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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!