On Level 2 at NGV International, four pairs of boots by the Parisian shoemaker Jean-Louis François Pinet are on display alongside paintings, prints, drawings and photography from the mid-nineteenth century. The display of shoes provides an opportunity to take a glimpse at what was hidden beneath the large crinoline skirts of the 1860s. As at this time feet were barely seen, they became somewhat erotic. Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria expressed disapproval at Empress Eugenie when she was exiting her carriage. ‘Be very careful Madame,’ he said, ‘you are showing your feet.’ One of the delights of the newly fashionable sport, croquet, was that it allowed men a glimpse of ‘a neatly turned ankle and pretty boots.’
Certainly very pretty, these shoes were displayed in the ‘Exposition Universalle de Paris’ of 1867, which was a trade show which featured the very best that French industry and commerce had to offer. These four pairs of dress boots were made in the same basic style – an ankle boot shaped with a slightly pointed toe and a Louis-style heel – but created in different materials. It was common practice for winter boots to be made out of velvet or heavier materials, while summer boots were made of lighter materials.
Startlingly narrow, these shoes represent the fashionable ideal for small feet which lasted from the 1830s to the 1890s. It’s also likely that their impossible slimness prevented them from being able to be worn, which has allowed them to remain in near perfect condition.