Thursday, March 5, 2009

Book Review: The Art of Dress

Have you ever been tempted to steal a library book? If my morals would allow me to do such a thing, this is the book I would pinch (don't worry, it is back on the shelves of the Toronto Public Library).

Title: The Art of Dress, Fashion in England and France, 1750-1820
Author: Aileen Ribeiro
Publisher: Yale University Press, 1995
Category: Non-fiction
Number of Pages: 257
Price: Out of print

What it is about:
"Dress is the most fleeting of the arts, subject to the arbitrary dictates of fashion. It is also, however, the art that relates most closely to our lives, both as a reflection of our self-image, and in the words of Louis XIV, as 'the mirror of history'."

This book covers the history of dress from the point of view of the artist. Since so few garments from the 18th century have survived the ravages of time, much of what we know about fashion comes from painted portraits.

Why I chose this book:
This is one of a few books on 18th Century Fashion available at the Toronto Public Library.

My Favourite Passage:
"The ideal portrait, claimed Goethe in his novel Elective Affinities (1809), revealed the history and character of the sitter. Baudelaire echoed this, stating that a portrait should be like a dramatised biography, demanding 'immense intelligence' from the artist, who also had to be an actor 'whose duty is to adopt any character and any costume'. The fusion of character, likeness and costume (often thought of as irreconcilable elements) was the mark of a great artist, and even then not always easy to achieve with originality and imagination at a time when portraiture enjoyed hitherto unheard-of popularity." (page 6)

Rating: A
This is a scholarly book, dense with information, insightful analysis and beautiful images. If you can find it in a secondhand bookstore and are interested in 18th century fashion, it will be a valuable addition to your library. Caution for Marie Antoinette fans, there are only a few references to her in this book but many of her contemporaries are mentioned.