Saturday, February 20, 2021

Marie Antoinette in Pink: A Series of Portraits


A promotional still for Sofia Coppola's 'Marie Antoinette'

"They didn't have pink dresses in the 18th century."

Way back in 2006, when the Sofia Coppola film Marie-Antoinette was first released, I was then a teenager and only vaguely interested in the titular historical figure. I didn't even see the film in theaters. I did, however, look at photos of the costumes online--including a long, internet oldschool "picspam" post from a fashion-loving user on Livejournal which broke down the costumes with a seemingly endless string of dial-up killing photos and personal thoughts. 

One of these thoughts shared in this extensive post, and one that stuck with me until I was deep into my own foray in a passion for Marie Antoinette, was the idea that they simply didn't wear colors like pink in the 18th century. They wore browns, greens, deep blues, this user said--but pink? Very rare. Not even the more subtle pastel pinks from the film were available, this user claimed, because pink was not used in adult fashion during this time period and only rarely for children's fashion.

Like many historical misconceptions, this particular user was probably taught this (wholly false) "fact" from an outdated book or documentary--perhaps even an insistent teacher or another online blog. 

And even though I learned quite quickly that it was completely untrue, I still sometimes find myself surprised when I see paintings of 18th century women wearing pink. My brain seems to instantly jump back to 2006, to that Livejournal blog, and the thought always comes to mind: "Pink! Imagine that!"

Pink! Imagine that! A pink silk gown, circa 1775, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Marie Antoinette, for her part, not only wore pink but wore it fairly frequently. At least in her youth. According to Caroline Weber's 'The Queen of Fashion,' Marie Antoinette abandoned pink along with the other clothes that she seemed to be in the realm of youth around the time that she turned 30 years old.

Indeed, the last known portrait we have of Marie Antoinette wearing pink is dated to 1784--the year she was 29, and just a year before the infamous 'Affair of the Diamond Necklace' would put an undoubtedly public negative limelight on Marie Antoinette--and her wardrobe. 

But before Marie Antoinette seemingly renounced pink, it was a color that made a frequent appearance in her portraiture and wardrobe. I've collected a non-exhaustive list of some notable portraits of Marie Antoinette in pink over the years.

A miniature of Marie Antoinette as a child by an unknown artist. 18th century.

In this miniature portrait, a young Marie Antoinette is depicted wearing a soft pink gown and matching bonnet trimmed with lace. A garland flowers is wrapped carefully around her shoulder, matching the bouquet set in front of her, which she appears to be weaving into a garland with her tiny hands.

A miniature of a young Marie Antoinette by an unknown artist. 18th century.

 Marie Antoinette wears another soft shade of pink in this portrait, done when she looked to be a young teenager. The pink gown is trimmed with lace and light blue ribbons.


A portrait of Marie Antoinette by Jean-Étienne Liotard, 1762. 

Liotard's portrait of a 7-year old Marie Antoinette showcases the archduchess--then just one of many imperial daughters--wearing a bright, slightly salmon-pink gown bedecked with ruffles and bows. Notably, Liotard depicted Marie Antoinette's sisters Maria Carolina and Maria Amalia in pink as well.

A portrait of Marie Antoinette by Joseph Ducreux, 1770.[note: an older attribution attributes this portrait to Drouais, and dates it to 1773. The Ducreaux/1770 attribution is from the new RMN database.]


This charming portrait of Marie Antoinette as a newly-minted dauphine features a magenta pink gown that is adorned with matching ribbons and lace and surrounded by an ermine blue cloak with the French fleur-de-lys embroidered throughout. Marie Antoinette is unquestionably French in this portrait, with a fresh and charming gown surrounded by cloak that tells the viewer that she is, with her charming beauty and expensive gown, the dauphine.

A portrait of Marie Antoinette by François-Hubert Drouais, 1773. 

Drouais' 1773 portrait depicts Marie Antoinette in an embellished court gown that leaves no question as to the wealth and status of the paintings' subject. This pink gown features delicate lace ruffles, embroidery, and flowers weaved in with delicate silver tissue. The exquisiteness of the gown is accented by the truly extravagant necklace, which features large jewels that reflect the colors of the surrounding gown. I can't help but draw a parallel with this sumptuous gown and its artificial flowers inlaid with silver tissue and the portrait of a very young Marie Antoinette, a garland of real flowers draped on her tiny shoulders.


The coronation of Louis XVI Accompanied by Marie Antoinette
by a French artist, 18th century. 

This allegorical portrait depicts Marie Antoinette in a striking eye-catching pink gown that contrasts beautifully with the blue coronation robes of Louis XVI, along with a swoop of her own blue robe that you can see draped around her shoulder. The gown features an enormous, formal pannier that, combined with the sumptous of the gown's bodice and late details, makes it immediately clear who the woman next to Louis XVI is meant to be.

A portrait of Marie Antoinete from the school of François Dumont, circa late 1770s.


This simple miniature portrait of Marie Antoinette does not reveal much of the anglaise-style gown, other than a hint of salmon-pink gown to match the garland of flowers draped around her high hairstyle. In her Memoirs, Madame Campan would note that after she turned 25, Marie Antoinette began to worry that flowers were no longer becoming on her:

 "Madame Bertin having brought a wreath for the head and neck, composed of roses, the Queen feared that the brightness of the flowers might be disadvantageous to her complexion. She was unquestionably too severe upon herself, her beauty having as yet experienced no alteration; it is easy to conceive the concert of praise and compliment that replied to the doubt she had expressed. The Queen, approaching me, said, “I charge you, from this day, to give me notice when flowers shall cease to become me." .

A collage of pink fabric from the Gazette des atours de Marie Antoinette, 1782.  

The gazette des atours de Marie Antoinette was used by the woman in charge of the queen's wardrobe to keep track of orders fulfilled and paid. The 1782 gazette, located in the French national archives, reveals a wealth of information about the type of clothing Marie Antoinette ordered and wore during this year. Among the fabrics are several pink shades, including the four selected fabrics above.

A miniature of Marie Antoinette by François Dumont, 1784.      

This miniature is the last known portrait of Marie Antoinette wearing pink--although it is entirely possibly that there are later portraits that were simply lost. In this portrait, we can already see that Marie Antoinette has adopted the wider, less fanciful hairstyles that she began sporting after the turn of the decade. The gown itself is an excellent example of the shifting styles for the elite in this time period. Gone are the endless and expensive lace and embroidery embellishments. High quality fabric and a translucent fichu are instead prominent, highlighting a style that looks refined without being ostentatious.

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