Elvira Standertskjöld was a Finnish noblewoman who built a cozy little Jugend villa which I have visited several times. In 1896 Eero Järnefelt painted this portrait of her in a yellow silk gown. It used to hang in the drawing-room of the villa but is nowadays owned by the Finnish National Gallery. This gown still exists and is owned by the Espoo City Museum. I got the privilege to see the gown thanks to the curator Suvi Kettula who showed it to me.
Elvira Hallgren was born in Gävle, Sweden in 1868. She studied music in Stockholm, Vienna, and Helsinki and was a talented singer. She also acted in small roles in the Swedish theater in Helsinki. However, she gave up her career after getting married to baron Emil Standerskjöld in 1892. The couple first lived in Hämeenlinna and then in St Petersburg and Helsinki. Lise was born in 1893 and Thelma in 1897. Tragically, Emil Standerskjöld died in 1900, leaving Elvira alone with her two young daughters.
Villa Elfvik was first planned to be the couple’s summer residence. The plans for a big manor house were drawn. However, after the death of the baron, Elvira had to cut down the plans. She built a smaller Jugend-style villa a couple of kilometers from Helsinki and ended up living there year-round with her daughters.
She loved fashion and was able to afford the finest gowns from the best fashion ateliers in Helsinki. The yellow gown in the portrait was made in Magasin du Nord that was the biggest fashion house in Helsinki. She dressed her girls in luxurious silks and lace and they traveled around in an old-fashioned fancy carriage with a groom which drew attention.
The family was very active in social life. During the late 19th-century, Finnish society enjoyed sleigh rides, dinners, and balls during the winter and garden parties during the summer. Masquerades were popular and Elvira often celebrated her name day with masquerade parties. These Queen and King of Hearts costumes were worn by Elvira and Emil Standerskjöld at a charity ball in 1896.
Elvira lived a long life and died in 1955 at the age of 85. Her daughters never married and continued living in Villa Elfvik dedicating their life to artistic pursuits.
The portrait dress of Elvira Standerskjöld
The original dress was made by Magasin du Nord. Below, you can see the dress in its current state after conservation done by Emma Klemettilä. You can browse the gallery to see the dress in different directions.
The material of the dress is weighted silk. Weighting was common in the 19th and early 20th centuries. During the processing, silk fiber loses water and thus weight. To compensate, different lead and tin salts were added. This improved the drape and rustle of the fabric and (perhaps more importantly) was cost-effective as silk was sold by the weight.
In Emma Klemettilä’s research, the weighting was shown to have been done with the tin-phosphate-silicate process. It was a popular method during the late 19th-century and suited well for dyed and light-colored silks. The unfortunate result of weighing silk was that the method damaged the silk fibers and made the silk very vulnerable. Things like acids, sweat, tears, salts damaged weighted silk further and this damage was irreversible. As the weft threads were usually weighted heavier, this typically caused directional ripping of the fabric.
In Elvira’s dress, the skirt front and the waist area are full of vertical rips. Thus, in the conservation, the front and the worn-out areas were covered in silk crepeline. The bodice is in a good condition, perhaps due to its lighter weight and more supported structure due to boning.
The style and construction
The bodice is flat-lined in yellow silk. The style is fitted and all the seams are boned. The bodice features a center-back hook-and-eye closure, pointed front and back, a chiffon-edged neckline, and puffed sleeves that were still fashionable in 1896.
The most notable alterations
There are numerous alterations done to the dress after the portrait was painted in 1896. The off-the-shoulder sleeves have been made smaller and lifted up. In the mid-1890s, the sleeves had grown into enormous leg-o-mutton sleeves, which quickly went out of fashion. Thus, changing the sleeve shape was an easy way to update it. Narrow shoulder pieces were also added to support the sleeves.
The hem of the skirt has been taken up at some point but it was let down to its original shape during the conservation.
All the beading, including the beaded shoulder straps, have been removed but one of the shoulder pieces still remains, although in an altered state.
Check out the video above to see the shoulder piece in more detail!
I hope you found this post interesting! Are you interested in seeing more historical dresses from close? Comment down below!
Thank you for reading and see you soon!