
Victoria and Albert Museum - Wedding-dress
Back of the dress
The back shot clearly reveals a dress made to be seen both from front and back. The V-shaped collar from the front is in the back given a totally different shape - while the floral pattern at the bottom of the skirt remains the same both from the front and the back.

Victoria and Albert museum - Wedding-dress
Dress in different light (due to different camera)
 

3/05/2012

The Bather

Victoria and Albert museum - The Bather
Photo taken by me - All rights reserved


This is the marble sculpture The Bather, made by Albert Toft in 1915. It was on display at Victoria and Albert Museum in London when I caught it on camera - but it is actually a piece belonging to Tate Gallery, that was given the piece by The Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest.

The motif is a woman taking her clothes off (with more clothes off than on) before stepping into a bath (which we are to imagine - in the same way we are to imagine her underwear since the piece of clothing we can see is a dress, and a dress would normally be worn with something beneath it. Let's call it artistic license). 

Throughout the 19th century naked women in marble was a popular theme, and this piece could very well be seen as a continuation of that tradition. But this piece is somewhat more realistic than a lot of the other sculptures you may see, which come across as rounded and sweet versions of ancient sculptures, often with a mythological theme - it was generally viewed as more appropriate to have a naked Venus in your sculpture gallery than a naked portrait of your wife. But this figure, The Bather, comes across as a real woman, she is not a goddess shedding her clothes for a dip, she is a normal English woman doing just that. 

2/26/2012

Review - The Diary of Murasaki Shikibu


Murasaki Shikibu is mainly known for her The tale of Genji, but she has made another important contribution to the literary heritage of old Japan, and that is her diary, or nikki as they are called in Japanese. A nikki is a collection of reflections and describtions of events, but not perhaps in a way a modern diary-writer would understand the task. Fair enough, this is written a little over a thousand years ago, conventions on writing change over time.

This diary is written in the first years of the 11th century, in a period called Heian. She is recently widowed and has a place at the imperial court, and the first part (and the end) is a description of life in the imperial household. The diary begins when the second consort of emperor Ichijo, Shoshi, was expected to give  birth to her first child, and then revolvs around this, the rituals surrounding birth and newly borns, but also court life as such. The second part of the book has the shape of a letter, both telling of Murasaki's thoughts on life (which come across as rather gloomy) and her opinions on other courtiers.

The main focus is descriptions. She describes rituals, people, nature and clothes. Everything is very beautiful and to the point in a way any modern writer could take notes from. But this is an old text and to a modern reader that can present a problem, you have to know quite a bit to be able to fully appreciate the text. That is why I would recommend any reader to sit down with a version with extensive footnotes. It might sound a bit boring, but it really isn't, and if you don't you will soon see the problems: not only are the officialls mentioned only by their titles and in a way that hints very little of who they were, but even the colours of the ladies in waiting's  robes are described in ways unknown to most modern readers (not to mention non-Japanese), and let's face it, most of us know precious little about rituals and their shape and meaning in Heian Japan.

All in all a beautiful read and an important document!

More about her can be found here!


2/17/2012

Mary Curzon and style

Mary Curzon
Mary Curzon, who deserves a blog post in herself (and I might get around to that) was an American heiress who married George Curzon who was to become Viceroy of India at the end of the 19th century. At the moment I'm reading Nigel Nicolson's biography on her (Mary Curzon) and his description of her and her wardrobe when she was to become Vicereine is worth quoting in spite of its length (page 138 in the Futura paperback edition from 1978) to give a flair of the exotic, and what was expected of a woman in the late Victorian and Edwardian period:

