Drypoint by John Theodore Heins, Jr. British Museum 1858,0417.362
Bonnets. Who doesn’t like them? They’re the cupcake of costuming, just enough sugar to be delicious, not enough trouble to count. I know I have far too many, they fall from the hall shelf nearly every time I get my coat.
But I started asking myself questions about bonnets when a friend asked me questions about bonnets: shape, color, and how they’re worn (rakish angle? pulled down low?).
We’re planning on going to an event in March, and I’ve been thinking about head wear, especially bonnets. Now that the question’s been asked, I don’t want to randomly cram black silk taffeta on my head and call it a day: I’m back to “don’t know mind.” Time to start looking. So far, I’ve searched the Tate, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery UK, the Lewis Walpole Library, the Yale Center for British Art, the Met, the V&A, and the BBC’s Your Paintings site.
I started at the British Museum. Here are the results for a collections search using the term bonnet and the production dates 1765-1772. Hmm. No classic black bonnet. Dammit, actually, because I really like mine.
James Caldwall, A Ladies Maid Purchasing a Leek, 1772, YCBA, B1977.14.11105
Yale Center for British Art, same search parameters. I know you know this print.
Man, this is a pain, right? Where are the bonnets? 1772 is actually too late for my purposes in this instance.
The Lewis Walpole Library Digital Collections lack a feature for limiting or sorting by date, but they tag bonnets in their prints. Still: no big black bonnets in early prints.
I’m starting to think it’s lampshade or saucer for the 1765-1770 period. You remember lampshade, don’t you? One of my post-operative slightly narcotized creations based in part on the Marquis of Granby (Relieving a Sick Soldier).
The Marquis of Granby (Relieving A Sick Soldier) Oil on canvas by Edward Penny after 1765 (c) Royal Academy of Arts
Lampshade seems pretty fashionable in 1760. There are more portraits at the National Portrait Gallery (UK), but bonnets are scarce in them, primarily, I suppose, because they are not indoor wear.
Anne (née Day), Lady Fenoulhet by Richard Purcell (Charles or Philip Corbutt), after Sir Joshua Reynolds, mezzotint, (1760) National Portrait Gallery UK D1939
Nelly O’Brien by Samuel Okey, after Sir Joshua Reynolds, mezzotint, circa 1765-1780 (circa 1762-1764) National Portrait Gallery UK D19911
Lady Fenoulhet is wearing a lampshade. Nelly O’Brien is wearing an interesting, more hat-like device. Her imprint is ca. 1765-1780, but other impressions are dated ca. 1760. The 1762-1764 seems plausible. But that’s still early for my purposes. The lampshade really is, too; Mrs Mary Smith of Portsmouth may be wearing one, but considering that the artist who drew this plate died in 1766, I think we can place this form in the 1750s to early 1760s. Lampshade is too early. The”Lady’s Maid buying a Leek” is too late.