Green was one of the more expensive and difficult colours to achieve. Being a combination of yellow and blue, it was necessary to use two vats for dyeing clothing.
In the 1660's green was not a very fashionable colour. The Mercure Gallant describes that there were more green to be found in a flower bouquet than on clothing. It did slightly come back into fashion towards the end of the 17th century. Even the Duchesse de Bourgogne was noted as wearing a gown with green details for the betrothal between Mademoiselle (daughter of Philippe, Duc d'Orléans) and the Duc de Lorraine. That same Mademoiselle was recorded as wearing a gown of green velvet by her mother, Elizabeth-Charlotte of the Palatinate.
|Green redingote in the 1770's-80's|
Silk was one of the most common fabrics in an 18th century aristocrats wardrobe. So, if they ordered something silky in green the dyer would have to start the following process (it should be said that this varied from dyer to dyer but this particular recipe is from 1735). The process would take at least two days and required the following ingredients: alum, white wine tartar, broom, verdegris, pot-ashes - and these does not even include what was needed for the yellow and blue vats.
Towards the very last decade of the 18th century a new - and deadly - was of producing a brilliant emerald green was discovered. Copper was mixed with arsenic trioxide (white arsenic) created remarkably cheap and durable greens but was eventually prohibited due to its highly toxic nature.
|Princess Frederika Sophia Wilhelmina of Orange|
Green was the second signature colour of Madame de Pompadour whose most famous portrait depicts her wearing a deep green (almost teal) gown with pink bows and ribbons.
There was another way for green to emerge in fashion - through its link with nature. Leaves and green foliage were used for towering headdresses. The reason for why green suddenly made a come-back in the last part of the Ancien Regime was in large part to the philosophical influences of writers such as Rousseau. He praised green for its association with nature which was eagerly taken up by particularly Marie Antoinette.
Nevertheless, the shades of green were endless. Apple-green, emerald, sage, grass, moss, pistachio, duck green and pastel greens were only a few available. When Louis XVI sat upon the throne, one of the more popular combinations for satin was green and white stripes. Imported goods from China provided the French court with a new source of "greenery". Rhamnus - thorns of a Chinese plant - were found to give a lasting, green shade.
|Madame de Pompadour in her signature green|
One of the more interesting records which as survived the ravages of the French Revolution is the personal record of a Madame de Boyer. She was married to an officer who happened to be an aristocrat to boot. Their family was firmly placed in what could be termed as the middle-nobility; they were not on the lowest rank of the aristocracy nor were they of the first families. Her personal diaries span the years 1779-1789 and illustrates that towards the late 1780's green was a particular favourite of her's. For this post, it is the type of greens that are interesting. "Sea-green" would seem to be a pale green-bluish tone but one can only wonder what "Dragon-green" was - or even the so-called English green.
Once the revolution broke out it was suggested to make green the colour of the new republic due to the colour's symbolical connection with liberty. However, it was eventually dropped as green also happened to be the colour of the Comte d'Artois' livery. Coincidentally, the controversial Rose Bertin also clad her servants in green livery with golden embroidery.
A deep green was a regular sight in the king and queen's apartments. Green taffeta were used to cover and even transport the clothing chosen for the day by the monarchs.
Among the last items to be repaired for Marie Antoinette by her seamstress, Madame Eloffe, were two green, silk bodices.
A small gallery of ladies and gentlemen in green:
|Juliane of Hessen-Philippsthal|
|Duchess of Gordon|
|Unknown aristocratic boy, 1780's|
|Infanta Maria Luisa de Bourbon|
|Charles Felix of Sardinia|