The reuse of 18th Century silks in the construction of fashionable dresses was commonplace in the 1840s. Not only was it practical and economical to make use of fine expensive fabrics that were possibly recently inherited, but their attractiveness added a touch of stylish historicism to women’s appearance.
This dress is a particularly interesting example of this practice in its ingenious redeployment of silk hand painted in the 1780s. Different weights of silk have been painted with flowers, foliage and berries on trailing stems, characteristic of the rococo style, in varying degrees of competence. The most accomplished areas are the bodice front and centre front panel of the skirt with their careful shading and outlining of the motifs. The rest of the silk approximates, but does not match, that of the front and has been executed in a much looser style. The silk is based on the silks painted in China for an affluent Western market, an example of which was made into a gown and petticoat belonging to the wife of the actor David Garrick, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Painting silk was considered a genteel home pastime, and it is possible that the silk of this dress was painted by members of one family with varying degrees of skill.
Some alterations have been made to the side seams of the bodice.