Archives For History

Japonisme

Lindsey Howald Patton —  September 20, 2017 — Leave a comment

In 1853, an event in the world of foreign relations and commercial trade transformed Western art forever: Japan opened its borders. Wares from this once heavily isolated island in the Far East began to flow into Europe for the first time since 1633.

The effects on the West after rediscovering Japanese art and design—from painted porcelain to ukiyo-e woodcut prints, fans, bronzes, and silks—cannot be underestimated. It transformed the way great avant-garde artists like Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, and James Whistler approached color, subject, and perspective. It influenced interior design and architecture as Christopher Dresser, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and Frank Lloyd Wright adopted Japanese stylized nature motifs or the symmetrical simplicity of Japanese buildings and gardens. It pervaded Western textiles, sculpture, and performing arts.

This craze for Japanese art and design became known as Japonisme. The French critic Philippe Burty is said to have coined the term in the early 1870s, a few years after the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris. This was the first world’s fair in which Japan participated with a national pavilion, exhibiting its art to a wider number of people than had previously seen it—about nine million of them, according to attendance figures.

Japanese Satsuma Pavilion at the 1867 International Exposition in Paris.

Japanese Satsuma Pavilion at the 1867 International Exposition in Paris.

Postcard depicting the Japan Pavilion at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

Postcard depicting the Japan Pavilion at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

At left, the famous woodblock print by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai ("The Great Wave off Kanagawa," ca. 1829-32). At right, glazed earthenware Wave Bowl by British designer Christopher Dresser, ca. 1880, echoes the curve of Hokusai's wave.

At left, the famous woodblock print by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai (“The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” ca. 1829-32). At right, glazed earthenware Wave Bowl by British designer Christopher Dresser, ca. 1880, echoes the curve of Hokusai’s wave.

At left, a print by great Japanese ukiyo-e printmaker Ando Hiroshige seems to have provided a reference for American architect Frank Lloyd Wright's choice to frame his elevation drawing of the Winslow House in River Forest, Illinois, with draping vegetation in 1910.

At left, a print by great Japanese ukiyo-e printmaker Ando Hiroshige seems to have provided a reference for American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s choice to frame his elevation drawing of the Winslow House in River Forest, Illinois, with draping vegetation in 1910. Image via the Smithsonian Magazine.

Japonisme and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

A photograph of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901) in Japanese garb.

A photograph of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901) in Japanese garb.

Like many of his contemporaries in Paris, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose posters are currently on view at the Driehaus Museum in the exhibition L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters (through January 7), fell in love with Japanese art and started his own collection of inexpensive ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Flat areas of color, strong outlines, cropped compositions, and asymmetry or oblique angles—all characteristic features of ukiyo-e—began to feature prominently in Lautrec’s posters.

When depicting the performers of Paris’s bohemian Montmartre, Lautrec looked to Japanese kabuki theatre prints for his exaggerated colors, contours, and facial expressions. Kabuki is a kind of classical Japanese drama combining dance, music, and even acrobatics. A kabuki theatre print would portray one actor in full costume and makeup from the play, and audience members clamored to collect their favorites. Neither idealistic nor realistic, these prints revealed, even unflatteringly at times, the performer’s true self just behind the character he played. Likewise in Lautrec’s images of his muse Jane Avril, the avant-garde French dancer he knew well from the Moulin Rouge, we do not see a photographic representation of her looks or performance. Instead, Lautrec focused on the essence of her personality and so-called “explosive” dance style. In one famous poster from 1899 (below), he wraps a multicolored snake around her body, suggesting her sinuous movements.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril, 1899. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864–1901). Jane Avril, 1899. The Richard H. Driehaus Collection.

 

An example of a kabuki theatre print. Kabuki Actor Ōtani Oniji III as Yakko Edobei in the Play The Colored Reins of a Loving Wife (Koi nyōbō somewake tazuna), by Tōshūsai Sharaku (Japanese, active 1794–95), 1794. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, JP2822.

An example of a kabuki theatre print. Kabuki Actor Ōtani Oniji III as Yakko Edobei in the Play The Colored Reins of a Loving Wife (Koi nyōbō somewake tazuna), by Tōshūsai Sharaku (Japanese, active 1794–95), 1794. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, JP2822.

Side-by-side images showing how Henri de Toulouse Lautrec imitated the compositions and postures he found in Japanese kabuki theatre prints. (Left, "May Belfort" by Lautrec, 1895. Right, one print from a series called "Three Kabuki Actors  Playing Hanetsuki" by Utagawa Kuniyasu (Japanese, 1794–1834), ca. 1823. Both from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 41.12.1 and 2001.715.4a–c.

Side-by-side images showing how Henri de Toulouse Lautrec imitated the compositions and postures he found in Japanese kabuki theatre prints. (Left, “May Belfort” by Lautrec, 1895. Right, one print from a series called “Three Kabuki Actors Playing Hanetsuki” by Utagawa Kuniyasu (Japanese, 1794–1834), ca. 1823. Both from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 41.12.1 and 2001.715.4a–c.

 

Japonisme at the Driehaus Museum

The vogue for all things Japanese wasn’t only a European phenomenon. It also reached the United States, influencing great artists, collectors, and tastemakers on both coasts. Here in Chicago in the late 1800s, Samuel and Mathilda Nickerson, the wealthy family who commissioned the mansion that is today the Driehaus Museum, especially favored the Far East in their private art collection. They donated that collection to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1900, the largest gift that museum had received since its founding in 1879, and the catalogue lists 56 Japanese prints and paintings (including works by great ukiyo-e masters Hokusai, KuniyoshiUtamaro, and Harunobu), nearly 100 Japanese swords, a Japanese Buddhist shrine, 27 Japanese pipes and pouches, over 100 Japanese carvings in ivory and wood, and nearly 200 pieces of Chinese and Japanese porcelain and pottery (including three stoneware tea caddies, here, here, and here, currently on display in the Art Institute’s Asian galleries).

Artist unknown, Japanese, Meiji period. Patinated cast bronze vessel (center) and two bronze phoenix-form candelabras (at sides), c. 1893. Original to the Nickerson House. Photo by John Faier, (c) The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Artist unknown, Japanese, Meiji period. Patinated cast bronze vessel (center) and two bronze phoenix-form candelabras (at sides), c. 1893. Original to the Nickerson House. Photo by John Faier, (c) The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

They also incorporated Japanese design in their home. In the Smoking Room of the Nickerson Mansion, as part of an eclectic room design that also features elements from ancient mythology and the Italian Renaissance, a chrysanthemum-studded Lincrusta frieze encircles the upper section of the walls. Painted in rich and exotic shades of red, gold, and black, it mimics the flatness and stylization of Japanese nature patterns. Upstairs, in the Nickersons’ only son Roland’s former bedroom, original English Minton tiles surround the fireplace in a delicate display of flowering cherry blossoms—a classic homage to springtime in Japan.

You can still visit the intimate Smoking Room and Roland’s bedroom at the Driehaus Museum today to see this living testament to the influence of Japanese culture on Gilded Age style.

Japanesque Lincrusta frieze in the Smoking Room at the Driehaus Museum.

Japanesque Lincrusta frieze in the Smoking Room at the Driehaus Museum.

 

Detail of the Japanesque fireplace surround tiles in Roland Nickerson's bedroom in the Driehaus Museum. Photo by Michael Monar, (c) The Driehaus Museum.

