Attributed to Liberty of London (British, founded 1875)
Yellow China silk; L. at center back 55 1/2 in. (141 cm)
Purchase, Gifts from various donors, 1985 (1985.155)
The design house Liberty & Company was known for its "artistic" dresses, with romantic and artisanal medieval effects, or faintly exotic and orientalizing motifs and silhouettes. This evening dress is particularly rare and unusual in that it fully incorporates what were viewed as classical elements of the period. The asymmetrical bodice with chiton sleeves alludes to the wearing of a himation anchored at one shoulder. Likewise, the two bowknots replace the fibulae that would have held together an ancient peplos. But the strongest classicizing detail of the gown is in its densely gathered silk, a technique that conjures the wet-drapery of classical statuary. While the gown's internal structure, with a wasp-waisted corset and bell-shaped underskirt, conforms to the fashionable hourglass silhouette of the period, its surface is intended to replicate the articulated folds that characterize classical renderings of drapery. This softly gathered surface would also have conveyed a tantalizing "naturalism." The consequence is an impression of the female body as less confined by the rectitude of a precise and controlled tailoring.