The Peacock Dress today

The Peacock Dress today

The original dress is carefully preserved in a glass case at the Curzon family home, Kedleston Hall near Derby in England, and is well worth a visit to fully appreciate its fragile, magical beauty.

So what happened to dresses like these after the ball? Well, they were often preserved by the family for posterity; after Lady Curzon’s untimely death just three years later, when she was just 36, the Peacock dress was preserved and used by artist William Logsdail to help him complete a posthumous portrait of Mary.

Sometimes dresses like these were altered and worn again, perhaps for fancy dress; the Peacock Dress has been altered significantly at some time by inserting a section in the centre front of the bodice, whilst the skirt was removed from the waistband and reattached with the fullness distributed more evenly around the waist, rather than concentrated at the back with a flat front, as the fashion would have been in 1903. Since the alteration seems visible in the 1909 portrait, it is possible that the alteration was done for Mary herself, but since the gold fabric occupying the bodice front gap was reported in a 1950s conservation report to be a 1930s gold brocade, the alteration could alternatively have been done later for one of her daughters, who inherited the dress. Perhaps it was altered on both of these occasions, being let out for Mary and then a little more for her daughter.

The dress was later loaned to the Museum of London, and in the late 1930s Mary’s eldest daughter arranged for it to be sent to New York and displayed at the Metropolitan Museum as part of an exhibition of ceremonial clothes. It returned safely (much to everyone’s relief) and was stored securely by the Museum during the Second World War.

On its first display after the War, Mary’s eldest daughter Lady Ravensdale wrote an angry letter to the Museum accusing them of neglect. The dress was looking tired and damaged after its long stint in storage, and the Museum director could do nothing but assure her that this deterioration was natural for a metallic embroidered dress of the Peacock Dress’ advancing age. Discussions between the pair resulted in conservation work being undertaken to preserve the condition of the gown as best as the conservator could, including the replacement of the white silk roses at the hem.

The Peacock Dress was given to the UK Government in lieu of inheritance taxes in the 1990s, at which time it also returned to the Curzon family’s historic home at Kedleston, where it is on display to the public today.

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