domenica 17 ottobre 2021

That fashionable, elegant emerald-green gown, as much beautiful as poisonous


William Mc Gregor Paxton, The Green Dress, (1875)

The dresses of most Victorian ladies of the early XIXth century were made in small sewing workshops by seamstresses who not only sewed, but also designed the models that would then be exhibited in the best London salons.The desire to stand out, typical of every well-to-do woman, and to be the most beautiful in a meeting or a dance, led the Victorian ladies to look for ever more daring models and with increasingly bright colors. Discarding the soft pastels and the understated elegance of dark tones, they focused their attention overall on the pigments that transformed a simple dress into a dazzling one, tinged with scarlet red, vibrant purple, luminous indigo blue or bright emerald green. The goal was not only to be the most elegant, but to make such an impression among the attendees of an event to became the center of attention that night and the star of the comments of all the meetings over the coming week.
At the time, gas was replacing oil and candlelight, and women were fascinated by the way their bright green dresses sparkled under the lamps.

It was 1775 when a German chemist developed a new pigment called SCHEELE'S GREEN, a bright and attractive shade unlike any other of its kind. In 1814 a new and improved version was invented and widely known as PARIS GREEN or EMERALD GREEN.
It contained arsenic, a well-known poison.
Despite its high levels of toxicity, EMERALD GREEN became so popular that it would be used in the manufacture of garments, wallpaper, carpets, paints and more throughout the century.
The production of the dye was really booming.
This substance, which was mixed with copper, cobalt and tin, enhanced the color of the clothes, giving them an extraordinary shine. It was also used to dye accessories, such as flowers, headbands or gloves.
The textile workshops worked to offer the most dazzling fabrics, not skimping on dyes for both the cheaper fabrics such as cotton, and for the more expensive ones such as leather, silk, muslin and lace, not to mention satin ribbons and other accessories to match the dress.

Reflection-Sally with her hair up by Jerry Barrett (1824-1906)

The Green Gown by Thomas Edwin Mostyn (1864-1930)

And it certainly didn't help to find out that Queen Victoria also wore EMERALD GREEN robes herself.

Portrait of Queen Victoria by John Partridge (1840)

Queen Victoria, Lithograph by Day and Haghe (1838)

But this precious emerald color, obtained with this product mix, was highly toxic. The seamstresses were at first the most affected, as they had to work hours and hours cutting, sewing fabrics and putting the finishing touches on the designs. The consequences were terrible: they affected not only the skin but also the eyes, mouth, lungs and nasal mucosa. The skin suffered irreversible injuries and the affected women ended up throwing up a horrible green liquid.
At that time, there were several deaths of seamstresses due to arsenic poisoning. In the image below we can see the state of the hands of the seamstresses after having worked diligently on the fabrics treated with this dye.

Illustration from a French medical journal in 1859

But even for the ladies who wore the dresses the consequences were tremendously unhealthy, as the contact of the fabric with the skin caused problems with the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. The same thing happened to the gentlemen who accompanied them even for just one evening, because the arsenic powder of the fabric remained suspended in the room.
And doctors knew this was happening. They began talking about the "Great deal of slow poisoning going on in Great Britain" as early as 1857. Before long, illustrations were being run in newspapers depicting skeletons dancing in green dresses.

