Fashion in Reynolds and Gainsborough: Part 7

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Another powerful lady painted by Gainsborough was Queen Charlotte, who posed for her portrait in 1781. Although the robe a la francaise had gone mostly out of style in everyday wear by the time this portrait was painted, it continued to be used for court dress. As the highest ranking lady of the court, naturally the queen would be painted in a court gown. The wealth of the monarchy is established in the delicacy and sumptuousness of the gown, which is made of white silk net shot through with gold and overlaid onto white silk. The difficulty of construction of net and lace made it an extremely expensive luxury item. To have an entire dress of net, and one that is shot through with gold, shows an enormous amount of wealth. But unlike many other court gowns, this one does not look heavy. Instead it seems to float around the body of the Queen, who clearly has no problem maneuvering in wide panniers and a long train. One of Reynolds’ pupils, James Northcote, described the grace of the painting saying “With what a graceful sweep she seems to move through the picture! ‘Tis actual motion, and done with such a light airy facility… The drapery was done in one night by Gainsborough and his nephew, Gainsborough Dupont; they sat up all night, and painted it by lamplight.” Queen Charlotte is represented as stylish, wealthy, and possessed with the natural grace to float through space just as her gown floats about her body. She seems to take on the role of a contemporary goddess, shimmering and in and out of focus as she walks.

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