Crinoline, Chenille Nets, and Pork-Pie Hats

Irene Vanburgh in 'Trelawny of the "Wells"', costume notes.

Irene Vanburgh in ‘Trelawny of the “Wells”‘, costume notes.

‘At last I have seen Pinero’s ‘Trelawny of the “Wells”’ and am not converted to crinoline, chenille nets, and pork-pie hats. How beauties in ‘the early sixties’ contrived to appear beautiful in such deforming costumes one is at a loss to imagine… The plot is slight, but interesting.’ (E E B. Harper’s Bazaar, April 30th 1898)

Arthur Wing Pinero’s almost-Edwardian play ‘Trelawny of the “Wells”’ is being revived by the film director Joe Wright at the Donmar Warehouse in London this month. First performed in 1898, it not only spawned an interest in 1860s’ fashions, but two paintings starring actresses Hilda Spong and Irene Vanburgh by leading artists Walter Sickert and William Rothenstein.

‘When Pinero’s Trelawny of the Wells was put on at the Court Theatre, I went with Sickert to see this enchanting piece. Here was a play which seemed written for our delight. What fun it all was; and how enchanting the costumes! And such a chance it provided that Sickert asked Miss Hilda Spong – a magnificent creature who acted a part – to sit for him; while I approached Irene Vanbrugh. Miss Vanbrugh took infinite trouble, and endured many sittings. Sickert had Miss Spong photographed, and from a small print and with few sittings he achieved a life-size portrait. Miss Vanbrugh’s portrait I sent to the first exhibition of the International Society.’ (William Rothenstein, Men and Memories, Vol I, p.335)

Sickert’s portrait, appropriately enough, was titled ‘The Pork Pie Hat: Hilda Spong in the Trelawny of the “Wells”’. See Wendy Baron, Sickert, Paintings and Drawings (New Haven 2006), p.215 for more information. See more on Hilda Spong here.

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