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Friday, May 15

Regency Costume Print: Art or Insult?

Thumbing through a Ballard Designs brochure, I happened upon a vaguely familiar image of a handsome young man in a striking cravat, slim trousers and boots. The catalogue description lists the image as a “Regency Costume Print: in ink wash based on an original by Jacques Louis David, Napoleon’s official court painter, depicting the artist’s brother-in-law in Regency era riding attire.” *scratches head* Something is not quite right about that description.

The British Regency period in the United Kingdom is the era between 1811 and 1820 and closely associated to Jane Austen as she published all of her novels during this time. The description at Wikipedia states: “when King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son, later George IV, was instated to be his proxy as Prince Regent.” Art, architecture, decorative arts, furniture and fashion from this era in the UK is considered Regency style. The original painting as seen below on the right is by a French painter Jacques Louis David (1748-1825) and is a portrait of his brother-in-law Pierre Seriziat painted in 1795 in France. David was a fervent supporter of the French Revolution with many political connections which eventually worked into being the court painter of Napoleon Bonaparte who was at war with the British Empire and definitely their arch enemy. During Napoleon’s reign, a new design movement emerged in the early 19th-century known as the Empire Style. A painting created by a French artist during this period would be called Empire, NOT Regency! I am quite sure that the artist Monsieur David is spinning in his grave to have his work classified under the British Regency movement!!!

Regardless of the faux pas, the new print is quite lovely and available for purchase online at Ballard Designs. Personally, I prefer the original which can be ordered as a Giclee print from All Here is a lovely description of the original portrait by Warren Roberts from his book Jacques-Louis David, Revolutionary Artist.

“The painting … shows his brother-in-law seated on a vine-covered rock, near some plants. Behind Pierre Seriziat is the sky, the fullness of which is unique among David’s portraits. The setting is outdoors, very unusual for a David portrait, and Seriziat is shown as a leisured country gentleman. The Pierre Seriziat of David’s portrait is refined, impeccable, fastidious, and fashionable in his buttoned vest, cravat, riding jacket, buckskin breeches, fine leather boots, top hat and kid gloves. His expression suggests ease of manner, as do his crossed legs and the gloves that dangle from one hand and the riding crop casually held in the other. Everything about the portrait underlines the good breeding – the exquisite social qualities – of David’s brother-in-law. Everything, that is, except for the cockade on his hat.” (white cockades are a symbol of Royal loyalist)

The country gentleman in the portrait is quite a dandy, and reminiscent of Brit Beau Brummell, so it is easy to see how the association to the Regency era was made. Never-the-less, history is important and Jane Austen would be appalled. You never know who you are insulting if you do not do your research!

Cheers, Laurel Ann, Austenprose


Barbara said...

Very interesting! - So this means that whether one calls it Regency or Empire style is just a matter of whether the person is English or French, but there is no difference in the actual style? In Germany it is usually called "Empire" (with the French pronounciation) style, the "Regency" is only being used by Jane Austen fans ;)

Lynn said...

I just like all the wonderful things that are in this era Regency...a lot less confined and corseted for women...the jewelry, the shoes, the feathers, the hats and bonnets, the long dress jackets and the boleros...never mind the silks, satins, brocades...oh, no...I'm sounding a little too much like Mrs. Bennet now...apologies all around ! LOL

Anonymous said...

The mistake is not surprising at all, from experience we know that there are many misguided who classify Jane Austen as a Victorian writer.


Todd said...

In fact, a close-up of the lower half of this painting, from cravat to boot tops, is used as the cover illustration for the 570 pp. thick biography about Beau Brummell by Ian Kelly called Beau Brummell - the Ultimate Dandy (published in 2005).