Victorian Finery

How does a naturalist-artist find herself painting Victorian dresses? I’m not sure, except that I found the fantastic fabrics and fine details of the new exhibit Well Dressed in Victorian Albany quite irresistible. The gowns in the collection of the Albany Institute of History & Art are so exquisite, they make perfect artistic subjects. Unfortunately, the museum didn’t allow watercolor in the gallery, so I was restricted to pencil and pen, and had to paint later…which took away a bit of the fun. Nevertheless, this was a valuable exercise. Painting drapery requires mastery of line, volume, form, and value. I went for a fairly graphic look, with bolder blacks for the darkest areas. Had I been able to paint initially, I probably would have skipped the bold lines in favor of more subtle watercolor.

I was particularly drawn to the incredible details of collars and cuffs. I wanted to see what I could suggest without painting every stitch of lace or embroidery.

36 Comments on “Victorian Finery

  1. What marvelous detail and beautiful colors, even though you needed to add color later 🙂
    How fascinating that this was the Albany Museum of History and Art! I started following your blog because of our common interest in nature and birds, but I also lived my whole life in Albany New York, prior to moving to Florida four years ago! Are you in that area

  2. Your drawings are beautiful. It really makes me think – are we all so different from the women who wore these beautiful dresses? I know these were probably worn by wealthy women, but even a taste of some of this beauty seems so far removed from today.
    Thank you.

    • Great questions Debbie- these dresses really make you curious– about the women who wore them, about the history of women (and clothing), and about how anyone functioned doing day to day activities wearing dresses like this! It might be good for us all to dress so beautifully– just once!

  3. These are fabulous. The museum restrictions can be a bit frustrating, can’t they? (I tend to take with me Tombows or maybe Inktense pencils that I can use a waterbrush with – not the same as watercolour, but it scratches the colour itch.) You’ve obviously got a splendid eye and memory for the colours. I’m envious! 🙂

    • They actually told me “pencil only”– but these just aren’t pencil dresses! I did take some photos for color reference…so it’s not just having an eye/memory for color. I would have loved to start with a big loose wash!

      • Definitely not pencil dresses! I think you’ve made a great job of them, and especially like the detail sketches. Loose wash another time, and another museum, maybe? 🙂

  4. Beautifully rendered and painted – and a great idea to sketch this kind of exhibit. I’m really challenged by capturing the drape of clothing. Might be time for a visit to the local textile museum:-).

  5. Very fun!! Thanks for sharing!! Amazing – the work that was done back then….

    • Thanks Lisa. The rich texture and folds of cloth give way to bare branches and bark this week…I’m back to my usual pursuits. But I enjoyed my Victorian foray very much.

  6. It makes me imagine how everything was one colourfull scene.
    Very nice drawings, I like your blog! Vee from Belgium

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