Saturday, 7 March 2020

The Colour Yellow: Exotic Symbol of Wealth

China was one of the larger influence of yellow clothing in the 18th century. So-called "Nankeen"-yellow - originating in Nanjing - became fashionable; it was a paler version of yellow. During the 18th century, the trading between China and Europe became more common which inevitably led to an increased influence of Chinese cultural views in Europe. In fashion, the colour yellow became associated with wealth and prosperity - thus perfect for the aristocracy. As for the Chinese, they had long considered yellow to be an indicator of glory, wisdom and wealth.

Not only China had an influence on the emergence of yellow into the halls of Versailles. France's (and other European powers') colonial connections brought new plants to Europe which were capable of producing brilliant yellow hues. Fustic was extracted from South American plants while quercitron hailed from North America.

Billedresultat for fustic
Fustic - the origin of a lot of 18th century
yellow clothing

Especially during the middle of the 18th century, strong colours were very much in vogue. An observer at the court of England in 1744, noted a lady wearing a gown and petticoat both in yellow which was "very much the mode in England at present".
However, yellow had been fashionable earlier, too. From the letters of Madame, we know that the Duchesse de Foix wore a yellow gown with matching yellow ribbons in her hair for a ball in 1720. Even earlier, the English Princess Louisa Maria Stuart (in France with her exiled family) wore a set of yellow velvet for the New Year's celebrations of 1708.

Yellow was one of those colours that survived throughout the 18th century due to its innumerable shades. Everything from the palest yellow, to primrose to a deep saffron yellow could be found in the milliners' shops.
New shades of yellow meant new - and often ridiculous - names: "dying ape", "poisoned ape" (one can only wonder what the apes did to deserve such a fate), "Merry Widow", "unhappy friend" - even "sick Spaniard"!


"Cette Robe à la Circassienne d'un nouveau gout, est de gaze couleur de soufre, la garniture de gaze lilas tendre; le grand falbala et le bandeau qui règne dans la garniture est la même gaze que la robe, le fond des sabot aussi; il n'y a que les andes de garnitures à tuyaux qui soient lilas, les rubans lilas, même celui de la coëffure", Gallerie des Modes, 1778; MFA 44.1339"Gown en Fourreau with simple train, the sleeves pulled up, the Gown without trim, Fichu-Mantelet.  This Woman is coiffed with a Marlborough Hat trimmed with a Gauze frill and some Flowers." (1784)

Two fashion plates, one from 1778 (left) and another from 1784 (right)


Luckily for those who delighted in the sunny shade, there were several types of gemstones that perfectly fit their yellow garb. Anne of Austria, for one, owned a necklace of pearls and yellow diamonds. Likewise, the Princesse de Lamballe received (amongst many others) a pair of bracelets adorned with yellow diamonds.

One of the more popular types of using yellow in clothing was embroidering yellow silk with colourful flowers. The Parisians appear to have been particularly creative in this regard. Elisabeth Farnese, queen of Spain, wrote to her friend, the Duchesse de Saint-Pierre in which she spoke of a beautiful silk from Paris which she had recently ordered. It was the colour of straw and had small, embroidered flowers.

When Madame de Pompadour began establishing herself at Versailles, she chose yellow as the colour of her livery, for the time being at least. Meanwhile, the House of Bourbon-Conti had long had yellow as their livery.

Towards the last years of the French royal family, yellow was not in good standing with the French people. Yellow and black happened to be the colours of the Habsburg Empire and as their (then) hated queen Marie Antoinette was Austrian, yellow became associated with the counterrevolution. 

A few images of yellow in portraits:

1740s posts - My 18th century source
Possibly Marie Leszczynska

Infanta Maria Barbara of Portugal, the eldest daughter of John V. of Portugal. She became later Queen of Spain
Infanta Maria Barbara of Portugal
Donatien Nonnotte  BESANÇON 1708 - 1785 LYON  PORTRAIT OF THE MARQUISE DE GAST
Marquise de Gast


17th/18th Century English School - Oil painting - Shoulder length portrait of a young woman wearing a yellow silk dress, relined canvas 30ins x 24.5ins, in gilt moulded frame
An unknown English lady

Mrs. Thomas Harwood, née Margaret Strachan (1771), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, N.Y., Charles Wilson Peale
Mrs. Margaret Harwood, 1771

Polly Warner, painted by Joseph Blackburn, 1761 Алемань, небольшое (!!) панье или фижмы. Но рукава характерно повседневные. Возможный вариант. Ткань сильно блестит - атлас или тафта.
Polly Warner, 1761

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