19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: Jeanne Samary by Bastien-Lepage

Last week Norma Shearer as Juliet fared no better than most of our other glamorous actresses who wore historical interpretations.  She was dubbed “mutton dressed up as sparkly lamb” and rated only a 3.2 out of 10.  Ouch!

I haven’t told you this yet, but this week is going to be all about Jeanne Samary, so our Rate the Dress is her portrait by Jules Bastien-Lepage, probably painted in 1879

Jeanne Samary (Girl with a Parasol), Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1879

The 21 year old Jeanne is shown relaxing on a cane chair, her brown heel clad feet sticking out from under her blue-grey skirt which contrasts with her dark blue jacket with white cuffs, the parasol of the paintings title resting jauntily over one shoulder.  Here is the exciting thing: we also have a photograph of Jeanne in this outfit, so we can compare how Bastien-Lepage interpreted it:

Sorry that it has the watermark 🙁

And a close up of her face:

Look at that smile!

What do you think.  Is Jeanne the picture of youthful relaxation and comfort, or has she been depicted as the typical actress:  too casual, too tousled, and too approachable?  In other words, not a nice girl.  And how does the interpretation compare to the original outfit?

Rate the Dress on a scale of 1 to 10


  1. I looove the dress in the painting…I’d give it a 9! I think the artist rendered the woman, her dress, her face, her hairstyle in more romantic and demure terms. The photo shows a toothier (but genuine) smile (you don’t often see women from this period smiling in such a modern way for the camera–given that portraiture was usually considered a more formal event that was costly and time consuming at this period). Yet, in the photo, the pose is jovial and sort of sassy (she’s looking right at the camera, she’s not standing up straight, she’s got her hand on her hip in a way that emphasizes her figure/curves/waist, her hat is off, and her parasol is open and down (so not a stuffy posed formal portrait). The girl in the painted image, by contrast, is seated, her legs are crossed, her mouth shows a subtler smile, and the way her head is tilted has more of a wistful, demure feel to it. The dress feels somehow less formal in the painting, though. The skirt feels less structured and more drapey across the front apron (you don’t get the sense of the undergirding worn by the woman in the photo). I love the addition of the contrasting white belt buckle and the colours, etc, give it a sort of “sailor middy” resort dress feel to it, whereas the dress in the photo seems like it was worn over a tighter corset and maybe was made of fancier “frou frou” fabrics

  2. The Jeanne of the paintings is a lot more fragile than the woman in the photos. She has a beautiful realness about her. I love them both.
    I do like the dress, I like its treatment in the painting, so much more luminous than flat 19thC photography can capture. I’d give it an 8. Not a blue fan. Very pretty, very of its time. Which I love!

  3. Natalie says

    I adore it all! The painting definitely has a sweet quality that isn’t in the photo’s. Artistic license I guess. I give it all a 10. Everything is just wonderful!

  4. 10.

    I like that dress.

    But I would be scared if someone smiled at me like she is smiling in the last photo. Not that I hate her smile or anything like that…….. it is just kind of creepy. At least she is actually smiling, though. LOL

      • If one is accustomed to smiling spontaneously, holding a smile long enough for the slow photography techniques of the day to capture it would feel forced. The problem would be worse if you were trying to hold a smile long enough for a painter to capture it (even the great Renoir!). So Jeanne may have been a wee bit uncomfortable smiling for brush or camera, but I suspect her smile was truly warm and nice when you met her in person.

        • I actually wonder if she wasn’t trying to show off her teeth. As an actress and model, she would have been used to smiling and posing and would have known how to show off her best attributes. Good teeth were still a bit of a rarity in the 19th century – Eugenie and Elizabeth of Austria, for example, were both known for being conscious of their teeth, and only smiling with lips closed. So Jeanne may have the odd smile to show off how lovely her teeth were. Just a thought?

        • You both make good sense- I didn’t think about the rarity of good teeth and how long it took for pictures to be taken.

  5. Liz says

    I love her smile in the last photo. So real and friendly. The painting is lovely and the outfit adorable. Really something I could see myself wearing. I give it a 10!

    • Natalie says

      I agree! I think her smile is charming and fun!

  6. I like the dress both ways. The photograph helped me understand the dress better, but the painting gave insight as to the colors.

    It strikes me as a kind of 19th century equivalent of a (clean and hole free) t-shirt and jeans–modest, simple. Something you don’t agonize about wearing. I don’t like the inner pleated part of the bodice, but the rest is charming and definitely something I could see myself wearing. A 9.5.

    • Looking at it closely, I’m pretty sure the inner pleated part of the bodice is actually the same fabric as the skirt, and so what she is wearing is either a dress somewhat like this one, with the jacket being a false effect, or a simple dress with a jacket worn over it.

      • You may well be right, but I still don’t like the effect of the narrow pleats showing through the U-shaped opening; I’d like it better if the bit of underbodice showing looked like a shirt, or was more fitted.

      • Ooh… that makes me like it even more. Well, I already gave it a 10. 😀

      • Love that other dress, I love the big edged ribbons i the skirt, although I can imagine them catching on ever handle and corner and know the wearer brushed past!

  7. I love the dress in both photograph and drawing, but it looks a LOT more comfortable in the drawing – and I really like the added belt.
    The mixture of striped, white (collar) and blue looks fresh and I like the draped and pleated parts – they further emphasize the hourglass-shape. Would be interesting to know whether it was a separate jacket or not, I’d guess not.
    Surely I wouldn’t want to wear this though, the corsage looks like it’s really, really tight (boy, what a waist!) and also the dress is very fitted. How would she ever raise her arm?

    Therefore only a 9/10.

    About the smile in the second photograph: Either she is making fun, or she is showing of her teeth. I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be her normal smile (which can, I think, be seen in photo 1). The bottom teeth are pushed to far to the front.

  8. 9. Most people said it for me. I’ll just add that I love the laciness in the neckline!
    Also, to me it’s her slightly messy hair in the photos that shows she really was not stiff. It reminds me of what my own hair does. 🙂

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