For all of the talk about fashion on this blog over the last few months, there's been surprisingly little said about shoes. And that's primarily because until the 1880s, shoes were rarely exposed due to the volume of the dresses. The advent of dresses with flatter fronts (and a bustle in the back) were among the first to make ladies' footwear visible.
Although the image above by artist Eva Gonzalès prominently features a pair of delicate white satin slippers trimmed with swansdown, she infrequently showed them in her work. Of her thirty-five paintings that include full-length figures, only seven reveal shoes. But with mystery came fascination. Shoes were fetishized because they covered a part of the body not intended to be on view. In many of the Impressionists' intimate portraits, a mule or slipper dangles from the subject's foot, heightening the informal dishabille of the sitter.
In the exhibition, this painting is placed directly over a case that features shoes very similar to those you see here. And although it's hard to get a sense of scale as you're looking at the image above, you'll be shocked when you see the actual slippers. They're incredibly tiny and narrow, further illustrating a point we've made in several other posts: women in the mid-1800s were, on average, significantly smaller than we are. The shoe, in this case, definitely will not fit.
Image Credit: Eva Gonzalès. The White Slippers, 1879/80. Vera Wang.