Joshua Reynolds and Fashion


Today we are at the Wallace Collection and
after looking at Reynolds’s paintings we would like to explore the fashion style that
featured in them. We’re now going to be hearing from the Head of Education, who will
tell us about fashion in the eighteenth century. Well just like today there was a huge range
of different products on the market for your hair and makeup for the fashionable women
in the eighteenth century. In France they started wearing heavy makeup and powdering
their hair at the beginning of the eighteenth century. In England you don’t really see
that until the 1760s, 1770s. So when we look at the picture of Nelly O’Brien she is quite
natural in her make-up and her hair is un-powdered. But if we look at the pictures of Mrs Robinson
or Mrs Carnac that Reynolds painted about a decade later their hair is heavily powdered
and they are actually wearing quite a lot of make-up. So in front of us we have got
a make-up set, a toilette set and this is the kind of thing that a fashionable lady
like Nelly O’Brien or Mrs Carnac or Mrs Robinson would have had on their dressing
table at home. The two large pots that you see here were for hair powder. The best powder
was made from wheat starch and that’s why, on both of these pots at the top, you see
a sheaf of wheat, which indicates what was in these particular pots. This is a clothes brush that you would have brushed your clothes down with and this smaller
brush here would have dusted hair powder from your shoulders. So the hair tools were quite similar to what we use today. So curling irons, just incredibly
similar to the ones which we use today, though obviously just not electric. They would have been placed
in the fire to heat up and you would have used them in the exact same way that we would
use hair tools. However, you would have had a maid or servant, or even a professional
hair dresser to do up your curls. And then for the really elaborate hair styles of the
1770s, the really high hair styles of the 1770s and the really wide hair styles of the
1780s, you would have had to use false hair, so just like hair extensions today. And you
would have used various different pads to create these huge structures which would have
been underneath your real hair. Well just like today hair styles changed over
time. So when we look at this picture of Nelly O’Brien which was painted by Joshua Reynolds
in the early 1760s, we can see one that her hair is natural. That means she has no powder
which we’ll see in some of the later portraits. Her hair is short, or certainly it’s short
at the top and the sides. It probably was curled at the back or pinned up, but certainly
hair at that time, it was fashionable to have it looking short. If we move on about 10 years and look at Mrs Carnac, which was painted in the 1770s by Joshua Reynolds, you can see
that the hair style has completely changed. One, it is huge, really really high. And hair
started to get taller and taller in the 1760s and by the 1770s it was really really tall. You can see in Mrs Carnac her hair has also been decorated in ostrich feathers, and that
was incredibly fashionable in the 1770s. Well again let’s start and look at the portrait
of Nelly O’Brien as it’s the earliest portrait in the room. And we know that Reynolds painted all of the costume himself for this particular painting. And she is wearing the
most fashionable dress of the time. She is wearing this incredibly beautiful silk quilted
petticoat and over it she’s got this striped taffeta overdress. And then she’s got this
black mantilla, a shawl, over her shoulders, this was French fashion that came over to
England and she’s also wearing an incredibly fashionable shepherdesses bonnet, called a
leghorn hat. Well standards of beauty were pretty homogenous
in the eighteenth century. The ideal beauty had to have an oval rather than a round face A pale complexion, a straight nose and a small mouth, generally with the lower lip being
slightly larger to create a rose bud effect. And we can see that Reynolds is showing this standard ideal beauty in his portrait of Mrs Robinson: the very pale skin with the rosy
cheeks, she’s also wearing this black ribbon around her neck which highlights the whiteness
of her skin. To learn more about Reynolds’s paintings
and eighteenth-century fashion please visit the Wallace Collection. Thank you for watching,
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