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The Scent of Fashion

Components of dress

Berthe Morisot's portrait of Madame Edma Pontillon of 1872 demonstrates Morisot's own awareness that a woman's toilette was an integral part of femininity in the later nineteenth century and her meticulous rendition of the separate elements of female dress are as thorough an indication of modernity as the painterly texture of her brushwork: Morisot gives "the impression of [.....] turning curling tongs, fastening buttons, tying laces, smoothing folds, tightening waistbands, straightening a bonnet and fixing a flower."

These separate components of female dress are demonstrated in her portrait of Edma Pontillon. The sitter's hair is worn high upon her head in a plaited chignon threaded through with a ribbon, an instant signifier of the decorative aesthetic of the 1870s, as are the drop pendant earrings and the pendant necklace threaded onto a black ribbon, a fashionable style of accessory also seen in the meticulous brushwork of James Tissot's paintings of fashionable women during the same period. The bodice of Edma's dress is cut in a V-shaped neckline but is filled in with a chemisette of muslin trimmed with lace, a style of bodice construction typical of the early 1870s. The waistline of the dress is still rather high and the sleeves are long and fairly close fitting to the elbow, but the open sections of the lower sleeves indicate the remaining influence of the open style of the pagoda sleeves of the 1860s. An overskirt is attached to the bodice and is open to reveal an underskirt of a darker fabric. The double skirt, like the sleeves and bodice, is trimmed with a pleated edging which demonstrates the decorative nature of dress during this decade and the sash around the waist emphasises the impetus towards the concentration of a decorative bulk at the back of the dress.

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