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Vanities: Art of the Dressing Table [adapted from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, v. 71, no. 2 (Fall, 2013)]

Vanities: Art of the Dressing Table

Adlin, Jane
52 pages
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The Metropolitan Museum's vast collections include a seemingly infinite variety of objects, some more familiar than others. Among these is the dressing table, or vanity, to which this issue of the Bulletin is dedicated. This volume and the exhibition it accompanies, "Vanities: Art of the Dressing Table," provide an overview of the origins and development of the dressing table from antiquity to the present day. What emerges is a refreshing and surprising cross section of works from the Museum's curatorial departments, including an Egyptian storage box, a nineteenth-century Japanese cosmetics stand, and a streamlined Jazz Age vanity by noted American designer Norman Bel Geddes, to name just a few.

Fine Furnishings and other accoutrements designed specifically for men and women to use while preparing to dress have been created throughout the centuries, from utilitarian pieces to serve our most basic domestic needs to matchless luxury objects that are also powerful statements about social class and status. Among the standouts in the Museum's collections is a combination table by Martin Carlin, a German-born cabinetmaker active in Paris in the late eighteenth century, just as the dressing table reached the apogee of its evolution as a marker of social ascendance. The Carlin table is one of many splendid gifts to the Museum from Jayne Wrightsman that demonstrate her profound knowledge of and devotion to the decorative arts of eighteenth-century France. Armand-Albert Rateau's dressing table, a triumph of French Art Deco elegance, is another superb example of the variety of this furniture form. To those important pieces we can now add a dressing table that allows us to update the story of the vanity for the present day: a starkly beautiful stone, steel, and marble ensemble, by Korean artist Byung Hoon Choi, whose echoes of ancient Korean tomb architecture underscore some of the complex themes traditionally associated with the vanity and elucidated in both the exhibition and the Bulletin.

"Vanities: Art of the Dressing Table" brings to fruition the longtime vision of Jane Adlin, associate curator in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art. She was aided by a number of curators, conservators, and outside scholars who contributed significant findings about the furniture as well as the many equally elaborate accessories. We are also grateful to Lori Zabar, research assistant in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, who provided critical assistance at many stages of the project.

Met Art in Publication

Cosmetic Box of the Royal Butler Kemeni, Cedar, with ebony and ivory veneer and silver mounts
ca. 1805 B.C.
Bronze mirror with a support in the form of a draped woman, Bronze, Greek, Argive
mid-5th century BCE
Ivory Mirror Case with a Falconing Party, Elephant ivory, French
ca. 1330–60
Dressing Glass and Box, Walnut, walnut veneer, white pine; mirror glass; brass, American
A Lady's Dressing Table, from Chippendale Drawings, Vol. II, Thomas Chippendale  British, Black ink, gray wash, pale orange wash
Thomas Chippendale
Mechanical table, Jean-François Oeben  French, born Germany, Oak veneered with mahogany, kingwood, and tulipwood, with marquetry of mahogany, rosewood, holly, and various other woods; gilt-bronze mounts; imitation Japanese lacquer; replaced silk, French
Jean-François Oeben
ca. 1761–63
Nécessaire, Joseph Martineau, Sr., Gold, agate; white enamel; implements of various materials including ivory, steel, tortiseshell, hair, British, London
Joseph Martineau, Sr.
mid-18th century
Nécessaire, Shagreen on wood; fittings of gold, porcelain, glass, 
and steel, French
third quarter 18th century
Dressing-table mirror, Tortoiseshell, engraved brass, kingwood, amaranth, bois satiné, ebony, mirror glass, French
ca. 1700
Madame Marsollier and Her Daughter, Jean Marc Nattier  French, Oil on canvas
Jean Marc Nattier
Combination table, Martin Carlin  French, Oak and pine veneered with tulipwood, sycamore, holly, boxwood and ebony; Carrara marble; gilt-bronze mounts; accessories of Sèvres porcelain, rock crystal, silver gilt, and lacquer, French, Paris
Martin Carlin
ca. 1775
Shaving Table, from Chippendale Drawings, Vol. II, Thomas Chippendale  British, Black ink, gray wash
Thomas Chippendale
The Morning Toilet (La Petite Toilette), from "Le Monument du Costume", Pietro Antonio Martini  Italian, Etching and engraving
Pietro Antonio Martini
Dressing Table, Mahogany, American
Work Table, Satinwood, mahogany, tulip poplar, American
Dressing table, Seddon, Sons and Shackleton, Mahogany, glass, ivory, British, London
Seddon, Sons and Shackleton
ca. 1790–95
Dressing table, George A. Schastey  American, born Germany, Satinwood, purpleheart, mother-of-pearl, brass, silver-plated brass, and original upholstery, American
George A. Schastey
Dressing Table, Bamboo, oak, sycamore, poplar, American
ca. 1880
Cosmetic Stand with Pine, Bamboo, and Cherry Blossom from a Wedding Set

, Lacquered wood with gold, silver takamaki-e, hiramaki-e, cut-out gold foil application on nashiji (“pear-skin”) ground, Japan
early 19th century
Terracotta pyxis (cosmetic box), Terracotta, Greek, Macedonian
3rd–2nd century BCE
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