The String’s the Thing – Manet and fashion by Drema Drudge #art #historicalfiction

DremaI’m delighted to welcome Drema Drudge to my blog today to talk about Manet’s models and their clothing, which feature in her new novel ‘Victorine.’

The String’s the Thing

In Victorine, my historical novel coming out in the next few months, I write about the black choker Edouard Manet paints Victorine wearing. I imagine it as his bootlace, called into service on the spot, although some versions of the neckwear in his paintings of her appear to be thicker, perhaps the width of a velvet ribbon. A painter can easily widen a necklace with his brush, of course. If you notice the ten or so paintings he did of her, in nearly every one, whether the object is thick or thin, she’s wearing something black around her neck.

Victorine has mixed feelings about the string in my novel. On the one hand, she grows accustomed to it, and associates it with his paintings of her. But on the other, she despises being told what to wear. However, when the two come back together for a painting after a gap in time, as Manet puts the shoelace about her neck, she fills with emotion at the time they used to spend together, and how things are different now, even though he is painting her again.

“You need a necklace,” he says, and he motions for me to turn, ties something about my throat. When I put my hands up, I immediately recognize the shoelace I had thought lost. I cannot think how he got it. “This is yours,” he says. It’s the very same one. I confirm this by feeling the knots. I pat the string affectionately and my eyes fill. “Turn your head,” he requests. I pretend he is not using my tears to add a glaze to my painted eyes.

Victorine 61cBqCpuQVLLater in my novel, I give Victorine adoring fans who purchase and sport chokers with her as Olympia in lockets, based on what I discovered during my research – apparently these items did become all the rage after the controversial painting was displayed in the Paris Salon, the prestigious yearly art show. It hardly offsets the cruelty she experiences in the streets after the “scandalous” nude painting was exhibited. Though Manet was castigated for his painting, the woman presumed to actually be a prostitute (she was not) was doubtless treated much worse.

I walk briskly along the cobblestones, finally on my way to dine with Willie, stopping at an outdoor faucet to rinse my hands, raising my hem as if I were a lady, though it doesn’t need raising. I smirk and wave triumphantly at the young women who lift their black shoelace necklaces for me to examine. I stick out a foot and show off Manet’s boots laced with thick black laces. It’s too bad that fame (well, perhaps it’s more notoriety, in my case) does not necessarily bring money.

But Victorine is not the only one of Manet’s models to wear chokers. Berthe Morisot, the artist who eventually married Manet’s brother, is given a similar necklace in at least one of his paintings of her. (Morisot and the already married Edouard Manet are rumored to have been in love with one another, but somehow she ended marrying Manet’s brother, Eugène.) Other women in Manet’s paintings also received black bands of fabric about their necks.

portrait-of-victorine-meurend-edouard-manetThis paragraph shows how Victorine is viewed, as both heroine to some and something much worse to others:

A girl of about twelve stands before me and smiles, fingering her shoelace necklace from which dangles a heart-shaped charm. “You’re Olympia,” she says. “No, I’m not.” I smile back at her and I wonder who is making all of this marvelous profit from the shoelace necklaces that abound now. Her mother quickly attempts to rush her away. “But you are. I remember your hair color.” The girl rocks forward and backwards and holds her hands to her mouth. “I posed for Olympia, but I am not Olympia,” I say. “Please, we really must go,” the mother, whose expensive clothing and neat shoes declare her respectable, says. While it was quite all right for the girl to see the painting of me and to wear a necklace like I wear in the painting, to fraternize with me is obviously forbidden.

While I wouldn’t dismiss out of hand someone psychoanalyzing the painter and his predilection for encircling his model’s necks with black, making something almost sinister of it, I prefer to chalk it up to his considerable respect and regard for fashion. Few paint fabric and fashion of the day the way he did, so clearly he paid attention to what women wore. In some of his paintings he had his models wear out-of-date clothing, but it was, no doubt, to make a statement. Though it’s his last major work, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, Manet still has the bar keep wearing a ribbon with a charm dangling from it. One wonders if he thought of Victorine when he put it around the woman’s neck.

