22 November 2011

Victorian Shawls

Autumn has enfolded us, and this week’s drippy rain and damp have me reaching for my shawl, one of my most prized and useful possessions.  It is prized because I love the gold, brown, and plum colors, and I purchased it on a fun shopping trip with my best friend (she bought a black shawl embroidered with colorful flowers).  
And it is useful for the obvious reason: it is made of warm wool!  It also layers well under coats for very chilly days, packs lightly and serves as an elegant wrap on trips, and it is great for snuggling with a certain lap-loving kitty while watching movies.

Shawls were an essential part of a Victorian woman’s wardrobe, regardless of station, and it is certain that they were valued for their style as much as their warmth, especially the beautifully woven shawls of Kashmir.  Textile historian Meg Andrews has a very informative article on shawls on the Victoriana website.
We see many representations of shawls in Pre-Raphaelite art, from the humble Scottish woman (Effie Gray) in Millais’ "The Order of Release," 

   Tate Britain

to the tender maiden in Arthur Hughes' "April Love,"
Tate Britain

and the boldly patterned shawl wrapped provocatively around the hips of the young mistress in Hunt's "The Awakening Conscience."

Tate Britain

Real-life representations of Stunners in shawls can be found in Elizabeth Siddal's beautifully hand-colored photograph,

The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

 and in Jane Morris’ portrait session (draped over the chair), styled by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Victoria and Albert Museum

In The Wife of Rossetti (admittedly a dubious source), Violet Hunt recounts how the beleaguered Ford Maddox Brown went so far as to pawn his wife Emma's handsome Indian shawl, which she wore while posing for his painting "The Last of England" (the original oil on wood version).  Violet reported that Brown was "...always in difficulties down there in St. Pancras visiting pawnshops every three days or so with family plate, jewellery, rare engravings, papier mache ornaments and articles of clothing. Poor Emma's good Indian shawl was oftener with " My Uncle " or pinned round Dummy than on her back and only returned to her shoulders while she was sitting for The Last of England."

Private Collection

And inPre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Volume 2  by William Holman Hunt, Hunt gives an account of the daring rescue from fire of his painting “The Temple” by a fearless lady and her costly Indian shawl!  Hunt  painted himself sporting a gorgeous green paisley shawl as a belt in his 1867 self-portrait.
Galleria degli Uffizi

While not as popular today as they were in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, shawls are certainly still easily found and procured, and they can add an instant hit of stunner style to your ensemble.  Mavens of PRB fashion are even creating their own shawls.  Embroideress Kimberly Servello has posted about her beautiful pattern for an embroidered shawl (inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite overtones of A. S. Byatt's The Children's Book) at her blog Antique Embellishments.  And Ravelry knitter Roxanne Yeun has created a delicate and gorgeous pattern for the evocatively named Raphaelite Shawl.

In other Pre-Raphaelite news, a new movie, “Effie,” will star Dakota Fanning as Effie Gray (Ruskin) Millais!  

Fanning would not be my first pick for Effie, but the movie is written by Emma Thompson (and also stars Thompson and her husband, Greg Wise), which sounds very promising!  The filming began last month, and IMDB notes that it will have a 2012 release in the U. K.  I hope it comes to America.  Note the shawl worn by Fanning in this scene with Greg Wise as John Ruskin.  Much like the marriage of Effie and John, the making of this movie is not without scandal and turmoil.  Let us hope it is resolved fairly for all.


  1. Beautiful post and I love your shawl!!! The colors are perfect with your dark hair and porcelain complexion. Probably becomes a certain kitty too:)

    My mind went to the rust and berry toned paisley wrap sported by Lizzie in Desperate Romantics. Hadn't heard of this new movie - thanks so much for the heads up! And hey, aren't those fingerless gloves similar to the ones worn by Reese in Vanity Fair - wonder if it is the same costume designer?

  2. Oo, those do look like the same gloves! You are the mistress of movie costumes! I'm excited to see a big-screen PRB treatment. :-)
    I loved Lizzie's wrap, too. Great costumes in that show.

  3. And I see Hagrid is in it too!!!

  4. I really enjoyed this post. I have always loved wool paisley shawls and embroidered silk piano shawls too. They are not only beautiful worn but look wonderful as decoration in our homes too. Your blog is new to me, I will catch up on your other posts now! Thank you for sharing on facebook.