Detail of the Japanesque fireplace surround tiles in Roland Nickerson’s bedroom in the Driehaus Museum. Photo by Michael Monar, (c) The Driehaus Museum.

Resources
“Japonisme.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/jpon/hd_jpon.htm
“Japonisme.” Tate London. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/j/japonisme
“East Meets West – Japonisme and Impressionism.” The Art Institute of Chicago. http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/my/east-meets-west-japonisme-and-impressionism/13453
“Japonism.” The Van Gogh Museum. https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/prints/subject/5772/japonism
“Style Guide: Influence of Japan.” Victoria and Albert Museum. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/s/style-guide-influence-of-japan/
“Second Paris International Exposition of 1867.” National Diet Library, Tokyo. http://www.ndl.go.jp/exposition/e/s1/1867.html

 

This poster for Joseph Bardou Company, or JOB, a Parisian manufacturer of cigarette papers, unabashedly celebrates the sensuous delights of smoking. The young woman’s eyes are closed with pleasure as the lighted cigarette sends a smoky arabesque curving around the image. Her hair cascades around her shoulders and arms, dominating the picture frame. Her white dress, low-cut and gently loose around her body, communicates a freedom only a few women would have enjoyed in the 1890s.

The poster designer, Alphonse Mucha, was a Czech-born artist in his late 30s. He moved to Paris in 1887 seeking fame. There he mastered French Art Nouveau, an avant-garde style that stretched and elongated decorative lines and text into sinouous, vine-like tendrils that seem straight out of a fairy tale. In Mucha’s posters of women—from big-star performers like Sara Bernhardt to imaginary parisiennes—he often applied that Art Nouveau style to their wild, flowing, abundant tresses. These glamorous, larger-than-life posters helped define the place of the female in advertising in the industry’s earliest days.

Job is probably one of Mucha’s best known advertising posters. And it was radical at the time in its depiction of this glamorous woman enjoying freely an activity once reserved for men alone.

There is plenty of evidence that in ancient times, women might have smoked as openly as men. Tobacco was an integral part of Mayan religious rituals, for example. But sometime between then and the 17th century, female smokers in France, Britain, and America came to be seen as, at best, backwards or socially deviant, and at worst, vulgar and immoral. Appalachian mountain women, Breton peasants, or lower-class prostitutes smoked pipes; uneducated factory workers used snuff; and eccentric Bohemians smoked little cigars. In reaction to these stereotypes, a widespread social attitude dictated that respectable women shouldn’t dare associate themselves, however indirectly, with this supposedly unladylike activity. Wild claims about smoking abounded—it gave women mustaches, some said; it made them go insane; said others. In some American school districts, female teachers could be fired for smoking, while no such prohibition existed for men. In 1908, New York passed a law outright prohibiting women from smoking in public.

Women who did smoke—or wore pants, or worked, or rode bicycles—were satirized in cartoons in France and America as the ‘femmes nouvelles,’ or new women. It wasn’t a compliment. These women were breaking down boundaries that held rigid ideas of masculinity and femininity in place, and not everyone welcomed these bold changes.

Left: Postcard depicting a woman in the French region of Brittany, smoking a pipe. Right: Historic photograph of a woman in the Appalachian region of the United States, smoking a pipe.

Left: Postcard depicting a woman in the French region of Brittany, smoking a pipe. Right: Historic photograph of a woman in the Appalachian region of the United States, smoking a pipe.

French lithograph (1840) showing women playing billiards and smoking with men. Based on the time period, this image would indicate they are prostitutes or morally loose women.

French lithograph (1840) showing women playing billiards and smoking with men. Based on the time period, this image would indicate they are prostitutes or morally loose women.

Satirical cartoons about women smoking often indicated a deeper fear about gender roles. Here, a man does laundry while caring for the baby, while his wife and other women women smoke, play cards, and discuss the workday ahead.

Satirical cartoons about women smoking often indicated a deeper fear about gender roles. Here, a man does laundry while caring for the baby, while his wife and other women women smoke, play cards, and discuss the workday ahead.

Cartoon from the 1890s showing a bohemian woman riding a bicycle and smoking a cigarette, wreaking havoc. The sentiment is that women would not be able to handle the same freedoms as men, and would endanger society.

Cartoon from the 1890s showing a bohemian woman riding a bicycle and smoking a cigarette, wreaking havoc. The sentiment is that women would not be able to handle the same freedoms as men, and would endanger society.

 

But in Job, Alphonse Mucha makes smoking seem—well, sexy. This is no old-fashioned rural woman puffing on a little pipe, but an illustrious beauty enjoying a rebellious pleasure. In the early years of the 20th century, when women began agitating for equal rights, smoking—a male activity heretofore held back from women—became a way to subvert those oppressive social norms. By the 1920s smoking was seen as a chic, enlightened activity claimed by independent women who loved to socialize, dance in clubs, and enjoy their freedoms.

Other advertisements and photographs appeared around the same time, many of which were ushered along by a burgeoning tobacco industry that saw women as an untapped market with great potential. These helped continue to transform the smoking taboo into an act that proclaimed your independence, eased stress, and helped you lose weight. In 1929, Lucky Strike Cigarettes hired ten beautiful debutantes to walk, lit cigarettes boldly in hand, in New York’s Easter parade. Others hired famous admirable women, like Amelia Earnhardt, for advertisements. Moves like this followed Mucha’s Job posters in a radical redefining of what smoking could be for women—not deviant, but glamorous.

 

Another poster for Job cigarette papers by Alphonse Mucha, this one from 1897.

Another poster for Job cigarette papers by Alphonse Mucha, this one from 1897.

Aleardo Villa, "Cigarrillos Paris: Son Los Mejores."

Aleardo Villa, “Cigarrillos Paris: Son Los Mejores.”

A 1900 advertisement for Ogden's Guinea Gold Cigarettes, showing a woman on a bicycle in a more positive light. This New Woman is empowered and confident.

A 1900 advertisement for Ogden’s Guinea Gold Cigarettes, showing a woman on a bicycle in a more positive light. This New Woman is empowered and confident.

A highly successful 1929 campaign for Lucky Strikes promoted cigarettes as a way to lose weight.

A highly successful 1929 campaign for Lucky Strikes promoted cigarettes as a way to lose weight.

Audrey Hepburn (1929 - 1993) smoking using a long, slender cigarette holder. The actress and icon smoked heavily from the age of 15, and her drinking and smoking habits were seen as part of her sexual allure.

Audrey Hepburn (1929 – 1993) smoking using a long, slender cigarette holder. The actress and icon smoked heavily from the age of 15, and her drinking and smoking habits were seen as part of her sexual allure.

 

Today, of course, we have a new smoking taboo in our culture. But rather than being based on an arbitrary idea of what is appropriately feminine and masculine, this taboo is based on medical research showing the devastating health effects smoking has on all of us—men and women alike.

 

Resources
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Women and Smoking,” 2001 Mar. A Report of the Surgeon General, Office on Smoking and Health.
Daily Mail, “Tobacco Traces on Mayan Flask Proves Race Did Smoke,” Gavin Allen, 11 January 2012.
Mucha Foundation, Poster for ‘Job’ Cigarette Paper (1896).
POPSUGAR, The History of Women and Smoking, Colleen Barrett, 11 June 11 2012
Stanford School of Medicine, Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising

 

 

The Broadside

The history of the poster starts with black-and-white broadsides in the 1600s, which evolved in the wake of the printing press. These one-sided sheets of paper were a quick way to mass-distribute information. Shopkeepers propped product announcements in their windows; governments called people to action in the event of war; public decrees were quickly distributed. A wanted poster of the old American West would be a classic example of a broadside. The Declaration of Independence is also a famous example; printed as a broadside, news of the victorious revolution spread quickly throughout the American colonies.

dunlap_broadside

The first 150-200 copies of the Declaration of Independence were broadsides, printed by John Dunlap of Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.

chi-fire-broadside

This broadside announced a meeting to take action against the Great Chicago Fire on October 9, 1871. Image via the Chicago History Museum.

