In Fine Style

Today, once again, it proved that sometimes what happens is  better than what you expected.

This morning I got up to go to the Queen’s Gallery for the “In fine Style” exhibition. I was looking forward to seeing painted and embroidered pieces. I was really looking forward to photographing the embroidered pieces both for future reference and inspiration and for all of you to enjoy.

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I picked up my ticket and then had some time to wait until the gallery opened at 10 am. I wandered around the shop and the small waiting area. It was obvious from every detail that this was the Queen’s Gallery – not just any gallery. Everything was first class, expensive and perfect. The uniforms of the assistants in the shop are of lightweight worsted wool. Mid length skirts and navy vests over a pale blue and white striped dress shirts. There wasn’t a spot of dust on the shelves or the merchandise. The signs on the toilet doors were solid brass and the benches outside had the coat of arms on them. The floors and counters in the toilets were marble. Whew!

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All visitors to the exhibition must go through airport type security. The Queen’s collection is vast and valuable so security is important.

As I went through, I asked about photographs just to  be clear on what was allowed. Photos of the paintings were fine. Any other items in the exhibition were prohibited from being photographed. Since the items of clothing, lace, etc. are on loan from other museums, no photographs were allowed.  I was disappointed to say the least.

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However, as I went through the exhibition, I found that I focused more carefully on the details in the paintings that highlighted the stitching. My experience was better than I expected because I had to see the textiles through the painter’s eyes.

The audio guide is excellent and, having read the book In Fine Style: The Art of Stuart and Tudor Fashion by Anna Reynolds before I visited, made a big difference in my understanding of what I was seeing. Today I was going to look at embroidery through the eyes of the artist.

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Edward VI 1546-7 attributed to William Scrots

Above is a painting of Edward, Henry VIII’s son. In her book, Anna Reynolds explains that one of the fashions of the day was to cut the fabric of the sleeves so that the delicate  shirt underneath could be pulled through and texture created. Look at the embroidery on the sleeve below. In addition to the flowers and curves, the edges of the slits have been embroidered in fine gold thread. The shirt underneath is made of fine silk according to the guide. It’s a beautiful style.

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Detail of Edward VI 1546-7 attributed to William Scrots

Royal children were dressed in clothing that was just as ornate as that of their parents. Here is a portrait of two little Spanish princesses. It looks to me as if they can’t even move for the weight of their dresses! They are just stunning garments. The green fabric has gold running through it, as you can see from the shimmer on the fabric.

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Isabella Clara Eugenia and Catalina Micaela, daughters of Phillip of Spain
c.1569-70 attributed to Alonso Sanchez Coello

What I loved most about these little dresses was the use of both gold embroidery and jewels as ornamentation. The gold embroidery and the pearls on the sleeves are exquisite. Look at the jewellery these little princesses are wearing! They were family heirlooms and appear again in a portrait of their mother. I assume they wore them only while the portrait was being painted and maybe on special occasions!

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Detail of Isabella Clara Eugenia and Catalina Micaela, daughters of Phillip of Spain c.1569-70 attributed to Alonso Sanchez Coello

Below you can see the detail of the delicate silk embroidery from a painting entitled Portrait of a Young Girl. This is one of my favorite styles of embroidery for dresses – delicate flowers in many colors. If you look closely you can see there are little gold beads on the front of the dress sewn on in a flower shape and the lace is so very delicate.

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Portrait of a Young Girl, British School 1630

Lace in all of these portraits was painted beautifully. The use of different shades of white, grey and yellow make the lace appear three dimensional. Being able to see both the detail of the fabric or embroidery and appreciate the artistry in the painting of such fine detail was incredible . Standing very close, I could see the brush strokes on the painting, but stepping back only one step turned the painted lace into what looked like real lace!

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Detail of Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia 1626-7 by Daniel Mytens

In this last portrait the detail of the embroidery as well as the jewels and aglets fascinated me. Aglets are pointed metal ends attached to ribbons used to tie clothing together. Of course they are highly ornate! It took these people – men, women and children – hours to get dressed and they couldn’t have done it alone. Imagine spending so long on creating your look every day!

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Detail of Margaret of Austria, Queen Consort of Philip III of Spain c. 1605
by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz

I know that many of you are far away from London and that I was very fortunate to be there during this exhibition. If you have any interest in fashion and/or embroidery from the Stuart and Tudor period then I would highly recommend Anna Reynolds’ book to you. It’s almost as good as being there in person, the photographs are fantastic and her text is interesting and engaging.

The Queen’s Gallery has limited the number of tickets sold for each viewing time so the exhibition is never crowded. It’s easy to sit or stand and gaze as long as you want. In fact, as you could tell from my photos, you can get quite close to the paintings and really study the details. It’s a wonderful exhibition.

Next time, my visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum and photos of some gorgeous embroidery!

4 thoughts on “In Fine Style

    • Hi Rachel,

      Glad to know it wasn’t only me! I think one of the best things was how close I could get to each painting and how good the lighting was.

      Liebe Grüße,

      Kathy

  1. I bought Anna Reynolds’ book a few months ago, probably on your recommendation, and I haven’t been disappointed. I haven’t read it all yet, but I have studied all the pictures and I agree they are amazing. Imagine how long it took an ‘apprentice’ painter to learn how to paint all that embroidery and lace, especially as there were no art-supply shops as we know them. These people had to grind their own pigments and make their own colours from a relatively limited number of pigments. Some of the pigments, eg the beautiful blue from lapis lazuli were extremely expensive so had to be used carefully.

    But more than that, seeing all those children dressed in their magnificent costumes was overwhelming. Do you think your children (or any of today’s children) would stand still for that long wearing that much weight? Poor little things!

    Anyway I am very sorry that I can’t get there – apart from the fact that I find walking almost impossible, Australia is such a long way from London in distance and financial terms.
    So it is up to you Kathy to make it live for those us who can’t see it for ourselves, and so far you are doing an exceptional job. More please?

    • Dear Christina,

      Aren’t we lucky the world is, in some good ways, getting smaller? It’s possible to visit places on the internet – no it isn’t the same but just think of the things we can see and hear that our ancestors couldn’t imagine! Anna Reynolds book is so wonderful isn’t it? And I agree about the children – that same thought crossed my mind. My daughters were very well behaved and patient children for the most part but putting them in fancy clothing was one thing they would tolerate only for a special occasion and then not for many hours!.

      I wish I could get to Australia but it’s the same thing for us – long, long flights and too much money! I’m glad I can bring some of the world away from Aus to you.
      Liebe Grüße,
      Kathy

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