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  • Object:

    Design for a fancy-dress costume

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    1860s (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Sault, Léon (designer)
    Worth, Charles Frederick, born 1825 - died 1895 (designed for)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    watercolour and pencil drawing

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the House of Worth

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case 96, shelf D, box 5

This design was created by Leon Sault, possibly for Charles Frederick Worth. It is one of the most startling and outrageous costume designs in the collection. The deep crimson crinoline skirt is decorated with cavorting demons climbing up pitchforks and swinging from ropes, and bats in flight, with an overskirt shaped and patterned to suggest a black lizard skin with gilded scales. An owl in flight forms the wearer's bodice, and her headdress is a devil with horns and a pitchfork sitting in flames. She wears a veil and matching tulle oversleeves in black, spangled with stars and moons. The costume probably represents Hell, although it could also be "Nightmare". Léon Sault was a fashion and theatre designer and illustrator who later became a magazine editor, publishing some of his fancy dress costume designs as part of a series titled "L'Art du Travestissment" (The Art of Fancy Dress). His designs included characters such as Mephistopheles and embodiments of concepts such as Astronomy.

During the 1860s, Empress Eugenie of France threw a number of extravagant masquerade balls which required the guests to wear elaborate and inventive costumes that were made up by Worth and other Paris dressmakers. Worth, a relative newcomer, became the Empress's favoured couturier at the end of the 1850s. This made him extremely fashionable, and the rest of the ladies of Eugenie's court also bought gowns from him - and so too did their husbands' mistresses, and anyone wealthy enough to afford Worth's very high prices. As a result, Worth was under great pressure to produce vast numbers of unique, one of a kind costumes and gowns, often at very short notice. This is one of a large number of similar designs and sketches that were given to the V&A as part of the archive and reference collection of the House of Worth, making it extremely likely that it was originally designed for a guest to wear to one of the Empress's magnificent balls.

Physical description

Watercolour drawing, a design for a theatrical or masquerade fancy-dress ball costume. The corsage is made to represent an owl in flight, and the crinoline skirt is decorated with cavorting demons. A devil in flames forms the headdress.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)


1860s (made)


Sault, Léon (designer)
Worth, Charles Frederick, born 1825 - died 1895 (designed for)

Materials and Techniques

watercolour and pencil drawing

Descriptive line

Léon Sault. Woman's masquerade ball dress. "Hell" or "Nightmare". Watercolour drawing, probably for Charles Frederick Worth. Paris, 1860s.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Victoria and Albert Museum Department of Prints and Drawings and Department of Paintings Accessions 1957-1958 London: HMSO, 1964


Watercolour; Pencil


Watercolour drawing


Designs; Fashion; Fancy-dress; Women's clothes; Europeana Fashion Project


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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