“Little Ladies: Victorian Fashion Dolls and the Feminine Ideal” at The Philadelphia Museum of Art

This fall, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present Little Ladies: Victorian Fashion Dolls and the Feminine Ideal, (November 11, 2018 – March 3, 2019, Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries, first floor) an exhibition starring four extraordinary dolls and their extravagant wardrobes. Known as Miss Fanchon, Miss G. Townsend, Miss French Mary, and Marie Antoinette, they were made in France in the 1860s and 1870s. The ultimate toys for privileged girls of this period, these dolls reflected the world of adult fashion, being fully equipped with miniature versions of the myriad garments, accessories, and other personal possessions of a well-to-do Victorian lady. As models of womanhood, these fashion dolls represented Victorian culture, when most believed that the aim of a girl’s life was to marry and raise children, and women were exhorted to dress well, follow the strictures of contemporary etiquette, and excel in their proper sphere of domestic and social duties.

The dolls, which measure between 18 to 22 inches in height and have painted bisque heads, leather bodies, and hair wigs, come with tiny accouterments that are notable for their number, detail, and variety. Miss Fanchon’s trunk, for example, contains over 150 objects, including eighteen dresses, and her gloves, which measure just over two inches tall, have all the features of full-size gloves, including gussets, points, and button closures.

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Three doll dresses from Miss Fanchon’s wardrobe, late 1860s-1870s, possibly France. Gift of Gardner H. Nicholas in memory of Mrs. Gardner H. Nicholas, 1922-58-9a—c, 14a,b,3.

The dolls are furnished with dresses for every occasion, from housework to fancy social events, as well as undergarments (chemises, drawers, petticoats, corsets, hoop skirts, bustles, and even tiny dress shields), outerwear, and accessories including bonnets, hair ornaments, jewelry, fans, and footwear.

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Miss Fanchon’s Gloves, late 1860s-1870s, France. Gift of Gardner H. Nicholas in memory of Mrs. Gardner H. Nicholas, 1922-58-109a,b. Doll’s Handbag, late 1860s-1870s, France. Gift of Mrs. William Hill Steeble and Martha B. Newkirk in memory of their mother, Mrs. I. Roberts Newkirk, 1977-189-4aa.

In addition to personal care items such as a toothbrushes, combs, and mirrors, two dolls are provided with clothes hangers (not yet common in full-size households), while the plethora of other objects includes tiny books, visiting cards, a photo album, sewing kit, sheet music, writing set, alarm clock, newspaper, opera glasses, and even roller skates.

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Doll’s Sewing Equipment, late 1860s-1870s, France. Gift of Edward Starr, Jr., 1976-58- 9Ah1-7 and Gift of Mrs. William Hill Steeble and Martha B. Newkirk in memory of their mother, Mrs. I. Roberts Newkirk, 1977-189-4y.

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