Collaboration: whatgrandmawore & whatsaroxy

This post is the second in a collaboration with whatgrandmawore and artist Roxy Van Bemmel, a project which sees Roxy visually interpret historical garments from online museum collections, whilst adding her own abstract and modern approach to object observation.

whatsaroxy 1818

Roxy van Bemmel painting of an 1818 evening dress from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection, London. (2019) All rights reserved to the artist.

The second garment I suggested to Roxy for illustration, was an evening dress from the Victoria and Albert collection. I was quite mean with my choice; if you take a look at Roxy’s fantastic Instagram page @whatsaroxy, her illustrations are bursting with colour. With the range of colour Roxy uses, her illustrations become dynamic and practically move on paper. However with this 1818 evening dress, I wanted to see how Roxy could interpret a historical garment in one shade, with no print or pattern.

1817 marked the death of Princess Charlotte, heir to the British throne, a year before this dress was created. Princess Charlotte was a well-admired royal in comparison to her father, King George IV, and was thus seen as a sign of hope for the future British monarchy.

However, Princess Charlotte tragically died during childbirth at the age of 21, resulting in the death of two potential royal heirs. This event plunged the country into deep mourning. Although mourning protocol during the Regency period was more relaxed than during the Victorian era, Princess Charlotte’s death set a precedent for the etiquette of national mourning which was later observed throughout the 19th century.

princess charlotte

RCIN 402491. Princess Charlotte of Wales. c1817-25. Oil on canvas. Royal Collection Trust, London.

An evening dress such as this one from the V&A collection could have been worn during stages of mourning. This dress has been created from machine net, which was developed during the 1760s. Moving away from the simplicity of neoclassical dress, this Regency garment has been decorated with this relatively new textile. Applied satin rolls and rosettes have been used for decoration around the hem and shoulders. The waist is extremely high; the bodice is merely a thin band positioned just under the bust. Roxy has taken care to interpret these textural details.

1818 dress

T.175-1922. c1818 evening dress. Machine-silk net. Victoria and Albert Museum online collections, London.

For any of you on Twitter, you may have seen recent discussions on the misinterpretation of Regency hairstyles by costume designers working on popular period dramas aired on British television. Attempting to avoid this, Roxy paid close attention to threads created by @fourredshoes, and referenced portraiture from the Regency period. Studying portraiture from the period also advised Roxy on how to produce the correct pose for the model. The background Roxy has created juxtaposes the dark shade of the dress and its heavy connotations, I think adding an interesting contrast to the garment.


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