Saturday, October 29, 2011

Four Centuries of Art.

      I live in a 19th century home, that I have restored and mostly furnished it with 19th century things.I call it the, 1845 Historic Elgin/Cottrell House Museum. The house was built by Hazakiah  Elgin and restore by me, Richard Cottrell, thus the name, Elgin/Cottrell House.  But one group of things I have, dates  much further back, going back as far as the 17th century. Formal portrait paintings,  They  have been a love and passion of mine for as long as I can remember. When I first started out as an antique collector, I was just out of college and had very little money. I bought a lot of Victorian prints, mostly of children or ladies. I had every wall in every room full of them. They were fun and some where even wonderful. One day when coming down the steps, I said to my self, I am going to  sell all theses old prints and replace them all with oil portraits. Well, I did, and there has been no turning back.  Almost every time I give a tour at, My Old Historic House, some one asks the question, who are all the people in the portraits? I give the same answer each time, "my store bought relatives." As my family never had the means to have formal portraits painted, when I got older, and stared making some money, I went out and bought me  some ancestors. This always is a crowd pleaser.
   Most formal portraits can be dated, more or less, by the cloths  and hair styles the subjects are wearing. A lot of older portraits were not signed or dated. More often than not, a traveling artist, came through and for a fee, painted your portrait. As cameras were not abundant, this the only means people had to record there history.Great pride was taken in these portraits and they were hung in special places in the home. If you were a person of any means, you had your portrait painted, at least once in your life. Some portrait painters, painted the entire picture except for the face, which was filled in, when you sat for it. These can almost always be pointed out, as the cloths are very simple and were usually black. These portraits could be painted faster, making them more reasonable, as the artist did not have to stay so long to do them. I prefer portraits of men or women with beautiful costumes and jewelry. Some ladies are beautiful, some plain. Some men are handsome and others drab. I  usually pick the portraits I buy ,for the workmanship, there cloths and I love women with lace.
    All the walls at ,My Old Historic House, are full and I can't buy anymore, unless I sell one I  already have. I have grown attached to all of  them, so guess we'll just stick it out together.I know a few of there names, some are written on the back and some have papers with them. Most of them, I have no ideal who they are, so I call them, cousin Julia and Uncle Frank, and people just love this. I think people like it better when you make up a story, than they do, when you tell the truth.
   I have portraits of all ages, starting with a couple form the 17th century. These two are my oldest and some of my favorites. It is hard to look at them and think they are around 400 years old. One can figure the age by there cloths, style  of hair, type of frame,( if it is original) and sometimes by a date.

17th century portrait of a lady in the style of Peter Lely .

                                                17th CENTURY STYLE: 1601-1700
      Ladies clothing of the 17th century had loose sleeves that ended just below the elbow. Low broad necklines and dropped shoulders. The over skirts were drawn back and pined  up to show heavily decorated petticoats. A darning new fashion arose for having ones portrait painted, in undress, which was ,wearing loosely fashioned gowns called a,"night gown." Loose hair in tossed curls was the chosen hair style. This night gown clothing, used for portraits, was not what represented what was worn in the streets. This style of portrait was  mostly done by Peter Lely, which he derived the style from Van Dyck. The Mantua ,was a new fashion that arose in 1680's. Instead of a bodice and skirt cut separate,. the Mantua hung from the shoulders to the floor. It started out as an under garment, but gradually developed into a draped dress. Flowing  silks replaced heavier satin  fabrics .Mostly soft pale colors were used.

18th century portrait of a lady.

