09.08Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century: 09.08

September 26, 2008

Femme of the Week: Rose Bertin

Many have said that Rose Bertin, born Marie-Jeanne Bertin, was not a dress maker at all, merely a dress 'decorator'. Rose Bertin was the famous milliner to Marie Antoinette's court. I had to throw in this image of Cagliostro, because apparently *waves fan* Rose Bertin contacted a psychic to learn about her future when she was a young inexperienced girl. She found out that she would be very successful, and according to legend, things picked up quickly for her.

She began working for Mlle. Pagelle at the Trait Galant. Another rumor had it that one of the costumers was the mistress of the Comte de Charolais. (I will cover that story later) She had two illegitimate daughters. Long story short, when these lovely ladies were to be married off their wedding gowns were ordered from the Trait Galant. Rose was chosen to deliver them and when she arrived at the home she ran into an older woman, a chambermaid. Rose and the woman started talking about the gowns and when the woman asked to see them Rose showed her. It was a total du Barry moment, because Rose found out she was actually speaking with the princesse de Conti! After begging for forgiveness of her informal behavior the princesse promised her 'protection' and 'good will' for the future. A star was born!

She set up shop soon after, Au Grand Mogol, on the Rue de St. Honoré. She had the shop painted yellow with purple accents, and kept pretty shop girls to help costumers. She also hung portraits of her most well to do and popular clients on the walls. Rose was a true business woman and knew how to make it work!

She made hoop skirts that would reach 18 feet in circumference, and decorated them with brocades, silks and rich velvets. She knew how to apply spangles in pleasing arrangements that would highlight ladies in just the right way. She, like Rami, could create elegant flounces of fabric and lace. She knew how to take an ordinary dress and leave it dripping with garlands and flower blooms. The designs were not always symmetrical and were all unique.

Rose Bertin met Marie Antoinette and knew that this was the business relationship she needed- had to have (of course what business man would not think that!) The date for this introduction is set at 1772. According to the Souvenirs de Leonard, which should be taken with a grain of salt, he was the first to introduce the two. On meeting (as this story goes) Marie placed an order of 20,000 livres.*

Does anyone know about or been to her house? Just found this...

Two times a month Rose would put her strongest desgins on a doll / mannequin and send it to the courts of Europe. Two times a week she would bring orders and designs to Versailles to show Marie and her favorites. If you wanted to purchase an item from the Grand Mogol you might have been looking at:

Decorated Silk Hats : 60 livres
Plain Straw Hats (only a few feathers or blooms) : 20-40 livres
Court Dress: 1,900 - 2,800 livres ... no real equivalent maybe around $8,400

*Gossip. Sheer gossip!

September 25, 2008

Tea For Two!

I recently mentioned that one set of Marie’s Sèvres services is on display at Petit Trianon. Sèvres is the factory that Louis XVI and Marie supported, as did Louis XV. The factory opened during the 1740’s. Read more about it here. I wanted to give you a quick look at the design of the delicate pieces. They are decorated with strings of pearls and elegant cornflowers. Georgiana has a set on display at Chatsworth and her set is a bit earlier, and I think Marie would have liked it as her own!

This set is from 1785, and she was aiming for things less lavish and luxe. The simplicity of the design as a whole describes this desire, the cornflowers seem to represent the aim for nature and its simple beauty yet at the same time are an exotic bloom (I believe from North America - correct me if you know anything on that). The pearls of course valued as jewels fit for a queen (Pearl Post Coming Soon!) yet they are jewels not shaped by the hand of a stone cutter, they are jewels in their most natural state.

This last image is the design of a different set she had, not on view at the Petit Trianon. It does give you an idea of designs Marie liked.

Just lovely!

September 22, 2008

Family Tree: Meet Marie's Family From the top!

Maria Theresa had her first child just before her twentieth birthday! It was a daughter and she was born on February 5, 1737. (Maria Theresa would turn 20 just a month later). The baby was named Maria Elisabeth, Maria in honor of the Virgin, and Elisabeth, named after her grandmother Elisabeth Christine. Unfortunately, as was so common, little Maria Elisabeth died at age 3, when she was just a toddler.

September 17, 2008

Family Tree.......