The green pigment, known, as we first saw, as SCHEELE'S GREEN, was used also for wallpapers since it gave the paper such a beautiful color and it was, thus, slowly poisoning all the family members. Being a particularly cheerful color, it was common to find it in children's bedrooms and in the paint of some toys where little by little, and as the pigments were lost, it caused serious health problems to the little ones, as well as nausea and skin irritation. One of the saddest cases occurred in a London home in 1862, where children of one family died after ingesting pieces of wallpaper colored deadly green.
As if that were not enough, there were dining rooms carpeted almost entirely with fabrics dyed in arsenic green, with matching curtains and tablecloths in the same tone, and rooms where, in addition to the aforementioned paper, green was used for bedspreads, carpets and cushions.
The cleaning staff in charge of taking care of these rooms and the workers who put the wallpaper in the rooms were exposed to arsenic like families. Nor should we forget the artists who were intoxicated to death by its use in paintings too.
Arsenic has also been found on the covers of some books and even in foods. In these cases it is likely that it was used not to enhance the color or as a condiment but to preserve both books and food as it was a very effective insect repellent.
Matilda Scheurer, a 19-year-old woman who applied green arsenic dye to fake flowers, died in a way that horrified the population in 1861. She threw up green vomit, the whites of her eyes turned green and when she died, she claimed that "everything what he was looking at was green. "When people began investigating such labs, they found other women in similar distress, such as one "who had been required to [work with] the green ... until her face was a mass of sores."
In 1871, a "Lady who bought a box of green gloves from a well-known and respectable house was horrified to find that her hands blistered after putting them on." Unless the dye was sealed, sweaty palms could run the dye onto the wearer's skin. Other accounts from this era tell of children dying in their nurseries after playing on green carpets or rubbing against green wallpaper — it wasn't necessary to ingest it to get intoxicated!
William Morris 1 himself used green as a background for many of his popular wallpapers and Charles Dickens was unwittingly saved from certain death by his wife who dissuaded him from painting the whole house in that color she thought was horrible, but which he liked very much.

Charles Dickens in his study by William Powell Frith (1859)

 Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Theodore Watts-Dunton, 1882, by Henry Treffry Dunn,
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Arsenic was also a compound widely used in the preparation of cosmetics and medical treatments recommended by doctors of the time present in numerous remedies for intestinal problems, and those who ingest them found themselves with far more serious problems.

And I want to finish this post of mine adding that the Victorian slang born about the fashion of the years 1850-1860 for an attractive person — "killing" — even took on new meaning, with the British Medical Journal remarking:

"Well may the fascinating wearer of it be called a killing creature. She actually carries in her skirts poison enough to slay the whole of the admirers she may meet with in half a dozen ball-rooms."

Probably people thought that if it was safe to use in medicines then it’s got to be safe to have it on the walls or in dresses. 
But eventually, public pressure about the dangers of arsenic meant its use faded.
Even William Morris started to sell ‘arsenic-free’ wallpaper.  Although he was never convinced it was a problem, perhaps because his family fortune came from copper mining, from which arsenic was a by-product.

Thanking you with all my heart,
I take my leave of you while 
sending you all my warmest embrace.

See you soon 


1- William Morris (1834-1896) was a British artist and writer and the founder of the ARTS & CRAFTS art movement.


Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home by Lucinda Hawksley, Lucinda Hawksley / The Telegraph

Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present by Alison Matthews David, Ava Pub Sa, 2015

Quell'elegante abito alla moda verde smeraldo, tanto bello quanto velenoso

IMMAGINE 1 - William Mc Gregor Paxton, The Green Dress, (1875)

Gli abiti della maggior parte delle dame vittoriane del primo Ottocento venivano realizzati in piccoli laboratori di cucito da sarte che non solo cucivano, ma disegnavano anche i modelli che sarebbero poi stati esposti nei migliori saloni londinesi.
Il desiderio di distinguersi, proprio di ogni donna altolocata, ed essere la più bella in un incontro o in un ballo condusse le ladies vittoriane a cercare modelli sempre più audaci e con colori sempre più sgargianti. Scartando i tenui colori pastello e la discreta eleganza dei toni scuri, la domanda si concentrò quindi sui pigmenti che trasformavano un abito semplice in uno smagliante, tinto di rosso scarlatto, viola vibrante, blu indaco luminoso o verde smeraldo brillante. L'obiettivo non era solo quello di essere la più elegante, ma di fare una tale impressione tra i partecipanti di un evento da diventare il centro dell'attenzione quella notte e la protagonista dei commenti di tutti gli incontri durante la settimana a venire.
A quel tempo il gas stava sostituendo il petrolio e la luce delle candele, e le ladies erano affascinate dal modo in cui i loro vestiti verde brillante scintillavano sotto le lampade.