                                              18th CENTURY STYLE: 1701-1800
     Ladies of the 18th century all wore Mop Caps when indoors. Hair in the 1700's was more in the country fashion. Natural color, instead of powdered, and in masses of curls, instead of piled high. The usual fashion of the years 1750-1780 was a low necked gown called a French Robe and it was worn over many petticoats.The bodice was filled with decorative trim and was on top the corset beneath. Ladies breast were strapped down by the high corset, but, cleavage was very important. This gave the men a hint of what they desired. The elbow length sleeves were trimmed with frills and ruffles and  with an  under ruffles called-"engageants,"  made of lace or fine silk. Sleeves were often puffed and held apart by ribbons tied around the arms. The necklines were trimmed with a fabric or lace ruffle  or a neckerchief called a,"fisu", that could be tucked into the low neckline.Ladies always covered there hair with some kind of cap, as it was the rule, based on religious customs. The basic cap was of fine white linen and had a crown that was pleated to the head. These were held on with a ribbon that was tied very loos below the chin. Toward the end of the 1700's an uniformed alternative to this dress style ,was a long  jacket, made of finer fabric, buttoned down ,over a mass of petticoats.

19th century portrait of a lady.

                                          19th CENTURY STYLE: 1801-1900.
        Ladies cloths of the 19th century -1800's-were  Victorian inspired. They tended to reflect the British influence, of Queen  Victoria . She reigned for 63 years and fashion changed numerous times. In the early 1800's- all cloths were hand made, making them expensive. Most Victorian ladies had about 3 dresses. One for  work, or a day dress, one for going out, or a walking dress and one for evening, usually a  ball gown.The introduction of the sewing machine in mid century,simplified dress making and enabled fashion to be extended. When  a machine was invented to make lace,dress styles scored and ladies found they could have many dresses in many styles.  In the 1890's- women's  fashion became simpler and less extravagant .  Bustles and crinolines  were no longer used and the dresses were not as big and full.At this time skits took a trumpet shape and tops had  high necks and puffed sleeves. In 1870's tea gowns were introduced for formal ware and entertaining. Many had low necks and short sleeves with lace trim. Older ladies seemed to prefer a high neck with a lace ruffle right under the chin.  Large jewelry pieces were wore at the breasts. Older ladies chose rich darker colors while the younger lasses wore pastels.These dresses were called."toilette de Reception",  in European circles.  

20th century portrait of a lady.

                                            20th CENTURY STYLE.1901-2000
     The 20th century brought for the first time ,women's clothing that reflected more of American taste than European taste. As a country, we had now been here long enough to have original  trends. European taste were still an influence and always will be, but for once, the American ideal could stand alone. Toward the end of the 20th century, the style of American fashion kinda went a little backwards. The long dress length that had seemed to have gone away were back. Most well dressed ladies still wore a long evening gown when they went out in the evenings. Cloths took on a simpler look, yet still maintained a elegance. Straighter skits and loose fitting bodices with a drop waste became the norm. Lots of heavy jewelry was worn and fur coats and wraps were of the most importance. Ladies still seemed to cover their hair with a hat. In the daytime heavier  hats were wore for walking about and in the evening the ,"cock tale hat," became the thing. Gloves were always worn when going out in public. Short ones for day and long elbow length ones for night. In the "Roaring 20's," ladies  started taking a little more freedom with there dress styles. Short lengths, no sleeves and lots and lots of shear fabric. They still continued to cover there head some what, even if it was just a feather or a jeweled ornamentation. The 20th century has brought more changes to clothing styles than any other century before. I think we can say this was because of the role that women were now taking in society.Women still wear hats today, but mainly on special events or to keep the sun out of there face. I think we have finally became free from the ideal that a women has to cover her hair. It has only taken hundreds of years.
       I hope you have enjoyed my little trip, through the past four centuries.  Portraits have and will always be a part of  our history. Today more and more are being done with a camera especially as cameras develope and get better, I am sure this trend will even get stronger. I think it is wonderful that our United States Presidents and First Ladies, still have formal oil painting portraits done. This is a wonderful way to preserve and share our history as a nation.In between times we can  enjoy the old portraits from the past. I love sharing mine at, My Old Historic House. Please drop by anytime for a tour, I will leave the lights on and Sissy Dog will always meet you with a jump and a kiss. Smile for your portrait!