1870s House of Worth evening dress

Contributed by: Grossmann House - National Trust of NSW

Front view of 1870s House of Worth evening dress bodice Front view of evening dress skirt Close up of evening dress skirt detail Evening dress in storage The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Worth Ball Gown, 1872 (C.I.46.25.1a–d) (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/C.I.46.25.1a-d) An advertisement for the sale of the Eales Estate Duckenfield Farms
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Object information

Significance statement

This alleged House of Worth evening dress, an aqua taffeta dress, heavily hand-embroidered in cream and multi-coloured medallions and pearl-trimmed, and owned and worn by Anna Maria Eales, is a historically significant item of clothing. Whilst it is not well provenanced (the dress’ origin is indeterminate), and whilst it is in poor condition, it’s the subject of an interesting narrative, and characteristic of the profusely and exaggeratedly decorated House of Worth dresses of its time.

Historically, the dress is an archetypical 1870s dress, what with its fullness in the skirt at the rear, and its bustle. It is comparable to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s House of Worth ball gown (c. 1972) (C.I.46.25.1a–d) not only in terms of its trim, medallions and colour, but also in terms of its absorption of excess fabric projected backwards from the body, its compressed waist and full belly.

The alleged House of Worth connection increases the dress’s historical significance. Charles Frederick Worth’s House of Worth designs are notable for their lavish fabrics and trimmings (as is apparent in this dress), their incorporation of elements of historic dress, and their attention to fit, earning Worth titles such as the ‘father of haute couture’ and ‘the first couturier’ (he also pioneered princess-cut dresses and tailor-made suits). The large number of surviving Worth garments in the permanent collection of The Costume Institute, as well as in other institutions in the United Sates, is testament to Worth’s immense popularity among wealthy American patrons, as well as European royalty and aristocrats.

If this dress, what with its high degree of creative and technical accomplishment, is in fact a House of Worth dress, it makes evident the affluence of both the Eales family and Maitland and the Hunter region at large. 

Author: Eloise Maree Crossman, 01.06.2015.

Description

This alleged House of Worth evening dress is an aqua taffeta evening dress, heavily hand-embroidered in cream and multi-coloured medallions.

The bodice has been remade using old lace and embroidery, and is heavily pearl-trimmed, and the back falls into a heavily lace-trimmed tail. The sleeves are also trimmed in wide cream lace, and the bodice boned.  

History and Provenance

John Eales (Senior) was born at Ashburton in England, 1799. He travelled to New South Wales having first spent a short time in Hobart Town where he arrived August 1823 and was granted two 100 acres of land near Morpeth. It was here that Eales established the property known as Berry Park, becoming one of the first settlers on the Hunter River.

Eales worked tirelessly to build up the property, planting it with wheat. The estate became one of the finest in the district and had yielded 10,000 bushels by 1831.

He built a spacious home on the Berry Park property, ensuring the quality of the workmanship by bringing out carpenters and stonemasons recommended by his family in England.

By the end of the 1830s, Eales turned his attention to the development of ship services in the North. As a result, the Hunter River Stream Navigation Company was established, operating three small steamships between Sydney, Morpeth and Morton Bay.

In defiance of the Australian Agricultural Company’s monopoly on coal mining, Eales exploited and exported large quantities of coal from coal mines known as the Duckenfield Collieries. 

By the early 1850s, Eales had acquired over 16,000 acres of freehold land in the Maitland district and owned over twenty stations in various parts of the colony. In 1853-54 he sold many of these properties and began to build the Duckenfield Park House mansion on a property adjoining Berry Park.

Eales died at Duckenfield in 1871 as one of the wealthiest men in New South Wales, passing his property to his eldest son, John Eales Junior. Duckenfield Park House contained 45 rooms, a conservatory, bush houses, hot houses and a rockery, and was constructed of Pyrmont sandstone (shipped to the private wharf on the property). The extravagant home became a show place on the Hunter and entertained many important guests, including several governors (might John Eales Junior have bought the aqua taffeta House of Worth dress for his wife for one such occasion?).

John Eales Junior bought the alleged House of Worth dress in the mid 1800s, most probably after 1861 (and as such not at the Exposition Universalle in Paris as family legend would have it).

