19th Century, Rate the dress

Rate the Dress: The Princesse de Broglie princess-off

Last week’s Poiret (?) coat was quite divisive.  Most people really liked it, and a few really didn’t (I’m pretty sure 3 counts as really not liking it!).  Still, there was a lot of Poiret love and it managed and 8.3 out of 10.

This week I’m mixing things up a bit.  A few months ago I did a dress-off, featuring two variants on the same design by one designer.  This week is a Princess-Off, featuring two different Princess de Broglies, by two different artists, from two different eras, with two very different frocks.  Which will you prefer?

The most notable Princesse de Broglie is probably  Josephine Eleonore Marie Pauline de Galard de Brassacede Bearn, painted by Ingres in the early 1850s.  Josephine was a noted beauty, and the mid-19th century ideal: refined, reserved, elegant, delicate, pure.  She looks out of her portrait directly at us, the viewer, but her gaze is remote and aloof, not an invitation, but a barrier, like the chair she leans against.  It separates us, the lowly viewer, from her, the aristocrat and feminine paragon.  The blue of her silk-satin evening gown specifically references the Virgin Mary and adds to the impression of remoteness and purity.  Josephine was dying of consumption even as this painting was completed, and it foreshadows (probably intentionally) her physical inaccessibility and (presumed) ascension to heaven.  Even her headdress forms a halo.

Princesse de Broglie, 1851—53 Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780—1867), Metropolitan Museum of Art

Princesse de Broglie, 1851—53 Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (French, 1780—1867), Metropolitan Museum of Art

Half a century after later another Princesse de Broglie was depicted by another artist famous for his portrayals of beautiful women.  Tissot’s Princesse is as clearly a product of the end of the 19th century as  Josephine was a product of the mid-century.  Tissot’s Princesse (unfortunately I haven’t been able to identify her full name) perches on a table in a confident, informal pose.  She looks away from the viewer, inviting us to consider her at our leisure.  Her ivory frock  may be subdued in colour, but the yellow corselet belt and vivid green-fur trimmed evening cape are almost ostentatious, especially when paired with her wide purple collar.  This Princesse is opinionated rather than reserved, distinctive rather than restrained, sophisticated rather than elegant, confident rather than delicate, earthly rather than heavenly.  Sartorially and personality-wise, she is the opposite of the first Princesse, though both would have been clad in the costliest, most fashionable dresses.

The Princesse De Broglie, James Tissot, 1895, pastel on linen, sold by Sotheby's in 2011

The Princesse De Broglie, James Tissot, 1895, pastel on linen, sold by Sotheby’s in 2011

What do you think?  Do you prefer mid-century elegance and refinement, or late century flair and distinctiveness?  Is one tasteful and restrained, the other gaudy and obtrusive?  Or is one fussy and conventional, the other sophisticated and witty?  (OK, I need to stop before I run out of adjectives).

Rate each dress on a Scale of 1 to 10 (different ratings please!  It’s no fun if you say they are both the same thing) and we’ll see which Princesse was the more stylish.


  1. Ingres — 7 out of 10. Polished and aristrocratic, lovely fabric, but not personally fond of the bare-shouldered, massively-crinolined style.

    Tissot — 3 out of 10. Although I usually like styles from this era, the Princess looks as if her dresser grabbed things at random, and the basic dress color unfortunately is an almost dead match for her skin tone.

  2. Ergh! This is a tough one!
    Both of the dresses are so different. And when they’re shown on a human being, it’s hard not to rate the dresses AND the personality in them!
    I’m much more a fan of late 19th century than mid 19th century. But the later dress might just be a little too much… She looks like a fluffed-out kea parrot, with that cape. But she also looks like she would have been a bit more interesting to talk to than the first princess. 😀
    I keep scrolling up to look at the dresses again, and every time I look at that crazy outfit, I fall more in love with it.
    Ummm so…. for the first dress.
    Blue is my favorite color, I’ve always admired this painting for the very pretty fabric, and I love the frothy lace. Even though I really don’t care for the mid 19th century fashion, I like this dress pretty well, and I’m going to give it a 8/10.
    As for the second dress, which happens to be from an era I quite like… I don’t really like the colors. But I like them a lot all together. And the style of the dress is great. So 9/10. It just works. Even with the humongous lines of the shoulder, and the look of a fluffed out kea. (Keas are very cute, though.)

