Fashionable Blues of the 18th century

No-one seems quite sure how the colour blue became associated with the feeling of sadness, some say its origins lay back in Greek mythology whilst others say it has links to the devil. Whatever the true origin, how could anyone possibly feel blue wearing these sumptuous gowns that we’re going to take a look at?

A Lady in Blue 1757 Arthur Devis 1711-1787 Bequeathed by Alan Evans 1974 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T01884
A Lady in Blue 1757 by Arthur Devis. Tate
A Lady in Blue 1757 Arthur Devis 1711-1787 Bequeathed by Alan Evans 1974 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T01884

So many shades of blue exist, from the palest baby blue to darkest navy blue and everything in-between and the colour was clearly very popular during the Georgian era. Given the amazing array of paintings sadly we only have space to share  few with you, but we do hope you enjoy them.

http://www.rollins.edu/cornell-fine-arts-museum/collection/european-art/european-16th-19th-century-portraiture.html
Portrait of La Comtesse de Beaufort, c, 1760 by Louis Michel van Loo. Gift of the Honorable Marilyn Logsdon Menello and Michael A. Menello, in honor of Rollins College President Rita Bornstein, Cornell Fine Arts Museum.

van-loo-louis-michel-la-comtesse-de-beaufort-detail

An interesting point worth noting about these paintings is that to be create the impression of fabric required a very specific skill and it seems, not a skill that some of the most famous artists had, so they employed  ‘drapery painters’ to paint the more intricate and detailed aspects of fabrics, to ensure that they looked as natural as possible. One of these, who was regarded as being amongst the best was Joseph Van Aken. Another was Peter Toms who was one of founding members of the Royal Academy.

Sir Godfrey Kneller. Portrait of Mrs. Bagnal, Circa 1690 - 1720  courtesy of 1tsdibs
Sir Godfrey Kneller. Portrait of Mrs. Bagnal, Circa 1690 – 1720

Mr James Peters was Kneller’s drapery painter so it seems highly likely that he painted this stunning blue dress.

godfreyknellermrs_bagnelfullframed_l

We came across this description in The London Tradesman, of exactly what a drapery painter’s role was so thought you might find it interesting.

The drapery painter is but the lowest degree of a liberal painter; he is employed in dressing the figures, after the painter has finished the face, given the figure its proper attitude and drawn the outlines of the dress or drapery.

A portrait painter who is well employed, has not time to cloath his figures, and therefore employs a drapery painter to finish that part of the work.

This workman must have a tolerable notion of painting in general; but his chief skill consists in his knowledge of colours and the mixing of them, to produce proper shades; for the painter generally draws the outline and leave him to fill up the empty space with proper colours.

The drapery painters are generally employed in signpost drawing, and other sorts of painting that do not require a masterly hand: they have commonly but a dull genius and a mere mechanical head: however, those who are eminent in their way and in the employ of a noted master make very handsome bread; they may sometimes earn a guinea a day, and must be mere bunglers if they cannot make half a guinea.

Their education may be as low as you please; but as in all other branches that handle the pencil, they ought to be early acquainted with the use of it: the sooner they are bound apprentices the greater proficiency they may be expected to make. A sober disposition and a sound constitution are absolutely requisite.

unknown artist; Daughter of a 7th Dragoon Guards Officer; The Military Museum of the Royal Dragoon Guards; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/daughter-of-a-7th-dragoon-guards-officer-10251
unknown artist; Daughter of a 7th Dragoon Guards Officer; The Military Museum of the Royal Dragoon Guards

And our final selection:

495px-sir_joshua_reynolds_-_portrait_of_miss_elizabeth_greenway
Miss Elizabeth Greenway by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Romney, George; Miss Sophia Musters; Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/miss-sophia-musters-144612
Miss Sophia Musters by George Romney; Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery
Romney, George; Margaret Messenger (b.1737), Mrs Walter Strickland; National Trust, Sizergh Castle; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/margaret-messenger-b-1737-mrs-walter-strickland-132097
Margaret Messenger (b.1737), Mrs Walter Strickland by George Romney; National Trust, Sizergh Castle

Romney, George; Ann Verelst (1751-1823); Rotherham Heritage Services; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/ann-verelst-17511823-69312
Romney, George; Ann Verelst (1751-1823) by George Romney; Rotherham Heritage Services

UPDATE

Following a great deal of discussion amongst our readers, we thought we would add some of the earliest references to a few shades of blue that we have come across in the newspapers.

Navy Blue 

Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, Saturday, October 7, 1780

A slight variation on the term appeared in The London Chronicle of 1781.

London Chronicle, August 16, 1781 – August 18, 1781

Turquoise

The Parisian fashion report for  June 1779 confirms for us the existence of the colour turquoise in clothing.

Evening Mail, June 26, 1799 – June 28, 1799

Saxon Blue

General Evening Post, August 13, 1748 – August 16, 1748

Royal Blue

It is said to have been created by millers in Rode, Somerset, a consortium of which won a competition to make a dress for Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III. The article does not, however, give a specific date for this, but we did manage to find this article below confirming the existence of such a colour by 1782.

Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, Tuesday, April 23, 1782

 

Featured Image

Miss Taylor by Joseph Highmore (1692-1780) Courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery

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