It is possible, perhaps probable, that Eales did not purchase a one-of-a-kind piece, more a design that was made to measurement in Worth’s workshop. 

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

John Eales Junior, or Hon. John Eales M.L.C., was the son of John Eales (Senior) and Jane Eleanor Gresley Lavers, born on the 21st of the 6th 1831. He married Anna Maria Gain of Parramatta in 1861.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Charles Frederick Worth, a designer who dominated Parisian fashion in the latter half of the nineteenth century, was born in Bourne, Lincolnshire, England, 1825. As a young man, Worth worked as an apprentice and clerk for two London textile merchants.

Worth relocated to Paris in 1845. Despite early struggles, he found work with Gagelin et Opigez, a prominent firm that sold cloaks, shawls and some ready-made garments, becoming Gagelin et Opigez’s leading salesmen, before opening a small dressmaking department for the company. He contributed to the reputation of the firm with prize-winning designs displayed in the Great Exhibition in London 1851, and the Exposition Universelle in Paris 1855. Worth opened his own firm with business partner Otto Bobergh in 1858 (coinciding with the establishment of the Second Empire in France) and Maison Worth in 1874. 

When Napoleon III married Empress Eugenie (1826-1920), her tastes set the style at court. The Empress’ patronage ensured Worth’s success as a popular dressmaker from the 1860s onward.

Worth’s designs are notable for his use of lavish fabrics and trimmings (as is apparent in this 1870s dress), his incorporation of elements of historic dress, and his attention to fit, earning him titles such as the ‘father of haute couture’ and ‘the first couturier’ (he also pioneered princess-cut dresses and tailor-made suits).

The large number of surviving Worth garments in the permanent collection of The Costume Institute, as well as in other institutions in the United Sates, is testament to Worth’s immense popularity among wealthy American patrons, as well as European royalty and aristocrats.

Worth’s sons Gaston-Lucien (1853-1924) and Jean Philippe (1856-1926) took over their father’s business following his death in 1895 and succeeded in maintaining his high standards. The house flourished during the son’s tenure and into the 1920s, finally coming to an end in 1952. 

Where did this information come from?

The Australian Dictionary of Biography,

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, 

Grossmann House object record 

  1. Place of origin:

    Paris, France?

  2. Owned by:

    Anna Maria Eales 

    (Now owned by Grossmann House, by way of Joan Eales, John Eales Junior’s granddaughter (Joan’s parents were Frederick Eales (John Eale’s Junior’s son) and Vida (Aida) Eugene Portus)) 

  3. Worn by:

    Anna Maria Eales 

  4. Occasion(s):

    Perhaps an afternoon or evening dress, or a special occasion gown 

  5. Place:

    Quite probably Duckenfield Park House, and or elsewhere 

  6. Designed by:

    Allegedly designed by Charles Frederick Worth of House of Worth 

  7. Made by:

    House of Worth, allegedly (the style confirms this, however there is no corroborative label, maker’s mark (Worth was the first designer to label his clothing))

    Perhaps the label was done away with during a repair (of which many have been made to the garment)

    (Worth often supplied performance costumes and personal wardrobes for leading actresses and singers such as Sarah Bernhardt, Lillie Langtry, Nellie Melba and Jenny Lind.) 

  8. Made for:

    Anna Maria Eales 

Trimmings / Decoration

As with other 1870 (House of Worth) dresses, this dress is heavily hand-emrboidered, a lace and pearl trimmed 

Fibre / Weave

Taffeta, a fine, lustrous silk with a crisp texture

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

Label

House of Worth, allegedly (the style confirms this, however there is no corroborative label, maker’s mark (Worth was the first designer to label his clothing))

Perhaps the label was done away with during a repair (of which many have been made to the garment)

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other

Cut

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Condition

Poor, fragile condition; repairs to the bodice (and right sleeve), and shattering throughout the skirt 

Possible water damage 

Evidence of repairs

Evidence of many repairs, the most prominent of which is on the wearer's right sleeve 

State

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

Damage

  1. Crease
  2. Discolouration
  3. Fading
  4. Frayed
  5. Holes
  6. Parts missing
  7. Stained
  8. Torn
  9. Water damage
  10. Worn

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