A broadside from the 1800s, showing addition of a single color and illustrations to highlight the informational text.

A broadside from the 1800s, showing addition of a single color and illustrations to highlight the informational text.

A Turning Point

Broadsides were an ephemeral form—easily printed, distributed for quick impact, read for the information they contained, and then tossed away. But as time passed and technology advanced, the broadside evolved. Typefaces got a little more interesting—larger, more decorative. Images were added to grab a viewer’s attention.

And then a turning point came in the 19th century in Paris. The poster transcended its role as attention-getting carrier of practical information. It became beautiful. It became desirable. It transformed the gray urban commute into a pleasurable stroll punctuated by cheerful color. It became the passion of a group of aficionados who avidly collected these posters, preserving them from the short life cycle of ephemera. In short, the poster became art.

So how did it happen?

There are a number of factors: the rise of the middle class in Paris with more expendable income for collecting, advances in technology that allowed for larger and more complex poster designs, a multicultural milieu with artists of all types mingling and sharing ideas in Paris’s bohemian neighborhoods, a city redesign that included street furniture designed specifically for posters, and more.

But one of the central factors is the reinvention of lithography, the process by which many posters were made before they became fine art.

And Jules Chéret is the one who reinvented it. Chéret is widely known as the father of the modern poster, and it is in his footsteps that the rest of the major artists in the Driehaus Museum exhibition, L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters, followed.

Jules Chéret (French, 1836 - 1932)

Jules Chéret (French, 1836 – 1932)

Jules Chéret

Chéret was born in 1836, the son of a French typesetter in Paris. He briefly studied drawing, then started training at age 13 in lithography, working as an apprentice and journeyman in Paris and London for 17 years. He got his break when perfume manufacturer Eugène Rimmel hired him as a designer. Soon after he started his own lithographic printing firm in Paris, firmly believing that lithography would soon replace his father’s letterpress industry as the premier printing technique.

Card for Eugène Rimmel, designed by Jules Chéret.

Card for Eugène Rimmel, designed by Jules Chéret.

Jules Chéret's first major poster commission was this one for Jacques Offenbach for his 1858 production of "Orpheus in the Underworld."

Jules Chéret’s first major poster commission was this one for Jacques Offenbach for his 1858 production of “Orpheus in the Underworld.”

Lithography

Lithography wasn’t new. It was invented in 1798 by a Bavarian actor and playwright, Alois Senefelder, to reproduce his scripts. Senefelder’s printing process is simple to understand if you keep in mind that oil and water don’t mix. To make a lithograph, you take a greasy or waxy crayon and draw images or words onto a large, smooth limestone surface. Then you douse the surface of the stone in water and roll it with ink. The greasy drawing repels the water and soaks up the ink, while the wet areas without any drawing repel the ink. So when you press the stone—with considerable force—onto a piece of paper, it transfers the inky images and text onto that paper.

If you wanted a color lithograph, also called a chromolithograph, things got a little more complicated. You had to prepare as many stones as you want colors. It was laborious and the stones were incredibly heavy, so lithographs remained pretty much monochromatic well into the 1860s. If color was utilized at all, it was a little splash as a highlight to the heavily crammed text, and not a core part of the visual design.

litho-stone

An artist drawing on a lithographic stone.

litho-designhistory

Illustration of printing a lithograph. Image via DesignHistory.org.

 

The Artistic Poster

Given the lack of design consideration, low quality, and disposability of earlier commercial lithographs, lithography got a reputation as an unworthy artistic medium. To say that you were making lithographic art in the 19th century would be like printing a full-page advertisement in a glossy beauty magazine today and calling it your chosen artistic medium. It isn’t impossible. It would simply be difficult for many to imagine elevating this medium we associate with makeup advertisements to the realm of museum collections. It was the same with lithography. It suffered from its association with quick and commercial information. There was nothing daring, original, or beautiful about lithography.

That is, until Jules Chéret. Visionary artists often take an idea or form that already exists and transform it so completely that it appears new and original. This was the case with Chéret, who appeared unconstrained by the negative associations with lithography and decided to use it for colorful, cheerful, and vivaciously French artworks. In 1884 Chéret organized the first group poster exhibition in art history, ushering in an era of these images being accepted—and enthusiastically celebrated—as fine art, and in 1886 he published the first book on poster art. Chéret would also eventually work with printing houses that catered to collectors who wanted poster art for their own.

Chéret made advances to lithography in the mid-19th century that others would soon imitate. He designed his own lettering, taking advantage of the fact that the lithograph, as opposed to the printing press, allows for the artist to draw freehand on the stone’s surface. The text therefore became a part of the poster’s overall design. Chéret also reduced the amount of text, leaning heavily on the image to communicate about a product or event. He also simplified the chromolithographic process by using three primary colors: three stones inked with red, yellow, and blue. By making these colors semi-transparent, he could layer them and create different shades. Finally, Chéret approached the limestone in a painterly way, using animated brush lines, crosshatch, stipple, soft watercolor-like washes, and areas of flat color. A fellow chromolithographer, André Mellerio, heralded this fine art of the street, calling the new color poster “the distinctive art of our time.”

Chéret’s creative advances transformed the world of advertising. His posters featured cheerful, lightly clad, often eight-feet tall beauties who became known as Chérettes. Chéret’s women were inspired by the well-heeled, garden-party women of Rococo paintings, a glorious age in France immortalized by artists like Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Jean-Antoine Watteau. These alluring women showcased the pleasures of Paris to tantalizing effect, including music halls, theatres, performers, beverages, medicines, and lamp oil.

Folies-Bergère: La Loïe Fuller, 1893.

Folies-Bergère: La Loïe Fuller, 1893.

Yvette Guilbert: Au Concert Parisien, 1891.

Yvette Guilbert: Au Concert Parisien, 1891.

Théâtrophone, 1890.

Théâtrophone, 1890.

Chéret was recognized in his own time as ‘the king of the poster’. One art critic remarked that “there was a thousand times more talent in the smallest of Chéret’s posters than in the majority of the pictures on the walls of the Paris Salon.” He was often imitated, and an entire generation of artists would follow and build on his work. One of them was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. To acknowledge his debt to the older artist, Lautrec sent Chéret a copy of every poster he produced.

After creating more than a thousand posters in Paris, Chéret retired to Nice in the south of France, where a museum was established in his honor in 1928, four years before the artist died at the age of 96. The Musée des Beaux-Arts Des Nice, as it’s called today, still stands as a testament to the artist’s transformation of the world of fine art.