"She took immense pains with her trousseau, knowing that she must match the magnificent jewels, uniforms, turbans and saris of her host and hostess, and how much importance an oriental people attach to outward appearance. She must be ultra-feminine when the men were ultra-masculine. She must not give offence by adopting the Indian style, but pay tribute to it by discreet reminders that she knew what it was. She had special materials woven in India to her design; embroidered Parisian clothes with Indian motifs; bought costume jewellery in Calcutta bazaars. Many of her clothes survive in the costume-museum of Bath, a few displayed on dummies in the exhibition-hall, the remainder carefully stored in the original trunks in which she brought them back from India. There, seventy years later, I was allowed to unfold and handle them. They were still in perfect condition. Evening dresses, garden-party dresses, trains, morning gowns; silks, satins and brocades; padded, boned and upholstered. She had a taste for slithering materials which changed colour as she walked, or crisp ones which rustled (sound has gone out of modern clothes, to their loss), and for lace edgings which would have dirtied withing an hour had she not taken great care. Almost every dress was made by Worth in Paris, and  on most were stitched Indian designs of flowers, or whorls following the skirt-hem or caressing the neckline, strengthening the flowing silk or satin with encrusted dragons or insects unknown to entomology. She preferred glowing colours, rich reds and purples, imperial colours, but pink was her favourite. In the daytime the dresses were loose and flowing, or tightly waisted. In the evening, her splendid shoulders emerged candlelike from the tight socket of her gown. Her beauty complimented  the material and jewels, her wearing them the designer, and all combined to satisfy her desire, her obligation, to be the loveliest."

2/08/2012

Norwegian woman

Woman from Kristiania
Date: The 1910's
Photographer: Selmer Norland & C:o
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Kristiania (nowadays more known as Oslo), Norway

The dress makes it possible to date this photo - because the frame of the photo itself has a look that would offer no closer date and could just as well have been some 20 years older. On the other hand, the dress (blouse? jacket?) is typical of the fashion you would associate with the First World War. This can be seen in the simple silhouette of the clothes, a far cry from the overly intricate fashion from the eras before. Other typical details of this time are the buttons (note the big buttonholes), the asymmetrical piece of lace running down the front of the clothes, and the soft collar, reminiscent of sailor or middy collars.

The dress looks quite expensive - the lace is definitely of an expensive kind, if it's home made (which I doubt) it must have been done by an expert. I suspect it has been bought. The white collar with the little bow is quite exquisite and the fabric of the dress (blouse? jacket? you really can't tell, can you?) seems very soft with an almost velvet-y quality.

I have no idea who this woman is. The photo comes from a family album, but this is the only photo in the collection of her - and the only photo from Norway. It is possible she is a Swedish woman who moved to Norway and sent a photo home to old friends and family.

2/03/2012

January 1852

January 1852

Date: January 1852
Originally published in: Stockholms mode-journal
Description: Six women in more or less formal dresses, worn under coats.


From left to right:
The woman in white is wearing a coat of the model 'Rachel' with a hood. The coat is made of cashmere, with yellow ribbons in silk and with silk lining. This is worn over an evening dress made of white taffeta with lace frills. Her hair is decorated with flowers.
The woman in pink and purple has a coat of the model 'Stuart' made of velvet, with wide sleeves. Her pink bonnet is frames her face and her curls arranged in a fashion known as Sevigné.
The woman in matching green jacket and dress has her clothes made out of alpaca, decorated with velvet ribbons. The model of the jacket is known as 'voyageuse'. Her simple bonnet is decorated with matching green velvet ribbons.
The woman in blue and black is wearing a Parisier walking coat made out of blue silk, with darker blue velvet decorations. It is rather close-fitting at the upper part of the body and then loosens up over the skirt of the black silk dress. 
The woman in brown has a coat known as frileuse - the name comes from the pleats on the front, collar and sleeves on the coat. The sleeves are close fitting. It is made out of silk. The bonnet is dressed in silk and with a plume. 
And the last woman is wearing a green camara-coat, made of cloth decorated with velvet and soutache boards. The brown silk dress worn under has a similar board. 

I can't help but wonder, when reading the original descriptions of these clothes, how many who actually wore these clothes made of silk and velvet, and not just made versions in wool and cotton. (And the habit of giving pieces of clothing names is quite endearing!)

