Powder and Patches

Porcelain for the Boudoir in Eighteenth Century Europe

By Gardiner Museum

Gardiner Museum

The Toilette of Venus (1751) by François BoucherThe Metropolitan Museum of Art


Richly furnished and infused with exotic scents, the lady’s boudoir held one of the rituals that most eloquently typified eighteenth-century refinement: the toilette. The toilette involved the dressing and accessorizing of hair and wigs, the application of make-up and patches, and the final stages of dressing, all in the company of friends, family members, and servants. Punctuated with light meals, conversation and other activities, the toilette unfolded over several hours every morning. The lady of fashion rarely appeared in public before noon. The toilette became a social event in the late seventeenth century at the court of Louis XIV, when the King invited members of the royal household and privileged guests into his chambers during his dressing. This was soon imitated by the aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie, becoming an expression of distinction, status, and taste. Madame de Pompadour, King Louis XV’s mistress, held the most famous toilette of the eighteenth century, one renowned for its political intrigues. This display visualizes the refined atmosphere of the boudoir along with the beauty and social rituals of the toilette. Objects are both functional and decorative, and highlight the importance of porcelain in the consumption of some of the most fashionable and luxurious products of the time, including cosmetics, perfume and snuff.

Ewer and Basin (Broc à feuille d’eau et jatte) (1758) by Sèvres Porcelain ManufactoryGardiner Museum

The Toilette Intime

A lady generally held two toilettes: personal care conducted privately in her bedroom, known as the toilette intime; and the more social and public toilette, usually conducted in the boudoir. A ewer and basin was used for washing the face, and for rinsing fingers in scented water after a light meal was taken in the bedroom or later in the boudoir.

The Intimate Toilette (c1760) by Francois BoucherGardiner Museum

The Bourdaloue

Typically made of porcelain or faience, portable chamber pots known as bourdaloues, were kept in bedrooms and were brought on long journeys. The name derives from Père Louis Bourdaloue (1632-1704), preacher at the court of Louis XIV, whose sermons were allegedly so long that women brought their chamber pots for use under their large skirts during mass.

Bourdaloue (Lady’s Chamber Pot) (c.1729-1731) by Meissen Porcelain ManufactoryGardiner Museum

Bourdaloue Interior (c.1729-1731) by Meissen Porcelain ManufactoryGardiner Museum

Interior of Bourdaloue

Parrot and Hen (c.1755) by Chelsea Porcelain ManufactoryGardiner Museum

The Delights of Perfume

Clean water was scarce, and was used sparingly as it was
believed to allow diseases to penetrate the skin. Instead, perfumes were used
to suggest cleanliness. Worn on the skin, or added to gloves, clothing, bed
linens, and cosmetics, perfume was a symbol of luxury for both men and women.
Perfume bottles took on a wide range of playful shapes and were kept close at hand on a dressing table or in a pocket.
Some provided multiple containers for different scents, doubled as patch-boxes,
or included a mirror on the base.

Cat and Mouse (c.1755) by Chelsea Porcelain ManufactoryGardiner Museum

Potpourri Vase (c.1750-1752) by Vincennes Porcelain ManufactoryGardiner Museum

Scenting the Air

Like water, fresh air was deemed suspicious, hence rooms tended to be closed off and infused with scents using potpourri. Perforated vases were especially designed for potpourri, an aromatic blend composed of dozens of different flowers, herbs, and spices. Rose petals, lavender, orange blossoms, jasmine, rosemary, clove, and cinnamon were some of the most common ingredients.

Potpourri Vase (c.1755) by Höchst Porcelain FactoryGardiner Museum

Progress of the Toilet, The Stays (1810) by Gillray, JamesRijksmuseum

Makeup and Ideals of Beauty

The wearing of cosmetics first emerged as a status symbol. The heavy application of makeup was associated with court circles, particularly in France. By the mid-eighteenth century, its use had spread across social classes and often raised criticism, especially when rouge was worn by older women. The fashion for makeup declined in the late eighteenth century in favour of a more natural appearance.

Jar in the Kakiemon Style (c.1730-1740) by Chantilly Porcelain ManufactoryGardiner Museum


Jars of this size may have been used for pomade, a thick, scented cream primarily made from animal fat and essential oils. Used as a face cleanser or cream, it was also applied to hair and wigs before the application of grey hair powder, then in fashion.

Jar in the Kakiemon Style (c.1730-1740) by Saint-Cloud PorcelainGardiner Museum

Six Stages of Mending a Face, Dedicated with respect to the Right Hon-ble. Lady Archer (May 29, 1792) by Thomas Rowlandson|Samuel William ForesThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fair Skin and Blushing Cheeks

A pale white skin was achieved with whitening creams and face paint, or blanc, which concealed blemishes and pockmarks. Recipes for blanc could include ground pearls and fine white clay, and even toxic ingredients such as lead, the prolonged use of which caused teeth and hair to fall out, and, in the worst cases, led to death. Rouge –made with cochineal, carmine or red wood from Brazil– was then applied on a perfectly white skin, giving back colour to the face. Rouge imitated the glow of a blush which could signify modesty or sexual enticement. Thomas Rowlandson's caricature Six Stages of Mending a Face mocks these beauty rituals and highlights the dangers associated with the use of cosmetics.