  3. Daniel says

    The second one is Helen Mirren, surely? I’ll start with her.

    WOW. That cape is bonkers, bat-poo crazy, and I really dig it. The green fur! The lavender lining! The fungal-coated sloth fur effect of the outer fabric! In theory, it sounds INCREDIBLY unappealing, and yet – it’s so whacked out it’s fantastic. And she really works it. The contrast with the glowing buttercream dress, with accents in vivid yellow, is bold and startling, but tres styling. She is really working her look with epic style and bold bravura. I love her for it. The wearer is making the clothes work for her, so the rating is higher than for the garments divorced from her – and it has to be a nine out of ten.

    Now the first one. Classic. Elegant. Stunningly beautiful. Lovely fabric. Lovely lady. The epitome of gracious well-bred elegance. If I had to rate this by itself, it would be a ten out of ten, but if I have to choose between the two… sorry, I’m gonna have to go for the one who steals the show. So I’ll give her a 8.5 out of 10 and head off for tea in the conservatory with the one who looks like she’d be a lot more fun to hang out with.

    • Daniel says

      I’ll say it before anyone else does. Is this a Broglie imbroglio?

  4. I am very familiar with the Ingres, and have always thought it was an excellent example of a ballgown from the era, as well as a dress that beautifully complimented the wearer. It gets a 10 of 10 from me, and it’s a 10 that I think would looks lovely on me as well.

    I’m much less enchanted by Tissot’s princess. Although the woman is handsome, the dress doesn’t suit her well. The color scheme is bland, and the scooped neckline, ribbon choker and yellow accents look more slutty than daring, somehow. I do like the brown and green cape, but it’s not enough to make the outfit as a whole first-rate. Because of the problems with the gown, I give the Tissot princess only a 6.5, with the Ingres princess definitely the winner!

  5. Oh, this one’s a toughie. The Ingres painting is one of my favorites because of the way light and softness is captured. I give the dress itself an 8/10 because I love the color and the accessorizing happening with the hair/veil. The colors really suit the earlier Princess of Broglie’s skin tone and she looks radiant (could be the painter’s skill, but I think it’s a combo of looks, painter’s skill, and awesome stylist).

    The Tissot painting is wonderful. I love the painterly style of the pastels, but… the green. This is where I diverge and prefer the Ingres painting. That green just sucks the life out of her skin and makes her look slightly sick. The color of her dress, and this may just be how light is represented in the painting or the aging of the linen canvas, blends exactly with this princess’s skin tone! Where does the dress end and skin begin? Who knows? Either way, the yellow details and slime green were not my fave. Why didn’t they go with the beautiful cobalt blue of the choker she’s wearing? Too late now!
    2/10 for the Tissot’s princess.

  6. Ohh! I love the blue dress painting so much more (but then, I am partial to 1850s and 1860s dresses in general…). I give it a 10/10 for being lovely, refined, and elegant. Crazy green fur painting gets a 6/10 because really, all those colors mixed together are a bit much and she doesn’t look very inviting to me. I think she actually looks more aloof.


  7. Gill says

    The first dress I think would have been uncomfortable and awkward to wear it is fussy and restrictive. 5/10. The second dress is elegant and the colour of my favourite icecream yum. 8/10

  8. Sue H says

    Though I find 1895 more interesting than 1851, yellow doesn’t appeal to me at all and blue satin does. Love blue satin. Also there is something so wrong about the 1895 neckline. It seems unbalanced and is just ugly to me. 1851 7/10 insipid except for the blue satin. 1895 6/10 – just too bold and not my thing.

