Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Gifts of Grandeur: Painted Silk Velvet Panels from a Reticule, 1820-1830

Silk Velvet Panel
England, 1820-1830
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Painted between 1820 and 1830, these silk velvet panels were intended to be used in the construction of a reticule (also known as “indispensibles”). Ostensibly purses, reticules were used in the early Nineteenth Century by women to carry necessities such as smelling salts and a handkerchief. A lady might often make and decorate her own reticule at home using a store-bought lightweight frame of silver or steal with chain handles.

Amateur artists often painted onto silk velvet pieces which could be incorporated into a variety of projects. The painted velvet, owing to the pile of the fabric, afforded an appealing sense of depth and richness. It was also an interesting visual counterpoint to the preferred method of the Eighteenth Century—painting on silk taffeta.

These panels were surely painted at home by a now unknown lady. Both show a lively scene of flowers and butterflies against a ground of gold silk velvet. The shape suggests that they were meant to be sewn onto a reticule frame, but, it somehow never made it. Perhaps they are preserved because of it.

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