Wednesday, 7 May 2014

James Gillray: Fashionable Contrasts

It is no secret that one of my favourite figures of the Georgian era is, of course, the famed caricaturist, James Gillray. Gillray captured the essence of the long 18th century, portraying its most famed figures in sometimes the most unflattering light. 

Fashionable Contrasts by James Gillray, 1792
Fashionable Contrasts by James Gillray, 1792

One of his most famous works is Fashionable Contrasts and since today marks the birthday of the owner of the most delicate feminine feet pictured in the work, I thought I would take a look at this famed print.

James Gillray
James Gillray

When Princess Frederica Charlotte of Prussia married Frederick, Duke of York and Albany on 29th September 1791, she entered into a love affair with the British press who were charmed by her supposed daintiness. By all accounts a very slightly built lady, she was possessed of two things that seemed to drive people to distraction and just what were those two things?


Her tiny feet.

Supposedly measuring less than six inches in length and usually clad in exquisite footwear, the feet became famed. Copies of her tiny shoes were sold as royal souvenirs and fashionable ladies wore their own shoes ever smaller in an attempt to emulate her. To Gillray, this clamour over the Duchess was too good an opportunity to miss.


Frederica Charlotte of Prussia by Joseph Friedrich August Darbes
Frederica Charlotte of Prussia by Joseph Friedrich August Darbes

Fashionable Contrasts;—or—The Duchess's little Shoe yeilding to the Magnitude of the Duke's Foot, was published by Hannah Humphrey on 24th January 1792. It depicts the tiny feet of the Duchess of York in jewelled slippers, caught in an obviously compromising position with the large and ungainly feet of her husband, the Duke. A simple yet instantly recognisable image, the print was enormously popular and has since become one of Gillray's best known and loved prints. 

Frederick, Duke of York by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1788
Frederick, Duke of York by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1788

This simple yet withering attack was an instant hit and the adoration of the feet of the Duchess suddenly became just a little less vocal, until it had faded completely. In fact, the marriage of the Duke and Duchess was not to last and Frederica and her celebrated feet retired to a life of eccentricity in Surrey, where she spent the rest of her days.


Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

5 comments:

  1. With such tiny feet, Frederica Charlotte would have been a hit in China when "lotus"feet were admired.

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  2. According to Darbes, she's awfully plain, so perhaps the feet made up for the face. Pushkin had a foot fetish, so I suppose feet are erotic to some.

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    1. If nothing else, hers were certainly dainty!

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  3. It's wonderful to see the cartoonist Steve Bell using this cartoon as the basis for a satire on the relationship between Donald Trump and Theresa May!

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