Pretty as a Picture

Martha Stewart Weddings, Fall 2002

On your wedding day, you will be dressed in a manner almost surely unfamiliar to you. There was a time, however, not even a century ago, when ballroom elegance was a daily convention for women of society. And the higher their social standing, the more likely it was the celebrated artist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) painted their picture. The American painter spent much of his life among the powerful British aristocracy, and they in turn made him the most revered portraitist of his time. Yet chief among Sargent's artistic innovations was his depiction of the newest social icons, the beautiful and fashionable -- a class into which every bride falls -- upon whom he bestowed the same attention he gave the landed gentry. His dazzling, richly detailed portraits of the elegant ladies of this period can be a wonderful inspiration for the contemporary bride who wants both to stand out and to be at ease in yards of rustling silk and tulle. The photographs here were conceived under the spell of the master, arranged and costumed in the style of Singer's almost life-size paintings. Here, as in his creations, women are posed singly or in small groups amid neoclassical furnishings and before sumptuously draped backgrounds. Their dresses reflect the painter's fascination with the splendid details of his subjects' luxurious attire. He recorded with near-photographic clarity their streaming sashes, coquettish feathered fans, elaborate jeweled collars, lavish ropes of pearls, and fresh flowers pinned inside pleats and flounces. Adding similar, if more subdued, accents to your own wedding ensemble is a splendid way to introduce a touch of color or grandeur. Dressed in your wedding finery, picture yourself as one of these unperturbed noble belles, enticing in lace, languid in repose. You will have no trouble imagining how you might have inspired the great artist to paint a portrait of the extravagantly beautiful you.

Above: A sash of rose-printed taffeta from Jana Starr Antiques and a cameo on a ribbon of burgundy velvet by Erickson Beamon give High Victorian authenticity to the petal-sleeved gown of knotted pink tulle over silk by Richard Tyler Bride. Ring by Becky Kelso. All earrings by Marian Maurer.

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Studies in shadows and light, these painterly images evoke works of the great artist John Singer Sargent. Here, Catherine Puget's off-the-shoulder gown of silk mikado shimmers. It is paired with a necklace of festooned star bursts by Erickson Beamon. Veil by Nelson D'Leon.


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The square neck of this ivory organza princess gown from Carolina Herrera is defined by a lattice-patterned band of beaded embroidery and puff sleeves of tissue-thin organza. A flutter of vintage single-face silk-satin ribbon is loosely tied behind the neck. Pink diamond ring by Harry Winston; slingbacks by Stuart Weitzman.


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This beaded-lace coatdress from Monique Lhuillier recalls the Edwardian era. Costume pearls from Heidi Daus are tacked under one arm. Diana Kane's crystal necklace is worn as a bracelet.


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Cast as a detail from one of Sargent's sister portraits, the bride at center wears a sheath of re-embroidered French lace from Serafina; a necklace of simulated pearls from Carolee drapes from shoulder to shoulder. An Austrian-crystal lariat by Diana Kane is knotted around one arm. At left, Amsale's corded-lace gown is accented with a pearl lariat by Heidi Daus. All earrings by Dara.


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Fresh sweet peas are tucked into the neckline of an ivory cashmere dress with a taffeta skirt by Reem Acra. A necklace of crystals and faux pearls by Jose & Maria Barrera falls from the shoulder and hip. Earrings by Jane Diaz; ring by Harry Winston.


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This portrayal of women takes its cue from Sargent's 1902 painting of the beribboned Acheson sisters. A copper necklace by Erickson Beamon splays across the waist of an off-the-shoulder dress by Michelle Roth; ring by Becky Kelso.


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Vera Wang's strapless A-line dress of ivory silk radzimir with an asymmetric overskirt is stunning against a backdrop of silk swags and full peonies. The lace-edged mantilla by Nelson D'Leon is draped twice over the head. Oval diamond ring by Harry Winston.


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This portrait featuring Vera Wang's hand-appliqued gown is inspired by Sargent's 1894 depiction of actress Ada Rehan. A necklace by Jose & Maria Barrera is slung across the body. The headpiece is a brooch from Michael Kaye Couture for Grinnel Designs on a band of lace. Ring by Harry Winston.


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The Melissa Sweet empire-waist gown is Chantilly lace over silk charmeuse. Harry Winston's yellow diamond slips over one of the gloves by Shaneen Huxham; pearl lariat and twisted strands of moonstone pebbles, Elizabeth Locke. Fan with butterfly-shaped handle set in crystals by Jose & Maria Barrera.


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