When gentlemen wore ruffles, and gold-lace waistcoats. Curated by Emma Laws. Image: Waiscoat, English 1780s

Text © The Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Illustration of ‘Noon’ by William Hogarth © The Trustees of the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Illustration of the English waistcoat c.1780s © The Trustees of the Victoria & Albert Museum.
All Beatrix Potter drawings © F. Warne & Co. 2003
Frederick Warne & Co. is the owner of all rights, copyrights & trademarks in the Beatrix Potter character names and illustrations.
Illustrations from The Tailor of Gloucester reproduced by kind permission of Tate.

 

Tailor of Gloucester quote: In the time of swords and and periwigs and full skirted coats with flowered lappets - when gentlement wore ruffles, and gold-laced waistcoats of paduasory and taffeta - there lived a tailor in Gloucester

 

Many of Beatrix Potter’s stories begin ‘Once upon a time…’. The Tailor of Gloucester is unusual in that the story takes place at a specific period – ‘the time of swords and periwigs’ – between about 1735 and 1785. Beatrix went to extraordinary lengths to create an authentic setting. Passing a tailor’s shop in Chelsea one day, she deliberately tore a button off her coat and took it in to be mended so she could observe at first hand the tailor’s posture, tools and workbench.

Illustration from The Tailor of Gloucester: the tailor sewing

Beatrix sought inspiration for the Mayor of Gloucester’s coat and embroidered waistcoat in the 18th-century clothes owned by her local museum, the V&A.

In March 1903 she wrote to her publisher, Norman Warne:

“I have been delighted to find I may draw some most beautiful 18th century clothes at the South Kensington Museum. I had been looking at them for a long time in an inconvenient dark corner of the Goldsmith’s Court, but had no idea they could be taken out of the case. The clerk says I could have any article put on a table in one of the offices, which will be most convenient.’
(Letter to Norman Warne, 27th March 1903).

Her sketches are so accurate that it is possible to identify the original garments, including the mayor’s waistcoat, ‘worked with poppies and corn-flowers’, in the V&A’s collections.

Composite image: illustrations from The Tailor of Gloucester with waistcoat in the V&A

 

Tailor of Gloucester quote: The Mayor of Gloucester shall be married by noon

 

Composite image: engraving and etching of Hogarth's Noon [detail] and fronticepiece illustration fot The Tailor of Gloucester

In May 1903 Beatrix made many sketches of Gloucester whilst visiting friends in nearby Stroud. The street scenes in her story, particularly that of the tailor’s shop in College Court, depict actual places in the city.

Her frontispiece is an exception. Here, Beatrix based her illustration on a London street scene by William Hogarth (1697-1764). She used the painting to establish the period setting of her story, even picking out details of the gentleman’s attire (‘swords and periwigs and full-skirted coats’) in her opening sentence.

Hogarth’s original painting, Noon of 1736, is at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire and Beatrix is unlikely to have seen it. Instead, she may have come across the engraved print on one of her many visits to the ‘Art Reading Room’ at the V&A.

List of objects on display

Waistcoat
English, 1780s

Beatrix sketched this waistcoat in the V&A and copied it exactly in her illustrations of the Mayor of Gloucester’s costume. It originally formed part of a full dress suit, comprising a plain-coloured coat and breeches and a richly embroidered silk waistcoat. The motifs on the waistcoat would have been repeated on the coat and breeches.

Ivory satin embroidered in coloured silks, front edges laid with cotton net edged with chenille

Museum No. 652A-1898

Waistcoat, English 1780s

Beatrix Potter
Sketch of waistcoat

[1903]

Beatrix Potter’s sketch shows the V&A’s waistcoat as it appears on page 53 of the 2002 edition of The Tailor of Gloucester. The waistcoat has been folded in half to show the left front. Beatrix observes tiny details with great accuracy, specially in the embroidered leaves and flowers along the front edge.

Sketch of waistcoat [1903] Linder Collection LC 9/A/2

Watercolour and pencil

Linder Collection LC 9/A/2

 

Beatrix Potter
Studies and completed illustrations for Gentleman Mouse and Lady Mouse
[1903]

Beatrix Potter dressed the mice in authentic 18th-century costume, based partially on garments in the V&A’s collections. Gentleman Mouse wears court dress, with a tricorne hat. Lady Mouse wears an open cotton gown, red silk quilted petticoat, apron and linen mob cap. The teacups date from about 1800.

Illustration for Lady Mouse [1903] Linder BEquest LB 793 (BP 473a)Illustration for Gentleman Mouse [1903] Linder Bequest LB 794 (BP 473b)

Watercolour and pencil

Linder Collection LC 23/A/1
Linder Bequest LB 791 (BP 472a); LB 793 (BP 473a) pictured above left; LB 794 (BP 473b) pictured above right

 

William Hogarth
Noon
Dated 25 March 1738

Hogarth depicts a procession from a French church in St Giles-in-the-Fields. Beatrix Potter adapted the picture for her frontispiece illustration

Engraving and etching

Forster Collection F.118 (68)

William Hogarth, Noon, engraving and etching, 1738
 
 

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