John Smibert made me laugh. He’s been dead since 1751, so it wasn’t easy.
The day I went to the MFA and walked into the gallery with Mrs Tyng on wall, I laughed, and said, “I know her!” while my son died a small interior death. Then I pulled up the record and image for Mrs Browne, and showed him how I knew Mrs Tyng.
Follow Smibert’s pictorial advice if you’re reenacting an American woman of means between 1729 and 1732, and you’re wearing blue silk. You may have a red silk wrapper/shawl. Your shift will show at the center front and sleeves to show off your fine linen. You look like you might be a little cold, but perhaps that explains the “I store oranges in my bodice” look.
See for yourself:
After a while, you start to wonder if there was only one woman in the colonies in 1730… And then you wonder how she got into every painting…
I know, style and conventions helped create these portraits as much as Smibert’s skill. And the portraits only get weird when you do the thing that was never supposed to happen. We were never meant to see all of these portraits all together, all at once, anywhere.
So, what’s she wearing? Probably this dress. No, not this exact dress, though if it was same woman in all those paintings, maybe the Met does have her actual dress. (Sometimes I have these weird museum-y ideas, and that’s generally when I need a vacation or come up with a new program idea.)
The robe volante shows up in paintings of women dressing, and in informal scenes, as below. She’s clearly wearing stays, which is helpful to know, because while I knew the women in the Smibert paintings ought to be wearing stays, and they had conical torsos, the orange-smuggling look was confusing.
In fact, it confuses me still.
Seriously, the 18th century was a pretty sexy place, if you like oranges and silk.
Look, there’s Mrs Tyng again! She’s left the MFA and taken a chair at Yale.