The shock of the old

Dress worn by Rosamund Anstruther, Mrs Edward Windsor Hussey (1877-1958). ©National Trust

Dress worn by Rosamund Anstruther, Mrs Edward Windsor Hussey (1877-1958). ©National Trust

Dame Helen Ghosh, the director-general of the National Trust, writes an internal blog about her experiences and thoughts while traveling around National Trust places and meeting colleagues. Recently she mentioned coming upon this Edwardian dress at Scotney Castle and suddenly being transported back in time.

Portrait of Rosamund Hussey by James Jebusa Shannon, painted shortly after 1900. ©National Trust Images/John HammondMRS EDWARD WINDSOR HUSSEY ON THE TERRACE by James Jebusa Shannon, (1862-1923), an American artist, on the Staircase in the new house at Scotney Castle, Kent

Portrait of Rosamund Hussey by James Jebusa Shannon, painted shortly after 1900. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The dress belonged to Rosamund Hussey who lived at Scotney during the first half of the twentieth century. She was painted wearing it by the society portraitist J.J. Shannon shortly after her marriage to Edward Windsor Hussey in 1900.

Mrs Hussey being painted by Shannon. National Trust Images

Mrs Hussey being painted by Shannon. National Trust Images

I have previously touched on the poignant juxtaposition between historic items of clothing and portraits showing them being worn, as also seen at Antony and in the Victoria & Albert Museum.

The Scotney pairing is even more layered in that there exists a contemporary photograph showing the portrait being painted – an interestingly self-conscious celebration of the event of having one’s portrait painted, and an equally fascinating contrast between the new medium of photography and the old medium of oil on canvas.

View from the new house at Scotney down to the castle. ©National Trust Images/John Miller

View from the new house at Scotney down to the castle. ©National Trust Images/John Miller

And I suppose the garden at Scotney, shown in the background of the picture (and of the photograph), adds yet another visual layer which – like the dress – is still there.

12 Responses to “The shock of the old”

  1. style court Says:

    This is fantastic. The photo of the portrait session really does give a sense that the era in which it was done is sort of a bridge to the modern. And I can’t help thinking of the current trend to show behind-the-scenes images, whether via Instagram, YouTube or Vimeo. In particular for fashion magazines, photos of the photo shoot are now expected/highly anticipated parts of their weekly online offerings.

  2. style court Says:

    P.S.
    American Vogue has a behind-the-scenes slideshow up featuring Carolina Herrera’s studio. Check out how the stripes relate to Hussey’s dress:

    http://www.vogue.com/vogue-daily/article/studio-tour-inside-carolina-herreras-manhattan-atelier/#1

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks for that comment from the frontline of fashion, Courtney :) Isn’t it fascinating how we consumers crave an insight into the production process. And I suppose the tradition of showing ‘the artist/designer in his/her studio’ does have quite a long lineage.

    And great to see that slideshow – and amusing to see how beautifully arranged and tidy that particular studio is :)

  4. littleaugury Says:

    as always a bright spot from the past brings in all round-as does your posts!

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Gaye – as do yours!

  6. Simply Grand Says:

    It’s interesting the way the photographer has captured (although at a distance) the same basic relation between sitter & castle that’s in Shannon’s painting, even though–from his angle–Shannon clearly saw things differently than the way he painted them. Layers upon layers.

  7. Randi Says:

    Another great post: the wonderful chain of the dress, the painting and the photo of a painting session is so unusual and fascinating on many different levels.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Simply Grand, yes indeed both the painting and photograph are very ‘finessed’ :) But as you say that is yet another juxtaposition: between reality and artifice.

    Randi, thanks.

  9. Jolie Beaumont (@JolieBeaumont) Says:

    The dress alone is a visual treat – adding the portrait and view from the house is icing on the cake. However, I, for one, would have preferred not to have seen the photograph. That big black umbrella shading her, presumably from the sun, takes away from the illusion that Mrs. Hussey was cool as that proverbial cucumber in that gorgeous dress. But thanks for a delightful post.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes, more artifice there! But on the plus side the photograph includes James Shannon in his wonderfully dapper Edwardian society painter’s get-up :)

  11. imogen88 Says:

    Really lovely to get into the picture with so many layers and come to this post late to get the different ones. This post tells the story behind the single dress, which is really part of a larger puzzle/patchwork,and the more you look the more you find that relates. It’s just delightful, the quiet elegance of that age.

  12. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Imogen. Yes the imagery of calm and ease in the Edwardian period is fascinating, especially when seen against other developments in this period such suffragism, the Irish question, the growth of socialism, the international arms race, and so on. I suppose people were keen to project an image of quiet elegance as a counterbalance to all the change and turmoil – ‘the dialectics of calm’, to coin a phrase :)

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