 

 

 

Resources
Eskilson, Stephen. Graphic Design: A New History
Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Jules Cheret.” Updated July 21, 2009. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jules-Cheret
Graphic Design History’s “History of Posters” series, designhistory.org
Hamilton, Sarah Elizabeth. From Publicity to Intimacy: The Poster in Fin-de-siecle Paris
Ives, Colta. “Lithography in the Nineteenth Century,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan The L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters, essay by Jeannine Falino. The Richard H. Driehaus Museum. The Monacelli Press, New York, 2017.
Museum of Modern Art, gallery labels on works by Jules Chéret (moma.org/collection)
Museum of Art. October 2004. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/lith/hd_lith.htm
“A Brief History of Broadsides,” Tavistock Books, blog.tavisbooks.com/?p=12

During the Gilded Age, the American traditions of New Year’s Eve started to transition from the folk celebrations of immigrants to the elaborate soirees we are more familiar with today, especially for those of a certain class.

New Year’s Eve in Chicago and at the Nickerson Mansion

Chicagoans in the Gilded Age celebrated New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in a similar manner to the way many Americans do today.  The week leading up to New Year’s was full of entertainment, with society leaders like Bertha Palmer and Matilda Nickerson hosting grand New Year’s Eve events where guests danced in the New Year to music played by Johnny Hand’s Orchestra, Gilded Age Chicago’s favorite bandleader.

Johnny Hand conducting his orchestra. Chicago Daily Tribune, “Round About Chicago: Johnny Hand,”. September 15, 1910. The paper noted, “Nobody that was anybody could think of  giving a party until they knew if they could get Johnny Hand to play.”

Johnny Hand conducting his orchestra. Chicago Daily Tribune, “Round About Chicago: Johnny Hand,” September 15, 1910. The paper noted, “Nobody that was anybody could think of giving a party until they knew if they could get
Johnny Hand to play.”

In 1890, the Nickerson’s “Marble Palace” was the site of a lavish New Year’s Eve Reception. The guest list of over sixty-five included the children of neighbors and other prominent Chicago families from both the North and South sides.  The Nickersons followed the common practice of featuring elaborate floral arrangements at receptions.  The marble hall was “decorated with calla lilies” and “the centre-piece on the dining-room table consisted of a bank of delicate pink carnations on a background of maiden-hair ferns.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Children Make Merry,” January 1, 1891).

The Chicago Daily Tribune, "Mrs. Nickerson's Party," January 1, 1891.

The Chicago Daily Tribune, “Mrs. Nickerson’s Party,” January 1, 1891.

Dressing Up for New Year’s Eve 

Just as it is customary today to wear something with plenty of glitz and glamour, guests also wore fashion-forward designs in the Gilded Age to New Year’s Eve events. Men wore formal “white tie” dress with black tailcoats while women donned glamorous evening gowns often designed by the preeminent House of Worth in Paris, and received great attention in the society pages of the newspapers.  According to one account, Bertha Palmer wore a “black velvet gown, the bodice studded with diamonds, and a diamond tiara in her hair” at her New Year’s Eve cotillion (“In the Society World,” January 6, 1901).

Left: Cover of Ladies Home Journal from January 1901 Right: Bertha Honoré Palmer. From Address and Reports of Mrs. Potter Palmer, 1894.

Left: Cover of Ladies Home Journal from January 1901 Right: Bertha Honoré Palmer.
From Address and Reports of Mrs. Potter Palmer, 1894.

New Year’s Eve at the Mansions of Newport

Newport, Rhode Island was home to some of the most fabulous mansions of the Gilded Age.  Although initially established as a quiet summer retreat for the newly-wealthy, as the nineteenth century progressed, Newport became a center for the affluent to gather not only during the summer but also during the winter holiday season.  New York society elites, like the Vanderbilts and Astors, threw lavish New Year’s Eve receptions and hosted sumptuous New Year’s Day events reflective of their newly established social status.  Newport celebrations continued to rise in prominence and eventually society reporters began travelling from New York City to cover these spectacular events. While across the nation prominent families of the Gilded Age hosted exclusive and extravagant New Year’s events, Newport was one of the most popular destinations.

Celebrating With Champagne

When attending a New Year’s Eve reception, guests enjoyed novel party favors, refreshments featuring the “delicacies of the season,” a light super (often featuring en vogue French cuisine) at midnight, and plenty of champagne.

moet-chandon

Chicago Daily Tribune, “Moët & Chandon,” December 16, 1901.

French Champagne became a popular drink among wealthy Americans who enjoyed the perceived sophistication of the drink and its intoxicating effects. Beginning in the 1870s, Americans consumed champagne in “astonishing” large quantities and would often pay exorbitant prices for the imported beverage (champagne was subject to import taxes).  In 1894, for example, Americans imported over 70,000 cases of champagne, a significantly greater amount than just twenty-five years before (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Champagne Drank in This Country,” February 24, 1894). Etiquette manuals gave advice on how to host a “bachelor” Champagne supper, and champagne was the drink of choice for celebratory toasts- including on New Year’s Eve. French Brands such as Moët & Chandon catered to the luxury market, with advertisements persuading Chicagoans that the “ablest excerpts” pronounced the brand to be “without question, far superior in quality to any other brands” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Moët & Chandon ‘White Seal’ Champagne,” May 1, 1900).

Alphonse Mucha, Menu, c. 1899, The Richard H. Driehaus Collection. For more information on this work by Mucha, visit L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters, opening February 11, 2017.

Alphonse Mucha, Menu, c. 1899, The Richard H. Driehaus Collection. For more information on this work by Mucha, visit L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters, opening February 11, 2017.

New Year’s festivities during the Gilded Age reflected the evolving expectations of celebrations, from the lavish receptions of the wealthy to the café and dancehall revelries of the middle and working classes.  Although at the time celebrating with champagne would have been reserved for society’s elite, champagne is a nearly obligatory part of New Year’s Eve rituals today. We still associate champagne with social status, sophistication, and prosperity. So when you raise your glass of champagne to usher in the New Year, you are making a gesture that is a nod to the past, while also celebrating the future New Year and all of its possibilities.

Sources:

Top image: Wikipedia

Chertoff, Emily. “How Rich People Celebrated New Year’s Eve in the Gilded Age.” The Atlantic. (2012). http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/12/how-rich-people-celebrated-new-years-eve-in-the-gilded-age/266663/.

Glover, Ellye Howell. “Dame Curtsey’s” Book of Etiquette. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1909.

Sengstock, Charles A., Jr. That Toddlin’ Town: Chicago’s White Dance Bands and Orchestras, 1900-1950. Chicago and Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Chicago Daily Tribune, "Suppression of Vice: Organizing the Chicago Branch," September 27, 1879.

Chicago Daily Tribune, “Suppression of Vice: Organizing the Chicago Branch,” September 27, 1879.

“The object, purpose, and aim in view of the Society and its branches, as set forth in the constitution and in the brief but pointed talk which followed the making of the report, were to put down the vile traffic in obscene books, pictures, etc., by prosecuting those responsible for it either under the Revised Statutes or the State laws. The extent of the evil, which has shown its ugly head with peculiarly refreshing boldness of late, was dwelt upon to some extent, and the movement met with the unqualified moral and financial support of all present. The constitution was unanimously adapted…”

Right: Original ink drawing for "A Dreadful Predicament" by Samuel D. Ehrhart. Left: Anthony Comstock. By Photographer unknown; author of book Charles Gallaudet Trumbull [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Right: Original ink drawing for “A Dreadful Predicament” by Samuel D. Ehrhart.
Left: Anthony Comstock. By Photographer unknown; author of book Charles Gallaudet Trumbull [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Puck & Anthony Comstock

In the southwest corner of the “Social Commentary” Gallery of With a Wink and a Nod there is a small, unassuming cartoon featuring a woman in “a dreadful predicament” and the lurking figure of Anthony Comstock. The cartoon pokes fun at the woman’s hesitation in bending over to tie her shoelace- a rather innocuous activity that she is afraid Comstock will interpret as an action with lascivious intent. In 1873, Congress passed the Comstock Law, which was the first anti-obscenity statute to be adopted at the federal level. In effect, the law made it illegal to send “obscene, lewd or lascivious” materials and information through the mail.

