It’s the time of year for parties so we’re back at that social event of 1897, the Duchess of Devonshire’s Diamond Jubilee Costume Ball which has proved to be one of the most popular subjects on the blog. The Duchess and her party organiser must have been well aware of the interest the Ball would generate. The Lafayette photography company set up their portable studio in a tent in the grounds of Devonshire House, and the photographers must have been working hard to get through nearly 200 subjects in the course of the evening. But it would have been worth it. They would have been able to sell postcards and prints of the guests to a public which was already generating an early version of what we now call celebrity culture. In addition there were expensive souvenirs. The book I’ve scanned these pictures from is a large heavy volume produced in a limited edition.
This selection features only female guests. Their costumes were the main focus of interest for the photographers so I’m following this example as any popular magazine edition would have done. As I’ve noted in previous posts (1st,2nd,3rd) the costumes were mainly historical with the 16th,17th and 18th centuries providing most of the subjects. But there were also literary, mythological and artistic costumes.
Lady Ampthill, as “a lady of King Arthur’s court”.
And here, Queen Guinevere herself:
Lady Rodney’s costume designer has a slightly different take on fashions at Camelot. A similar free reign could be taken when creating costumes for characters out of antiquity.
Miss Fraser as Delilah, a Biblical character familiar to most people of the time.
Miss Muriel Wilson as Queen Vashti, the first wife of King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther. Vashti is sometimes called a proto-feminist icon for her refusal to appear before the King’s guests at a banquet.
Some of the costumes were more conceptual:
Lady Herschell looking slightly unhappy as Night (costumes expressing ideas like night and day were quite common at fancy dress parties).
The Countess of Westmoreland as Hebe, the Greek goddess of youth, daughter of Zeus and Hera. Did she bring that bird herself, I wonder or did the photographer have it handy, in his box of props?
There were some costumes inspired by artworks including this one, Lady Edith Villiers as Lady Melbourne after a portrait by Cosway, and in a similar vein:
The Hon Mrs Fitzwilliam after a portrait by Romney.
But as I’ve said, the majority of the guests came as historical figures. In this case the photographers were unable to identify the costume worn by Mrs Leiter:
Suggestions welcome. Other ladies were more readily identifiable if sometimes a little obscure:
The Duchess of Buckingham and Chandos (a fine title) as Caterina Cornare, Queen of Cypress.
Lady Aileen Wyndham Quin as Queen Hortense. I’m assuming that this is Hortense de Beauharnais, stepdaughter of Napoleon and daughter of Josephine. She was Queen of Holland as the wife of Louis Napoleon and the mother of Napoleon III.
The Hon Mrs Lowther as Madame Therese de Tallion an “Incroyable” according to the caption in the book, one of the fashionistas of post Reign of Terror Paris, although my cursory research indicates that the Incroyables were the male ones and that the correct term for the women was Merveilleuses (marvellous women). Hortense de Beauharnis was also a Mervelleuse in her younger days.
Lady Fitzgerald as Marie Josephe Queen of Poland.
Lady Moyra Cavendish as Countess Lazan, a person I haven’t been able to find out anything about, but it’s a good costume.
Lady Lister Kaye as Antoinette de Bourbon, Duchesse de Guise and maternal grandmother of Mary Queen of Scots.
The Duchess of Hamilton as Mary Hamilton, a lady in waiting to the same Mary Stuart, and possibly one of her own ancestors.
Lady Alington as the Duchesse de Nevers, a lady from the court of Marguerite de Valois. She looks to me as if she has been very patient with the photographer but is now ready to go.
The Hon Marie Kay as Mademoiselle Andree de Taverney, another 18th century lady who has evaded me today.
And finally, posed as if walking away:
The Hon Maud Winn as Madame la Motte, possibly the thief and adventuress who was involved in the complicated affair of the Queen’s diamonds in the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. It’s an incongruously disreputable note on which to finish with this grand and respectable event.
The Ball took place in July, which must have made some of those heavy costumes uncomfortable. Not really appropriate for this time of year either. One of the other characters who’ve appeared in the blog, Jerry Cornelius held a spectacular party in the Final Programme. So from him I take this message: a happy new fear to all my readers.