Returning to an old favorite for inspiration this week – my dear James Gillray. There’s an American children’s song that promises, “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in the baby carriage.”
This portrait by Gillray turns that taunt into more of a threat.
The squalling and crying of children.
Les Plaisir du Mènage, by James Gillray, 1791, National Portrait Gallery, London.
Notice the inscription at the top: Give me the sweet delight of Love…a Catch. And that the wife is ready to throw hands in a distinctly non-amorous way.
Plate 2 in James Gillray’s three-plate series finds his subject seated at her vanity just before the application of her wig. I was struck by the similarities to today’s women in a salon: just swap the 19th century book for a 21st century cell phone in one hand and a Starbucks double-something-something in the other, and add several obligatory selfies. The dog on the settee in the foreground would also be in its own special Vera Wang or Louis Vuitton carrier now, too.
Owl in an Ivy Bush
She looks like an owl in an ivy bush; frequently said of a woman whose wig is dressed a-la-blowze.
Progress of the Toilet – The Wig – Plate 2, by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, 1810, National Portrait Gallery.
The woman sits reading ‘Delphine’, a book by French author Germaine de Staël which scrutinized the restrictions of women in upper class society. Nevertheless, she also sits surrounded by all the accoutrements popular with aristocratic French ladies from ‘Espirit de Lavande’ to ‘Huile Antique’. In a culture where anything French was considered fashionable, perhaps she is reading the book more because of its origin rather than its contents…
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