The Regency Wardrobe Collection - research & making - Eating Bees & Suspended Beauty, the Ridicules

u

To carry coins, or scent, or her handkerchief a Regency lady would use a reticule.


"reticule

(ˈrɛtɪˌkjuːl)

n

1. (Clothing & Fashion) (in the 18th and 19th centuries) a woman's small bag or purse, usually in the form of a pouch with a drawstring and made of net, beading, brocade, etc...

[C18: from French réticule, from Latin rēticulum reticle]"

https://www.thefreedictionary.com/reticule

Some people argue that ‘ridicule’ is the only proper Regency term for a ladies purse. In fact it's probable that the terms were used interchangeably. Both come from the French word for a small handbag, réticule, which in turn came from the Latin rēticulum for a small meshwork bag. It is possible that Ridicule was a pun on the French word.


A Reticule for The Regency Wardrobe collection


I planned to make two, but have ended up working on a third. My thinking was that the first reticule I would make would reflect the meshwork style referred to in the original definition of the word réticule; so I began (for the first time since a child) to crochet. I taught myself how to chain stitch and how then to move around in a circle with my crochet hook and then...I just kept going, around and around and around. From the beginning of the period of researching and making The Regency Wardrobe (at the end of 2019) until early 2020 I took this piece of crochet to every appointment I had that might keep me waiting a few minutes. Instead of reading a book I would add a few more stitches and so the piece started to grow.


The crocheted part was whole by March 2020, it was the shape of a very small bag and it was to be, I thought, the primary component of a planned bag which I'd named in my head the Blue Tit reticule. In that image in my head this small bag had a shaped paper base, like those below, with illustrations of blue tits on it and blue, yellow and white tassels. During the period of crocheting I'd also been experimenting with the possible shape of a base, and doing the drawing of the birds. I'd been trying out different paper types for the layer beneath the mesh and I'd been experimenting with tassels. None of it was working well or coming together coherently however so I thought several times I would surely have to abandon the piece. Then in the summer of 2020, after the exhibition of the collection had been delayed in May, I went ahead and ordered a perspex case of the shape I'd intended the piece to be shown within. It had a clear rod affixed up inside, because the bag had always been meant to be shown suspended (flying).


Because the crochet form was certainly not giving me the appearance I wanted I decided to begin instead a piece of quilling for the base of the frame and to make a cardboard base for the bag that reflected the shape and colours of this quilling (instead of the blues and yellows of a blue tit). By then I'd looked at many bird illustrations from the Regency period and had found many others that more suitably corresponded with the colours I was now quilling with. I found a new sort of paper, that I thought might work for the draw string top part of the reticule. The quilling was made to echo the design of a rug in the downstairs drawing room of Firle Place, I was having fun with the idea that fabrics get moth eaten and so was including the images of moths into my design, also with the idea that it is carpets that are meant to fly and yet it would be the bag that I would suspend above. It was all coming together and thereby Suspended Beauty was born (please see below for pictures of it as a work in progress). This then was bag one but I was left with my original bit of crochet unused.


Another style from the time that I liked the look of involved a gathered round shape with a flat front. From this inspiration came a pair of pieces, a reticle and a fan that together I have named Eating Bees. This likewise is detailed below.


Research for the Reticles

This is a pretty impressive example of a bag from the late eighteenth century that shows a drawstring effect and metal work. Please see: https://www.palaisgalliera.paris.fr/en/work/bag-1794

In the Regency bag shapes as a rule became slightly simpler than they had been during the reign of George III. Often made of silk, after 1810 they started to be made of velvet and leather also.

http://agreeabletyrant.dar.org/gallery/accessories/purses/


The drawsting top remained very popular however as did variously shaped bases made of thick paper that were covered with fabric and trim or embroidered or painted upon. This model was replaced around 1807 with elongated fabric bags with drawstrings.

Apparently owned by Jane Austen (?)

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/401031541816340641/


Reticle, anonymous, c 1787 - c. 1807 - https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/BK-NM-5596

"Silk, l 24.0cm × w 25.0cm × h 9.0cm - similar bag from Paris was described in the German fashion magazine Journal des Luxus und der Moden of 1788 as ‘an elegant English lady’s work bag … mostly made of taffeta decorated with flowers’. Fashionable ladies carried their needlework in this type of drawstring purse, which was fitted with a thick paper box as the base."


So it seems that such bags might also have have been assigned a single purpose, such as holding a ladies needlework.


see also:

https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio/1904302--lorrana/collections/accessories?ii=0&p=0

https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/rijksstudio/1092875--muschje/collections/tassen?ii=0&p=0

© Museum of London


This reticle is held by the mannequin displaying the pelisse you can see I used as a reference for Loops, Buttons and Trim, one of the walking dress in The Regency Wardrobe collection.



