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Eve and the Serpent

  • 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:

    E.22047-1957

  • Gallery location:

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

This design was created by Léon Sault, possibly for Charles Frederick Worth. It is one of the most startling costumes in the collection because of the enormous artificial snake which coils around the wearer's short crinoline skirt, her body, and climbs up to rear above her head. The costume may represent Eve and the Serpent, with "Eve" wearing a simple white dress entirely covered in sprigs of flowers and a wreath. Some 30 years later, the concept of a snake coiling around the wearer would be used to great effect by Toulouse Lautrec in one of his last and most famous posters of the Parisian singer and dancer Jane Avril wearing a clinging black gown with a serpent coiled around her body (1899). The Textiles and Fashion collection also holds a pair of stockings from 1900 embroidered with a coiled snake. (see T.53&A-1962). 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. It probably represents Eve and the Serpent with a large artificial snake entwined around the wearer and Eve dressed in wild flowers.

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

Descriptive line

Léon Sault. Woman's masquerade ball dress. "Eve and the Serpent". 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

Materials

Watercolour; Pencil

Techniques

Watercolour drawing

Categories

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

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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