Era il 1775 quando un chimico tedesco scoprì un nuovo pigmento chiamato SCHEELE'S GREEN - VERDE di SCHEELE, una tonalità di verde brillante e accattivante, diversa da qualsiasi altra nel suo genere. Nel 1814 fu inventata una versione nuova e migliorata e ampiamente conosciuta come PARIS GREEN - VERDE PARIGI o EMERALD GREEN - VERDE SMERALDO.
Conteneva arsenico, un noto veleno.
Nonostante i suoi alti livelli di tossicità il VERDE SMERALDO divenne così popolare da essere utilizzato nella produzione di indumenti, carta da parati, tappeti, vernici e altro per tutto il secolo XIX°.
La produzione delle tinture era davvero in forte espansione.
Questa sostanza, che veniva mischiata con rame, cobalto e stagno, esaltava il colore degli abiti, donando loro una lucentezza straordinaria ed era utilizzato anche per tingere accessori, come fiori, cerchietti o guanti.
I laboratori tessili lavoravano per offrire i tessuti più smaglianti, non lesinando sulle tinture sia per i tessuti più economici come il cotone, sia per quelli più costosi come pelle, seta, mussola e pizzo, senza contare nastri di raso e altri accessori da abbinare al vestito.

IMMAGINE 2 - Antique Victorian 1840-50s Hand Colored Fashion Plate, The Godey's Lady's Book

IMMAGINE 3 - Graham Magazine, London, April 1, 1857

IMMAGINE 4 - La Mode, Février 1850

IMMAGINE 5 - Reflection-Sally with her hair up by Jerry Barrett (1824-1906)

IMMAGINE 6 - The Green Gown by Thomas Edwin Mostyn (1864-1930)

IMMAGINE 7 - LE MONITEUR DE LA MODE, Paris, Automne 1862


IMMAGINE 9 - Journal des Demoiselles, 1851

E non fu di certo di aiuto constatare che anche la stessa regina Vittoria non disdegnava indossare abiti verde smeraldo.

IMMAGINE 10 - Portrait of Queen Victoria di John Partridge (1840)

IMMAGINE 11Queen Victoria, litografia di Day and Haghe (1838)

Ma questo prezioso colore smeraldo, ottenuto con mischiando insieme tali prodotti, era altamente tossico. Le sarte furono le prime ad essere colpite, poiché dovevano lavorare ore e ore tagliando, cucendo tessuti e dando gli ultimi ritocchi ai disegni. Le conseguenze erano devastanti: non solo la pelle subiva lesioni irreversibili, ma anche gli occhi, la bocca, i polmoni e la mucosa nasale. In ultimo le donne colpite rigettavano un orribile liquido verde.
A quel tempo, furono documentate diverse morti di sarte a causa di avvelenamento da arsenico. Nell'immagine sottostante possiamo vedere lo stato delle mani delle sarte dopo aver lavorato diligentemente sui tessuti trattati con questa tintura.

IMMAGINE 12 - Illustrazione tratta da una rivista di medicina francese del 1859

Anche per le ladies che indossavano gli abiti le conseguenze erano tremendamente malsane, poiché il contatto del tessuto con la pelle causava problemi alla pelle, agli occhi e alle vie respiratorie. La stessa cosa accadeva ai gentlemen che le accompagnavano anche solo che per una serata, perché la polvere di arsenico del tessuto rimaneva sospesa nella stanza.
E i medici sapevano che cosa stava accadendo. Cominciarono a parlare della "Grande quantità di avvelenamento lento in corso in Gran Bretagna" già nel 1857. Non dovette trascorrere molto tempo perché anche sui giornali fossero pubblicate illustrazioni raffiguranti danzanti scheletri in abiti verdi.


