They may not be the very latest in fashion, but the dresses depicted in this slim volume from the Keynes Collection are far too pretty to remain under wraps. The book: Douze nouveaux travestissements (Paris, 1856) features twelve hand-coloured engravings produced from illustrations by the artist Paul Gavarni (1804-1866). Gavarni was a popular caricaturist and book illustrator, who illustrated the first collected edition of the works of Balzac in 1850. He also produced many illustrated volumes of his own, sketching and parodying the eccentricities of the various classes of French society.
This particular volume was published by the monthly fashion magazine Les Modes Parisiennes, which was published between 1843 and 1875. In magazines, fashion plates such as these were usually accompanied by detailed instructions on how the outfits could be reproduced, providing avid followers of French fashion – including many British women – with the information needed in order to dress to impress.
Finally, tucked loose inside this volume is another wonderful nineteenth-century engraving. An inscription on the back reveals that it was sent as a Christmas card to Lydia Lopokova, the wife of John Maynard Keynes, in 1929.
If this has left you keen to seek out more images of nineteenth-century fashion, then the National Portrait Galley has a fashion plate gallery covering the period 1770-1870, with a wealth of gorgeous images to explore. Have fun!