Anthony Comstock was the United States Postal Inspector, which gave him the authority to enforce the Comstock obscenity law. He also became the leader of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice- and a notorious public figure. He was not just an arbitrator of morality, he had the force of law and order on his side. We may share in Puck’s amusement at the thought of Comstock over-stepping his purview as a regulator of morality, but the Comstock Act did have far-reaching (and even tragic) consequences. Not satisfied with the work being done in his native East Coast, Comstock and the Society for the Suppression of Vice set their sights on Chicago, a city with a notorious reputation.  One of the missions of the Chicago Branch of the Society of the Suppression of Vice was to “prosecut[e] those responsible” for the “vile traffic in obscene books, pictures, etc.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Suppression of Vice,” Sept. 27, 1879).

Souvenir Map of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Jackson Park, 1893. Hermann Heinz Source: Chicago Historical Society (ICHi-27750)

Chicago first drew Comstock’s attention during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, where he was (in particular) horrified by the danse du ventre famously performed by “Little Egypt” at the Egyptian Theater.

comstockblogimage2

Left: Portrait of Ida Craddock. Circa 1900. Source www.idacraddock.org.
Right: Little Egypt, the stage name of dancer Fahreda Mahzar. By The original uploader was Ratwod at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Anthony Comstock faces Ida Craddock in Chicago

While Comstock found so-called belly dancing to be indecent and obscene, author, High Priestess of Yoga, and leader of “peculiar religion” Miss Ida C. Craddock publicly and passionately supported the dance. In fact, Craddock supported many things that Comstock considered indecent- and he prosecuted her to the full extent of the law for “having circulated improper literature through the United States mails” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Author Ends her Life,” October 18,1902).

Craddock was arrested in Chicago in 1899 and spent time in prison.  Instead of backing down from the expression of her beliefs, she continued to publish literature and speak to the public about sexual education. Comstock personally arrested her again in 1902, and when she was again convicted, Craddock decided to become a martyr for the cause of freedom of expression.

Ida Craddock’s court battles with Anthony Comstock ultimately helped shape the interpretation of the First Amendment, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press. In 1906, Theodore Schroeder, an attorney for the Free Speech League of New York, was set to debate Anthony Comstock at the Purity conference in Chicago. Comstock did not show, but Schroeder spoke on behalf of free speech to the crowd anyway.  Echoing Ida Craddock, Schroeder argued for the “development of healthy mindedness through sexual education” instead of the current suppression of anything deemed “obscene.” (Chicago Daily Tribune, “Purity Debate One-Sided,” October 11, 1906).

Puck, "A Dreadful Predicament," vol. 12, no. 570, February 8, 1888.

Puck, “A Dreadful Predicament,” vol. 12, no. 570, February 8, 1888.

“O, dear me, what shall I do? My shoe string has come untied, and there’s that dreadful Anthony Comstock just behind me!”

Anthony Comstock saw Gilded Age cities like Chicago as tarnished, and sought to suppress anything that continued to mar the city’s character. Ida Craddock, on the other hand, seemed to recognize that there was greater danger in suppression than expression. Unlike Puck, which just scoffed at the absurdity of the Comstock Law, she worked to combat it.

 

Further Reading/Viewing

For more on Ida Craddock and her crusade: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/15/131878498/a-wanton-woman-the-life-of-ida-c-craddock.

For a motion-picture filmed by Thomas Edison of a “belly dancer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxZoXJBILbc.

In the early decades of the 20th century, the fictional Crawley family of Downton Abbey® hosted grand dinners and fretted about the Great War. At the same time, the real Fisher family was doing the same—right here in this Gilded Age mansion the Driehaus Museum calls ‘home.’

In many ways the Fishers were foils to the Crawleys of Downton. The Fishers lived in America, the Crawleys in England. The Fishers dwelled in an urban palace built in 1883 by another prominent family, while the Crawleys inherited their ancient country estate from a long line of genteel landowners. Lucius George Fisher had everything to gain from the Industrial Revolution, the technical inventions of which made his career in the paper industry soar; Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, saw his own way of life rapidly disappearing in the wake of new changes.

And yet the Fishers and Crawleys shared the same world. Inspired by the era of our current Dressing Downton exhibition, we’ve been digging into our archives for this special blog post in order to share, for the first time, the story of the Nickerson Mansion’s second owners who lived here between 1900 and 1916.

 …

Illustration of the mouth of the Chicago River in 1831. From Chicago: A Biography, The University of Chicago Press.

The mouth of the Chicago River in 1831. Illustration from Chicago: A Biography, The University of Chicago Press.

Lumberyards on the Chicago River, about 1870.

Lumberyards on the Chicago River, about 1870. From Chicago: A Biography, The University of Chicago Press.

 

Chicago appeared out of nowhere.

As one New England newspaper put it back in the mid-1800s, it seemed to rise “like an exhalation from the morass upon which it was built.” Lucius George Fisher, Sr., the father of the man who would one day purchase the Nickerson House, came from Vermont to see the spectacle in 1837. There were just a few thousand pioneering citizens in the brand new city then, and it was in the middle of a financial crisis. He kept traveling, eventually landing in Beloit, Wisconsin—a city which he named, and where he made his own name. He played a leading role in all of the city’s major businesses and institutions—from the railway to the bank, newspaper, post office, local government, and police force.

His only son was also named Lucius George Fisher, born in Beloit in 1843. He was educated there and about to enter Beloit College when gold fever hit him, along with the rest of America. Lucius, Jr. convinced his father to let him go west with a wagon and team of oxen. He stayed on the frontier until he moved to New York City in 1861 to work as a clerk in a hardware store. The Civil War broke out that same year, and in 1863 Fisher was mustered with the 84th Regiment of the New York Infantry National Guard. The regiment was discharged after 100 days, so Fisher signed up for the navy and did administrative work aboard the US steamer Wyandack until the war was over in 1865.

By then Fisher’s parents had moved to Chicago, where his father invested in downtown real estate. Fisher joined them there and started working as a porter in the Rock River Paper Company. He ascended quickly, and within five years, he managed the whole paper bag operation. Fisher would stick with the paper industry for the rest of his career. He incorporated his own company, the Union Bag and Paper Co. in the 1870s, and it grew exponentially as he absorbed other manufacturers around the Midwest.

The Union Bag & Paper Company, 3737 S. Ashland Ave., Chicago.

The Union Bag & Paper Company, 3737 S. Ashland Ave., Chicago.