  9. I love the first one, the lines, the colour they all work well together and she looks radiant! 10/10

    The Tissot I don’t like much at all, the colours are insipid; they don’t work well together at all (what was she thinking with that blue choker?) and the neckline is somehow not right either. 3/10

  10. Lynne says

    You are not making this easy, setting Tissot up against Ingres, two of my favourite painters of clothing (this sells both of them short, but you know what I mean).

    I didn’t know the background to Ingres’ princess – so thank you kindly for that – and I have to say that adds a poignancy that pulls me even more towards this painting. I do see the charm of Tissot’s princess – she probably would be a lot more fun to go to tea with, even if she does look a bit like Helen Mirren playing a kea, but how can I not give my heart to Ingres’ painting of that blue satin? Every fold and crease, and the perfection of the glisten of the satin.

    Even trying to forget the qualities of the painters and the charm of their subjects, and trying to concentrate on the style of the dresses, I have to come down with Ingres. The lovely, lovely skirt; the lovely shape of the neckline, outlined in that perfect pleated ruffle; the delicate yet generous lace in the sleeves that just seems to balance the skirt. And if I have to play off the cream and gold shawl draped over the chair against the floofy and bold cape – well, cream and gold does it every time. 10/10 for Ingres’ princess, 7/10 for Tissot’s.

    The Tissot dress is a nice sleek sheath, with a pleasing gold inset belt – I like the way the bodice is gathered into the point. But the neckline is perilously low, at nipple-level, it must be, even for such a modestly endowed lady. Risky. The gold collar/neck edge is not quite right. The cape is a great accessory, and I love the colour.

    This outfit is an ‘Ooooh! where the first one is a ‘Wow!’.

  11. 8 out of 10 for the first one, beautiful and elegant, but safe.
    10 out of 10 for the second, for the bold color combination and interesting contrast of lines and shapes.

  12. Dress I’d want to wear=1 (I love that color)
    Lady I’d like to meet=2 (She looks like she’d be a hoot at a party)
    Painting I’d like hanging in my house=1 (I feel more relaxed looking at it.)

    So looks like 1 wins with me. I’d give 1 an 8/10 and 2 a 6/10.

  13. Heather says

    The first one: If you pinched her, she wouldn’t scream. Tepid. Her underwear are starched and scratchy, but she does not move. 4.5 of 10, the blue is tres charmant.

    The second one: Is she even wearing any underwear?! I want to hang out with her!

    The first princess, was worn by a dress. The second princess wears some clothes.

    The Tissot gets a 9 of 10, 6 is just out of respect for her not being yet another insipid princess painting! This will be the only time I ever say, “Go, Green!”

  14. Cat says

    For me, there is no contest.
    I am utterly in love with Tissot’s Princess and that most fabulous cape. I am so in love, I plan to make myself a version of it at some point. Unfortunately, the dress is like a pedestal for that Cape, but fortunately, she chose well, as anything more elaborate might have clashed horribly. I am not sold on the choker, but that is more for it’s width than it’s colour.
    All-in-all 9.5 out of 10.

    As for Ingres’ Princess….
    Well, all I can say is that is a beautiful fabric. I cannot see enough of the dress to really decide whether I like it as a dress. I see lace sleeves, nicely pleated trim, too many bows, and what seems to be a hill made of blue silk. Where is she under all that? How far does it go? We will never know.
    I would not make myself a version of this dress, nor would I be interested in joining the sad princess in her corner.
    4 out of 10 because it does have nice trim and the colour is lovely.

  15. Ingres: 10. Love it, the color, the design, the hair. And she is a pretty pretty princess. We probably wouldn’t be friends, she looks stuck up.

    The Tissot: 2/10. Ugly dress, not pretty princess, but she’s the one I hang out with.

  16. This is a bit tough for me. I love the color and the lace on the 1851 dress. Not a fan of the ribbons dangling from the sleeves, but overall I like most of the dress. Not in love, but I like it. On the other hand, I really, really like the look of the 1895 yellow dress. Yellow isn’t usually mu favorite color, but here I don’t mind it. What I do mind is the crazy blue collar and the insane green fluff on the cape. Without the accessories the later dress would be the clear winner for me because I really love the dress (9/10 for just the dress). But, well, the accessorizing kills it for me. Kills it dead. So…

    1850s: 7/10

    1895: 5/10

    …I guess Princess Josephine is the winner.

