During the 1850s in France, there was renewed interest in eighteenth-century literature, art, and architecture and nostalgia for the lost world of Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour, who symbolized gracious living for the aristocracy and newly rich bourgeoisie. The resurgence of interest in rococo artists included reissues in England and France of engravings after the ornamental designs and paintings of Jean-Antoine Watteau. The fabric itself, a Jacquard-woven silk produced in Lyons, reveals the derivative nature of mid-nineteenth-century textile design, which often used elements copied directly from prints of the work of well-known artists.
For the fabric of this ball gown, two images by Jacques-Philippe Le Bas after Watteau have been combined. It is likely that the fabric was originally meant to have been used for furnishings, probably for a bedroom or boudoir (dressing room or private sitting room). The silk’s swing design would have been considered provocative for the time since it had long been associated with love-making and seduction. The gown was possibly worn originally by a member of the demimonde such as an actress-or by a naive young woman. The choice of the swing theme was especially appropriate for an evening dress, in which the wearer would want to appear demure yet flirtatious.
Philadelphia Museum of Art