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Visiting the Stately Home: an early touristic diversion

Friday night, Drunk Tailor and I waited until the worst of rush hour in NOVA was over and headed south to Richmond, surprised not to be engulfed in a terrific thunderstorm of the kind we are becoming accustomed to driving in. We had planned a weekend trip to see the Napoleon: Power and Splendor exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. It’s a traveling exhibit, but this is the first time I’ve been close enough to see it, and we had the added benefit of being able to attend in costume with the Regency Society of Virginia. (Reader: I required a new outfit.)

The idea of visiting a museum in costume is incredibly appealing, and all the more so when you can visit galleries of objects from the time period your costume replicates. Add to that the layer of traveling on the weekend in the clothes from the time when tourism first became a “thing” (at least among the monied classes), and you have a recipe for an excellent adventure.

(Somehow, while often at events together, Drunk Tailor and I are rarely seen “together,” so images like this are nice to have.)

If you are going to play the tourist, especially if you are visiting the “spoils” of the former emperor, you have to dress appropriately. American tourists today may travel in camo crocs and backwards baseball caps, but people in the past dressed for touring and it seemed appropriate to dress for this trip.

Admiring the panorama. (Cropped only to enhance periodicity)

This trip, with the fun of visiting in period clothes, reminds me of the books still in storage, and the books I have yet to read — one on early country house tourism— that document the changes in how people spent their time and consumed goods, and the reasonably concurrent rise of both the museum and the department store.

Raptures about the mounting, I think, but we might as well we shopping.

Peale and Zola have more in common than you might think, or at least Mr. Peale and Mr. Selfridge. These compendia of material goods are similarly structured — both organized around themes or types, whether ladies’ lingerie or Oceanic art– and have similar aims of edification and [cultural] consumption.

When your hat sees its cousin in a case….

All in all, an excellent trip, with much to see and talk about. After finishing our tour of the Napoleon exhibit, we lunched (another experience similar to the department store) and toured more of the museum, and had a day well spent.