  17. The second dress looks like all those dresses we accuse of having changed colours over time in Rate the Dress. And that’s not a good thing with a dress on a painting! 3/10 I rather like the underlying structure of the ensemble, but the colours throw it all off. If the main dress was actually white, it would be quite striking, though.

    The first – I just know I’d be head over heels with it and its simplicity if I saw it in person. (The neckline treatment is similar to the dress from the Museum in Písek collections I did see in person, which kind of confirms my suspicions that the latter was an early 50s number.) And, of course, it’s blue and white. It’s not quite so striking to earn a full 10, but it’s a very respectable 9 from me.

  18. karenb says

    Tissot’s Princess…I love the cape , not keen on the neckline of the dress but I still like it all enough to give it 8/10. And yes she looks far more fun to be with.

    Ingres Princess…lovely blue, everything is clear and beautifully painted but how real is it all? If he can paint her skin and hair so nice when she’s ill then maybe the dress is better in the painting than in real life. But overall the blue dress is prettier than the other dress.
    Actually it’s all a bit difficult. I want to give the 2nd painting lots of points for being real looking but the pretty dress in the first really catches my eye…. okay 9/10

  19. Joie de Vivre says

    Blue princess: I am enamoured with the skillful way the painter has captured the silk, the lustre and the little wrinkles are so tactile that you just KNOW what that fabric will feel like to touch… and I want to touch it. And it is a very pretty colour! But the dress overall is not gaspworthy. The lace looks delicate and finely made, the pleated trim reminds me of something you would make and invest hours into getting just right, but even so there is no sharp intake of breath. So 7.

    Yellow princess: This does make me gasp, the fur trimmed cape especially, but I also love the corselet and the overall silhouette. It is so rare to see yellow and green as well and although these particular yellows and greens I wouldn’t wear I love the way they’ve been used. I’m not sold on the choker, mainly the combination width and contrast colour – I would have preferred one or the other. Despite loving it, there are others I love more and others I love much more, so 8.5.

  20. Lene H says

    1851 dress – The dress is too typical, to me it’s almost bordering on cliche for the era. On the other hand I want to touch her arm to see if her skin is as soft as it looks. The luminosity of her skin also helps create the impression of otherworldliness. But she seem so frozen, therfore I only give her 5/10

    1895 dress – She looks ready to kick up her heels. Though I’m not sold on the choker (don’t like chartreuse and purple together!). She is somebody I would like to sit next to for a couple of hours 🙂 Because of the choker, she only gets 8/10

  21. Oh my heart is with #2. While I am in awe of Ingres’ capturing of the texture of stain – that dress, and the chair too, it is not to my taste at all.
    I feel the two paintings say a lot about the change of times from one era to the next. I love Princess #2 – I love how Tissot has painted her but I also love her outfit.
    It is very fashion forward, if not froward even! The shapes and colours are reminiscent of fashion 15 years later, if not the hour glass cinching of the shape. And that Cape!! It takes a LOT of personality to carry off that dramatic cape, and carry it off she does.
    So in both cases, painter and subject are in perfect balance, saying what there is to say about the subject and the time she is painted. I cannot put one over the other in that regard, so that leaves me just with my own preferences.
    I give #1 a 6 for the beautiful painting of a dress I personally wouldn’t take the time to capture for eternity. I give #2 a 9 for a beautiful outfit beautifully painted on a beautiful woman.

  22. Lisa says

    Tissot all the way 9/10. Green fur, lilac lining, sulphur yellow accents, creamy ivory, the shock of the lapis blue choker – love it all. This woman is definitely one who’d be drinking absinthe at 2am.

    Sorry Ingres, it’s a 2/10 from me. I think I’m swimming against the tide with this one but am not a fan of mid 19c dresses and find the silhouette rather ho-hum. I like the lace and you got an extra mark for the the accessories.

