It can be argued that haute couture began in the first half of the 19th century; certainly, its vagaries were recorded for posterity by French portrait painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres in a wealth of richly detailed studies. For the fashion historian, Ingres's works offer visual insight into the burgeoning consumerism of the time and portray the men and, particularly, the women of society resplendent in their luxurious fabrics, intricate jewelry, and lavish accessories.
Aileen Ribeiro, head of dress at London's Courtauld Institute of Art, has written the exemplary Ingres in Fashion, in which she painstakingly describes Ingres's depiction of fashion as it reflects identity and status in mid-19th-century France. Ingres's dual obsessions--the precise and sumptuous reproductions of modish figures such as his 1853 portrait Josephine-Eleonore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Bearn, Princesse de Broglie (a name as voluminous as the costume she wears) and the sensual, almost fantasy-like odalisques of Le Bain Turc (1862)--are amply represented and scrutinized here in more than 150 illustrations. A fascinating social, historical, and fashion document. --Catherine Taylor