Like his father before him, Fisher invested in Chicago real estate. He owned a 160-acre tract on the south side of the city, between Seventy-ninth and Eighty-third Streets and Cottage Grove and South Park Avenues. When the World’s Columbian Exposition fairgrounds were designated nearby, the land became worth $1 million—equivalent to $266 million today. He leased the land to the fair in 1892 for the building of 600 three-story houses, to be used as visitor accommodations. Perhaps more famously, Fisher invested in real estate closer to the city’s commercial center as well. He commissioned world’s fair architect Daniel H. Burnham to design the Fisher Building, which still stands at 343 S. Dearborn Street. Its 18 stories of orange terra cotta and glass, made it  one of the tallest buildings in the world when completed in 1896.

postcard-chicago-fisher-building-streetcars-elevated-carriages-early

1893view

From around 1885, Fisher and his wife of fifteen years, Katherine, lived in a new red brick Victorian home on Ellis Avenue in Chicago’s Oakland neighborhood. It featured stained glass windows, built-in bookcases, large secluded back garden, and an elegant ballroom on the third floor. The lakeside community was populated, in the late 19th century, with other illustrious members of Chicago society. Many of them were entrepreneurs and industrialists who found it convenient to the stockyards, rail terminal, and factories on the South Side. But around the turn of the century, increasing pollution and immigrant neighbors made the area seem less desirable for some. These residents began migrating north, and the Fisher family also began looking for a new home.

Samuel M. Nickerson, recently retired president of First National Bank of Chicago, had constructed a gorgeous Italianate mansion on the north side of the Chicago River in 1883. The mansion at 40 East Erie Street was reported to be the most expensive and luxurious residence in Chicago at the time of its construction, featuring three stories, more than 17 different kinds of marbles from around the world, capacity for 11 live-in servants, and a grand Sculpture Gallery. Nickerson was 70 years old, and originally from Massachusetts. He wished to go live permanently in his summer home on Cape Cod, so he negotiated a $75,000 purchase—over $2 million in today’s dollars—with Lucius George Fisher for the mansion and many of its contents.

The FIsher's 1885 residence on 4036 Ellis Avenue. (Google Streetview, 2014)

The FIsher’s 1885 residence on 4036 Ellis Avenue. (Google Streetview, 2014)

Samuel_M._Nickerson_residence,_front_elevation_big

Front elevation, Samuel M. Nickerson House. Burling & Whitehouse, architects.

The Samuel M. Nickerson House, 1883.

The Samuel M. Nickerson House, 1883.

The Fishers moved into the Nickerson House in the summer of 1900. The census recorded the home’s inhabitants as Lucius and Katherine, both in their 50s; their four children Lucius, Jr. (age 28), Alice (age 26), Ethel (age 17), and Katherine (age 14); Katherine’s sister Francis Eddy; and three female servants from Germany, Minnesota, and Sweden, respectively.

The Fishers kept most of the original furniture, which had been crafted to match the interior design. But their tastes had little else in common with the Nickersons’ clusters of Victorian objets d’art, competing wall and upholstery patterns, and plenteous furniture. The new century came with a new, streamlined aesthetic. By now Chicago’s Prairie School of architecture, with its horizontal lines and air of simplicity, had come into full swing. Fisher hired Prairie School architect George Washington Maher (1864–1926) to redesign Nickerson’s former Sculpture Gallery to his own liking. He re-envisioned the space as a Trophy Room and filled it with game animals, weaponry, rare books, and a mural of hunting scenes along the curved cornice. Among the crowning achievements of the new design was a massive fireplace, with iridescent Art Nouveau tilework, roaring lacquered cherry lion heads, and massive moose head above the mantel. The other striking feature was a stained glass dome featuring autumnal trees, which has been carefully restored and is on view today.

unspecified-2

unspecified

unspecified-5

If Theodore Roosevelt, with his zeal for hunting large game, had anything to do with defining early 20th century masculinity in America, then Lucius George Fisher’s aesthetic would have fit it perfectly. The heads and bodies of wild game weren’t confined only to the Trophy Room; rather, they featured prominently as a defining decorative feature of the house. The Trophy Room displayed sea turtles, a 12-point buck, African antelope horns, birds both local and exotic, and a magnificent tiger skin rug. The first and second floor Halls featured bear rugs—one with the head still attached—and the heads of bison, buffalo, walrus, reindeer, and bighorn sheep lining the walls. The Dining Room featured a large silver fish bolted to the Lincrusta, an owl, and another grand moose head. Historic photographs, taken for fire insurance purposes, also feature a few hairy and indistinct mysterious animals on andirons and floors, including sheepskin throws and something that looks like a porcupine on the floor of the Drawing Room.

unspecified-3

unspecified-4

Perhaps a remnant of Fisher’s young days on the western frontier seeking gold, the few objets d’art often depicted the American West. A prominent bronze bust in the Smoking Room depicted a Native American chieftan, for example, and a blanket covering an upstairs divan was woven with the colorful triangles of the Southwest. He was not otherwise a major art collector as Nickerson had been before him, although he did purchase the Greek statuary from the 1893 world’s fair and donate it to Beloit College for its permanent collection.

Fisher-smokingroom_past

unspecified-7

Like the rest of Chicago in the early 20th century, the Fishers were confident in their success and enjoyed sharing it. One newspaper item from Christmastime 1902 mentions that the Fishers were the first to kick off that party season with a dinner and dance, and the “big Erie Street house…was decorated in American beauties and Christmas grace.” Few records survive of the other grand parties they certainly hosted in their urban palace in Near North, but previous special occasions, such as debutante receptions in their Ellis Avenue home, prove they were central characters in the city’s elite social class. The society pages in the Chicago Daily Tribune detailed costumes—“Mrs. Fisher wore an apple green and brown brocade gown trimmed with lace, Miss Fisher wore a white crêpe de soie with large white satin sleeves and lace bertha”—and menus—“chocolate, coffee and ice-cream in the billiard room” and “egg-nog in the dining room.”

Fisher Family History-Katherine Fisher to Marry Homer Dixon-Trib6Sept1906

unspecified-9

Lucius George Fisher lived in the Nickerson House for a total of 16 years. In August 1910, he and his wife were traveling in Germany visiting the famous baths of Carlsbad, when Katherine died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 61. Fisher returned with her body by ship, and the news came as a shock to the whole family. Fisher himself died on March 16, 1916, inside the Erie Street mansion.

The estate was divided between the three sisters, and Fishers’ youngest daughter Katherine and her husband, Homer Dixon, occupied the mansion after his death. The 1920 census paints a picture of a lively, full household with 33-year-old Katherine at the head. At the time the Dixons had seven children under the age of 11, as well as 11 live-in servants, mainly Scandinavian immigrants.

Thirty-two prominent Chicago families purchased the residence from the Dixons and donated the building to the American College of Surgeons. The rest, of course, is history.

 

 

When you see the fashions on display in Dressing Downton™: Changing Fashion for Changing Times, you step into a broader cultural tale about the vast changes sweeping the world in the first decades of the 20th century.

Everything that once seemed permanent began to change. Corsets started disappearing from women’s wardrobes. The indomitable aristocratic elite began struggling to make ends meet. A younger generation redefined everything from good manners to falling in love. This tension between the traditional and the new forms the crux of the drama of Downton Abbey®, as seen through the lives of the Earl and Countess of Grantham, their daughters, and their domestic servants. And the greatest share of the changes took place in the lives of women. From going out with men unchaperoned to trying out cigarettes, women took for themselves a greater share in the public sphere.

Let’s go back to that tumultuous time and explore a few of the cultural phenomena of the 1910s and 20s. Here’s what everyone was talking about, both in England, the world of Downton Abbey, and here at home in Chicago.

 

Loosen That Corset!

In the early 20th century, women’s fashion was perhaps the biggest sign that things were changing. Bodices relaxed, waists dropped, and hems rose. Clothes became looser, freer, and less restrained with every passing year, and paralleled the increasing freedom women had in society. In the exhibition, you’ll see how the dresses of Downton Abbey’s younger generation (especially Lady Sibyl, Lady Edith and Lady Rose) reflected these changing times, while women like the Dowager Countess adhered firmly to tradition.

