Dressing Down: Private Life and the Dressing Gown, 1890-1950
In this vignette, it is 6:45pm and the personal maid to the lady of the house has prepared selected pieces to be worn at the evening’s ball in honor of a visiting dignitary. Our lady is seen here trying on her emerald and diamond parure, or set, comprised of a necklace and earrings and sometimes including a brooch. The pieces displayed here are costume jewelry but accurately represent real pieces once worn by members of Newport society. Although made of paste, this parure has a particularly interesting provenance: it was worn by actress Lana Turner in the film Imitation of Life and later purchased by the Preservation Society. The parure is displayed on top of a lavish 1880s gilded bronze Louis XVI style center table with a lapis lazuli top attributed to Sormani, Paris and loosely based on an original model by the 18th century maker Adam Weisweiler (1746 – 1820), together with a c. 1890 ormolu and marble clock retailed by Shreve, Crump and Low of Boston.
At home and out of the public eye on hot summer evenings, a Newport society lady could relax before going out for a formal evening in a light and airy gown such as the one shown here. The floral pattern along the edges of this gown is hand painted, proclaiming this was not a commercially produced garment but rather one of a kind Art Nouveau-style piece executed by an adept hand. Fabric painting techniques, begun in the East thousands of years ago, were disseminated to the Western world through emerging trade routes. Recent conservation work has minimized several losses corresponding specifically to the blue areas of the floral design, indicative of chemical properties of that particular paint recipe which hastened the degradation of the ground fabric.
Photography by Al Weems