The images above show reticules held by: The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, The McCord Museum The Museum of Fine Ars Boston, Lacma and shown on: Threading through Time



The specific research for Eating Bees



And here is a pattern showing ladies how to make a bag of this style for themselves.

Please see: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/462604192949452763/



As I refer to above it was also not uncommon for a reticule in the first quarter of the 19th century to be formed as a gathered or pleated outer circle surrounding a decorated inner circle with an opening that was gathered together to close. In The American girl’s book: or, Occupation for play hours by Eliza Leslie (1787-1858) instructions to make one of these can be found: https://www.loc.gov/resource/dcmsiabooks.americangirlsboo00lesl_0/?sp=282 (see image 282, page 274)




The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York holds a lovely white example of this style with small whitework flowers embroidered inside the central circle. Painted scenes and beadwork were also often applied as decoration. Click here for another example of one from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston





And here is a similar design but with a more hexagonal shape

https://augusta-auction.com/auction?view=lot&id=18938&auction_file_id=52


The decoration on my own round second reticule would be in part inspired by these eight examples which include pieces from from the V&A and the Rijks museum.


I've included here the links I know, if anyone comes across an original link for any of the other bags shown above please do let me know as I'd like to add them

https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18386543/images/

https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/BK-1978-400

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O78763/bag-unknown/


Floral embroidery seems to have been so popular on reticules of this time, as indeed was echoing the shape of the bag with the shape of the embroidery.


My use of quilling was designed around the centre of Eating Bees was meant to echo both of these feature.




The foliage was built up slowely a few leaves at a time.





The beads on the pull ties changed from orange to gold and I doubled the number of chords and tassels. Making paper beads is easy (video clip to come soon)







Work in progress - Suspended Beauty


Designed so that the reticule will hang above a quilled area...


...whilst working I had to balance the separate parts one on top of each other (and on top of a cannister) to get an idea of scale.


The illustrations on the base of this reticule are inspired by the art of the zoological illustrator, in particular illustrators of birds.




Many men became well known for their work in the area of bird illustration at this time, including John Gould, but there were women working also not least John's wife Elizabeth Gould, née Coxen (1804 - 1841). Soon after the publication of the Gould’s first ornithological images, she became briefly internationally renowned for producing works of great beauty and accuracy. She died of puerperal fever however, at just 37, after the birth of the couple’s eighth child. There is a series of Gould’s books of birds in the library at Firle Place, as there would have been in many large houses.The sketches of birds on this reticule are reproductions of illustrations by Elizabeth Gould and other artists from this period.


A bit more about Elizabeth Gould:

"Elizabeth Coxen was born to a middle class family in Ramsgate, England on July 18, 1804. Her formal education allowed her to earn a living as a governess, teaching Latin, French, and music. Her life was “wretchedly dull” when, according to legend, she met John Gould in the Aviary of the Zoological Society. Finding themselves to be kindred spirits, they married when she was 24. John, like his father before him, first worked as a gardener and learned taxidermy in order to create garden displays. Through skill and luck, and by the force of his personality, he became the Animal Preserver to the British Museum, and Ornithology Superintendent to the Zoological Society. In an era dominated by the work of naturalists John James Audubon and Charles Darwin, the Goulds began to raise a family and embarked on their celebrated publishing venture. On October 7, 1829, Elizabeth gave birth to their first child, John, who died in infancy. In the meantime she was working on the drawings for A Century of Birds of the Himalaya Mountains. The first of twenty parts in the series was published on December 20, 1830, and the following day Elizabeth gave birth to her second child, John Henry. The following year, the naturalist Nicholas Vigors would name a species to honor “the accomplished artist, Mrs. Gould” During work on the next part of A Century of Birds, Elizabeth suffered from another difficult pregnancy and the death of her third child. Edward Lear, the nineteen-year-old bird artist, later famous for his nonsense verse, was working for the Zoological Society when John Gould approached him for temporary assistance. Under Lear’s influence, Elizabeth’s technique quickly advanced with added depth, motion, character, and improved composition. Soon after the publication of the Gould’s first ornithological images, she became internationally known for producing works of great beauty and accuracy, even receiving grudging words of admiration from John James Audubon.John Gould contributed sketches to the joint endeavor, but his true aptitude was as a producer: overseeing the production from beginning to end, identifying birds with rough drawings, conceptualizing and correcting the renderings, as well as paying for the publication. Although he created the mystique of an artist around himself, it was Elizabeth who had the talent. Together they made a tremendous team. He delivered her from a life of tedium, into a life of adventure and a fulfilling career. She provided John with the skill he needed to establish his reputation and supported the charade of his artistry with the statement “Drawn from Nature & on Stone by J. & E. Gould.”

