Maison Callot Sœurs

960C3C85-E626-4DB9-91F0-41B9DCCC1408Maison Callot Sœurs was opened in 1895 by four sisters: Marie Callot Gerber; Regina Callot Tennyson-Chantrell, and Joséphine Callot Crimont. Sœurs (sir) means “sisters” and I find it interesting that all of the sisters in the business were married, as married women of that era seem to have been typically restricted to adorning their own homes, rather than founding fashion houses. Perhaps their career-minded lives are explained by the fact that they had all been taught to sew by their mother, a lacemaker. Apart from that, they had no other formal training. Their initial designs utilized antique lace and ribbons to enhance blouses, but soon they started creating day and evening wear, which was such a resounding success that, by the turn of the century, they employed 600 workers.

6020D823-69D6-4F98-A28A-80D6DFC16C82In the early 1910s, their clothes were perfectly in tune with the vogue for Orientalism. Aside from their extravagant evening wear, they also continued to make pared-down versions for more conservative customers (often inspired by 18th-century dress), marrying the latest fashions with a timeless elegance.

9306D393-1457-471E-90AF-D9E719A9A059They were among the first to use gold and silver lamé for dresses and their designs often featured exotic details – especially embroidery, the house’s speciality. Callot Sœurs were known for their crafsmanship and their attention to detail, and their rightfully set a high standard in the industry.

249F86FC-0F12-4AE6-B32C-0EE10F4576D6In the first decade of the new century, they were pioneers in devising comfortable dresses that were designed to be worn without a corset. Their preference for unobstructed garments (for which they often took inspiration from non-Western dress) made them fashion superstars in the 1920s when elite customers coveted their simple, yet exquisitely cut and draped sheath dresses. They often draped fabric directly on the body when creating patterns, and were promoters of bias cutting. Indeed, Madeleine Vionnet, the queen of the bias cut – who trained at Callot Sœurs – claimed that she owed her knowledge and success to the excellent and innovative instruction that she received while at the maison. 

B499CB50-0CCC-4825-A078-325B5E7336BEThe house expanded and opened branches in Nice, Biarritz, Buenos Aires, and London, where it attracted the custom of royalty and society ladies. Aside from their richly decorated sheath evening dresses, they were especially known for their capes and capelets. In 1920 they created the manteau d’abbé (priest’s cloak), a short cape worn over coats and evening gowns that remained a fashion for nearly two decades.

During the first decade of the last century, their clothes were characterized by a tasteful palette of pastels, but by the 1920s they were using vivid Fauvist colors, often enhanced by the application of embroidery or beading. The sisters favored gold and silver thread and sequins, particularly on evening wear, because they caught and reflected the light when the wearer was dancing.

4F5BA79A-F35A-47DF-8D40-602BE990059DBy 1926, the popularity of the house had started to wane because their intricate and expensive creations failed to compete with the sportswear promoted by Chanel and Poitou. The house was taken over by one of the sisters’ sons and in 1937 merged with Maison Calvet.

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Un livre d’heures

CD195E1B-33E3-48FA-B95B-C68B87F27C52French Primatives painter Jean Fouquet was born in 1420, but there is no exact record of when exactly. Since 2020 represents his six hundredth birthday, I decided to just pick a random day to give him a shout out. So, here’s looking at you, Jean!

999A3E84-69AC-412F-AF38-40B7CA4CE42CHe was born in Tours, France, the town where I spent three summers in immersion programs, so it’s cool to think that we may have walked down the same street or dined at the same café on Place Plumereau. The most representative French painter of the 15th century, Fouquet originally came under the influence of Dutch painter Jan Van Eyck. A period in Italy, however, when he was commissioned to paint the portrait of Pope Eugenius IV, brought him into contact with the new styles emerging in Tuscany. On his return to France, he combined the Flemish and Tuscan elements to create a wholly distinctive French style.


Highly influential on the succeeding generation of French artists, Fouquet’s supreme importance was not fully realized until 1904, when his surviving works were brought together for an exhibition in Paris. His painting combines the skills and precision acquired during his early career as a limner (a painter of illuminated manuscripts) and miniaturist with a new-found expressiveness that places him in the forefront of the painters who could get behind the eyes of their subjects and reveal the underlying character.

