Sometimes mistakenly referred to as "milliner's models," these fashion dolls had nothing to do with millinery, but they were used by early 19th century European couturiers to sell their clothing in the latest styles to their fashionable female clients. (This might be the source of the expression, "all dolled up.") Soon these elaborately dressed dolls, of simple construction, become treasured in their own right and came to be exchanged as gifts at Easter and to commemorate weddings.
The Empire style dress that this 19-inch "carton" or paper mache and leather doll is wearing was made popular largely because of the influence of Napoleon's wife, Josephine. The Empress loved the neo-classical, columnar style with high waist, which came to dominate the imperial costume of the first twenty years of the 19th century. Empress Josephine, in fact, became a inspiration for some of these dolls, as later did other famous women like Queen Victoria and the singer Jenny Lind.
It did not take long before the Empire style dress established itself as "haut couture" beyond the borders of France, even to the newly independent and rustic United States, and France was on its way to becoming the fashion capital of the world.
The doll is dressed entirely in silk except for her muslin slip. She is unusual for having a short human hair wig, which like her silk bonnet, is fixed to her head. Her leather kid body and wooden forearms and hands are also well-preserved. As is typical of these kinds of dolls, her clothes are attached to her body and cannot be removed.
She is made in the typical manner for this type of doll with paper mache head and shoulder plate, stuffed kid body, upper arms and legs of stuffed kid, and lower arms of wood with carved hands. The painting of her features with her vibrant green eyes, apple cheeks ad rosy lips is exquisite.
Her pale yellow silk dress has two 1" rips along a fold of the material on her side (see photo). Otherwise her outfit is in fine condition, except for some of the melting silk of the stockings, on the shoes, and the ribbon on dress and hat. The contrast of the colors of rose, yellow, and green, which, no doubt, have faded, is still wonderful. The kid of her body is also well-preserved except for a few pinholes on her thighs (see photo).
The doll is in remarkable shape considering the fragility of silk and that this doll has been around for 200 years old. No doubt, she was highly treasured by her original and subsequent owners. Over her long life-time she was at one time in a museum; you can find inventory number inscribed just above her left knee peaking out under her stocking. She was in the Evelyn Way Kendal Collection and sold at Sotheby's in London sometime in the last 20 years and on the bottom of her shoes. (See photos.)
She is a remarkable artifact of the Napoleonic era that comes along seldom in a collector's lifetime in this remarkably preserved condition. She appears to be truly one of a kind. I have never seen a doll like this one before, and despite all my research have not been able to find one anything like her wearing this early 19th century neo-classical columnar style Empire dress.
She's a unique opportunity for the collector. Should you want to bring her home, she will be well-wrapped and packaged to prevent any damage. Email us if you have questions. Like all my Ruby Lane items, it is returnable for any reason, within 3 days of delivery, at your cost for the return shipping and insurance only. Thanks for looking!
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