VICTORIAN FASHION PLATES
The years up to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, saw new fashions, new magazines and a wealth of fine fashion plates from top illustrators.
The mid-19th century was a high point in the history of fashion illustration, and many of the superb engraved and hand-coloured plates from the fashion journals of the period survive today. The plates are particularly interesting because they mark an important development in the history of fashion: designers and the clothing industry now began to create and shape future demand, rather than simply respond to it.
Illustrated fashion periodicals became the main vehicle for new ideas, and ladies of taste consulted them eagerly. By the mid-19th century, the fashion plate had evolved from simple black and white engravings of costume to sophisticated, coloured scenes depicting a world of elegance to which readers aspired.
By the middle of the 19th century, France dominated the market for luxury items, and fashionable clothes were no exception. French fashions were an important export, and soon the magazines were also in demand abroad. The most popular were produced as international co-editions: the plates were the same but the text was changed according to the country in which they appeared.
French magazines were particularly sought after because their plates were of very high quality. Usually the plates were signed or marked with the name of the artist and engraver, and sometimes they have a publisher's imprint, such as that of Frederick Goubaud, an important syndicator.
A NEW LOOK
In 1843, two new Paris publications, the Moniteur de la Mode and Les Modes Parisiennes, introduced a lively new look to the fashion plate. Instead of presenting the usual stiff, formally posed figures, their plates showed fashionable people in 'live' situations. Jules David, painter and lithographer, was the main artist of the Moniteur de la Mode. He introduced elaborate backgrounds to his pictures, and the views of Victorian drawing rooms, garden terraces and parlours give a valuable insight into the decor of the day.
Fashion plates usually show ladies' fashions, sometimes children's, but rarely men's. Rather unbelievably slim and elegant ladies (usually brunettes) modelled sumptuous clothes of satin, silks and velvets, with tightly laced bodices and billowing crinolines.
From the 1840s, most English fashion magazines included more and more French plates. By 1860, for example, the publisher Samuel Beeton (husband of the
famous Mrs Beeton) was importing plates by Jules David, and his magazine The Queen included plates by A Pauquet from Le Petit Courrier des Dames.
FASHION PLATE COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Fashion plates can be found in shops specializing in antique prints, or in antiquarian booksellers. They must be treated with care as they can be very fragile. Like books, they are easily damaged by dust, damp, foxing and careless handling. Exposure to the light will eventually fade delicate watercolours. Soiled plates can be cleaned using a soft eraser or a 'putty rubber', but consult a restorer about serious treatment such as bleaching out stains.
The quality of engraved plates varies considerably. Because of the large numbers produced, the printing plates became very worn, and the impressions towards the end of the run are not so sharp. All the colouring was done by hand, often as a cottage industry. Sometimes the original watercolours turn up, and they are much fresher and sharper.
Because of the vast number of periodicals issued, you may find it more practical to collect plates by an individual designer or artist, or from a particular magazine, or a particular year. One of the most prolific fashion artists of the period was Jules David. He designed about 2600 plates, exclusively for the Moniteur de la Mode, although they later appeared in many other French, German, English, Spanish and American magazines. His plates are all signed.
Other artists include A Pauquet and E Preval, whose plates appeared in the Journal des Den' oiselles and Le Petit Courrier des Dames, and later in the English magazine The
Queen. Francois-Claudins Compte-Calix was the chief illustrator of Les Modes Parisiennes, and was an artist of some repute, a noted watercolourist who ako illustrated a number of books on historical costume.
A FAMILY OF ARTISTS
The industry was dominated during this period by the Cohn family. Alexander Cohn and his wife drew fashion plates, and their three daughters followed in the family footsteps. Known by their married names, Heloise Leloir, Anais Toudouze, and Laure
Noel were between them responsible for many of the plates produced in Paris in the mid-l9th century. Anais' daughter Isabelle Toudouze continued the family business.
In the 1850s, Le Petit Courrier des Dames and Journal des Demoiselles contained delightful scenes of fashionable young ladies relaxing at the seaside, seated on swings or even playing blind-man's-buff in the garden. Le Follet specialized in scenes at the opera and at soirees, and most of its best plates after 1844 were by Anais Toudouze. La Mode Illustre' (begun 1860) was one of the first magazines to regularly feature ladies' underclothing.