#2807 $3,975French beaded cotton evening dress, c.1805
Tolstoy's great novel War and Peace (Война и миръ) begins in 1805 and takes us through Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia up to 1820. As the story begins, we encounter the lovely 13-year-old Natasha Rostova (Наташа Ростова) and follow her through the first awakening of love.
This exquisite Directoire-style gown showcases the revolutionary Neoclassical simplicity celebrated by painter Jacques Louis David in his famous painting of Madame Recamier, the cover photo of my Facebook page, assuming you are a FB fan:)
Very few beaded garments from this period survive outside of museums. This exceptionally rare dress—the finest Directoire style I have ever owned—was purchased in France many years ago and has since resided in a private collection. It would be the focal point of a major museum or private collection.
Made from white cotton muslin, the peerless Directoire dress is totally covered with opaque white Bohemian glass bugle beads. The neckline and sleeves are bordered with loops of beads. Such a simple high style gown could have been worn by a wealthy, aristocratic Russian girl to her first grand ball.
Among the early 19th century Russian aristocracy, French was widely spoken, perhaps due to the influence of Catherine the Great (ruled 1762–1796), a great patron of French Enlightenment culture. Voltaire lauded her accomplishments, calling her "The Star of the North."
Here is the quintessential Neoclassical style: the Empire waist; wide, open neckline; and a small back train. The dress closes in back with ties; the bodice fullness can be adjusted with drawstring ties at the neckline. Everything is hand stitched.
This exemplary Directoire-style dress has an endearing charm that speaks to us across two centuries. It is just as fresh and irresistible as when worn to her first grand ball, as I imagine, by Natasha Rostova. Here is how Leo Tolstoy describes the young Natasha's feelings at that ball.
Natasha stood with her slender arms hanging down, her scarcely defined bosom rising and falling regularly. With bated breath and glittering, frightened eyes, she gazed straight before her, prepared for the height of joy or misery...Her little feet in their white satin dancing shoes did their work swiftly, lightly, and independently of herself, while her face beamed with ecstatic happiness.
The condition is almost excellent. The dress is structurally sound. There is some bead loss—an easy restoration job. On the skirt front is one small pale spot.
It measures: 32" bust, 27" empire waist, 10" from the shoulder to the empire waist, and 55" from the shoulder to the hem (slightly longer in back).