By Gabrielle Ferreira
This summer has brought a little taste of Versailles to Museum Textile Services. In my previous blog I told you about Wheaton College's 18th-century Robe à L’Anglaise originally belonging to the Duchesse de Choiseul (1734-1808). In this post I will tell you a little more about the Duchesse behind the dress...
The Duchesse de Choiseul, born Louise Honorine Crozat du Châtel, was a member of the French elite. Her family’s immense wealth sprung out of the ingenuity of her grandfather Antoine Crozat (ca.1655-1738). Antoine, along with his brother Pierre, were merchants and amassed a great fortune for their family during their lifetime. Antoine’s wealth even led him to become the first private owner of French Louisiana in 1712. Antoine soon became the financial counselor to Louis XIV.
At the age of 12, the Duchesse was betrothed to Etienne-Francois de Choiseul (ca. 1719-1785). Her new husband was a soldier and a diplomat, and some sources suggest he was the inspiration for the character of the Vicompte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. By other accounts, they had an extremely happy marriage that lasted nearly 30 years. Some sources paint a less flattering picture of the Duchesse as a tyrant.
Together with her husband, the Duchesse de Choiseul traveled to Rome, and then Vienna, where Etienne-Francois had secured a post with the help of his patroness, Madame de Pompadour. Etienne-Francois was a principal author of the Second Treaty of Versailles, which united France and Austria against Prussia in May, 1757. When the Austrian beauty Marie Antoinette married France's Louis XVI in 1770, the Duc de Choiseul took it as a personal victory.
What did her husband's political career mean for the Duchesse? It would have cemented her position in society and required her to dress for court. Her Robe à L’Anglaise reflects the style and fashion that grew out of the reign of Marie Antoinette. The fine silk, generous rouching, lace, and chenille trim all attest to the wearer's wealth and would have been a requirement for attendance at the court of Versailles.
The Duchesse gracefully survived the French Revolution, and we are delighted here at MTS that her Robe à L’Anglaise made it to the 21st century.
For further readings on the Duchesse and her fashion, see:
A Duchesse of Versailles : The Love Story of Louise, Duchesse de Choiseul (1961) by Margaret Trouncer
Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution (2007) by Caroline Weber.
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.