Six Stages of Mending a Face

I found the following in Hannah Greig’s The Beau Monde: Fashionable Society in Georgian London (2013).

The below illustration is called Six Stages of Mending a Face dedicated with respect to the Rt Hon Lady Archer, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1792.


This may have been dedicated “with respect”, but it’s obvious from this drawing that Rowlandson meant anything BUT respect for the 51-year old Lady Archer, whom he depicts here as a hideous saggy-boobed crone who only becomes young and beautiful through artifice and falsehood.

This is “read” in rather a peculiar way, starting with the upper right-hand picture, showing Lady Archer presumably just out of bed. She wears a night cap and her breasts are exposed in her deshabille gown. Tears stream out of an empty eye socket and her open mouth exposes a lack of teeth.

In the second picture (upper middle), she fits in a glass eye. In the third (upper left), she puts a wig on her bald head. In the fourth (bottom right), she fits in false teeth. In the fifth (bottom middle), she applies her makeup. In the sixth (bottom left), she is revealed to be a beautiful young woman, holding a mask. Her breasts now appear to be firm and round, as do her arms, which were once drawn as stringy and corded.

It seems that debates about makeup have existed pretty much as long as makeup itself has existed. There was a lot of anxiety in Georgian England about what it meant to be aristocratic and “elite”, and if true beauty only really came from nature. The idea that aristocratic women were in some way faking their beauty cast doubt upon their fitness to be social and political leaders. People were not kind.

It didn’t help, as well, that Lady Archer was part of the Faro Ladies group, which set up gaming opportunities for women (who weren’t supposed to gamble and game in public–that luxury was reserved for their husbands and fathers). Lady Archer was ridiculed in the popular press for her “immoral” behavior and was represented frequently as either masculine, or a step above a prostitute. Adding to the fact that she was a naturally plain woman, who attempted to aid her looks to keep in line with styles of the day, led many to view her as someone riddled with social vices and not a “natural” woman.

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