The Dowager Countess of Grantham represents the 'old guard' in fashion and tradition on Downton Abbey. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

The Dowager Countess of Grantham represents the ‘old guard’ in fashion and tradition on Downton Abbey. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Downton Abbey's Lady Edith wears a 1920s flapper-influenced evening gown with a dropped waist and long necklace. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Downton Abbey‘s Lady Edith wears a 1920s flapper-influenced evening gown with a dropped waist and long necklace. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

The three Crawley sisters of Downton Abbey wear breezy afternoon gowns, hats, and gloves. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

The three Crawley sisters of Downton Abbey wear breezy afternoon gowns, hats, and gloves. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Downton Abbey's Lady Sibyl models exotic Turkish-style harem pants, much to the shock of her parents and grandmother. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Downton Abbey’s Lady Sibyl models exotic Turkish-style harem pants, much to the shock of her parents and grandmother. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

For more on the latest fashions, take a look at a blog post from our last exhibition about the harmony of artistic clothing and jewelry in the early 20th century.  

Working Women

It was Lady Edith who dared to begin work outside the home in Season 3 of Downton Abbey. It’s 1920, and she takes a job as a newspaper columnist. It scandalizes her elders, who expected her to marry a well-heeled man and make her home her domain. In their eyes, her role should have been as a high society hostess, with entertaining and domestic servants her most important callings.

While women of the lower classes worked in factories or in large country houses like Downton during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, a new phenomenon was the necessity or desire of a woman of the middle and upper classes to work.

Firstly, the war years demanded practicality. In America, England, and the Continent, women went to work because they were needed there while men fought on the front lines. And when the war was over, recession meant that many of them wanted to stay and continue earning with newfound technical skills.

Work was also then, as today, one of the central battlegrounds for another type of war—one for women’s equal rights. Lady Edith represents a new wave of women who wanted to work beyond the domestic spheres previously reserved for them, whether to exercise creativity, earn better money independently of their husbands or fathers, or contribute to the public good of society.

victory-life-insurance-1920s2

Lady Edith Crawley of Downton Abbey, in professional attire.

Lady Edith Crawley of Downton Abbey, in professional attire. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Women working in the Leys Malleable Castings Company in England, 1930s. Image via The Daily Mail.

Women working in the Leys Malleable Castings Company in England, 1930s. Image via The Daily Mail.

Meet Me at the Movies

English photographer Edward Muybridge's studies of a horse in motion, 1878.

English photographer Edward Muybridge’s studies of a horse in motion, 1878.

The first famous moving image was captured by British-American scientist Edward Muybridge in the 1870s. He set up cameras along a racetrack and put together second-by-second snapshots of a galloping horse. But a movie would need many more pictures than Muybridge took, and a handful of ingenious inventors around the world made real “cinématographe” possible in the late 19th century.

At first England and France led the world in early filmmaking. The French magician Georges Méliès famously made the leap from early documentary-style shorts to narrative filmmaking, and enjoyed enormous popularity with the film Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) in 1902.

Back in the US, Edwin Porter’s twelve-minute film, The Great Train Robbery (1903), was the industry’s first big blockbuster. It ushered in the silent film era, as investors began confidently building movie theaters for this new American pastime. Silent film showings often featured live music just as theatrical plays would have, while the narrative was expressed through mime or notecards.

As the European countries were strained by impending war, America took first place in the film industry. Chicago was filled with avid moviegoers from the start. The first issue of Chicago-based magazine The Show in 1907 proclaimed this city as a world leader in moving picture rental and patronage, and Chicago possibly had more movie theaters per capita than any other US city. The 1910s and 20s saw the construction of gorgeous “movie palaces,” such as The Chicago Theatre, the Oriental, and the Uptown, some of which are still preserved today.

The Uptown Theatre in Chicago. Image courtesy the Theatre Historical Society of America, via WBEZ's Curious City.

The Uptown Theatre in Chicago, which opened in 1925 advertising “An Acre of Seats in a Magic City.” Image courtesy the Theatre Historical Society of America, via WBEZ Curious City.

One of the Downton Abbey housemaids reads an issue of Photoplay, an influential movie publication founded in Chicago in 1911, this issue featuring silent film star Louis Brooks on the cover. (Louise Brooks Society, via The Examiner, “Downton Abbey and Louise Brooks”)

One of the Downton Abbey housemaids reads an issue of Photoplay, an influential movie publication founded in Chicago in 1911, this issue featuring silent film star Louis Brooks on the cover. (Louise Brooks Society, via The Examiner, “Downton Abbey and Louise Brooks”)

Silent film star Buster Keaton in The General (1926)

Silent film star Buster Keaton in The General (1926)

Some of the most famous films from the era are Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Birth of a Nation, and The General. The era’s stars, from Charlie Chaplin to Louise Brooks, Greta Garbo, and Buster Keaton, are still remembered.

“Lucky” Girls

While smoking cigars or cigarettes was acceptable for men before the early 20th century, a woman smoking was a severe faux pas. A 1901 article in The New York Times warned that the habit among women was “a menace in this country.” It was a social rule so powerful it even leaked into law. One New York policeman, spying a woman smoking in a car in 1904, pulled the automobile over and ordered her to put the cigarette out. The gender division was even built into Victorian architecture, with a separate smoking room for men to enjoy their recreational activity together while women retreated to the drawing room or parlor.

But in the early 20th century, along with increased educational opportunities and the suffrage movement, modern women started crossing that divide. Some embraced smoking as a symbol of freedom—a freedom to enjoy men’s freedoms. A march in New York in 1929, an event in which the American Tobacco Company participated through the early public relations genius Edward Bernays, saw women marching for equality with cigarettes in hand. “Group of Girls Puff Cigarettes as a Gesture of ‘Freedom’,” the headline read.

Advertisers started targeting this untapped market. Lucky Strikes featured glamorous illustrations of Miss America, or encouraged women to keep slim by reaching “for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet.”

Advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes.

A 1929 advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes, declaring it is now socially acceptable for women to smoke.

All That Jazz

In Season Four of Downton Abbey, rebellious Lady Rose falls for the jazz entertainer Jack Ross. His character is based on a number of jazz stars whose careers took them on a tour of Europe, such as Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson or Will Marion Cook. With its emphasis on spontaneous forms, jazz was the perfect antidote for the stuffy, formal life so many young people were trying to shed.

Jack Ross, a jazz entertainer on Downton Abbey.

Jack Ross, a debonair jazz entertainer on Downton Abbey. ©Carnival Films / Masterpiece

Resources
Downton Abbey, PBS Masterpiece. 
Elliot, Rosemary Elizabeth. “‘Destructive but sweet’: cigarette smoking among women 1890­-1990,” University of Glasgow, October 2001. 
Film,” The Encyclopedia of Chicago.
History of the Motion Picture,” Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Hudson, Pat. “Women’s Work,” BBC, March 29, 2011. 
Lee, Jennifer. “Big Tobacco’s Spin on Women’s Liberation,” October 10, 2008. 
Myers, Marc. Why Jazz Happened, University of California Press, 2013.
Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising, “Tobacco Advertising Themes: Targeting Women” 
Striking Women, “Women and Work: The Interwar Years, 1918-1939.” 

You Asked…

Where does the tradition of “afternoon tea” come from? (And why is tea such a big deal in England?)

