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Friday, December 02, 2016

Parisian Luxury

George Curikshank, Parisian Luxury. London: G Humphrey, 1824. 1954.1880.1831. Collection of the Rosenbach.
Although this 1824 print by George Cruikshank was doubtless intended as a dig at the stereotypically spoiled French dandy, I often find myself admiring the  dandy's set up, especially as we head into the craziness of the holiday season.  The idea of relaxing  in a brimming full hot bathtub while getting to enjoy a hot beverage from a beautiful silver coffeepot sounds pretty nice. At first I thought he was using some sort of ingenious (but possibly precarious) floating tray, but looking closely at the print, it seems to be a three legged table that is perched in the bath.

This is an English print and the British were pretty slow to catch on to hot bathing. You can read a great article on colonial bathing on Colonial Williamsburg's website, and although by 19th century bathing was becoming more common, this print clearly indicates that it was still seen as characteristically (even foppishly) French. Napoleon had famously been a fan of hot baths. A widely quoted excerpt from a memoir by his friend and secretary Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne explains:

His partiality for the bath he mistook for a necessity. He would usually remain in the bath two hours, during which time I used to read to him extracts from the journals and pamphlets of the day, for he was anxious to hear and know all that was going on. While in the bath, he was continually turning on the warm water to raise the temperature, so that I was sometimes enveloped in such a dense vapour that I could not see to read, and was obliged to open the door . 

Note that Napoleon not only liked baths but had a tub with piped in hot water! Our French dandy just has a regular tub that has to be filled and emptied by hand (by his servants, of course). Bourrienne's memoir is not always the most accurate account, but Napoleon's penchant for baths is confirmed by other memoirists as well and many suggest that long hot baths were linked to his becoming fat.

Like Napoleon, who got caught up news while in the bath, our dandy is actually being remarkably efficient--at the same time as he is bathing, he is also getting his barbering and manicuring needs taken care of. His barber, at the right, is shaving his head so that his wig (on the wig stand in the center background) will fit properly. I'm not exactly sure what is being done to his foot at the left, but medical historian Dr. Alun Withy notes in his fascinating blog post on 18th-century hand and nail care that " From around 1750... a range of practitioners began to specialize in hand and nail care, and advertised their services....By the later 18th century...the first ‘chiropodists’ were beginning to appear."

All things considered, I think I'd like to sign up for the dandy package. Perhaps we could all emulate Napoleon and get our work done while lounging in the bathtub (much later, the codebreaker Dilly Knox would  break WWI codes in the bathtub, so some Brits eventually embraced the idea). We'll see if it catches on.



Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach and the primary poster for the Rosen-blog


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