Print

2 January 1848 (published)
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Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

19th century burlesque included the convention of women playing men's roles - an opportunity to show a shapely leg at a time when fashionable full-length, bell-shaped skirts gave no indication that women even had such limbs. For any woman to publicly expose her legs in the 1840s, as Louise Fairbrother is doing, was to invite moral condemnation and social ostracization or to be extremely popular.
One ardent Louise Fairbrother fan was the Duke of Cambridge, first cousin to Queen Victoria and Commander-in-Chief of the Army. Actresses at this period were not accepted by society and members of the Royal Family could not marry without permission of the monarch, so Louise and the Duke could only set up home together. They married in secret just before their third son was born; although probably not amused, Queen Victoria eventually gave their marriage her blessing.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Lithograph coloured by hand with mss caption
Brief Description
Louise Fairbrother as Abdullah in Open Sesame, or A Night with the Forty Thieves. Lithograph coloured by hand by J Brandard after a drawing by J W Child, 1848.
Physical Description
Against rocks with a landscape to the left, stands a female figure in 'male' dress. She stands with her right leg forward, the body slightly turned to her right, with her right arm hand held out, holding a handkerchief, and her left hand on her hip; her head is turned looking over her left shoulder. Her hair is loose and ringletted and on her head she wears a blue 'fez' with a white foliage decoration to the front and at the side a red flower mount with ostrich plumes. The round-necked red bodice finishes in a point centre front with a pointed blue 'belt' with decorative studs; up the front are white 'foliage' motifs; the long sleeves are open at the wrist and lined in blue with small white tassels along the opening. Over the bodice is a blue sleeveless, pointed-fronted jacket, with white floral and foliage decoration. From under the bodice emerges a very short diaphanous skirt, worn over diaphanous thigh-length 'breeches' caught up at the front and held with red tassels; down her right hand side can be glimplsed a red sash. Hanging from a blue belt on her left-hand side is a jewelled scimitar. On her feet are ankle-high fitted blue boots with red toes and white foliage decoration on the sides.
Dimensions
  • Right hand side height: 494mm
  • Lower edge width: 335mm
Marks and Inscriptions
Miss Farebrother (sic) as Abdullah / in the Forty Thieves - (mss pencil) J. W. Child del. Published by Mess Fores. 41 Piccadilly W Jan 2n 1848 J Brandard Lith (mss pencil)
Credit line
Given by Dame Marie Rambert
Object history
Louise Fairbrother is shown as Abdullah in Open Sesame by G A à Beckett and Mark Lemon, performed at the Lyceum Theatre in 1844. This was based on the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

The print is part of the collection of dance prints amassed by Marie Rambert and her husband, Ashley Dukes in the first half of the 20th century. Eventually numbering 145 items, some of which had belonged to the ballerina Anna Pavlova, it was one of the first and most important specialist collections in private hands.

Rambert bought the first print as a wedding present but could not bear to give it away. As the collection grew, it was displayed in the bar of the Mercury Theatre, the headquarters of Ballet Rambert, but in 1968, Rambert gave the collection to the Victoria and Albert Museum; seven duplicates were returned to Rambert, but these are catalogued in Ivor Guest's A Gallery of Romantic Ballet, which was published before the collection came to the V&A. Although often referred to as a collection of Romantic Ballet prints, there are also important engravings of 17th and 18th century performers, as well as lithographs from the later 19th century, by which time the great days of the ballet in London and Paris were over.
Historical context
The large souvenir prints issued in the 1830s and 1840s, are among the most evocative images of dance in the 19th century. Lithography, with its soft quality, enhanced by the delicate yet rich hand-colouring, was ideally suited to the subject - the ballerinas who dominated ballet in the mid-century and the romanticised settings in which they performed; style and subject were perfectly matched. The lithographs produced in London are notable for capturing the personality and style of individual performers in a theatrical setting. They are a fitting tribute to one of ballet's richest periods.

Before the development of colour printing, the basic black and white prints were hand coloured. There is often considerable variation from one print to another, both in colour and quality of the work. The most important souvenir prints, such as this one, would only have been sent out to the best colourists, and it is often very difficult to tell the best hand colouring from early colour printing. In the days before photography, such lithographs were expensive souvenirs, bought by the individual dancer's admirers.
Summary
19th century burlesque included the convention of women playing men's roles - an opportunity to show a shapely leg at a time when fashionable full-length, bell-shaped skirts gave no indication that women even had such limbs. For any woman to publicly expose her legs in the 1840s, as Louise Fairbrother is doing, was to invite moral condemnation and social ostracization or to be extremely popular.

One ardent Louise Fairbrother fan was the Duke of Cambridge, first cousin to Queen Victoria and Commander-in-Chief of the Army. Actresses at this period were not accepted by society and members of the Royal Family could not marry without permission of the monarch, so Louise and the Duke could only set up home together. They married in secret just before their third son was born; although probably not amused, Queen Victoria eventually gave their marriage her blessing.
Associated Object
S.3838-2009 (Version)
Collection
Accession Number
E.5008-1968

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record createdSeptember 22, 2004
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