Under the Regency, they lived in a perfumed atmosphere, and there seemed to be some sort of competition to see who could use the most makeup.
Louis XV preferred unadorned ladies. We know that Mme Du Barry was careful to wear rouge when she wanted to avoid receiving the King. It was her way of letting him know that she was closing her door to him.
However, during this time of the Gallant King, toilette was very important. Women spent hours before their mirrors with, close at hand, on a table decorated with lace like an altar, enveloped in muslim like a cradle, all sorts of colours, pastes and philtres to make them younger.
All colours were presented on this new kind of palette. Mineral red and vermilion, chemical white and vein blue. The blue was used to paint a net of veins on the breast, to accentuate the whiteness of the skin.
Then there were all different kinds of water. Water for bleaching and water for making the skin vermilion. Water to make you paler, when you are too red. Water for softening the features, if they are too coarse. Skin water admirable for yellow and bilious complexions. Water for thin people and water for those who are too fat.
Let us not forget either the milks for getting rid of wrinkles, freckles, suntan and redness from cold weather. The pomade for removing the marks left by smallpox. Bands covered with virgin wax, for smoothing and purifying the forehead skin.
To liven up the face, rouge was mostly used. But there was rouge… and then there was rouge. The rouge of the woman of quality was not the rouge of the woman of the court. The rouge of the middle class woman was not the rouge of the court woman or of the woman of quality, even less that of the prostitute. It was only a soupcon of rouge.
At Versailles, the princesses wore it very bright and very highly-coloured, and when the women of quality were present at court, they had to have brighter rouge than usual on that day. Court makeup can be assimilated to theatre makeup. The ladies of Versailles were on stage.
A letter from Voltaire attests to all the trouble that Marie Leczinska had, to conform with this fashion of illumination, upon her arrival in France. Women who would have preferred to have abstained from painting their faces, were unable to go without it, for fear of appearing cadaverous in the middle of all of those reddened faces.
As was to be expected, the use of rouge did not take long to spread from the French court into all of the European ones. Even Russia rushed to adopt it.
Catherine recounts in her Memoires, that the first present made to her by Empress Elizabeth, upon her arrival at court, was the petit pot (little pot). That was how the china capsule containing the rouge was called. “To be allowed to use the petit pot” was every young girl’s dream.
In Madrid, the Countess d’Aulnoy, assisting a court lady to dress, saw her dip a brush into a cup full of rouge, and paint, not only her face, including the interior of her nostrils, but also her ears, her hands, her fingers and her shoulders. This custom, which seemed disgusting to her, had become obligatory.
The most refined women cleaned their faces with a mixture of sugar and beaten egg-whites. They had difficulty getting rid of the dreadful mastic, which finished by leaving a sort of shiny varnish on the forehead.
Rouge was more than ever in fashion under the reign of Louis XVI. From the Dauphine down to the lower middle-class, all women used it. It is not surprising that, at this epoch, the Queen, who had her Fashion Minister, also had her Rouge Merchant.
It was a Mme Josse who was reputed for having the best vegetal rouge, as beautiful and as agreeable as the natural colours. But she was eclipsed by Mlle Martin who was the only one to have the Queen’s confidence. She accepted to serve only crowned heads and a few privileged great ladies. She delivered her product in lovely little pots from the Sevres factory.
In another few years, the Queen would return to the Nature cult preached by philosophers. Dressed as a milkmaid, she would spend the greatest part of her time in the Trianon sheep enclosures, amusing herself with this pastoral life.
It was too late. The monarchy was descending into the abyss which she had helped to dig. The Revolution was on its way, and would leave little time for self-decoration.
Under the Directory, the fashion of Antiquity appeared. The Greeks and Romans were imitated in everything concerning the art of pleasing. For example, Mme Tallien plunged her beautiful body into milk reddened with strawberries and raspberries.
The Emperor had only moderate sympathy for perfumes. On the other hand, the first Empress loved them and also used a lot of colour on her cheeks.
She had so accustomed Napoleon’s eye, that he insisted that all women who appeared before him had to wear it. “Go and put on some rouge, Madame,” he said to one of them. “You look like a cadaver.” And, to another: “Why are you so pale? Have you recently had a baby?”
On the arrival of Marie-Louise, there was a complete transformation. The young Archduchess, whose fresh complexion was adored by her imperial husband, had no need of cosmetics. In imitation, the ladies of the court finally gave up rouge.
Under the Restoration, the French perfumers invented new recipes, like the eau de Cologne of the famous Jean-Marie Farina, which was a great success.
Fifth and last part tomorrow.