Friday, July 26, 2013


Above: Madame Riviere, 1805-6 by Inges Below: Madame de Stael by Gerard

The reading of Paula Byrne's The Real Jane Austen brought me to finally pick up Madame de Staël by Francine du Plessix Gray.  It appears that Austen passed up meeting Madame S at one of her publisher's Mayfair salons in 1812.  Possibly the Force of Nature that was Madame S might not have been Austen's cup of tea.  But since we are all fashion obsessed these days, who would have worn her shawl better?   Austen, with her fine shawl shown in a previous blog? Or Madame S, who despite the fact that her father, Jacques Necker, began his financial career as "a brilliant head of the East Indian Company," liked her shawls solid color with geometric patterned borders?

Why are there no portraits of the fashion rebel, Madame S in a paisley shawl?  Perhaps as French cultural historian, Dr. Joan Rosasco, points out, Madame was more interested in imitating the classic drapery of Greece and Rome.  It might also be that the non-paisley look was part of her anti-trend stance.  Her turbans rather than wigs fit into this pattern as well. 

But who wore it better?  My vote is neither.  In Madame Rivière portrait, 1805-6,  by Inges, Madame R,  the wife of a Napoleonic empire government official, wore her shawl most beautifully against the whites of her silk gown and muslin veil.  Art cognoscenti have called it a symphony of textures. JP