Today’s blog is part of an occasional series dedicated to answering visitors’ questions.

A cup of bold, hot, watery brew, often with a splash of milk and spoonful of sugar, is how many people in England start their day and refuel in the afternoon. But tea hasn’t always been the staple it is today. In the mid-17th century it was a new, precious commodity in the West, a luxurious import from the farthest reaches of the British Empire. One early adopter in 1660, Samuel Pepys, referred to his first “cup of tee” as a “China drink.” This most quintessentially British drink is actually borrowed from other cultures, through the Empire’s colonial enterprises in China, India, Japan, and Kenya.

As such, drinking tea was at first a privilege reserved for royalty. And it was there, in the upper echelons of society, that the cozy ceremony we call ‘afternoon tea’ evolved.

In the wealthiest households of the 19th century, the evening meal was being served later and later in the evening. This new fashion meant there might be seven or eight hours between lunch and dinner. As the legend goes, Anne Russell, Duchess of Bedford, was tired of what she called “that sinking feeling” that came on at around four o’clock. She began ordering a small extra meal to be served in the afternoon. It included a cup of tea with milk and sugar, dainty sandwiches, and cakes. She invited women friends to join her, and it turned into a daily occasion for socializing and gossip. Queen Victoria was among Anne’s closest friends, and soon afternoon tea was also a daily ritual in the British Royal Court. The much-admired queen started a new fashion in the process, as other classes began to adopt afternoon tea as well—cementing its place in English society.

_DSC0060

 

ceylon-poster

Given the social position of the ladies among whom afternoon tea evolved, this was no casual affair. One’s best bone china and silver were brought out for serving, while the choice of tea exhibited the hostess’s taste for the exotic, expensive sundries of China, India, or Sri Lanka. The availability of sugar, also an import, in addition to refined cakes and buttery pastries, were also signs of a household’s prosperity. Servants attended the guests’ every need during these afternoon meals, with the hostess supervising.

New fashions emerged especially for the occasion, and the “tea gown” was born. A tea gown was initially designed to be worn inside and was only appropriate in the company of other women. Its comfortable, flowing silhouette—inspired by medieval styles and the Japanese kimono—offered  women a few hours’ reprieve from the restrictive corset. In the Driehaus Museum exhibition Dressing Downton, Cora Crawley’s elegant beaded tea gown with green velvet jacket is an excellent example of this style, which eventually became acceptable for more formal occasions where men were present.

irene-castle-_teagown_913

By the beginning of the 20th century, the era of Downton Abbey, afternoon tea was still an occasion for a conspicuous display of wealth, taste, and manners. Stirring one’s cream and sugar into the tea without touching the sides of the cup, or breaking a scone in just the right way, signified one’s station in an extremely class-conscious society.

Afternoon Tea Today

The Second World War and subsequent rationing of butter, sugar, and eggs caused afternoon teas to fade for a time in the mid-20th century, but the tradition returned after those austere years. Afternoon tea is as popular in England today as weekend brunch is in America.

Rather than taking place inside the home, however, the best afternoon teas of today are served in public places. High-end hotels and distinguished department stores, like Claridge’s and Fortnum & Mason in London, have deep roots in tea culture and commerce in England, and offer the most traditional repasts. Their tea menus are small hardbound books, commanding the diner’s attention with a wide variety of loose-leaf black, green, white, and herbal teas. After a few sips of tea—or, as is just as popular today, champagne—a three-tiered serving tray is presented at the table with a flourish. The lower platter contains delicate finger sandwiches with light fillings like cucumbers or smoked salmon. The central platter is dominated by tender, buttery scones, served with jams and clotted cream, which is a thick spread with a texture between butter and whipped cream. To finish, the top platter is arranged with delicate patisserie.

_DSC0057

_DSC0061

 

Meanwhile, contemporary restaurants and up-and-coming chefs reinvent the standards while staying loyal to the spirit of afternoon tea. Afternoon tea at the Modern Pantry in London’s foodie-centric Clerkenwell district features mismatched antique china and unique takes on traditional favorites, including rosewater-infused scones, lychee bellinis, and chia-seed bread.

 

_DSC0111

_DSC0131

The Driehaus Museum offers a unique afternoon tea experience in honor of this English tradition and to celebrate the exhibition Dressing Downton. The Museum’s elegant historic setting and special menu offer all the elements of a proper afternoon tea, including seasonal scones, cake breads, and tea sandwiches. The experience also features tea with a contemporary Chicago twist, featuring a tea blend by the local purveyor Rare Tea Cellar. To purchase tea tickets, click here.

Tea of a Different Color

All real teas come from the same species of plant, Camellia sinensis. The different types, often denoted by color, have to do with when the leaf is harvested and how it’s processed. Here are a few of our favorites explained:

Black tea is made of withered, crushed, and fully oxidized leaves, a process that helped it survive the long boat journey to Great Britain from the Far East. This might be why black tea is still the most popular. Regional varieties include Assam (India), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Darjeeling (India), Oolong (China), and Lapsang (China). English breakfast tea is a blend of Kenyan, Ceylon, and Assam.

Earl Grey tea is a black tea to which the essence of bergamot, a type of citrus, has been added. It’s named for Charles Grey, the British Prime Minister in the 1830s. A London Fog is a kind of latte made with Earl Grey tea, milk, and vanilla.

Chai tea comes from India, and is black tea simmered with milk and spices including cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, ginger, and cloves.

Pu’erh is a fermented black tea on trend in the Western world, but has been prized for ages in China for its health benefits.

Green teas are unoxidized, which is why the leaves retain their fresh green color. The flavor is grassier as a result, with lower caffeine content. Varieties include Matcha, Sencha, Gunpowder, and Hojicha.

White teas are made from young, delicate tea buds, and mostly come from China. They are the least processed, with very little caffeine and subtle flavor.

Redbush tea, or rooibos, comes from South Africa. Naturally caffeine free, it’s a robust but smooth brew made from the needle-like leaves of the Aspalathus linearis.

Herbal tea is caffeine-free and comes in many forms. Rather than from the leaves of the tea plant, it’s made from other dried leaves or roots, including ginger, peppermint, licorice, or raspberry.

 

Images
A Family of Three at Tea, attr. Richard Collins, ca. 1727. From the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O56103/a-family-of-three-at-oil-painting-richard-collins/
Portrait of actress Irene Castle in a tea gown, 1913.
Photograph of tea advertisement found on Feast: An Edible Road Trip.
Photographs of afternoon teas by Lindsey Howald Patton, 2015.

 

Resources
Fortnum & Mason, “A Short History of Afternoon Tea” (https://www.fortnumandmason.com/fortnums/short-history-of-afternoon-tea)
Fellows, Elizabeth. Tea at Downton: Afternoon Tea Recipes from The Unofficial Guide to Downton Abbey
The Tea Spot, “The Leaf” (http://theteaspot.com/about-tea.html)

If you’ve ever visited the Museum, you may have noticed that the visitor toilets all seem to be from another age. The seats are polished wood and the cistern sits high overhead, flushed by a chain with a porcelain handle. The porcelain bowl rim reads, “The Venerable,” and the seal: “The Venerable Thomas Crapper & Company, Made in Gt. Britain.”

Continue Reading...

Part of the Museum’s mission is to champion the ideals of preservation. Here’s a look at one of the most impressive parts of our award-winning restoration of 2003–2008: cleaning a crust of pollutants from the sandstone exterior.

Continue Reading...