Hours of Simon de VarieIn French, an illustrated manuscript is known as un livre d’heures (uhn leav-ruh dur) in recognition of its role as a guide to prayerful meditation throughout the day. They are fragile and stunning works of art. If you are in Paris, the musée Marmottan Monet, in the 16th Arrondissement has a full room devoted to splendid examples of livres d’heures that is well worth a visit.




063C06C2-8825-4287-88AE-7B4EC6893839Jean Fouquet: The Melun Diptych

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Gustave Doré

53284143-73D5-4102-8D17-43856092C358Gustave Doré was born on January 6, 1832 in Strasbourg, France. He was the most prolific and successful French illustrator of his age. Initially, he was drawn to caricature, spurred on by the encouragement of noted cartoonist Charles Philipon. As a teenager, Doré visited Philipon’s Paris shop and was briefly employed by him. Doré also began producing humorous drawings for Le Journal pour Rire. These precocious skills proved invaluable, when, following the death of his father in 1849 he became the family’s main breadwinner.

A199C999-4C98-448C-B196-4FE839C7E914Doré soon progressed to book illustrations. During the 1860s, his wood engravings for Dante’s Inferno and Cervantes’ Don Quixote made him famous. Stylistically, he owed much to the Romantics, excelling at depictions of the exotic and the macabre. This is particularly evident from his strange, glacial landscapes in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the grotesque beasts in the Inferno.

D7AF07E9-C9E1-48FC-AB9D-388336979EF1Yet, Doré could also be brutally realistic. His unflinching portrayal of the London slums attracted widespread praise and captured the imagination of the young Vincent Van Gogh. In later life, Doré produced some paintings and sculpture, but these are less highly regarded. His most successful venture in this field was the monument to his friend, the novelist Alexandre Dumas. He died on January 23, 1883.

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Une Collectionneuse

EC55A3BE-DE1A-46ED-A20E-05CFFA48DD3FNow that our dearly beloved daughter has moved to Washington, D.C., we have whole new host of places to discover. A billboard in the subway advertised the Hillwood Estate, which I had never heard of, but I’m always up for a stately home visit. This one delivered more than we anticipated and had something for everyone to enjoy.

F5750240-3831-429B-9F16-D219DD018C39Hillwood was the estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post – or I should say, one of her estates. She basically spent spring and fall here. The Georgian mansion was formerly known as Arbremont, or “tree mountain,” which is more poetic than strictly accurate. Post’s fortune came from the food products business she inherited from her father and actively managed starting at age 27. Essentially, it’s a house built on jello, cereal, instant coffee and the other convenience foods that flourished in the post-war years.

4B6E2302-7210-473F-BC22-BD3FD7258FA9Post’s gastronomic legacy may be questionable, but her taste was not. This great collectionneuse (ko-lek-see-ohn-uze), or (female) collector, acquired French decorative arts that represent the very best: Sèvres porcelain; rare Aubusson rugs; exquisite paneling; and suites of furniture. She even bought the swivel chair used by Marie Antoinette when she was having her elaborate coiffures arranged.

41F8CE1C-FE5E-4DA5-BB70-8B4D957BB494After her passion for all things French had been sated, Post developed an interest in Russian Imperial treasures when she accompanied her third husband to Russia when he was appointed ambassador. She amassed paintings, military decorations, furniture, enough dinner services to serve a regiment, and even two Imperial eggs. I’ve long had an interest in the fantastic creations of Peter Carl Fabergé, especially the Easter gifts of the last of the Czars, so I was thrilled to be able to admire two fine examples.

80A2F391-67A3-4DE8-A081-0093710B7F9BOnce you’ve had your fill of admiring the house, you must explore the gardens and outbuildings. While we were there, the photography of Alfred Eisenstaedt was on display in the Adirondack Lodge. His iconic photos were featured on the cover of Life magazine dozens of times and he also recorded the social swirl at Hillwood for the Washington socialite and philanthropist. My favorite was one he took at a children’s puppet show in Paris in 1963. He seemed to capture every human emotion. This exhibit closes on January 5, 2020, so don’t delay if you want to see it.

8C05D089-910E-4B4D-AC17-B2C55A74092CThe Japanese garden was our favorite, as it was just as beautiful in early winter as it would be in the summer. My husband envied her greenhouses where she coddled her orchids. I plan to come back when the rose garden is in bloom, and possibly check out the café as well. I wonder if they serve Maxwell House coffee and jello parfaits?

