Exhibition Review: In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion

By Alexandra Little

The following exhibition review was submitted in our first term for the unit Disciplines of Fashion. Alongside a three-thousand word essay, we were required to write a one-thousand word academic review for a book or exhibition.

From intricate lace samples to an embroidered seventeenth-century doublet, it was clear that art came hand in hand with craft in an exhibition held at The Queen’s Gallery in the summer and autumn of 2013. In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion explored the sumptuous relationship between court dress of this period and the paintings that represented it. A snippet of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century fashion was exhibited through paintings, sketches, and garments of the period, which was assisted by a wealth of information on a multimedia guide.

Every summer Buckingham Palace opens its doors, which increases visitor numbers to The Queen’s Gallery but not necessarily increasing their interest in art. This year, however, a new perspective replaced the more traditional side of art symbolized by Buckingham Palace and the neo-classical design of the gallery, that of fashion. This is not to say that it should be classified as a fashion exhibition, rather that as which the title suggests, an exhibition on the art of fashion.

In Fine Style was exhibited in the three rooms of the gallery, with the final painting (The Man in Red, an educational exploration) having a small room of its own. The first room gave the visitor a chronological overview of fashion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, assisted by illustrations on large boards defining dress of the times with helpful terminology. From here, the visitor then entered the second and third rooms, which thematically looked at the dressing of children, influential European dress and the fashions in hunting. There were exquisite surviving examples including mules, gloves, jewellery, a buff coat and waistcoat, next to portraits by Lely, Holbein and Rembrandt. The clothing was interspersed throughout and located near the relevant paintings or objects, with clear labelling and well lit to allow for the closest analysis. Although it encouraged visitors to examine the details, amidst the crowds for some it was hard to see.

One of the many highlights of the exhibition was the Royal Collection’s Cuirassier armour, placed opposite paintings of men in armour and adjacent to a painting of Henry, Prince of Wales (c.1605) in armour-influenced fashions of the time. This gave the visitor not just a view of how it was worn but also how it influenced fashions, as much as the military style did in the eighteenth century, or even today. The parallels that emerged caused the viewer to rethink the cyclical reinvention of fashion.

The exhibition also included the Stuart version of contemporary ‘dressing up’ games. Where we would use dolls, the Stuarts used painted transparent mica overlays placed on top of a miniature painting. The entertainment of dressing up a woman who is thought to be Queen Henrietta Maria (wife of Charles I), would have given hours of fun. Cleverly our modern eye is also allowed this chance through the newer media of the mobile app, where you can place the same overlays on pictures of you or your friends. Technology lent a lot to this exhibition. Whether it was the use of such contemporary parallels as the overlays or the enhanced accessibility of the multimedia guides rather than the traditional recorded audio guides. However, these multimedia guides segregated the usual Queen’s Gallery goer from those technically able, and others that complained of simpler times. Yet the older demographic of such a gallery has been broken down by a “fashion” exhibition that attracts a younger audience to the Royal Collection.

Curator Anna Reynolds’s attention to detail elevates fashion into the canon of art history. Sir Anthony van Dyck’s portrait Charles I (1635-6) has the British monarch Charles in three positions, as a study for a bust, dressed in King’s attire with a lace cloak band around his neck. An actual lace cloak band from 1635 (The Bowes Museum) was placed next to it, allowing the viewer to examine the physical detail of the lace. This was accompanied on the multimedia guide by a video of how this type of lace would have been made. Using a variety of media made aspects such as these all the more significant and accessible.

By collaborating with the fashion designer Gareth Pugh, Reynolds promoted the “fashion” aspect by looking at the designer’s work on ruffs on the multimedia players and discussing his take on the style, movement and functionality of this period. Also, by involving Wimbledon College of Art in a fashion show at The Queen’s Gallery, they produced reinterpretations and historically accurate creations influenced by the exhibition, therefore, validating the fashion element of the exhibition by updating the past styles to contemporary fashion trends.

When people think of fashion publications, they may not think of Robe, an inexpensive In Fine Style keepsake that is a clever play on contemporary fashion in its resemblance to Glamour or Cosmopolitan. For the more studious, the exhibition catalogue looks at themes from the exhibition in more detail and gives greater perspectives on fashion of this time, developing what the exhibition does not have space to cover.

The paintings exhibited are all from the Royal Collection with the dress and textile articles (excluding the armour) on loan from a variety of fashion locations; The Bowes Museum, Museum of London and The Fashion Museum, Bath, to name but a few. It is the reinvention of these paintings that created a thought-provoking exhibition, placing the history of fashion in a new light to a wider audience. The Royal Collection was certainly out of their comfort zone, but refreshingly so.

In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion ran at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace from 10th May 2013 to 6th October, 2013. On 14th March 2014, it re-opened at The Queen’s Gallery, Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, where it will be on view until 20th July 2014.

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4 thoughts on “Exhibition Review: In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion

  1. I didn’t go to this exhibition because I thought it would be dull. Sounds like I may have been wrong. I love that they embraced lots of modern display ideas, even though a large chunk of the gallery’s demographic were dismayed by the idea of multimedia guides 🙂

  2. Nice review, Alex. You do a great job with conveying the atmosphere and organization of the exhibition. I enjoyed your reflection on the neoclassical architecture of the gallery!

  3. Pingback: Writing for Academic Journals | [In]Tangible: Redressing Fashion

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