Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A day at the gallery

Some weeks ago my mother came up from rusticating on her country estate, to do some shopping and pay some calls in The City. I have been terribly neglectful, a dreadful daughter, for not posting about it earlier - and I have been called to task for it! So, suitably chastened, I now share with you one of the highlights of her visit - a trip to the gallery.

I'd been tipped off by Miss Circa, there was to be an exhibition of regency clothing at the National Gallery of Victoria - Persuasion: fashion in the age of Jane Austen. As was tradition, Mum and I rendezvoused outside the gallery at 10am. It was a beautiful, clear winter's day - crisp, sunny and brisk. Mum had just come from a hearty turn around the gardens and rosy cheeked we deposited our coats at the hat check counter, did a quick powder of the nose and sauntered upstairs. We used to visit the gallery once a fortnight. It's such an amazing place with free exhibitions, talks and movie screenings. It's definitely a treat to get in there and turn your back on the big blockbuster exhibition and explore the many other things the gallery has to offer. We've sung along to World War II tunes with a Welsh choir, seen a documentary on the World Fair and made a mockery of an ancient and noble culture in the Aztec collection. Such is our familiarity with the place that we have almost a proprietorial air about it and, as such, do tend to swank around just a little bit.
These are mameluke sleeves. We do not like them.
The Regency clothing exhibition is a tiny, gem of a show. Some context: the Regency Era in England occured during the years 1811 - 1820, when potty King George III was deemed unfit to rule. His son, the rather wayward George IV was installed as Prince Regent, to rule in his father's stead. According to the grand tome Wikipedia, the Regency Era is often thought to extend 1837 as the distinctive fashions and character of the time lingered until that date. It's best thought of as the transition between Georgian and Victorian times. Napoleon is terrorising Europe, Frankenstein is written, the Prince Regent spends money by the bucket load, Beau Brummel escapes his creditors by fleeing to France, entrance to Almacks Assembly Rooms is covetted. Tattersalls is THE place to buy a matching pair of sweet greys to pull your phaeton, circulating libraries and the popular novel come into vogue, Brooks is the gentleman's club of choice, where you can fritter away large sums at whist and hazard in the gaming rooms (if you're a member), taking the water at Bath is de rigeur and Turnbridge Wells is the resort town of choice. Oh, and there was the little matter of the Industrial Revolution. And of course, it was in the Regency Era that our dear Jane publishes Pride and prejudice.

The exhibition looks at the clothing and fashion of this era and is informed by Austen's writings. She didn't include references to many contemporary events, apart from the inevitable appearance of the red coated soldier, but she did write about domestic details such as trimming hats and sewing shirts for her brother. History-wise it's all very interesting, but mum and I tend to take a shopping approach to such things: 'I'll take that one - and that one - and that to match'. Mum chose a rather daring white muslin gown, almost transparent so fine was the material, and a charming mixture of innocent austerity and seductiveness. (Rather dashing ladies used to damp down their gowns so that they would cling in all the right places!) She also chose what I think was a pelisse trimmed with goose down and with fine gold embroidery. I rather hankered after a rust coloured walking gown with Spanish leather slippers and a poke bonnet to match. The gowns are all teeny weeny and the craftsmanship remarkable - such tiny stitches! And of course, there is the costume worn by the handsome Mr Colin Firth in THAT swimming scene from P&P.

Art and culture is all very well, but these girls have baser needs. The BEST thing about the gallery is the tea room. Leave the family cafe downstairs to the hoi polloi! Trot upstairs to what used to be the frightfully expensive, noisy, fashionable cafe. It's now a tea room and my, what a haven it has become. Think what it's like to sip on the perfect cup of tea - ah! relaxing! all cares slipping away! Drop into a comfy chair in the tea room and this sensation immediately comes over you. Be served by a beaming and gracious African waiter. Resist the temptation to come over all Colonial when he brings your tea pot on a silver platter, with tea strainer and sugar cubes. (I don't know, maybe it was the exhibition, but I was starting to feel the proper lady!) And joy of joys! A three cup tea pot to your self. With a little something on the side. Of course, we went for the big something - a Dev tea with scones and jam and cream. Hurrah! somewhere in the city that serves a decent cup of tea. A heavenly, restful space. Most civilized. We also visited an exhibition on Chinese Imperial robes, but I'm not entirely sure how to work that bit in with Regency so stay tuned for the next red silken blog entry.

I miss my mum.

4 comments:

PROUD WOMAN said...

so evocative 'curvy kitty'... i could even taste the tea and savour the scones... makes me miss me nan...

Curvy Kitty said...

I miss my nana too. I've been thinking about blogging about my grandparents because they were so important in my life. And yes, I'm curvy! decided it was time to stop being paranoid...

PROUD WOMAN said...

yay - the woman's proud of herself and her curves - i luv it... it's about time!!!!!

Sailor Lily said...

I love the new moniker too!
I hope you celebrated with a purchase of truly plum lipstick and some more earrings.
Nana's:
I have my nan's seed pearl and sequinned purses, her pearl earrings and her short pale pink gloves.
I have photos of her dressed in long dresses with a sloe-gin smile...

lily