Il pigmento verde noto, come abbiamo visto all'inizio, come VERDE di SCHEELE, che dava su qualsiasi materiale un colore così bello, venne utilizzato anche per la produzione di tappezzerie e stava lentamente avvelenando i membri delle famiglie. Essendo un colore particolarmente allegro, era comune trovarlo nelle camerette dei bambini e nella vernice di alcuni giocattoli dove a poco a poco, e man mano che i pigmenti si disperdevano, causava ai più piccoli seri problemi di salute, oltre a nausea e irritazione cutanea. Uno dei casi più tristi si verificò in una casa di Londra nel 1862, dove i bambini di una famiglia sono morti dopo aver ingerito pezzi di carta da parati colorati del 'verde mortale'.
Come se non bastasse, c'erano sale da pranzo tappezzate quasi interamente di stoffe tinte di verde arsenico, con tende e tovaglie abbinate nello stesso tono, e stanze in cui, oltre alla suddetta carta, il verde era utilizzato per copriletto, tappeti e cuscini.
Il personale delle pulizie incaricato di prendersi cura di queste stanze e gli operai che hanno messo la carta da parati nelle stanze erano esposti all'arsenico così come le famiglie. Né dobbiamo dimenticare gli artisti che erano intossicati a morte dall'uso di questo verde nei loro dipinti.
L'arsenico è stato trovato anche sulle copertine di alcuni libri e persino negli alimenti. In questi casi è probabile che fosse usato non per esaltare il colore o come condimento ma per conservare sia i libri che il cibo in quanto era un repellente per insetti molto efficace.
Matilda Scheurer, una donna di 19 anni che applicava la tintura verde arsenico ai fiori finti, morì in un modo che fece inorridire la popolazione nel 1861: rigettò un liquido verde, il bianco dei suoi occhi divenne verde e, poco prima di spegnersi, affermò che "tutto ciò che guardava era verde". Quando le persone hanno iniziato a indagare su tali laboratori, hanno trovato altre donne in analoghe difficoltà, come una "che era stata tenuta a lavorare con il verde... fino a quando il suo viso divenne una massa di piaghe".
Nel 1871, una "signora che acquistò una scatola di guanti di colore verde in una casa ben nota e rispettabile" rimase inorridita nello scoprire che sulle sue mani si erano formate delle vesciche dopo averli indossati. A meno che il colorante non fosse sigillato, i palmi sudati potevano far scorrere il colorante sulla pelle di chi li indossava. Altri resoconti di quest'epoca raccontano di bambini che morivano negli asili nido dopo aver giocato su tappeti verdi o essersi strofinati contro la carta da parati verde - non era necessario ingerirla per intossicarsi!
Lo stesso William Morris 1 utilizzò il verde come sfondo per molte delle sue carte da parati così in voga e Charles Dickens fu involontariamente salvato da morte certa dalla moglie che lo dissuase dal dipingere l'intera casa di quel colore che ella riteneva orribile, ma che a lui piaceva molto.

IMMAGINE 14 - Charles Dickens in his study by William Powell Frith (1859)

IMMAGINE 15 - Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Theodore Watts-Dunton, 1882, by Henry Treffry Dunn,© National Portrait Gallery, London (STUDIO DI ROSSETTI, CHEYENE WALK 16, LONDRA)

L'arsenico era anche un composto ampiamente utilizzato nella preparazione di cosmetici e cure mediche consigliate dai medici dell'epoca presente in numerosi rimedi per problemi intestinali e chi li assumeva si ritrovava con problemi assai ben più gravi.
E concludo aggiungendo che, ironizzando sulla moda degli anni 1850-1860, divenne un modo di dire tipicamente vittoriano: 

"Si tratta di una persona talmente attraente da (far) morire

frase che, con il British Medical Journal, assunse un nuovo significato. Ebbe infatti questa testata giornalistica ad osservare: 

"Beh, l'affascinante lady che lo indossa (si intende l'abito verde smeraldo) può essere chiamata una 'creatura assassina'. In realtà porta nelle sue vesti abbastanza veleno da uccidere il tutti gli ammiratori che potrebbe incontrare in una mezza dozzina di sale da ballo."

