Here is Sara Hough, Mrs. T. P. Sandby’s Nursery Maid drawn by Paul Sandby ca. 1805, from the Yale Center for British art. She’s rather lovely, and though I’d tend to put her date earlier than 1805 based on the clothing, I don’t know enough (anything) about the Sandbys, and it may be that the dates of Sara’s employment fixed the date of the drawing. But doesn’t that robe and train look distinctly 1790s?
What I like about it is that here is a maid wearing an open robe and train–how impractical, especially in a nursery–so the drawing makes a third kind of evidence in addition to fashion plates and extant examples.
1794 and 1795 fashion plates from the V&A and the Met show similar robes, though the V&A is described as a walking dress, and the Met’s plate shows evening dress. Extant examples include the Kyoto chintz gown, and this chintz gown at the V&A.
I like how art once again blows up my expectations and makes me think more about the time frame when styles can be worn, and why: maids lag mistresses in style? Comfort and personal taste? or is the assigned date just not right? It’s an evasive “circa,” which can wiggle 5 to 10 years either way, depending on the collection’s standards. The drawing could be 1795, and it’s not later than 1809, when Sandby died.
Aside from the questions and quibbles over the date, the image gives us great information about how to wear an open robe with an apron, how to carry scissors, what watering cans looked like around 1800, the profile of shoes and caps, and how hair might be styled.