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Watts Gallery, “Liberating fashion: Aesthetic dress in Victorian Portraits.”

25th February 2015

Reading last weeks The Daily Telegraph, one article in particular stood out to us, titled, “The Triumphs and Tragedies of Fashion” printed on the 17th February 2015, written by Richard Dorment. It spoke about the portraits on display at the Watts Gallery, Surrey, showing portraits of high-society Victorian women, the exhibition called, “Liberating fashion: Aesthetic dress in Victorian Portraits.”

The exhibition shows the changing fashions during this time, from tight corsets with big ostentageous bows and frills, to looser dresses when Empire silhouettes came into fashion. The “Corset Controversy” came due to doctors worrying about women’s health when they were wearing such tight laced corsets, and magazines and newspapers condemning the tight lacing women were doing to get down to such extreme tiny waists.

In James Tissot’s portrait “The Gallery of the HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth)” shows two women of high society and fashion, in light coloured summer dresses showing odd their hourglass figures with frills and bows galore.

The Gallery of HMS Calcutta (Portsmouth) c.1876 by James Tissot 1836-1902

In Watts’s “Portrait of Sophia Dalyrmple” 1851, this is more of a modern gown, clinched in at the waist and loose without the woman having to suffer through the uncomfortable corset. These were the dresses we know Jane Morris preferred.

 

One part of the article spoke about the impact Ruskin and Morris created on art during this period, “You don’t get anywhere by comparing Watts with other Victorian artists such as Burne-Jones or Whistler. He comes into his own only when you see him in relation to John Ruskin and William Morris- men who passionately believed in art as an agent for change in society.”

 

The exhibition till the 7th June 2015, for more information see the website for the exhibition here.

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