Elizabeth Adshead of Belper, c.1883-1886
Cabinet card by J. Schmidt of Belper
Image © and courtesy of Robert Silverwood
While compiling a new profile for Belper photographer Jacob Schmidt this week, including a large number of new examples of his work, I rediscovered this striking image of a cabinet card sent to me some years ago by Robert Silverwood. It depicts his relative Elizabeth Adshead (1849 - 1917) and, at the time he sent it to me, Robert was of the view that she may have been garbed in some type of fancy dress costume. The cabinet card is of particular interest because it has been hand-coloured. Whether the clothes actually were those colours is now uncertain, but it seems quite possible that they would have been represented in as realistic a fashion as possible. Unfortunately, the retouching has also given the subject's face a rosy-tinted appearance which does not help with estimating an age.
Jacob Schmidt arrived in Belper in the early to mid-1880s, and must have established his reputation quickly. This much is clear from the fact that a good number of examples of his work have survived, in spite of his death in 1893, after only a decade in the town.
Since Schmidt did not change his card mount designs frequently during this period, it is not easy to date the portrait with much accuracy from the card design alone, but other examples of this mount are probably from the mid- to late 1880s. The use of a very crudely painted classical "column" as part of the backdrop (at the left hand side), however, suggests to me that perhaps this may have been a fairly early work, and I estimate it was taken c.1883-1886.
Spring Styles, from Harper's Bazaar, 10 February 1883
Image courtesy of Victorian Fashions & Costumes from Harper's Bazaar 1867-1898 by Stella Blum
As I've made clear before on Photo-Sleuth my knowledge of fashions is fairly limited, and I tend to rely on several well-thumbed books and web sites. One of these is Stella Blum's collection of Harper's Bazaar engravings, from which the above 1883 illustration has been extracted. Although perhaps made from somewhat different materials, Elizabeth Adshead's dress shows many similarities with the outift depicted on the right, including a high collar, short sleeves with flounces immediately below the elbows, and an overskirt gathered back at the sides, towards the prominent bustle at the back. The blue skirt looks as though it may be a fine wool weave.
The headgear is the only notable difference: she is wearing what is commonly referred to as a mob cap, rather than the more fashionable straw bonnet trimmed with ostrich feathers worn by the Harper's ladies. Although most popular in Georgian England, the mob cap was still used by servants and nurses during Victorian times.
Although I am hesitant to question Robert's identification of the subject as Elizabeth Adshead, she would have been in her mid-30s at the time I estimate this portrait was taken, and it is my feeling that this woman is a little older than that. However, her looks are masked somewhat by the hand colouring, so I can't be sure. What do you think, both about her age and the clothing? If you are familiar with fashions in the 1880s, I'd appreciate your comments.