  23. fidelio says

    Is that greeen fur trim or green feather trim? Especially on the right side (the sitter’s left), it looks loose enough to be feathers rather than fur. And green feathers seem both avant-garde enough to suit this lady and more likely, in the time period, to be used than green fur.

    Also, I think this lady is Pauline de La Forest d’Armaille, wife of Louis-Alphonse-Victor, 5th duc de Broglie; her father-in-law died in 1901, so when this was painted her husband would have been using the Prince de Broglie title (please don’t ask me why Duc trumps Prince here–it’s a French thing!) If this is Princesse (later Duchesse)Pauline, her younger son Louis, later to be the seventh duc, won a Nobel Prize for work in physics. Her elder son Maurice was also a physicist. Her daughter Pauline de Broglie, Comtesse de Pange was an historical writer, with a specialty in Madame de Staël, who was her great-grandmother Albertine’s mother. The elder Pauline had, if I recall correctly, a reputation as a brilliant and challenging woman.

    Which is in line with her dress–that green/brown cape (it looks like a shot silk) with its green trimand mauve lining, and the bright yellow trim on the otherwise perfectly conventional pale dress, along with the blue choker that doesn’t go with anything else she’s wearing make up an ensemble no timid, conventional woman would have worn in 1895. I think in this case the woman makes the dress, and I’d give the outfit a 7.

    For her mother-in-law (I wonder if the pose, which obscures the upper part of the skirt, was chosen because she was pregnant; she had sons born in 1851 and 1854, which fall within the dates given for this portrait)–it’s a lovely dress, trimmed just enough, accesorized just enough, and likely to look good on the wearer, no matter the lighting. It’s not as bold a choice, but it’s a perfect choice. Like the pink and black dress from the week before last, it has all the virtues of its era and none of the faults. I give it a 9 of 10.

    So: Josephine 9/10, Pauline? 7/10

    • I guess Duc trumps Prince because it’s the other kind of Prince. It doesn’t work in English either (French terminology transferred!), but there are two different words in Czech. And German, too – the other kind of Prince is Fürst.

  24. Daniel says

    I think the second may even be wearing an evening coat slung over her shoulders (very modern!) not a cape – looks like I can see two armholes just below the cape collar, and a hint of vast, ballooning sleeves.

  25. I’m a sucker for Ingres, I love all this work and this is actually one of my favorites, but, I don’t particulary love love love the dress, it’s beautifull, I love the color but somehow the trim, lace and ribbons seem a little bit to big. So it will get a 9

    The other one is just off :s I dont like the colors at all and the parts of the ensamble seem really weird toghether. I’ll give it a 2 becaus (dispite the horrible color) the cape is quite awesome and I’m a sucker for fur.

  26. Brenda says

    Both dresses are gorgeous in their own right! The first dress is nearly perfect in every way (the delicate late, the jewelry that adds just a bit of sophistication)…except maybe a bit too much blue, somehow? So I rate it a 9.5/10.
    I love how bold and modern the second dress looks, but the green cape looks a bit too ostentatious (looks like she could fly away!) and the dark purple choker is a bit too dark (maybe something thinner would have been better). So I give it an 8/10

    Yet oddly enough, overall, I like the second dress better. I love how daring, yet classy it looks. I love the bold choice of colors that set off the plain ivory of the dress. The second dress, as lovely as it may be, seems a bit staid in comparison.

  27. I love the early 1850’s (not as much as I love the late 1840’s though), the huge skirts, the neckline, the lace! It’s gorgeous!
    The off the shoulder thing looks rather uncomfortable, and the blue is a bit too pale for my taste, but it’s still extremely pretty. I much prefer her simple hairstyle to the poodle ear coiffure of that era.

    The second princess appears to be some wacky plant growing in a greenhouse. Actually, a greenhouse plant would probably have a more tasteful colour scheme, this thing is a mess. The crazy sleeves and crazy mossy egret trim makes it top heavy, and the neckline is needlessly scoopy. I do like crazy and eccentric clothing, but not this.

