If it is impossible for the average (or not so average) collector to score an antique fashion print from the mid 18th Century or earlier, it is still possible to find some Louis XVI prints (late 18th C).
However, please be warned, these are hard to find and there are a lot of copies. And the copies look just like the real thing, for some were actually made in the 19th C. The copies are mentioned in detail in Raymond Gaudriault Repertoire de la Gravure de Mode Francaise des Origines a 1815.
Thanks to my Father, who took me rummaging in St Ouen's antique dealer's shops, I may have one of them. OK I am not sure! And there is no way for me to be certain at this time. Maybe the experts at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, France, could. I will keep this in mind next time I have the chance to go back to France for a visit. But in the meantime, I will assume it is the real thing. And it sure looks like it.
First clue: the print is on paper that shows the regular ridges left by the mesh of threads that supported the sheet of paper as it dried.
Second clue: the paper is showing a lot of age damage from just being poorly preserved. It has yellowed to almost a brownish tone and has the typical waves due to humidity even though it has been placed in a mat and tensed on a board probably in the 19th Century.
Third clue: The engraving shows the plate marks from the copper plate used to print. (in truth these can be faked)
Fourth clue: the colors used are sort of muted by the yellowing and old age. Colors and especially the water based colors used at the time would loose a lot of their brightness.
Fifth clue: the comment on the bottom of the print is showing all the characters used at the time this print was presumably published. Including mention of the sculptor, Dupin, who did the engraving part and of the artist, Watteau, who drew the original.
Note: the mention at the bottom of the print is absolutely charming. It says in French: "La jeune adolescente dont le coeur est occupe par l'amour sous les traits du charmant Landor, cherche a dissiper l'ennui que doit lui causer l'abscence de son amant, en remettant en captivite l'objet de son caprice. Elle est coiffee a l'enfant, robe a l'anglaise garnie." the english translation is:"The young teenager whom heart is occupied by Love for the charming Landor, tries to dissipate the boredom caused by her lover's absence, placing back in captivity the object of her caprice. She is styled as a child, English style dress with ornamentation."
Now what makes me think this fashion print could be a reproduction?
Well first there is no Plate number on the top right corner. This engraving has been accounted for as part of the 46th Cahier de Costumes Francois, 41st Suite d'habillements a la mode en 1785. This print should bear the mention: Pl290. I am not sure yet what to make of the fact it is missing. It might not be consequential at all or yet again it could.
The print has on its right top corner the mention Pl.213. The legend at the bottom starts by: La brillante Raymonde, apres le dinner, ... (The brilliant Raymonde, after dinner,...) and according to Raymond Gaudriault, the print with this legend should bear the number: Pl.296.
This is puzzling to say the least.
The series of publications under the title: La Galerie Des Modes et Costumes Francais, published by Esnaut and Rapilly from 1778 to 1787 is considered one of the most beautiful series of engravings of the late 18th C. It has been fairly well documented but still is not quite completely referenced. This allows me to think that the 2 prints I own might be the real deal.
In my next blog we will explore a series of famous reproductions of these coveted prints.