Probabilmente la gente pensava che se era sicuro tanto da essere utilizzato nelle medicine, allora doveva essere sicuro averlo sulle pareti o negli abiti.
Ma alla fine, la pressione pubblica sui pericoli dell'arsenico ha fatto sì che il suo uso svanisse.
Anche William Morris iniziò a vendere carta da parati senza arsenico, nonostante non fosse mai stato convinto che fosse realmente un problema, forse perché la sua fortuna familiare proveniva dall'estrazione del rame, di cui l'arsenico era un sottoprodotto.

Ringraziandovi con tutto il cuore,
prendo congedo da voi mentre 
vi invio il mio più caloroso abbraccio.

A presto 


1- William Morris (1834-1896) fu un artista ed uno scrittore britannico nonché il fondatore del movimento artistico ARTS & CRAFTS.


Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home by Lucinda Hawksley / The Telegraph

Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present by Alison Matthews David, Ava Pub Sa, 2015


Laurie at Ridge Haven Homstead has featured today May 7, 2023, this blog post of mine!
I'm so, so happy, you've filled my heart with the deepest joy ever, Lovely Lady, thank you 

32 commenti:

  1. Grazie Daniela per il tuo post così interessante. Devo dire ignoravo quanto hai descritto.
    Buona settimana!

    1. Italiafinlandia
      Ma grazie a te, mia cara, sono sempre così felice di accoglierti qui, ed apprendere dalle tue parole che hai letto qualcosa che ancora non sapevi mi rende ancor più felice!
      Buon prosieguo di settimana anche a te,
      e che la tua serata colmi di serenità il tuo cuore ⊰✽*Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ*✽⊱

  2. What an absolutely fascinating article! I did know that the early bright green paints contained arsenic, but I had no idea how dangerous they were! So much like the lead in white paints that affects millions and millions! Your accompanying images are just superb - both beautiful and amusing - and so informative!
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Tristan Robin
      It's my pleasure and delight, both welcoming you here and reading your so beautiful words of enjoyment for the article you've read, I'm sincerely glad you've appreciated it!
      Wishing you most lovely days to come,
      with heartfelt gratitude ❥

  3. Da non credere! che un colore così bello, che può dimostrarsi estremamente elegante o casual, vivace, rilassante in certe sfumature (a me piace molto !) sia stato un colore "assassino", un subdolo traditore
    Lieta nuova settimana!

    1. Franca
      proprio così, il verde smeraldo del tempo era un subdolo traditore che seminava disgrazie e morte!
      Ti abbraccio con tutto il cuore, carissima, ringraziandoti come sempre, anzi, sempre più,
      e che il resto della settimana porti letizia a te e ai tuoi cari ♡❤♡

  4. Oh my goodness. I love the gowns, but wouldn't want to wear one. Goodness. How frightening.

    Thank you for joining the Awww Mondays Blog Hop.

    Have a fabulous Awww Monday and week, my friend. ♥

    1. Sandee
      Well, today things have changed, fortunately, if you want, you can wear an emerald green gown without taking any risks, that's sure, but during the Victorian age it could be lethal, as you've read.
      In the hope you're having a great week so far,
      I'm sending hugs and ever much love to you ஐღ❀ღஐ

  5. It looks like a lot of work to put on dresses like these!

    1. Magical Mystical Teacher
      Oh, yes, the gowns of those ages were much elaborated, they were needed hours and hours of works, and if they were emerald green, you've seen how the poor seamstresses reduced themselves, sometimes paying their hard work with their own lives!
      Thanking you for gracing my Blog today,
      I wish you a joyful remainder of your week ✿⊱╮

  6. Those gowns are quite spectacular. I love dresses but I am more a girl in cowboy boots and a dress. I guess I am not quite that fashionable. Thank hyou for sharing.

    1. My Tata's Cottage
      It is I who thank you, Dearie,
      thank you with all my heart *♥*

  7. This reminded me a bit of Marie Antoinette .I suppose back a long time ago they did not know aobut the dangers of all this. Of course, not much has changed in our world. All those dangerous chemicals and poisons. Oh My Goodness. .

