In collaboration with the Museum of Art, RISD’s exhibition Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion, April 28- August 18, the Providence Athenaeum offers a complementary exhibition with supporting materials from the Rhode Island Historical Society and the John Hay Library, Brown University. The Athenaeum’s exhibition draws from the collections rich literary and biographical materials to explore the popularization of the dandy from Beau Brummell to Max Beerbohm in 19th century English and French culture. The following is a brief overview of the main themes and dandy personalities represented in the exhibition with accompanying photographs.
Regency Dandies, 1790-1830
Beau Brummell & George IV
Image: Ivory silk waistcoat, circa 1830 (Rhode Island Historical Society), watercolor of Beau Brummell’s regiment, the 10th Hussar Guards, and a caricature of George IV ‘A Royal Dandy,’ (Anne S. K. Military Collection, Brown University).
In the early 19th century, the monarchy and aristocracy of the Regency period were widely despised by the middle class, and the ‘dandy’ became an object of ridicule as seen in the numerous caricatures from the period. The dandy stood for all that was exclusive, frivolous and selfish, and George IV became known as the clothes obsessed monarch to reign over a society of dandies.
Victorian Dandies, 1830-1880
d’Orsay, Bulwer & Disraeli
Image: Portrait of Count d’Orsay, Fraser’s Magazine (Athenaeum), Men’s leather gloves and beaver top hat (Rhode Island Historical Society)
The dashing Count d’Orsay was the father of Victorian dandyism, and the essential link between Beau Brummell’s restrained elegance of the Regency period and the more flamboyant dandy of the Victorian era. In the 1830’s, d’Orsay brought in the curve. His coat was rarely buttoned to show off his waist and his costume was often adorned with diamonds, colored stones and gold chain. Shimmering pastel colors, soft velvets and silks, perfumes and jewels were part of d’Orsay’s style that Brummell would have abhorred.
Intellectualizing the Dandy in France, 1830s-1860s
Balzac, Baudelaire & Barbey
Image: Top hat, circa 1920, (Rhode Island Historical Society), sketch of Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly by Edgar Degas and portrait of Beau Brummell by Aubrey Hammond (Providence Athenaeum)
France was infused with Anglomania during the 1830s, and Brummell was revered by French intellects, Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire and Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly as a living masterpiece that should be appreciated rather than mocked by society. In Du Dandisme et de George Brummell. (1845), Barbey minimalizes the place of clothes in Brummell’s dandyism, not because he considers the art of dress irrelevant but because he wants to emphasize what he calls the intellectual quality of Brummell’s wit, irony, impudence and poise.
Decadents & Flamboyant Belle Époque Dandies
in Life & Literature, 1880s-1920s
Wilde, Huysmans, Proust, & Beerbohm
Image: À Rebours (John Hay Library, Brown University), additional books and portraits (Providence Athenaeum), walking cane with ivory top, mid-19th century (Rhode Island Historical Society)
Dandy protagonists appeared in numerous novels from the period 1880-1920, including Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson, Marcel Proust’s À La Recherche du Temps and J.K. Huysmans’ À Rebours. Comte Robert de Montesquiou, an aristocratic French eccentric was the chief inspiration for Proust’s Baron de Charlus and Huysmans’ des Esseintes.
The Dandy I’m Sure will be on display at the Providence Athenaeum through June 15, 2013. Join us for the last program in this series on Friday, May 10, 2013, Mark Samuels Lasner (University of Delaware), “On Max Beerbohm and Other Musings.”
And, of course visit the Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion exhibition at the Museum of Art RISD, April 28- August 18, 2013. Here’s a full list of dandy events: risd_museum-artistrebeldandy-programs_events.
There is also a companion catalog to the exhibition Artist/Rebel/Dandy, published by the Museum of Art RISD with Yale University Press, available through AMAZON.
A special thanks to our exhibition collaborators, Peter Harrington, Curator, Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, John Hay Library, Brown University, and Kirsten Hammerstrom, Curator and Dana Signe Munroe, Registrar, John Brown House, Rhode Island Historical Society and for the inspiration of Kate Irvin and Laurie Brewer, Co-Curators of Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion at the Museum of Art RISD.
Kate Wodehouse, Collections Librarian