1/31/2012

Review - Agatha Christie, An English mystery

Written by Laura Thompson, originally published 2007
My rating: 3/5

This is a problematic book. It has its good points, and some very negative. But let's start with the positive. The book is incredibly well researched, if there is anything you ever wanted to know you will find it here. You will find a whole lot of information you didn't even know you wanted to know. And Laura Thompson clearly loves her subject, she loves to write this book and it is very evident throughout it. No, throughout most of the book. She loves the subject and she loves the writer Christie and all this love and staunch belief in Christie can make an entertaining read.

But then there are some problems...

First of all this love for Christie makes Thompson a bit blind to the fact that not everyone that picks up this book will share her absolute devotion, considering Christie the best crime writer of the Golden era of English crime. It is of course quite alright to believe in your subject, but it can get a bit tedious with a long section stating Thompson’s opinions on why Christie is the greatest presented as unarguable fact.

Secondly, this is not a straightforward biography, you get all the facts, but a bit jumbled up as if you are supposed to have a grasp on the basic facts of Christie's life beforehand. For example, Christie’s first husband, Archie, is not much more than introduced before you are told that the marriage will end in shambles (which can get a bit boring for the reader, if nothing else). What Thompson want to tell her readers is instead the psychological biography of Christie. And that is a dangerous road to tread. Thompson seems incapable of consenting to that some things we just don't know, and we won't ever get the answer. The blurb on my copy talks about a unique access to letters, diaries and interviews with the family. This might be true, but it doesn't change the fact that most of the information come from Christie's books. Not her autobiography but her novels. Of course parts of it might very well reveal something about their creator, but it can't be used as facts, not even when semi-autobiographical. We just don't know what's true, and what is a pure fiction. Most of all Thompson turns to ‘Unfinished portrait’ and when there are facts and thoughts which collide with what we KNOW about Christie Thompson just pass them by without admitting the problem with using such a source when using the books for other parts of her life which we have very little, or no, other information about. Because we have to admit that there are quite frankly a lot about Christie's thoughts and inner life we don't know anything about. Not to mention that the novels are used in this way only when it suits this book's purpose. When a character says something less suitable it is labelled as a product of Christie's creativity.

Thirdly the main purpose of the book is without a doubt for the author to give her version of what she thinks happened when Christie disappeared for a week in 1926. I do not have a problem with that, it is an engrossing read. But there is a problem in this for the rest of the book. Everything that happened before this is analyzed with the knowledge of what was to happen then, and much afterwards is then analyzed as an effect of that one week and the media reaction afterwards, without taking into account that there are of course other things that must have influenced Christie and her actions. A person's actions in his or her life are generally not explainable with just one single cause. Another side-effect of this is that the later parts of her life are described in a way that is much less interesting, and since that is about fifty years of her life it is a bit of a problem.

Fourthly there are many instances in the book when what she writes is an answer to the book ‘Agatha Christie and the eleven missing days’ by Jared Cade, where Thompson mostly disagrees with the conclusions drawn. If you haven't read the book in question, and no I haven't, it is just pointless.

And finally Thompson has a clear concept of what she thinks, stating them as facts and not opinions, most prominent in her belief that Christie was too attached to her mother and the house where she grew up. I should say the evidences she puts forward are not hard enough to really sound convincing...

1/07/2012

Nefertiti

Berlin, Altes Museum - The Egyptian Collection
The famous Nefertiti bust
ⓒRebecca Bugge
Name: Nefertiti (Nafteta) 
Born: About 1370 B.C.
Died: About 1330 B.C.
Married toAkhenaten
Children: Six daughters (at least)
Occupation: Chief consort of the pharaoh Akhenaten.

Nefertiti (or more correctly Nafteta) is one of the most famous faces of ancient Egypt - though the portraits of her that exist are hardly typical Egyptian portraits. She and her husband, pharaoh Akhenaten, were at the centre of a religious revolution with an upheaval of many Egyptian customs and traditions, and introducing a new art style (the Amarna style, named after the modern name of the new capital they made: Akhetaten) with contorted bodies and weird faces (having led to speculations on possible disfiguration  of the pharaoh himself). Still the bust of Nefertiti is known for its beauty.