    1. My Tata's Cottage
      if we do think about everything poisonous is present in our world today, we don't even stand up in the morning!
      We haven't to think about it, to try to live our lives as healthy as we can, that's what we due to ourselves, that's obvious.
      Enjoy the remainder of your week, Dearie,
      and don't think about bad things,
      let's think about the wonderful Gifts we have,
      and let's be grateful for them ༺❀༻

  8. What a sad legacy such beauty leaves behind. Hope you have a blessed and beautiful week!

    1. messymimi
      That's a terrible legacy, you're right sweet friend of mine!
      Im the hope you too are enjoying a beautiful and blessed week,
      ஜ I'm sending hugs and more hugs across the many miles ஜ

  9. Wow! Learn something new everyday. I love green, so likely I would have been one of those toxic ladies gifting arsenic to all who loved me. Just last week we watched one of the Cosmos series and learned the fall of Rome was most likely to do with their love of using lead in almost everything, including water pipes. What one doesn't know can sometimes kill them. Beautiful illustrations and writing on a deadly subject.

    1. Yvonne
      I'm sincerely grateful to you for your words of appreciation, you're right, what we do not know can be dangerous to us!
      Sending blessings of joy on your coming days,
      with utmost thankfulness ✿⊰✽⊱✿

  10. I had no idea---I've never come across any of this information. And, emerald green has always been a favorite of mine, who knew. Interesting that you brought up William Morris. I'm aware of some bad products, and was very careful using them them for glazes...but honestly poisoning generations of people is eyeopening. Hugs, great post, Sandi

    1. Sandi
      I so love your comments, you always seem to make my day a bit brighter, thank you Dearie!
      May you be greatly blessed,
      you're such an amiable lady with a kind soul ✥*⊰♥⊱*✥

  11. ...Daniela, fashion wasn't always good for your health, the poor seamstress. Thanks for sharing this bit of history.

    1. Tom
      it's my pleasure and delight, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, dear friend!
      Hugs coming your way ♡ஐ♡

  12. Carissima Dany
    Davvero ignoravo queste informazioni sul verde smeraldo...grazie per il tuo escursus così ricco di dettagli come sempre...
    Ti auguro una piacevole serata

    1. Daniela
      ti ringrazio con tutto il cuore per questa tua bellissima visita che accende di gioia la mia serata!
      Ti abbraccio forte ringraziandoti ancora anche per le belle parole •♥•♥•♥•

  13. Oh my you would think just the seamstress hands turning green and getting sores would make anyone think twice about wearing it. How terrible for those families, especially the little ones to get so sick and die from it. It happens now to I guess, there are things in our environments that cause cancer and such but the levels in some places are supposedly acceptable. Another very interesting post! Hope your week is off to a great start!

    1. Conniecrafter
      I thank you so much for your words of interest and appreciation for this article of mine about a topic which, at those times, was truly a terrible truth they realized after deseases and deaths!
      Hoping you too are having a great week,
      I'm sending blessings across the Ocean to you and yours ❥

  14. Wow, what a story. So fashion does kill. Danny, I'm loving these informative and fun posts, I missed you while you were away.

    1. Amalia
      you're so sweet, I also missed you when I was writing my book and did not have time for blog-land too!
      Sending hugs and ever much love to you ∗⊱༺♡❀♡༻⊰∗

  15. This is so interesting!

    Green happens to be my favorite color!

    1. Veronica Lee
      I'm so glad you've found this reading intersting, you truly bless my day and make my heart sing!
      Wishing you a great day,
      I thank you so, so much ♥♡♥

  16. Thank you Daniela for your comment on my 10th anniversary blog celebration. Kind of you. Your articles are always informative.Sad indeed to read.:(((( Hugs to you

    1. Christal Grandeur
      you're such a good-hearted lady and I feel so fortunate to have you amongst my blog-friends, thank you!
      Sending hugs back to you ❀≼♥≽❀