by Gabrielle Ferreira
This past May I graduated from the small yet well-known institution, Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. Since the Fall of 2009 I have helped research, display and condition report the College’s Permanent Collection. Sure I have my favorite objects, but the College’s 18th century Robe à l’Anglaise, once belonging to Duchesse de Choiseul of France, certainly stands out. I was so excited to learn that the dress would be undergoing conservation during my internship at Museum Textile Services. And that I would be part of the treatment team!
The Robe à l’Anglaise was created in France circa 1780 during the reign Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Although there are some 19th century alterations, the dress is representative of 18th century French fashion. Wheaton College purchased the dress from Edgar L. Ashley of Foxboro, Massachusetts, in 1934 in order to expand the institution's textile collection. The Robe à l’Anglaise is one object in the collection that is continuously researched and studied by students and faculty.
The Robe à l’Anglaise has been apart of my life for nearly a year since I began inventorying Wheaton's textile collection in November, 2011. Now as an intern at MTS, I am excited to continue learning about this dress from a different perspective. Treatment began with four days of detailed, gentle vacuuming, a task I shared with fellow Wheaton graduate and MTS intern Michelle Drummey. The dress is in almost perfect condition, so only minor spot cleaning were necessary. Next, a few small repairs were made with hand stitching and cotton patches where necessary. The Robe à l’Anglaise was then humidified to allow the pleats to recover from years of storage in a too-small archival box. This conservation treatment will improve the dress's preservation level and ensure its continued use as a teaching object at the college.
In the upcoming weeks Museum Textile Services will build a custom gender-neutral archival manikin that Wheaton College can use to display various costume items from their collection. In November, Camille Breeze will return to Wheaton as a visiting scholar to work with students to convert this basic manikin into an appropriate support for the outlandish shape worn at the court of Louis XVI. The Robe à l’Anglaise will then be displayed in the exhibition 100 Years, 100 Objects, honoring Wheaton College's 100th anniversary.
Stay tuned for my next blog, in which I will teach you more about the remarkable woman for whom this dress was made, the Duchesse de Choiseul.