Galerie des Modes et Costumes Français: 1778-1787


First issued during the reign of Marie Antoinette, the fashion and costume plate series Galerie des Modes et Costumes Français has been called “the most beautiful collection in existence on the fashions of the eighteenth century.”

Beginning around 1778, the Parisian print merchants Esnault & Rapilly began issuing this series of engravings at irregular intervals in cahiers—or sets—of six that could be purchased in their shop or received as a subscription. The series was touted to be “designs from nature,” real-life ensembles worn by French elegantes in Paris or the Royal Palace at Versailles.  The plates were issued hand-colored as well as uncolored so as to be tinted by the home hobbyist.  Over the course of Galerie des Modes et Costumes Français’ nine year run, four artists were responsible for the majority of the plates, Claude-Louis Desrais, who designed the first 68 plates in the series, followed by Pierre-Thomas Leclère and François-Louis-Joseph Watteau.  In the final year of the series, Augustin de Saint-Aubin contributed eighteen plates depicting formal court styles.

Many of these original eighteenth century plates were destroyed during the course of the French Revolution, as owning objects associated with the decadence of the Ancien Régime implied political sympathies that put one’s life at risk.  By the early twentieth century, the Galerie des Modes et Costumes Français plates had become exceedingly rare and a complete set was not known to exist. Sometime around 1910, Paul Cornu, a historian and librarian at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, undertook the task of tracking down as many of the plates as possible, and in 1912 reissued a selection of 325 of the plates in a folio format that mimicked that of the original.  Short passages of text sourced from eighteenth century periodicals and literature accompany each image, providing a context that supercedes the depiction of extravagant and whimsical fashions and provides a detailed, nuanced account of the luxurious lifestyle enjoyed by the aristocracy and wealthiest members of the bourgeoisie just before the tides would turn with the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789.

Today, even the 1912 edition of Galerie des Modes et Costumes Français is considered valuable and rare, usually kept under lock and key in rare book and museum collections.  The tome has only ever been published in French, and SPARC hopes one day to release the first English translation of the title.  If this sounds like a title you would like to buy, we’d love to hear from you… leave us a comment!


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9 Responses to Galerie des Modes et Costumes Français: 1778-1787

  1. Kathie Wilson says:

    I would be very interested in such a publication. Kathie

  2. Emily Ripley says:

    Moi aussi

  3. Clare says:

    Well, while we are wishing, I would prefer a book of photographs of as many of the original 18th-century plates as could be found. Surely in this modern age many could be traced?
    In the meantime I treasure my 1982 Dover edition edited by Stella Blum, though she too used the 1911-1914 Lévy edition from the library of the Metropolitian Museum in New York.

  4. I would certainly be interested in a publication covering this, and as Clare says any plates of the era that could be found, on either side of the ditch.

  5. Jane says:

    I would love one. Especially one that I could tint myself.

  6. Susan Benton says:

    I too have the 1982 Dover edition but it is so limited. I need a complete fascimile to do what I can do. I hope you will consider publishing it.

  7. Kathy says:

    I would love one of these. I have some of the 1912 plates and the Dover book and a couple of original 18th century plates. The Boston museum of fine arts has a wonderful collection of original plates online as does the Japanese Bunka Collection. However its a real pity the plates from this volume and Journal dames et des modes (1798-1833) aren’t so well known outside collectors and museums.

    • April Calahan says:


      The Morgan Library in NYC also has a wonderful collection of the original 18th century plates. 🙂


      • kathy says:

        The Morgan also has a wonderful collection of 17th century dressed fashion plates. Its just a pity there’s so little available online to view for people who can’t access the collection themselves. Now I’ve just got to get the money aside to get your new massive book on fashion plates. It looks promising….

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