The Grecian Bend: Fifth Avenue Style
Currier & Ives Satirical Fashion Lithograph: 1868
The Grecian Bend: Fifth Avenue Style
The Grecian Bend: Fifth Avenue Style, framed The Grecian Bend: Fifth Avenue Style, detail
Frame corner
Thomas Worth (1834-1917)
The Grecian Bend: Fifth Avenue Style
Currier & Ives, New York: 1868
Hand-colored lithograph
Signed in the stone "Thos. Worth."
16 x 12 inches, overall
19.5 x 15.5 inches, in vintage, probably original, black walnut frame
Provenance: Old Print Shop, New York City (their label)
$1,900

A satirical American lithograph of mid-19th-century women's high fashion.  In particular, it pokes fun at the vogue for bustles -- frameworks or padding worn under skirts to pad out the rear.  Combined with corsets and high-heeled shoes, the rigid undergarments caused a woman's body to be thrown forward into a position called “The Grecian Bend.”  In this print, the comic effect of the ludicrously large bustle is enhanced by the contrast with the woman’s tiny hands and feet and uselessly small parasol, as well as by the ridiculous ornaments hanging over her backside.  The print is subtitled “Fifth Avenue Style,” an apparent reference to the street in New York City on which upper class women might be seen out for a stroll to show off the latest fashionable clothing, like this impractical outfit. 

Caricaturists on both sides of the Atlantic satirized the “Grecian Bend.”   Indeed, this term was popularized by a humorous song of that title, available in sheet music as early as 1868. The first two verses and chorus describe the effect of the fashions on a woman's posture:

Grecian Bend

The ladies wanting something new,
As women are so prone to do,
Wear lofty heels upon the shoe
To give them a Grecian bend.
With foot so short, and heel so high,
They can't stand plumb if they would try,
And so they think to catch the eye
By means of a Grecian bend.

Chorus
Oh, see them promenade Broadway,
From early morn till end of day,
To hear what dashing gents will say
About the Grecian bend.

'Tis fun to see a lass so tall,
Lean forward 'till you'd think she'd fall,
Or pitch against a tree or wall,
Because of her Grecian bend.
E'en bashful girls are forward now,
So forward that the people vow,
They've been all day behind a plow-
To give them a Grecian bend.

Thomas Worth was an artist and regular contributor of drawings and paintings to Currier & Ives to be reproduced as lithographs, principally satirical cartoons, sporting subjects and railroad subjects.  A native New Yorker, Worth was no more than 20 years old when he sold his first cartoon to Nathaniel Currier.  Among his productions for the firm were The Darktown Comics, a series of caricatures of African-American life based on exaggerated stereotypes.  Worth was friends with James Merritt Ives, and together they visited racetracks and stables where Worth sketched horses and racing scenes for Currier & Ives.  He also produced game hunting prints.

The lithography firm of Currier & Ives was founded in 1834 by Nathaniel Currier as N. Currier, Lithographer, and based in New York. In 1852, he brought his brother-in-law, James Merritt Ives, into the business and renamed the firm Currier & Ives five years later.  They were extremely prolific and highly successful, producing almost 7,500 different separately issued art prints through the 19th century until 1907, aptly advertising themselves as "Print-makers to the American People."  Their prints were issued in either small, medium or large folio, though some particularly popular images were issued in more than one size.  Dozens of American artists in the mid 19th century painted primarily for lithographic reproduction by Currier & Ives and other firms. To please a broad audience, the firm presented a warmly positive vision of America, frequently sentimental, and sometimes with a touch of humor.  Currier & Ives prints generally portrayed the American landscape, scenery and landmarks, including the westward expansion, as well as daily life in both urban and rural settings.  Their sporting and maritime subjects were particularly popular.  These prints are now highly collectible as records of American history, as fine works of American art, and for their decorative appeal.

This print is apparently rare.  We have located only one other copy in the collection of the Library of Congress, though others presumably exist in other museum and private collections.

Full publication information: Published by Currier & Ives, 152 Nassau St. New York. Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1868 by Currier & Ives in the Clerks Office of the District Court of the U.S. for the Southern District of New York.

Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall toning, wear, minor spotting, foxing.  Irregular toning along a diagonal, upper margin, causing slight discoloration in paper, unobtrusive.  Original color still bright.  Margins fairly ample.  Walnut frame probably original, with usual overall wear and shrinkage.

References:

Bonfante-Warren, Alexandra.  Currier & Ives: Portraits of a Nation.  New York: Metro Books, 1998. pp. 9, 23-41, 57, 61, 71, 94-96.

Conningham, Frederic A.  Currier and Ives Prints: An Illustrated Check List.  New York: Crown, 1949. 2659.

"From the Crinoline, to the Crinolette, to the Bustle: 1860-1880." Victoria and Albert Museum. http://www.fathom.com/course/21701726/session2.html (16 January 2012).

"Grecian Bend." Traditional Music Library.  http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/songster/13-grecian-bend.htm (16 January 2012).

"The Grecian Bend." Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, Library of Congress.  http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002695813/ (16 January 2012).