It’s not surprising then that at the end of Elizabeth’s reign, with the royal stamp of approval no longer in place, the use of face paint became more discreet. In England, moving into the seventeenth century, the fluctuating fashion for how to wear rouge and makeup in general can be linked to the influence of both the prevailing politics and puritanical religion. In 1650, a motion was put forward under Oliver Cromwell in the Long Parliament that an Act against the Vice of Painting, and wearing black Patches, and immodest Dresses of Women, be read on Friday Morning next.‚18 The bill was read once before being dropped. It seems clear that makeup was so prevalent in English society and culture by this point that it simply could not be controlled. Double standards were very much at play, as men secretly appreciated the effects of makeup when applied well and discreetly: The general consensus was that makeup was unacceptable, but if it must be used, then it should appear natural. Beautifying clearly had its benefits, as demonstrated by London diarist Samuel Pepys, who wryly noted, when describing how a woman had accidentally spat on him, after seeing her to be a very pretty lady, I was not troubled by it at all.‚19
In Europe, the mid-eighteenth century was also renowned for being a time when rouge overload was common. The beauty ideal suggested by the portraits of the time was pale skin with rose-flushed cheeks (similar to those of the sixteenth century) and dark, defined brows. Makeup was all about status and being seen to be a la mode the flamboyant manner in which rouge in particular was worn was so very apparent that there’s no way it could have been intended to look natural. Especially in France, which was now the focal point of fashion and the center from which Europe took its aesthetic cue, painting your face was very much a part of life at court. Getting dressed and rouging your face in front of an audience was part of a public toilette practiced by aristocratic women although there was a strong element of performance involved in the ritual, with most of the work being done beforehand and without the court onlookers (a little bit like today’s behind-the-scenes videos of fashion shoots). Madame de Pompadour, the long-standing mistress of King Louis XV of France, was famously portrayed with noticeably rouged cheeks, and she became so associated with the color in the public consciousness that a certain shade of deep pink she was fond of became known as Pompadour pink. A portrait by Francois Boucher from 1758 shows her seated at her dressing table, in the act of painting her face, applying rouge from a compact using a small brush a rare example of the art of painting on cosmetics being replicated through the art of painting itself. Like paint, rouge came in many shades, and was used artistically. In his personal papers, published in 1877, Count Axel von Fersen, a Swedish aristocrat, describes seeing a French noblewoman apply her makeup. He says that she had six pots of rouge and another pot containing something that appeared more black than red. According to Morag Martin in Selling Beauty, the count realized it contained ‹“the most beautiful red one could see.’ She then added to this first layer from the other six pots, two at a time.‚20 Aristocratic men also used rouge at this time, as did children, particularly in court. However, there were subtle (or not so subtle) variations in the shades used. By 1780, rouge was available to buy in perfumeries in France, so anyone with the money to spend could use cosmetics to color their lips and cheeks, although the middle classes used less, and applied it in a subtler way than the aristocracy did. According to French writers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, the rouge of the lady of quality was not the rouge of the court, nor the rouge of a courtesan; it was merely a soup^on of rouge, an imperceptible shade.‚
The most enduring shade of face paint, red inspires a primal response and conjures strong and at times contradictory emotions.
The excessive makeup worn in France attracted censure in England; although used, cosmetics were still considered artificial and false by many. Eighteenth-century portraits of women in England and the United States suggest that both countries favored a more pared-back look than their French contemporaries. Writing from Paris in 1775, Horace Walpole summarized the different attitudes toward rouge in an amusing letter: I found an English-woman at the Opera last night by her being covered with plumes and no rouge, which made her look like a whore in a salivation; so well our country-women contrive to display their virtue!‚22 But the gap would not remain for much longer following the French Revolution, there was an overall shift to a more natural look.
Changing trends aside, with the increase in availability, women carried on using rouge, and by the late eighteenth century there were a huge number of varieties available. Vegetable rouges became more sought after as the dangers of lead and mercuric sulfide became better known, and a type of rouge known as Spanish wool was incredibly popular, although it had been around since the seventeenth century. Available in a variety of colors and sizes, Spanish wool was fabric that had been dyed with cochineal or something similar, cut into pads about 1.5 inches (4 cm) across, which could be dabbed onto the lips and cheeks in order to stain them A portable version, called Spanish paper, was made up of pigment impregnated into paper that could be carried around in a pocketsecret. Rouge was also available in small pots and glass bottles or on saucers, and would be applied with the fingers, a camel-hair brush, a hare’s foot, or a powder puff, depending on the formulation.
“What red can do for the spirit, it can also do for the face. ‚