Fashionable colours rotate on a constant basis; some are firm fixtures while others are passing trends that disappear as soon as the craze for them has passed. In this wheel of colours, pink is one of the newest colours to enter the permanent shades. Prior to the 17th century, pink was not found amongst the wardrobes of either aristocracy or commoners. In art, it was usually for skin tones or perhaps flowers but rarely (although not never) clothing. It was not until the 18th century that the word "pink" was even coined in the English language.
Recently, the colour pink has been associated with femininity but historically this was not the case. The 17th and 18th century did not assign specific colours to genders, so pink and blue were not considered to be "reserved" for girls and boys respectively. On the contrary, both men and women had their portraits painted while wearing completely pink ensembles. To a gentleman at Versailles, there was nothing unmanly about a pink, silk suit.
|Marie Antoinette, as a young girl in Vienna|
While the age of Versailles did not think of pink as a "girl colour", it was still subjected to other social rules. Pink was a young person's colour. For instance, when Marie Antoinette reached her 30th birthday she ceased wearing the delicate pinks of her youth. As the ill-fated queen stated, it was not suitable for a woman to continue to wear such a shade. This perfectly illustrates how her contemporary world viewed the colour pink.
It was not until the latter half of the 18th century that pink truly became a fashion statement. From this period on, pastel tones became more in vogue compared to the stronger colours that had previously dominated. Consequently, pink took over where a deeper red had previously been preferred.
Madame de Pompadour introduced her two signature shades during her reign as Louis XV's mistress: a delicate green and a rosy pink. While she was in power, these shades were the height of fashion - or at least, for those who did not mind following a bourgeoisie's lead. The "Pompadour pink" was made by adding drops of blue, black and yellow to the pink dye.
|Madame de Pompadour|
La Pompadour fully embraced her signature colours. Amongst her modes of transportations, she had a carriage which was painted in the very shade of pink that became so associated with her. Indoors, Sèvres (who had come up with the blend) supplied her with vases, incense burners and artificial flowers in the same tone.
Madder - or rather its roots - had traditionally been used to achieve a deep, red colour. However, it could also be used for pink. China and Japan were masters when it came to dyeing (especially silks) so it is hardly surprising that a lot of dyed fabrics were imported. However, the Europeans were not completely behind. Since Roman times, madder had been cultivated in Italy. By 1747, the more modern methods of deriving red from madder were brought to France.
A recipe of the mid-18th century describes how silk could be dyed pink. The recipe calls for safflower, pearl-ash and lime juice amongst other ingredients. For wool, alum and cream of tartar was called for. The same recipe notes that if the pink is not strong enough, the fabric should be heated while soaking in a madder liquid.
As with every other colour that happens to come into fashion, the shade spreads beyond clothing. Furniture, china even jewels could be had in pink shades. Pink diamonds were listed amongst the possession of the French Crown Jewels.
|Fragonard's "The Swing"|
The symbolic meaning of pink was very divided, too. Since it was made so popular by the king's mistress, it would inevitably be connected with flirtation and romance - regardless of whether she shared his bed or not. One of the most famous paintings of the 18th century is "the Swing" by Jean-Honoré Fragonard which captures the romantic side to the colour.
However, not long after Madame de Pompadour's death, pink was suddenly associated with youth and innocence. Thus, it quickly went from being the colour of aristocratic flirtations to a delicate shade donned by the youth of the court.
For a comprehensive post of surviving pink garments, click here.
Here are some of the ladies and gentlemen who dived into this new, fascinating colour:
|Comtesse d'Artois, sister-in-law of Louis XVI|
|Duchesse de Rouville|
|Monsieur de Vergennes|
|Marie Suzanne Giroust, painter|
|Unknown young lady|
|Jean-Marie Vien, painter|