London Fashion Umbrella: Spotlight on Auction Catalogs Part 2

Last week, I re-posted a series of images I scanned from  a pair Christie’s Auction Catalogs from 1978 and 1981. The aim of the post was to challenge myself to do some research into fashion and costume images as represented in the auction catalogs; to get curious about some new topics; and to see what other questions the answers might raise.

I limited myself to fifteen minutes of internet research related to each image, and in some cases hit dead ends or decided it would be something worth reading up on someday. But overall, this was a satisfying excercise in internet research set in motion by the printed page.  For each image scan below, I offer a brief of summary of what I found out, and what I am still looking to discover.

From the 1981 Christie’s Catalog

The caption on this image of a Paul Poiret evening dress (1913), states that it was purchased by the Blum Design Lab at FIT for the record price of $5,500. I couldn’t find it via online search of FIT’s Museum collection, but I was thrilled to check out the worldwide fashion exhibitions link page they have put on their site.

Poret "sorbet dresses" in the collections of the Chicago History Museum (left) and the V&A (right)

Versions of this design, known as the “sorbet gown,” are also in the collections of the Chicago History Museum, and the V&A. A fashion plate by Georges LePape depicting the dress in the Gazette du Bon Ton is in the collection of the Irene Lewisohn Costume Reference Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Installation view of Poiret:King of Fashion (left) and illustration by Lepape in the Gazette du Bon Ton (right)

The fashion plate and dress were on display in 2007 as part of the Poiret: King of Fashion exhibit hosted by the Costume Institute, although the dress is not part of the Met’s collection. Perhaps it was on loan to them from FIT?

I was initially fascinated by this British World War I, leather flying jacket. I didn’t find it, or anything quite like it, in any UK museum collections, but it got me to check out the sites of the Imperial War Museum, and the Royal Air Force Museum.

Women of the Air Force exhibition at the RAF Museum

And although there is not much historical information on flight jackets online (but numerous sites that sell replicas) a book on flight jackets of World War 2, published by Schiffer Books is currently in print and available at Amazon.

The painting above, by Atkinson Grimshaw stood out to my eye for its depiction of a quintessentially 1870s bustle dress in a bold striped fabric. I am a great fan of Michel Pastoureau’s The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric, also recently recommended by Mellissa in a post in July, so thought this painting was a way in to exploring the prevalence of what Pastoreau termed the “hygienic” or “bathing” stripe.

A selection of 1870s striped dresses in museum and private collections, sourced via Google image search

I set out to find some actual 1870s striped bustle dresses, and images of this silhouette and fabrication from fashion plates of the period. It only took a few clicks to rustle up some images!

Next up, I looked into the fashions in Augustus John’s sensitive pencil studies from the late 1890s.


I recently became aware of Augustus John, referenced frequently in Elizabeth’s Wilson’s enlightening book Bohemians: The Glamorous Outcasts. John was a noted painter, draughtsman and Royal Academician, but was infamous for his unconventional private life, and his fascination with Romani and nomadic culture.

A selection of works by Augustus John that portray the women and fashions of his artistic circle

Images of Augustus John throughout his lifetime

The clothing depicted in these drawings, as worn by Dorelia, his mistress, and Ida Nettleship, his wife, reflect artistic or aesthetic dress of the turn of the century.

Aesthetic dress 1893-4, Liberty and Co, collection of the V&A, as depicted on Maggie May’s Costume History Pages

John himself was also known for his eccentric fashion style, and his works capture the poetry and beauty of both his times and his lifestyle.

In two weeks I’ll continue this post with Part 3, and bring you a look at the fashionable works of Giovanni Boldini, take a peek inside the wardrobe of Charles II, and tread on high heels through the world of pop artist Allen Jones. Until then, if  you spy an auction catalog in a dusty bookshop or library sale, go ahead and snap it up – there’s sure to be some keys to the history and culture of fashion within its yellowed pages.

Please comment and add your questions, links and thoughts. Let me know if you are an expert on one of these topics, if you work at a museum with related materials or if this post has lead you to research something new and exciting.


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