Elizabeth’s greatest adventure began on May 16, 1838. Leaving all but her oldest child with her mother, she and John set sail for Australia. Over the next two years, Elizabeth made hundreds of drawings from specimens for the publications Birds of Australia and A Monograph of the Macropodidæ, or Family of Kangaroos, as well as fifty illustrations for the Ornithology volume of Charles Darwin’s Zoology of the Voyage of H. M. S. Beagle. She also accompanied John into the Australian bush, giving her a thrilling, first-hand glimpse of her subjects. In Tasmania she gave birth to their seventh child, Franklin Tasman.

In August of 1840, the Goulds arrived back in London, but Elizabeth never completed the lithographs of the birds and mammals she saw in Australia. She died of puerperal fever after the birth of the couple’s eighth child, Sarah. She was 37 years old. After her death, her drawings were prepared on stone by H. C. Richter, and at publication, her name was not noted in connection with these works. Although grieved at the loss of his partner of twelve years, the enterprising John Gould continued production of his bird books, beautifully illustrated by a series of artists including H. C. Richter, Edward Lear, Joseph Wolf and William Hart.- https://web.archive.org/web/20060928080345/http://www.lindahall.org/events_exhib/exhibit/exhibits/womenswork/gould1.shtml


For more information please see:

https://exhibits.lib.ku.edu/exhibits/show/gould/about/elizabeth_gould

or

https://blog.library.si.edu/blog/2018/03/29/elizabeth-gould-an-accomplished-woman/#.YAAx2RbgpEY


“Spectators (the public) utilised popular natural histories or museum catalogues to inform their understanding of the animal, living or dead, that they were looking at - in books, menageries, museums, and anatomical collections…Natural histories are important sources for understanding the representation and meaning of exotic animals in eighteenth-century Britain, but it is necessary to contextualise the audiences for these books and the ways meanings were produced from them. Some natural histories, like George Edward’s A Natural History of Birds (1743-1751), were not widely circulated because they were extremely expensive to produce; they were sold by limited subscription in instalments, as the hand-coloured illustrated plates and accompanying text were financed in stages. This sort of printed book was subscribed to by the aristocracy, gentry, learned societies and university or collegiate libraries. Large, gilt leather-bound and attractively illustrated books, like Edwards, were objects of connoisseurship and conversation in salons and libraries. Subscription to these works accorded subscribers status as patrons of natural history and arbiters of taste. In some cases, subscribers also provided the birds and animals (sometimes living, sometimes dead) for illustration in order to win prestige and authority for their collection...

…Conversation about exotic animals took place in elite circles, of course, as part of a broader interest in natural history and botany. Drawing rooms and salons were important spaces for practices of science and the production of knowledge as part of elite fashionable life. The salon of collector Sophia Banks (1744-1818), sister of the naturalist Joseph Banks) at 32 Soho Square, drew together a network of naturalists, conversationalists and intellectuals. Other elite women like Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, Duchess of Portland (1715-1785), amassed collections as authorities on natural history. Her seat at Bulstrode Hall was known in Society as The Hive for its vast collection and its menagerie; prominent naturalists like Daniel Solander (1733-1782) flocked there. On the country estates of the aristocracy and gentry, collections of exotic animals in menageries and aviaries were an important part of sociability and exhibition, though they were not always exclusively for the friends or acquaintances of their owners. Increasingly during the eighteenth century, visitors of the middling sort paid to visit country-houses and estates as part of a broader interest in touring the antiquarian, picturesque and romantic localities of the nation. From the 1730s, visitors to the menagerie of the Duke of Richmond at Goodwood could expect to take afternoon tea and have a good look at the animals in pens or roaming an idyllic glade. In London and the large provincial cities or towns, this middling sort joined the elite in the audiences for museums, exhibitions and menage.”


From - Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century Britain - A thesis submitted to The University of Manchester for the degree of PhD in Museology in the Faculty of Humanities - 2010 - Christopher Plumb, Centre for Museology


John Gould books of the sort in the library at Firle Place can be found online here:

https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/creator/7221#/titles


Work in Progress, the quilled carpet, part of Suspended Beauty


The process of creating quilling involves pinning delicate coils of paper in place. As I worked on this piece it seemed the practise was reminiscent of the way that exotic specimens of butterflies and moths were once pinned to boards by collectors.




Portrayed in this piece are the: exotic Cecropia moth; Small Emperor moth; Atlas moth. There is one butterfly in honour of Henry the 4th Viscount Gage (1791–1877) who likely bought some of the Gould volumes to Firle Place; it is the Tanaecia pelea, the Malay Viscount. These four are portrayed alongside decorative detailing from a large rug found today in the Palladian (downstairs) Drawing Room at Firle Place, believed to be the closest in style and colour to any that would have been in the house during the Regency period.