Near the end of the novel, Victorine is permitted to display her self-portrait at the Salon, a feat she has longed for. Now she gets to examine how she sees herself, rather than how other artists have painted her, and she certainly does not wear what has begun, it seems, to feel like a noose of sorts:

The lift of this maturing woman’s neck is proud, and she looks, as always, frankly at the viewer, a stance that is not so unusual now, but certainly echoes Manet’s painting. Lines of loss show in her face. Most decidedly she does not wear a black shoelace at her neck.

No shoelace, no noose now, but also no real relationship with Manet, whose health is failing. She is freed from the black ribbon, but she has also lost something in the bargain. It doesn’t, however, outweigh who she has gained: herself.

About the Book:

In 1863 Civil War is raging in the United States Victorine Meurent is posing nude, in Paris, for paintings that will be heralded as the beginning of modern art: Manet’s Olympia and Picnic on the Grass. However, Victorine’s persistent desire is not to be a model but to be a painter herself. In order to live authentically, she finds the strength to flout the expectations of her parents, bourgeois society, and the dominant male artists (whom she knows personally) while never losing her capacity for affection, kindness, and loyalty. Possessing both the incisive mind of a critic and the intuitive and unconventional impulses of an artist, Victorine and her survival instincts are tested in 1870, when the Prussian army lays siege to Paris and rat becomes a culinary delicacy. Drema Drudge’s powerful first novel Victorine not only gives this determined and gifted artist back to us but also recreates an era of important transition into the modern world.


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Huge thanks to Drema for this fascinating post. I remember chokers being fashionable when I was a teenager, and found Victorine’s ambivalent attitude towards being made to wear them very interesting.


Shopping with Elisabeth Pepys in Restoration London


Royal Exchange 1569Through the diary of Samuel Pepys, we get a remarkable insight into the City of London in the seventeenth century. Here, amongst Samuel Pepys’ political exploits, and his reports of the Navy, the King and the Court, we can also get a picture of where and how his wife Elisabeth shopped at the time.

Elisabeth loved clothes and fashion, and both she and her husband aspired to move upwards in society. The Restoration was a fabulous time for fashion as people reacted against Cromwell’s Puritan repression with lace, bows, frilled petticoat breeches, and yards of flowing ribbon, even for men.

In 1661 the diarist John Evelyn commented on one young man had ‘as much Ribbon on him as would have plundered six shops, and set up Twenty Country Pedlars; all his body was dres’t like a May-pole’.

Elisabeth often shopped at Unthank’s the tailors, a large shop in Charing Cross, where she was measured for her gowns, and would choose fabric and cloth. Unlike shoemakers and bootmakers, whose leather work could be done on stalls in the open air, tailors usually worked indoors out of the weather. ByV & A Ribbon Gloves the end of the 17th century more exotic and valuable fabrics from abroad such as East Indian chintz became popular.

Sometimes more expensive fabric, such as chintz or silk, was supplied by the client, leading to tailors being seen as cheaters, because the client suspected they skimped when making up the fabric and used the left-overs to make smaller garments they would then sell on. Many pamphlets of the time describe tailors in this rather unflattering way.

A range of accessories that were both decorative and practical were available. Decorative muffs acted as a place to store handkerchiefs, purses and perfumes. Hoods, both attached to, and unattached to cloaks were popular too, with some shops only selling hoods. Opposite – ribbon-trimmed gloves from the V&A.

In the diary, arguments between Samuel and Elisabeth were frequent, especially over money.  For example after the Duke of Gloucester died and everyone was in mourning, Elisabeth overspent the fifteen pounds she’d been given for her mourning costume, and Pepys says ‘after I had looked over the things my wife had bought today…they costing too much, I went to bed in a discontent.’