Pair of Jars in the Kakiemon Style (c.1755) by Bow Porcelain WorksGardiner Museum

Jar with Lambrequin Motif (c.1711-1730) by LilleGardiner Museum

Jar with Flowers in Relief (c.1750-1777) by Mennecy Porcelain ManufactoryGardiner Museum

Morning Morning (1694/1760) by Gilles Edme Petit|François BoucherThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

La Mouche

Patches, or beauty spots, came into fashion in the late eighteenth century. They were placed on the face, neck and chest to hide imperfections and highlight the whiteness of the skin. Called mouches (French for flies), being the size of a fly’s wing, they were made of black taffeta or velvet, and could adopt fanciful shapes such as hearts or crescents.

Dancing Columbine (c.1740) by Meissen Porcelain ManufactoryGardiner Museum

Placing patches was an art; each position had a name evoking a range of flirtatious messages: “the passionate” near the eye,“the majestic” on the forehead, or “the discreet” below the lower lip.

Twin-Sided Patch Box (c.1750-1777) by Mennecy Porcelain ManufactoryGardiner Museum

Patch Boxes

Patch boxes are found in multiple forms. Boxes with two compartments allowed one to keep patches alongside the gum used to adhere them to the face. Smaller boxes could easily be kept in the pocket, and a mirror inside the lid would have been useful to reposition or replace a fallen beauty spot. Perfume bottles also served dual purposes; in the examples shown here, the lower part container would have served as a patch box.

Perfume Bottle and Patch Box Shaped as a Cupid Holding Doves Perfume Bottle and Patch Box Shaped as a Cupid Holding Doves (c.1755) by Chelsea Porcelain ManuafctoryGardiner Museum

Vase of Flowers (with patch box) (c.1751-1754) by St. James FactoryGardiner Museum

Display with Patch Boxes and Patches on a Stand (2016) by Various ArtistsGardiner Museum

“The role of a pretty woman is much more serious than one might suppose: there is nothing more important than what happens each morning at her toilette… a general of an army pays no less attention to placing his right flank or his reserves than she does to the placement of a patch, which can fail, but from which she hopes or anticipates success.”
Montesquieu, Lettres Persanes, 1721

Maria Luisa of Parma (1751–1819), Later Queen of Spain (1765) by Laurent PécheuxThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fashionable Accessories

Elegantly decorated boxes were practical luxury items that were often offered as gifts. They came in fanciful shapes such as whimsical animals and their decoration reflected the most fashionable styles of the time including Japanese-inspired Kakiemon and chinoiseries. Depending on their size, these boxes were suitable for a variety of purposes; they could have been used as containers for rouge, confectionery, pills, breath pastilles or patches. They are also frequently associated with the consumption of snuff.

Box in the Kakiemon Style Box in the Kakiemon Style (c.1730-1740) by Chantilly Porcelain ManufactoryGardiner Museum

Round Box with Yellow Ground and Chinoiseries (c.1725-1732) by Saint-Cloud PorcelainGardiner Museum

Box Shaped as a Cat (c.1737) by Saint-Cloud PorcelainGardiner Museum


Originating in the New World, tobacco was introduced to Europe around 1600. It was believed to have medicinal properties. Men and women of the elite favoured its powdered form known as snuff. Its use in public, together with the display of an exquisitely crafted container, testified to one’s social standing. How one held the box in the left hand and took a pinch of snuff between the index finger and the thumb to inhale it was part of a coded ritual. Like a fan, a snuffbox could be used coquettishly as an accessory in the game of seduction.

Jar for Tobacco or Snuff in the Japanese Kakiemon Style (c.1730-1740) by Chantilly Porcelain ManufactoryGardiner Museum

Three snuffboxes: Armadillo, Bird and Cat by Saint-Cloud and MennecyGardiner Museum

This snuff taking etiquette in 14 movements was presented in a French pamphlet, c.1750:

1) Take the box in the right hand
2) Pass it to the left hand
3) Tap it
4) Open it
5) Present it to company
6) Retract it
7) Always keep it open
8) Tap on the sides to heap the snuff in the middle
9) Take a clean pinch in your right hand
10) Hold for some time before taking to the nose
11) Take to the nose
12) Sniff judiciously with both nostrils and without grimacing
13) Sneeze, cough and spit
14) Close the snuff box

Marriage A-la-Mode, Plate IV (April 1, 1745) by William Hogarth|Simon Francis Ravenet, the elderThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

A Sociable Time

The public toilette was a moment of sociability when women received friends and transacted business. A range of activities also took place, including sewing, reading, letter writing and the study of music and languages. A bouillon was often served in an écuelle, a small tureen especially made for use in the bedroom and the boudoir. Fashionable beverages such as chocolate and coffee were also consumed in the morning hours.

Covered Chocolate Cup and Trembleuse Saucer (c.1720-1725) by Du PaquierGardiner Museum

Solitaire with Village Scenes and a Performance by Harlequin (c.1770) by Frankenthal Porcelain FactoryGardiner Museum

Écuelle and Stand from the Japanese Service for Sans Souci Palace (c.1769-1770) by Royal Porcelain ManufactoryGardiner Museum

Harlequin with Bagpipes (c.1745-1752) by Meissen Porcelain ManufactoryGardiner Museum

“The beauty of women in France renews itself every morning. Like a clock, one could say that their charms are wound: it’s a flower that is reborn and dies in a day.”
Ange Goudar, L'Espion Chinois, 1765

Credits: Story

This exhibition, curated by Dr. Karine Tsoumis, Curator, was presented at the Gardiner Museum, Toronto, June 6 - September 5, 2016.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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