B2E8253C-CA14-4AC7-9CAF-8E75CAF2859DFabergé Rediscovered (affiliate link)

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Maurice Utrillo

D7DD09C6-3798-42A2-BCCA-9A6FCEC42D9EFrench Impressionist painter Maurice Utrillo was born in Paris on December 26, 1883. The illegitimate son of the painter Suzanne Valadon, Utrillo led an extremely bohemian life. Despite alcoholism and drug addiction, however, he was a prolific painter, turning out vast numbers of Parisian street scenes, especially in and around Montmartre, where he lived.

2ED65D4D-D2D8-4430-ADEC-31205919C798Except for what he learned from his mother, he had no formal art training and, in fact, only took up painting as a form of therapy during one of his periodic spells in a detox clinic. He started off by making copies of Parisian picture postcards and this is reflected in the meticulous, almost photographic, quality of all his work.

9111EAD8-6130-4C39-BDB1-4D1330DF28EEHe began exhibiting in 1909 and thereafter was closely associated with the Impressionists, especially Camille Pissarro, although Utrillo left his own indelible mark — “a wild thirst for reality” was how he succinctly described it himself. In his “white period” (1909-1916), his palette consisted of very light colors, but thereafter they became much deeper and richer in tone. A reformed alcoholic, Utrillo became extremely devout in old age. He died on November 5, 1955 in Dax, in southwestern France.

D48DDA85-61A6-43A9-BA8D-6A4CBD0FE6FBMaurice Utrillo

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Portrait de Madeleine

EF713597-AA43-4017-9E61-82BED33582B2Following up on last week’s post about being able to name five female artists, here’s another one to add to your list. French Romantic-style painter Marie-Guillemine Benoist was born on December 18, 1768 in Paris. She was the daughter of a government official who recognized her talent and enrolled her as a pupil of Vigée-LeBrun in 1791; the latter’s influence is very evident in Benoist’s early works, mainly portraits done in pastels.

2FC3622F-8C17-4306-A93A-72644117E33ELater, she studied under Jacques-Louis David, and as a result she began producing more ambitious works in oils. She made her debut at the Salon with two historical scenes and thereafter painted both portraits and historical subjects. She achieved a high reputation and received a gold medal and an annual government grant. Napoleon commissioned portraits of himself and his family from her.

E607D564-68A1-43EB-B1C2-2F86C5C301A9In the early 1800s, she switched to painting genre subjects and sentimental domestic scenes which were immensely popular. Her best-known painting, a remarkable portrait of a young black woman, painted in 1800, is believed to have been inspired by the decree of 1794 abolishing slavery. The painting, which hangs in the Louvre, was recently renamed from Portrait d’une Négresse to Portrait de Madeleine to honor the identity of the sitter, which had been ignored for over two hundred years.

F81A7A5E-81CF-4597-8FF9-FC0F19814ED0Eighteenth Century Women Artists: Their Trials, Tribulations, and Triumphs (affiliate link)

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Cinq femmes artistes?


42CC1ACE-A164-4B69-BE9D-9027392AEE34My dearly beloved daughter has just moved from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. Now that she is in the same timezone and around two hours away by air, we decided to see her for a belated birthday weekend. In addition to eating in good restaurants, doing a little Christmas shopping, and talking quite a lot, there was the question of where to go and what to do.


Sheep by the Sea, by Rosa Bonheur

I asked to go to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, since I hadn’t been there in about 25 years. I first learned about it from Victoria magazine when it opened in the late-80s. The question that they posed back then remains pertinent today: “Can you name five women artists?” At the time, I struggled to answer this question. This is still the only museum in the WORLD reserved exclusively for female artists. Women are woefully underrepresented in traditional museums – unless they appear as nude models! According to Guerrilla Girls, The Metropolitan Museum of New York, for example, features female artists in only 3% of the art,  but 86% of the nudes.


Prelude to a Concert, by Marguerite Gérard

The museum is housed in  beautifully restored building, featuring sweeping marble staircases that connect the four floors of the collection. Here are some of the French works that I saw, starting with two by my favorite painter, Élisabeth Vigée-LeBrun. And after reviewing them, you’ll be able identify five women artists. (Quiz optional.)


Portrait of a Woman, said to be Anne Catherine (Aimée) Augier Vestris, by Élisabeth Vigée-LeBrun


Portrait of Princess Belozersky, by Élisabeth Vigée-LeBrun


Madame de Saint-Huberty in the role of Dido, by Anne Vallayer-Coster


Presumed portrait of Madame Geoffrin, by Marianne Loir

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