Part 2, Vibrancy
|Singing in the Rain MGM 1952
As if to reinforce the notion of jarring modern color, on a fluke the other night we watched the movie ‘Singing in the Rain.’ So bumping along with the film, focusing on it and a book at the same time suddenly my eye caught the ’Gotta Dance’ sequence. Saturated dyes and pigments of chartreuse, lemon, fuchsia, orange and electric blue traveled across the screen coloring everything with the same color palette used by Arnoux.
Of course this was a dream sequence in a movie musical from the 1950s, so careful with putting too much stock in accuracy, but… while these 1920s colors were jarring, at the same time they were reminiscent of the colors I saw years ago in Bath on Regency under gowns. In that exhibit the pastel colors of the regency women were in fact electrically vibrant colors muted by the shear muslin over gowns. The muslin gauze tempered the brilliant colors like a painter’s glaze. This was not a world of pastel dyed garments, but a pigment charged palette vying for attention with the driven hues of the Regency interior.
Those examples shattered my notion of the Grecian refinement that I tended to associate with clothing of this period and it has stayed with me over the years. The Arnoux’s pochoirs reflected the insouciance that we regard as a hallmark of the Jazz Age, but it also put me in mind of that earlier exhibit and the randiness of the early 19th century suddenly looked more modern for it.
The French Régence, the English Regency and the Jazz Age were not and are not the same period, but how striking some of the similarities, a generation maturing during a series of wars and revolutions, feeling distanced from the previous generation and breaking from that generation not only in the silhouette clothing, but the color palette of that clothing.
The images from the 1920s captured the essence of a moment pervading the inner war years and transferred it to an earlier period. Historically, the 1920s colors may have been wrong based on available dyes during the 18th century and even the early 19th century but it reminds me to be vigilant to the possibilities of the improbable.
Jeff Hopper is a Consultant, Historic House Steward and Social Historian