    9.5 for the first princess.

    3 for the second princess.

    Josephine wins.

  28. 1850’s. I like her lace, I quite like the blue, I like the matching hair accessories. I love the way the lace forms the sleeve in layers. I do wonder how her Lady’s Maid fared afterwards though, she could have ironed it surely?
    1895. I love the shape of this dress, with the v-shaped pleated bodice and the yellow cummerbund. Really not sure what the yellow collar that seems to run out of steam just before it gets to the front is doing though, it looks very strange. I love the green cape with furry edge and the shade of green goes perfectly with the yellow. And I like the yellow border at the hem of the dress, I bet that helped with it’s shape as well as giving it a finishing touch. The flow and line of the dress is gorgeous and she looks so elegant sat there on the edge of the table. It looks more like a casual snapshot than a posed portrait.

    In conclusion: 1850s 5/10 for colour and lace; 1895 8/10 for style (would have been higher but for that strange collar)

  29. I prefer the Tissot dress.
    By the way, she may be Pauline de la Forest d’Armaille, wife of Victor Broglie.

  30. So-o-0 difficult! But I’ve decided that I don’t *love* either. The dress in the Ingres portrait is just too big and flouncy. I love what I can see of her headdress though. 5/10
    The Tissot? I could almost love this – she does look the more interesting of the two. I hate that green fur but do like the graceful belt and the line of the dress. She is wonderfully elegant and charismatic. 7/10

  31. MTangel says

    Hmm, it’s interesting what a difference oil versus pastel makes.

    Ingres: 9/10
    The treatment of the fabrics is amazing. It’s certainly very classically-posed, so it doesn’t feel as “friendly” as the Tissot, but it’s just beautiful.

    Tissot: 5/10
    I can’t get past the colors and the low neck. She looks like one of Toulouse-Lautrec’s dance hall girls. The shape of the dress itself could look very nice, if the neckline wasn’t dangerously low. Using pastel makes it feel warmer and more friendly. But I’m not really the bouncy, exciting type myself so I know I would never want to spend time with her at parties. If she sneezes or reaches up, things will show, and that would be very embarrassing.

  32. The Ingres is one of my favourite dresses from its era, but when I look at it next to the Tissot I find myself thinking it looks just a little bit staid and fussy. The colour of the Tissot is a bit bland for my taste, but I’m in love with the cape. I have a feeling I may be off to the fabric store on Saturday…

    And Tissot’s princess looks like she’s more fun than Ingres’. To me, she’s far more attractive than Josephine the noted beauty.

    7/10 for Ingres, but 9/10 for Tissot.

  33. April says

    Dress 1 (Ingres) 10. Dress 2 (Tissot) – well this one is more complicated. I think on it’s own the dress would be a solid 9, as would the wrap, but throw them together and add the necklace to the mix and the score starts spiraling downward… I’m giving it a 7, quick! before it sinks even lower!

  34. Zach says

    I’m a tad late, aren’t I? As much as I like our sassy later princess, with her fun mix of colors, I’m going to have to side with our lady in blue. I actually don’t see her as being snobby in the least. She looks kind and sweet, and maybe it’s just me knowing her death, but to me it looks like she’s accepted her fate. She reminds me of an angel! She’s actually a lot more like me than the other (by a long shot). The blue satin and white lace combination are very pretty, and I love her gold and white coat; they wouldn’t go with it extremely well if she weren’t wearing a gold necklace. It also doesn’t hurt that the dress is from one of my favorite periods. The second lady, while rather daring, isn’t as pretty to me. The cut is very nice, but the yellow things at the neckline are somewhat strangely placed. The coat is interesting, to say the least, but the necklace would have to go. You know, I think I would actually have more fun with the first lady? I don’t think she’d be extremely stuffy–at least no more than I am. I think I’m too much of an introvert to have much fun with the second princess. She seems like she would do all sorts of things that would be fun to most, but would frighten me.

    I’d have to say ten for the first, and seven and a half for the second.

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