Elisabeth would have taken her coins and tokens (coins were in short supply during Charles II’s reign) and go to the Royal Exchange, which before the great fire was the great centre of commerce in the city. The coins illustrated read:  ‘Coffee Tobacco Sherbet tea and Chocolat retail’d in Exchange Ally’. The Exchange was officially opened in 1565 by Queen Elizabeth I, who awarded the building its Royal title. It had a central courtyard surrounded by more than 160 galleried shops. Some of these were little bigger than booths, and were so poky and gloomy that they had to be lit by candles, even in the daytime. The covered walks were decorated with statues of English kings.

London Bridge by Claude de Jongh
London Bridge by Claude de Jongh

Unfortunately, the Royal Exchange was destroyed in the Great Fire and had to be rebuilt. A statue of Gresham, who founded the Exchange, stood near the north end of the western piazza. After the Fire of 1666 this statue alone remained unharmed, according to Pepys’ records. Unlike today, only shopping, or the exchange of goods took place. Stockbrokers were not allowed into the Royal Exchange because of their loudness and rude manners, so they had to meet at Jonathan’s Coffee-House which was nearby.




Another street that was for fashionable ladies was Paternoster Row, which according to Stow in his book about London, ‘their shops were so resorted to by the nobility and gentry in their coaches, that oft-times the street was so stop’d up that there was no passage for foot passengers.’

Elisabeth also shopped for small linens in Westminster Hall, where it appears you were allowed to run up a bill on account. Mrs Mitchell and Betty Lane both had stalls there, where Samuel Pepys dallied with more than just lace and linen. Westminster Hall was a magnificent arched and lofty building, part of the Palace of Westminster, and some people were disgusted it should be used for trade. But it appears that chapels and palaces were all a part of Elisabeth Pepys’s shopping experience in the hedonistic era of the Restoration.

Pictures: The Ropleasing mr pepysyal Exchange, wikipedia

Leather Tokens: London Museum via the Guardian

My book featuring Elizabeth Pepys is out now.

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#LuckySeven – lines from my new novel

I was tagged by Barbara Kyle in a game where you have to reveal the seventh line of the seventh chapter of the book you are working on. So here’s mine – from my current work in progress which is based around Pepys’s Diary.  According to the Diary, John Unthank was Elizabeth Pepys’ tailor, and he had a large shop at Charing Cross which served as a meeting place for ladies to gossip.

‘Despite her protestations that she did not need new clothes, a carriage was called, and they put up their hoods and set off to Unthank’s. Unthank’s Tailors was a small cramped shop that smelt of wool and velvet and the sweat of Mr Unthank’s underarms. Once out of her wet cloak, Deb fidgeted and held her breath as the tailor lifted his arms to measure brusquely around her chest and waist.

She showed no enthusiasm when a bolt of lilac twill was thrown onto the table. Elisabeth exclaimed over its shade and texture, and asked its price, but Deb was silent. To think, a letter about her mother was waiting for her at this very minute and she had to be here fussing over cloth and trimmings.’

Perhaps they were about to have something like this made? This dress, influenced by fashions from France, dates from approx. 1695. I would like to tag authors Gabrielle Kimm, Carol Cram, Carol McGrath, Judith Starkston, Debra Brown, Judith Arnopp and Philippa Keyworth.


cameoo asked: have you found any 17th century fashion? all the nice pieces i can find are 18th century and foward and im looking to see what the time period around the Salem withc trials were like. brsis mentioned this to me yesterday and it slipped my mind (sorry!) Janet Arnold’s The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women, C.1560-1620 and the C.1660-1860 is the best source for extant examples from these periods. I’ve never actually looked into Puritan fashion, I’m more of a Cavalier! Around this period I’m still hanging out across the pond at the French court and chillin with Charles II! The Stuart’s are in Power and they brought with them the loveliest style of dress.  The above dress is from 1695-1700 and is called the Valdemar Slot Gown. The fabric is moss green silk brocade with real gold threads, and the museum that owns it claims that it is amongst the eldest whole surviving civile female outfits in Europe. This is the closest I could find to 1692 (Salem Witch Trials) but I’ll keep looking around for you!