Just an update! The research has been happening for the past many weeks, and soon you will learn all about the lovely daughters and sons Maria Theresa and Francis had! Until then I will leave you with an image of the family at a Gluck concert! Enjoy!

September 13, 2008

Femme of the Week: Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun

In tradition with Heather and her longgg posts, I present the lovely, Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun! This familiar femme was gifted with the talent for painting from her father, whom was also an artist. Elisabeth Vigee was born in Paris, April 16, 1755. She began drawing at a young age, and was practicing in the halls of the Louvre by her early teen years. She was one of those kids who 'draw everywhere' even on walls *shudder* Some of her inspirations aside from her father were Rubens, Rembrandt Vandyke and Greuze. In her memoirs, she remembered receiving the following advice, "do not follow any particular school. Nature is the best master, If you study it diligently you will never get into any mannerisms." The idea of naturalism followed Vigee as she developed a specific style of her own.

Vigee was beautiful and grew more so as she matured. Many books on her recall the fact that men would come to her for portraits- merely to look her up and down for a few private hours. When she felt uncomfortable she would tell them they need to look away from her because she was trying to paint their eyes. She was already earning a good amount of money from painting when her mother re-married and her stepfather began to collect all her earnings. She did not care for the man at all and he apparently even wore her own fathers clothes.

Possibly in an effort to leave her home situation, Vigee did not refuse the proposal of Monsieur Le Brun. Monsieur Le Brun owned a valuable art collection and Vigee was allowed to copy works from it. He new her talent would only develop and was quick to marry her. She soon found after becoming his wife that her husband was just as her step father had been with money. Her money. She tried to increase her income by setting up a 'school' where she taught a painting class for a few hours a day. She was just in her twenties and after a few courses felt that she was 'too lively to be a teacher.' She was in fact too busy.

Vigee-Le Brun had many sittings per month and commissions constantly came in. She had a daughter in 1779 and shortly after she painted a portrait of Marie Antoinette. Then another. And another! At first she was very timid and quiet when Marie was around. At one sitting she fumbled and dropped all her brushes on the ground. As she turned red, Marie jumped up to help her pick them up. Their friendship grew after this episode because Vigee-Le Brun was much more comfortable with Marie. The two would sometimes sing duets during sittings, and Vigee-Le Brun had confessed that the Queen was not always in tune.

Vigee-Le Brun also had the chance to meet Louis XVI. Louis remarked on her talent and, blushing, said "I do not understand much about painting, but you have made me love it."

One of my favorite moments of Vigee-Le Brun's life and career as a painter was when she was commissioned to do several paintings of Madame du Barry. Vigee had the chance to enter Mdm du Barry's salon and in front of a crackling fire Mdm du Barry told her stories and gossip of the court of Louis XV.

When the revolution dawned she left immediately for her safety and refused to hear any news on France. She settled in St. Petersburg. After the Revolution had ended she returned to Paris and was warmly welcomed. She visited her remaining friends, and at a concert the audience, "turned and applauded her. She was much touched, and answered with tears." Vigee-Le Brun died in Paris, May 29, 1842.

September 10, 2008

The definition of Bouffant!


French, from Middle French, from present participle of bouffer to puff


puffed out bouffant hairdos, bouffant veil

September 09, 2008

In Health and In Sickness: Fashion at Heart

Christian Lacroix
In 1774 Louis XV died of the debilitating and beauty destroying small pox. There was a concern that his grandson Louis XVI would also succumb to the disease. Lucky for Marie Antoinette, her mother faced her own panic when her daughter in law fell ill and passed away from the illness.

September 08, 2008


I just got a fabulous new perfume, and the scent is Croquembuche. I just love it and suggest you try it! A little about the tasty treat....

Croquembouche typically looks like this (right). It is composed of light cream (mousse or custard and can be in a variety of flavors) filled pastry puffs, and they are typically towered on one another. The finished tower is then sealed with hot crack caramel (like...345 degrees super hot) and when this cools the tower can be decorated or eaten by cracking off the puffs. Delicious!
And how did this fun and fancy dessert come to be??

