Watercolour of a ballgown

The subject wears a lavish low-cut gown with a large bustle adorned with lace and jewelry and carries a fan, likely attending a ball in the evening. According to Beeton's from 1865, there were three classes of balls: public, private and fancy-dress. Fancy-dress could be a public or private event. Public balls were “of various kinds, some being given to subserve local, charitable, or other purposes, and other having no raison d’être [reason for being], except that of enabling an evening to be pleasantly spent” (661). These balls were held from 11 pm to 4 am and hosted by the lady of the house.

The subject’s posture resembles the “Grecian bend” which sought to accentuate the rear by leaning the head and bust forward, and the hips backwards. Her hairstyle reflects the trend toward Ancient Grecian styles. An issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book And Magazine from 1871 states that women were “returning to classic styles of hairdressing, modeling their coiffures after those of antique statues. The most successful imitation is the beautiful head of Psyche, with the slightly waved hair low on the forehead…while clustered ringlets fall back from the top of the head.” A decorative Grecian-style vase sits on the mantle.


Currier & Ives, “‘The Grecian bend’ Fifth Avenue Style,” ca. 1868, lithograph, PGA - Currier & Ives--Grecian bend - Fifth Avenue style (A size) [P&P], Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.