WAS A DANDY THE FIRST MODERNIST?

I always thought DANDIES were fairly silly.  So vain and careful; not very manly at all.

King George III (in coronation robes) by Allan Ramsay
(1761-1762). George III was deemed unfit for rule, 
so the Prince Regent stepped in.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

And then there came the context:
the dandy movement was reactionary.

In Regency England (first quarter of the 19th century), men's fashion was fairly extreme.  Enormous powdered wigs, lots of rouge and makeup, miles of ribbon and exquisite fabrics, and plenty of parties to wear all of this to.

Now this is quite soon after the American Revolution, when the British Empire is just starting to show evidence of cracks in its foundation.  Assertion of wealth and aristocracy was very popular, and there was an extravagant Prince Regent (the future George IV) occupying the throne in his father's stead.

Beau Brummel

Enter George Bryan "Beau" Brummell.  He was a maven of men's fashion, and conveniently for him, a friend of the Prince Regent.

"He established the mode of dress for men that rejected overly ornate fashions for one of understated, but perfectly fitted and tailored clothing. This look was based on dark coats, full-length trousers rather than knee breeches and stockings, and above all immaculate shirt linen and an elaborately knotted cravat." (from Wikipedia)

2002 statue of Beau Brummell by Irena Sedlecka
(Jermyn Street in London).  Image courtesy of
Herr uebermann via Wikimedia Commons.

Beau Brummel invented and established the modern men's suit with necktie and no wig, a version of which is still worn today.  The aesthetic was -- by comparison -- refined and masculine.  Dandy detractors saw it as vulgar and common; while dandies themselves forwarded the look by asserting that, far from neglecting their appearance, they spent more time on it.*

Modernist Principles Created

  1. Eliminate unnecessary ornament
  2. Design focuses on custom fit rather than expensive materials
  3. Simplification of the number of elements
  4. Elements expected to each be necessary
  5. Balance valued over volume
  6. Natural/true appearance of hair/skin preferred
  7. These principles held as subjugating previous aesthetic principles: superiority of fashion ethics rather than just another passing style
  8. Well-designed simplicity

Regency Architecture: a Contrast

The Prince Regent's favorite architect was John Nash.  Diverging from typical Georgian architecture, which was severely symmetrical and fairly unornamented, the architecture of the Regency period is lavish, overbudget, and often exotic.

Brighton (United Kingdom): Panorama of the western front of the Royal Pavilion, remodeled by John Nash 1815-1822
Image courtesy of flamenc via Wikimedia Commons.

Followup question

Does architecture -- as the manifestation of taste that takes the longest to adapt to changing fashions -- OFTEN follow the lead of clothing taste-makers?  I think the seeds of modernism were planted earlier than we usually assume.

-ally

P.S. Time Spent = Value


*The amount of time spent on creating art was apparently a very important element in determining whether it was, in fact, art.  Famously, Whistler sued John Ruskin in 1877 for libel when Ruskin reviewed his work:
The offending painting:
Nocturne in Black and Gold:
The Falling Rocket
c.1875
by James Abbott McNeill Whistler,
currently at the Detroit Institute of Arts
Image via Wikimedia Commons

"For Mr. Whistler's own sake, no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay [founder of the Grosvenor Gallery] ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly approached the aspect of willful imposture. I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." --John Ruskin, Fors Clavigera on July 2, 1877

The subsequent suit tried for the first time to determine a legal definition of what was art and what was not.  How much time required to create a work of art was one of the main topics of discussion.

Read more about the suit in the delightful & surprisingly entertaining book, A Pot of Paint: Aesthetics on Trial in Whistler v. Ruskin.

2 comments:

  1. Allison, was it a very quick change from stern Georgian to exotic Regency styles? Did the craziness continue through Victoria's time? Why the emphasis on exotic? Is Art Deco before Modern? Or are they the same thing?

    ReplyDelete
  2. You know how you feel about Victorian clothing? Don't get me started on the architecture. It was eclectic, garish at times, and excessively sentimental about its exoticism... the architectural version of "I went on the Grand Tour and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."
    I'm just guessing, but the maybe Prince Albert's World's Fair had a part in the love of all things foreign?
    After the Victorian period and a lot of industrialization, there were aesthetic reactions that still continue today: idealizing handmade/handcrafted items and organic (natural) forms. Art Nouveau was part of this trend in the decorative arts. Art Deco came quick on its heels, and shared many qualities with the Nouveau, but was much more streamlined and embraced the reality of industrialization. In my mind, two sides of the same coin. In architecture, at least, both Nouveau and Deco were largely architectural decoration, appearing on the surfaces of facades and on the metalworks of balustrades or elevators. The building form didn't change much, though.

    Modernism is a completely different animal that grew out of "capital G" Genius and philosophy and social reform. It stole buildings out of their vernacular roots and processes and shoehorned them into being "international" and meaningful. It was revolutionary, and revolutions are never pretty. We're still trying to create Modern architecture that is as good as what the early Modern geniuses did. And we're failing. In the meantime, what was once a respectable building craft is just hideous development.

    ReplyDelete

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