There are gaps left in this piece of quilling in honour of the horror felt by those who preserve historic textiles upon discovering moth eaten holes; as if the moths had started eating this quilled carpet of which their bodies are a part.


As an aside an interesting post about floor coverings during the Regency can be found here


The centre of the quilled design is reproduced from the front of this flat reticule dated 1800, held in the Olive Matthews collection at Chertsey Museum.




Work in progress on Eating Bees


Eating bees is one of a number of pieces in this collection inspired by the quantity, quality and popularity of bird and botanical illustrations created during the Georgian era.


The Reticule shows illustrations of bees on it's front and back.





It is created in recognition of the importance, today as then, of all the pollinating insects including bees.



Bee eater, from Birds of Europe by John Gould



Bee eater photographed by Ray Sullivan



The Bee eater on the fan that accompanies the reticule as part of Eating Bees, is drawn not on but out of cut cartridge paper, with tissue paper behind so that it will glow when displayed in a way that is meant to reflect how light passes to some degree through the wings of birds.



The finish on the foliage on the fan is inspired by the use of mother of pearl and lacquer found on many examples of fans from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian periods.







Austen - The Secret Track (working title)


At this stage I had two bags made and yet, still I was left with that original piece of crochet, started at the very start of this project and to which I was therefore strangely attached. It had proved, after all, not to fit the design of either of the first two bags, during the process of turning them from thought to reality. They had both seemed to want to be different.


Then I read this:

"Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Elton were together. Miss Bates was out, which accounted for the previous tranquillity. Emma could have wished Mrs. Elton elsewhere; but she was in a humour to have patience with every body; and as Mrs. Elton met her with unusual graciousness, she hoped the rencontre would do them no harm.


She soon believed herself to penetrate Mrs. Elton's thoughts, and understand why she was, like herself, in happy spirits; it was being in Miss Fairfax's confidence, and fancying herself acquainted with what was still a secret to other people. Emma saw symptoms of it immediately in the expression of her face; and while paying her own compliments to Mrs. Bates, and appearing to attend to the good old lady's replies, she saw her with a sort of anxious parade of mystery fold up a letter which she had apparently been reading aloud to Miss Fairfax, and return it into the purple and gold ridicule by her side, saying, with significant nods,


'We can finish this some other time, you know. You and I shall not want opportunities. And, in fact, you have heard all the essential already. I only wanted to prove to you that Mrs. S. admits our apology, and is not offended. You see how delightfully she writes. Oh! she is a sweet creature! You would have doated on her, had you gone. But not a word more. Let us be discreet -- quite on our good behaviour. Hush! You remember those lines -- I forget the poem at this moment:


'For when a lady's in the case, 'You know all other things give place.'


Now I say, my dear, in our case, for lady, read -- mum! a word to the wise. I am in a fine flow of spirits, an't I? But I want to set your heart at ease as to Mrs. S. My representation, you see, has quite appeased her.'"

- https://www.janeausten.org/emma/chapter-52.php


And in that moment, in that extract, I found a new colour scheme, a secret item to include inside a third ridicule and a link with literature of the most important sort (for a Regency inspired collection).


During the exhibition I had meant to position at least one bag in the library at Firle Place (where the most recent feature film of Emma was made) where certainly copies of Jane Austen's novels grace the shelves. I already had Suspended Beauty and Eating Bees done and now it seemed I would be making an unexpected third bag.


As I write this post in February 2021 however, this remains an unfinished chapter. The piece is underway, I've included a few pictures below taken whilst I am working on it but at the start of the process I found myself briefly wondering whether, like the hidden, unlisted, track on any good album this piece should in fact not feature in the exhibition guide or online during the exhibition along with all the other pieces in the collection. Perhaps, just as the letter is hidden from Emma inside Mrs Eltons' ridicule, the bag itself should be hidden at the end of the exhibition for only the keenest of eyes to find. Since then I have made a decision on that point, please come to the exhibition to find out what I've decided.



I will say that inside, having practised folding a letter in the Regency style (for instructions please see: https://stephaniesmart.wixsite.com/stephaniesmart/single-post/2020/05/30/the-regency-wardrobe-collection-research-making-forget-me-not-fan), there is a page sealed with purple wax (it is impressed with my fingerprint):


Finally: there is mention of another purple ridcule from the period: "February 1804 issue of the Lady’s Monthly Museum, an English magazine: “A Kerseymere Spencer of the same Colour, with Tippet. Purple ridicule.” " also for more about the use of the word ridicule in Emma please see: https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2017/08/reticule.html



The Regency Wardrobe will be exhibited at Firle Place, in 2021. As soon as the collection has been shown images of all the finished pieces including Suspended Beauty and Eating Bees will be made visible on stephaniesmart.net

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