29 April 2013

Fashion and Impressionism

"Women in the Garden" Claude Monet (1866)

Last month I spent part of my birthday at the Met viewing “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity,” an exhibit that examines the influence of fashion on the work of the Impressionists who sought to reflect in their art the modern world in which they lived, Paris in the late 19th century (the mid-1860s to the mid-1880s to be exact).

The exhibit is spread out across eight galleries, juxtaposing paintings, photographs, and prints (many of which have rarely been seen in America) by artists such as Degas, Manet, Monet, and Renoir with clothes, shoes, and accessories from the time. 

"Camille" Claude Monet (1866)

At the entrance, you are greeted by the sight of a green-striped gown in a glass case. Entering the first gallery you find a large-scale painting, Monet’s “Camille” (1866), in which the model, Monet's mistress and future wife, wears a gown with similar stripes. From then on it's a struggle to know what to look at first, the clothes or the art.

In the same room are a series of cartes-de-visites by Disdéri —eight small exposures on a single glass negative that feature a woman in different poses. I loved these and the so very French names of their models: Valois, Heloise, Olympe, and Eugénie. That would be the Empress 

Each gallery continued on with various themes: from the outdoors, white and black dresses, and changing fashions to menswear, consumerism, and urban life.

Day Dress, 1865-67

It was particularly fascinating to look at the clothes close-up, observing all of the details and in some cases the seemingly endless buttons. I tried imagining what it must have been like to wear these every day and of the corsets (also on display) that helped to create such tiny waists. The all-white dresses appeared to be ridiculously sheer and light, which must have helped during a hot summer while the trend for shawls reminded me of our current day pashminas. It’s also amazing to think that people had the wherewithal to hold on to these, allowing us to view them more than 100 years later.

"In the Conservatory" Albert Bartholomé (ca. 1881) and 
Summer Day Dress Worn by Madame Bartholomé in the Painting "In the Conservatory."

One of the gowns on display, a purple and white number, is the actual gown seen in Albert Bartholomé’s “In the Greenhouse” (1881). The artist preserved it after his wife, the model for the painting, died. The most marked difference is that Bartholomé darkened the gown’s purple for his painting (or perhaps the gown itself has faded over time). Regardless, it was pretty great to see.

What surprised me the most was to learn that the little black dress (OK, big black dress) was alive and well in Paris and considered quite fashionable. I always associate black in the 19th century with mourning (think Queen Victoria) but as Renoir said, “black is the queen of colours,” and my favourite dress in the exhibit (see image above) was indeed a black one. Narrow with a high collar and tiny jet beading and a small train, it was absolutely gorgeous.

"Paris Street; Rainy Day" Gustave Caillebotte (1877)

The final gallery has what I think is one of the best pieces, Gustave Caillebotte's "Paris Street; Rainy Day" (1877), which I had seen before on a trip to Chicago. A perfect combination of fashion and environment, it's incredibly striking and the perfect way to close out the exhibit. 

The exhibit is at the Met through May 27, 2013. For more information, visit here

All images from the Met.

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