In the first of these two articles looking at gloves and handwear in paintings, I showed examples in which they had particular significance in the reading of that painting, from grey mittens worn in the snow, to long black confections which made an image more erotic. More commonly, though, gloves in paintings, particularly in the nineteenth century, were an indication of the wearer’s compliance with fashion. As a general rule, the less functional the handwear, the more fashionable it was.
Henri Fantin-Latour’s superb three-quarter-length portrait of his friend Édouard Manet from 1867, shows the painter at thirty-five, then the leading avant-garde artist in France. He is immaculately turned-out, with brown leather gloves, one removed and being clutched by the other hand against his small walking stick.
Several of James Tissot’s figures are seen wearing fashionable handwear.
Tissot painted The Farewells soon after his flight from Paris to London in the summer of 1871. This couple, separated by the iron rails of a closed gate, are in the dress of the late 1700s. The man stares intently at the woman, his gloved left hand resting on the spikes along the top of the gate, and his ungloved right hand grasps her left. She plays idly with her clothing with her other hand, clad in lace fingerless gloves, and looks down, towards their hands.
The following year, Tissot embarked on a series of paintings and engravings set in a tavern on the bank of the River Thames in London, probably in Rotherhithe or Wapping. Set in the late 1700s again, these show an old soldier telling one or more pretty young women interminable and incomprehensible stories about his military career, with the aid of charts spread out on the table.
In The Tedious Story (c 1872), the young woman has drifted off into a world of her own, one which is far away from the veteran’s charts, and the black lace on her hands.
I don’t know the identity of John Atkinson Grimshaw’s sitter for Mistress Dorothy in 1885, but she doesn’t appear to be his wife. The lady sits, her feet elevated off the cold floor by a foot warmer. She is embroidering while wearing an unusual pair of lacy blue wristlets.
Henry Tonks’ Torn Gown (1890-1900) is one of a series of paintings dominated by white dresses, in which the free brushstrokes he used for fabrics and decor became carefully controlled when he painted the figures themselves. Once again, this woman is half inside, with her left hand bared, and half outside, with the long white glove on her right hand.
Hans Andersen Brendekilde’s splendid Wooded Path in Autumn from 1902 contains an open-ended story. It’s autumn on a walk beside a river. A woman, dressed in black apart from a red ostrich feather on her hat and her white gloves, sits on a rustic bench. Her head is turned to look intently at two men who are now receding into the distance along the path.
Edmond Aman-Jean’s Woman with Glove from about 1900-02 has a dreamlike quality thanks to its patterned strokes of colour.
There’s one artist for whom gloves seem to have become something of a fetish.
This started fairly innocently, with a passing glimpse in Fernand Khnopff’s portrait of his sister painted in 1887. Two years later, in his Lawn Tennis, or Memories (1889), a pastel collage of paintings of his sister, it grew stronger in the brown leather gloves each figure is wearing.
His Silence from about 1890 is even stranger, with its young man dressed in a gown and gloves, holding his gloved left index finger to his lips as if calling for silence.
Khnopff’s Incense from 1898 reaches peak gloving when he places his sister Marguerite in a heavy cope of brocade bearing a thistle motif. Her hands wear long silk gloves, the left holding a silver and glass incense burner by its base. Her head is covered with more folds of fine fabric, and behind – either seen through glass or reflected in a mirror – are the windows of a cathedral. This is as mysterious as the wry smile on his sister’s face.
So far, gloves have been passive partners with the hands that wear them. You may be fortunate enough to come across an example in which gloves have come to life, as in William Hogarth’s print from his Industry and Idleness series.
In this fourth in the series, the industrious character Goodchild has been promoted from the loom, and now assists the Master in book-keeping and overseeing the factory, shown by the backs of women spinning and weaving in the background. Mr West, the Master, is shown in Quaker dress. He and Goodchild are stood in front of the escritoire which contains the factory ledgers. The pair of gloves in front of them are locked in a handshake symbolising the growing bond between the two men.
Notable by their absence from paintings of surgery and medical procedures until well into the twentieth century, medical gloves were first worn in 1894, but didn’t come into widespread use until after the Second World War.