"It has its origins as a fanciful, edible architectural structure displayed on the medieval tables of French royalty and nobility. Antonin Careme (1783-1833), the most famous French chef of his generation, popularized the Croquembouche. He created Turkish mosques, Persian pavilions and Gothic towers. The entire genre spiraled up and out of control towards the end of the 19th century, but then subsided to manageable dimensions. During the 20th century the Croquembouche has survived as a conical construction of choux balls piled on top of one another, each on a nougat base with a decoration at the top. Demeter’s Croquembouche captures the light and sugary scent of the nougat and choux balls perfectly, in a scent far more delicate than you might otherwise expect."

*About the top image, Louis and Marie are celebrating the birth of the dauphin. The room is decorated with fabrics, and on the table are elaborate confections and decor......Marie and Louis are sitting at the head of the table with their backs to us

September 07, 2008

Femme of the Week: Anne Vallayer-Coster

Anne Vallayer-Coster was born Anne Vallayer December 21st, 1744. She practiced painting all her life and on July 28th 1770 at 26 she offered her 'portfolio' for consideration to the Academie. Her 'portfolio' consisted of small paintings of "scientific and artistic'' instruments. Well it was a good thing she tried because the Academie accepted her! In fact * waves fan * she was one of 3 great women of her time to be accepted!

Vallayer was very popular, and although she was a beauty her popularity rose from her clear artistic talent. At this point she mainly focused on her still-life paintings. They were beautiful and market-able. But brighter commissions soon followed!

In the summer of 1779 comte d'Angiviller gave her a commission for a full portrait of Madame Sophie. For that she was to receive 6,000 livres!

According to Roland Michel there is a painting in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore that is 'signed' by Vallayer and dated 1778. It is a small portrait of Marie Antoinette. It has been thought to be a 19th century copy of an original lost to time, but either way it is believable. Apparently in 1779 Marie put forth an effort to support Vallayer, "being allocated lodgings in the Louvre." And this is an action known to a Queen who was not the greatest patron of arts. Of Marie, Vallayer had painted a pastel portrait (in a private collection, sorry I don't have an image of that one!)
"Have you ever been done in pastels?" "No, I don't travel much."

She also did portraits of the Kings other aunts; Madame Victorie and Madame Adelaide. These royal commissions were an artists key to fame and fortune. If today's artist wants to show paintings in NYC galleries, the 18th century artist wanted their paintings on the walls of Versailles. Vallayer-Coster was also fortunate enough to survive the Revolution. Not only did she survive but so did her career. In 1804 she had a commission by Josephine!

September 06, 2008

The Fashionable Man: Hair Edition

Yes, Marie and Georgiana spent countless hours sitting for a coiffeur who worked miracles out of pomade and powder. And the men, well they just sat back and complained about the frivolity and cost of the whole ordeal. right????

Well not quite! The fashionable men wore their hair both powdered and curled, and don't think they woke up every morning and fixed their curls.

Every man had his own coiffeur ( there were over 1200 mens hairdressers in Paris by 1780!), and although your typical guy did not ask for his hair to be piled three feet above his head (see left) but they did request their hair to be styled in the latest fashion. For the men, like the ladies, hair design was constantly changing. One week it could be all the fashion to wear two horizontal curls along side the face and the next week four of these curls was the only way to go.

Average time to be styled was about an hour. They wore pomade as the ladies did, and scented powder of their choosing. Like the ladies again they would have to cover their faces when it was powder time.

Okay, now I am going to ask you to visualize this:
Prince Kaunitz chose to have 20 or so men line up in a gallery, and while making a huge cloud of powdered mist he would run quickly down the hall ensuring an even layer of fine dust on his hair-doo. Yeah.

So, were the men actually complaining about the frivolous women? Yes indeed! and to make a point that they (the men) did not fall victim to such frivolities they would often throw their hat on as soon as their coiffure had finished, messing it up a bit. This made the bold statement:
Yea, I look good and I know it. But I don't give a damn about 'fashion' or 'hair'.

September 04, 2008

Marie Antoinette Premiere, 2006 Fashions

This post is strictly for fun (and yet oh so topical!) I have not been able to post in a few days but Heather was just mentioning her disappointment at the fashion worn to The Duchess premiere. So I thought it would be fun to see what people were wearing to the premiere of Marie Antoinette, two years ago. So here you go, a fun comparison!