Description: Hand-colored lithograph from Captain Dupetit-Thouars’
Artist: Louis Jules Masselot
Medium: Hand-colored lithograph
Narrative: Until 1836, expeditionary artists had mostly sketched California’s settlements, native Indians, fauna and flora, but never the Spaniards and their descendants, whose gracious and festive lifestyle was often mentioned in foreign visitors’ journals. They were at last depicted when French military engineer Louis Jules Masselot (1815-1879) reached California in October 1837 under the command of Captain Abel Aubert Dupetit-Thouars (1793-1864)on a round-the-world exploration. Captain Dupetit-Thouars spent nearly a month in Monterey before sailing on to Mazatlan, exploring the Pacific and heading back to France.
His official report included eleven volumes of text and four folio atlases. The Atlas Pittoresque consists of about one hundred hand-colored lithographs, among them sketches of California including this colorful image drawn by Louis Jules Masselot of the Californios’ exuberant, colorful costumes. Dupetit-Thouars, not particularly versed in the art of fashions, tried to explain in his report how these costumes blended many different influences: “At this ball, there were a few young and pretty women, and several men with strikingly handsome faces Spanish-looking features. The women of the gente de razon tend to be short, dark-complexioned, with beautiful black hair, beautiful teeth, and in general, very good bearing. They don’t dress in a particular style, they follow French fashion in a loose way and mix it together with touches of Spanish fashion, which makes it very difficult to describe accurately.”
Fortunately, the twenty-one year old Masselot was able to assist his captain at a loss for words. He drew the women’s bright red, gold-fringed rebozo or shawl, their Spanish hair-comb, flaring tight-waisted dress, and silk stockings and shoes, in two sketches that exude the Californios’ easy bearing and home-grown elegance