About the lady herself not all that much is known - her place of birth is not known, who her parents were is debated, when she died isn't exactly known, if she ruled a few years after the death of her husband is debated and where she is buried is not known. There are of course theories on all of these subjects. One theory of her parentage is that she was the daughter of Ay (who was later to become pharaoh after the death of Tutankhamen), supported by the fact she is mentioned as the sister of his other, known, daughter Mutbenret. His wife Tey was given the title of nurse of Nefertiti. But it has also been suggested that she is to be identified with the Mitanni princess Tadukhipa, daughter of the Mitanni king Tushratta. Tadukhipa was married to pharaoh Amenhotep III and after his death she married his successor Akhenaten (though the princess has also been identified with Akhenaten's other wife Kiya). Given the evidence at hand the Ay-theory seems to be a bit more well-founded.

It is not known when Nefertiti married Akhenaten, but the names of their six (known) daughters are known:
Meritaten (the wife of Smenkhkare, born about 1356 B.C.)
Meketaten (lived about 1349-1335 B.C.)
Ankhesenamun (the wife of Tutankhamen, lived about 1348-1322 B.C.)
Neferneferuaten Tasherit (about 1344 - before the ascension of Tutankhamen)
Neferneferure (about 1341 B.C. - probably before Meketaten)
Setepenre (about 1339 - before Meketaten and probably before Neferneferure)

After 14 years as a royal consort to the pharaoh Nefertiti disappears from all records. At one point the theory was  that she had fallen from grace, based on destroyed portraits of Akhenaten's consort - but it has later been shown that these were portraits of his other wife Kiya - and the theory has been abandoned. It has also been suggested that she in fact did not die at this point, that she instead was elevated to the rank of co-regent and as the successor of Akhenaten ruled under the name of Neferneferuaten (who in case was of royal descent - but might have been a daughter of Akhenaten rather than his wife). A very common interpretation of her disappearance is that she simply died.

(All dates are very imprecise in this post, because we simply don't know the exact ones.1339)

Berlin, Altes Museum - The Egyptian Collection
Nefertiti (to the right) with Akhenaten and three of their daughters.
ⓒRebecca Bugge

1/02/2012

The unknown with the books

Woman from Målilla

Date: Sometime around 1900
Photographer: Thyra Dahlman
Sitter: Unknown
Provenience: Målilla, Sweden

A photo from a time when everyone went to the photographer to have their picture taken and give them to friends and family. This particular photo comes from a family album, but it still does not mean that I know who the sitter is. It was obvious to the owners of that album, they never bothered with writing it down - and now it is a knowledge lost to the world - a far too common fate with old photos.

This is also a good example of what cabinet photos would look like outside the big cities, no advanced backdrop and the treatment of the photo is actually rather crude - the motif is blurred at the edges, but so much that even the face is somewhat blurred and the clearest part of the photo is the dress. The dress is absolutely a Sunday best - but I doubt that was the intention of the sitter. Even so it is an interesting piece, a legacy from a time when photography was one of the few decent professions open to women without loss of social standing a hundred years ago and more... (Unfortunately, I have been unable to track down any additional information on Thyra Dahlman, apart from her being active around 1900.)

The woman in the photo is, as I said, unknown, but a few clues about her as a person can be glinted from this shot. She is obviously not married - not even engaged. She is not wearing a ring. Her dress is perhaps a bit provincial but the fabric isn't coarse, the sewing is well thought through (look especially at the chest area and the pleating there) and the collar is laced. There is at least some money involved here. I am actually guessing she is a school teacher. That would mean she earned some money in her own right, and that would explain the books by her side. Props are not unheard of in older studio photography, but there is usually a point to them, a reason for them being there, and illustrating a woman standing all alone ought to indicate some form of interest in books - and the most common outcome for women interested in books, and with no husband, at this time was to become a teacher.