Early Georgian & Regency Fashion Prints to 1806
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27 August 2010
Many people enjoy collecting hand-coloured, and uncoloured fashion plates and those of the Georgian period, particularly the Regency era, are especially prized. This article aims to give some background information about about the origins of these plates, many of which were originally published in monthly partworks, or bound into whole volumes, published once, or twice, annually. My interest is in the plates and the publications , rather than in the fashions themselves, about which I know very little.
One of the first publications with a more than passing interest in fashion was 'The Lady's Magazine', which began printing in 1770 and continued right through to the early 1830s, when it became part of the French publication, 'Le Follet'. The quality of the artwork varied enormously through the decades. (A similar, much rarer publication was 'The British Lady's Magazine' , which was published somewhat intermittently between 1814 and 1819.)
To begin with, these fashion plates were really only available to the most wealthy customers of the Georgian era. 'Le Galerie des Modes', published in the late 1780s, was one of the first true fashion publications, with wonderful, large engraved plates, both hand-coloured and sepia, using some of the foremost artists of the day, for example LeClerc, Desrais and Watteau.
A smaller, and to my mind more interesting publication, was the French, 'Cabinet des Modes', which continued under various titles into the 1790s. The plates are notable for the delicacy of the figures, with tiny waists and rather effete-looking gentlemen.
The 1790s and early 1800s saw the preeminence of Nicholas Heideloff and his 'Gallery of Fashion', which produced arguably the greatest series of fashion plates ever made. They were published monthly for the great and good of Georgian England and numbered members of both British and European royal families amongst the subscribers. Publication finished in 1803 and it is generally felt that the quality of the plates tailed off towards the end.
Plates from these great 18th Century works are rarely found these days and command high prices when they are. (I do have the odd one to list occasionally).
1798 saw the beginning of the long-running 'Journal des Dames et des Modes - Costumes Parisiens' in France, with later editions also published in Germany and Belgium. It is relatively easy to tell the original French magazines from these later two. The French plates are numbered consecutively, and numbers run on from year to year into the hundreds. In the German and Belgian editions, the plates are renumbered for every volume, so numbers tend to be low. In addition, there is often a stamp for Paris, or Frankfurt, indicating the origins of the edition. The German and Belgian artists also had a tendency to copy the original plates as composites, so that there are often several figures arranged together. (The overwhelming majority of the French plates, tended to focus on just one figure) Also the colours are often much brighter, with 'props' such as a piece of furniture or a handsome Regency 'buck'. The pictures below show first the original French, then the German or Belgian versions:
Across the Channel in England, 1798 saw first issues of two more publications. One was the half size ' Lady's Monthly Museum', which employed a number of artists over the years, some with definitely more talent than others. Plates from this series are immediately recognizable and have a real charm of their own, often with quite a naive quality to them. This publication continued well into the 1820s.
The second publication, which first appeared in 1798 was 'The Fashions of London and Paris', published by the prolific writer and publisher, Sir Richard Phillips, who is widely believed to have been Lord Mayor of London, although this is apocryphal. Again fashions from this publication are distinctive, with very straight-backed models, often shown in profile. Publication had ceased by around 1811.
More later, when we stay in England to meet the the even more prolific John Bell and his indefatigable designer wife, who had several publications on the go simultaneously. We will also catch a glimpse of the shadowy figure of Madame Lanchester of Bond Street, whose wonderful work 'Le Miroir de la Mode' burst briefly to life in 1803, but had vanished without trace by the end of 1804. (Although The Museum of London has at least one plate published by Madame Lanchester which is dated 1807)
In 1806, Mr Bell published the first edition of 'La Belle Assemblee' which was to continue in production well into the Victorian era. In the first volume, nearly all the fashion plates were black and white, and often wider than the other pages of the book, so had to be concertina=ed together. Gradually, over the next couple of years, the plates became hand-coloured and increasingly sophisticated, until they matched the Ackermann Repository plates in draughtsmanship and often exceeded them in beauty. However, please see my second guide (in the pipeline at the moment) for further details, as I am only allowed to use 10 pictures per guide. See http://antiquefashionplates.blogspot.com/ for my BLOG about fashion plates.
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