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Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity opens at Metropolitan Museum of Art
People at a media preview look at "In the Conservatory (Madame Bartholome), ca 1881" by Albert Bartholome (C), "Summer Day Dress Worn by Madame Bartholome in the Painting 'In the Conservatory'" (R, dress in glass case), both on loan from the Musee d'Orsay, and "Woman with a Parrot, 1871" by Auguste Renoir (L) on display in the exhibition "Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The look at the role of fashion in the works of the Impressionists and their contemporaries shows 80 major paintings with period costumes, accessories, fashion plates, photographs, and popular prints. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA.
NEW YORK, NY.- Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity at the metropolitan museum of Art presents a revealing look at the role of fashion in the works of the Impressionists and their contemporaries. Some 80 major figure paintings, seen in concert with period costumes, accessories, fashion plates, photographs, and popular prints, highlight the vital relationship between fashion and art during the pivotal years, from the mid-1860s to the mid-1880s, when Paris emerged as the style capital of the world. With the rise of the department store, the advent of ready-made wear, and the proliferation of fashion magazines, those at the forefront of the avant-garde—from Manet, Monet, and Renoir to Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Zola—turned a fresh eye to contemporary dress, embracing la mode as the harbinger of la modernité. The novelty, vibrancy, and fleeting allure of the latest trends in fashion proved seductive for a generation of artists and writers who sought to give expression to the pulse of modern life in all its nuanced richness. Without rivaling the meticulous detail of society portraitists such as James Tissot or Alfred Stevens or the graphic flair of fashion plates, the Impressionists nonetheless engaged similar strategies in the making (and in the marketing) of their pictures of stylish men and women that sought to reflect the spirit of their age.

This stunning survey, anchored by many of the most celebrated works of the Impressionist era, illustrates the extent to which artists responded to the dictates of fashion between the 1860s, when admiring critics dubbed Monet’s portrait of his future wife “The Green Dress,” and the mid-1880s, when Degas capped off his famous series of milliners and Seurat pinpointed the vogue for the emphatic bustle.

Highlights of the exhibition include Monet’s Luncheon on the Grass (1865-66) and Women in the Garden (1866), Bazille’s Family Reunion (1867), Bartholomé’s In the Conservatory (Madame Bartholomé) (ca. 1881, paired with the sitter’s dress), and 16 other key loans from the Musée d’Orsay; Monet’s Camille (1866) from the Kunsthalle Bremen, Renoir’s Lise (Woman with Umbrella) (1867) from the Museum Folkwang, Essen, and Manet’s The Parisienne (ca. 1875) from the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, which have never before traveled to the U.S.; Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877) and Degas’s The Millinery Shop (ca. 1882-86) from the Art Institute of Chicago; Renoir’s The Loge (1874) from The Courtauld Gallery, London; and Cassatt’s In the Loge (1878) from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Representing loans from 40 international lenders and seven of the Museum’s curatorial departments, the Metropolitan’s presentation affords a keen sense of the parallel dictates of style as they evolved in art and fashion over a 20-year period. The fashion component of the exhibition, featuring 16 period costumes and an array of accessories, from hats to shoes and dainty parasols to silver-tipped walking sticks, complements the paintings on view and extends from crinoline dresses and frock coats of the 1860s to the prominent bustle skirts of the mid-1880s. This selection, which showcases the resources of the Museum’s Costume Institute, is supplemented by key loans from European and American collections and is displayed along with a full complement of photographs, fashion illustrations, and journals from the period. This ancillary material of 100 items, largely drawn from the Metropolitan’s encyclopedic holdings, is richly evocative of the late 19th-century Parisian milieu that inspired, provoked, and nurtured the talents—and often, the ambitions—of the painters of modern life.

Fully one-third of the loans will make their debut in New York, and more than three-dozen works of art, costumes, and accessories are shown uniquely at this venue.

The Exhibition Galleries
Organized chronologically and thematically, the installation was conceived with an eye to illustrating the rich and ongoing dialogue between fashion and art in the development of Impressionist painting. It affords a context that illuminates the artistic concerns and ambitions that accorded contemporary dress a defining role in their practice and distinguished their scenes of modern life from those of their contemporaries. The exhibition unfolds in a suite of eight galleries.

Gallery 1. The exhibition opens with large-scale figure paintings of the 1860s that responded to the tenor of the times and the urging of critics who clamored for pictures that were every bit as stylish and elegant as Haussmann’s newly renovated Paris. Artists from Monet to Tissot gravitated to contemporary dress as the key to invigorating threadbare traditions with modern sentiment.

In their various bids for distinction, they chose full-length formats which privileged the latest styles over individual facial features, and, inspired by Charles Baudelaire’s definition of modernity—“the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent”—they sought to capture the “look of the moment,” consulting popular carte-de-visite photographs and fashion illustrations. Such practices held sway as artists refashioned figure painting and set forth their own renditions—some designed to please and others to provoke—of “the woman of our time, the French woman, the Parisienne.”

Critics were quick to assess the trend, variously mocking society portraitists as mere “étoffistes” (fabric makers) or, instead, the “current vice” among such innovators as Manet of “valuing a head no more than a slipper.” These distinctions come to the fore in the first gallery, where Manet’s Young Lady in 1866 (the metropolitan museum of Art, 1866) and Monet’s Camille (Kunstalle Bremen, 1866) and Madame Louis Joachim Gaudibert (Musée d’Orsay, 1868, paired with a period ensemble from the Metropolitan’s collection) confront pictures by Carolus-Duran and Tissot, with their glossy specificity, tailored to popular taste.

Gallery 2. In the 1860s, artists took their ambitions and palettes out of doors, painting contemporary scenes of leisure that extol the fleeting beauty of a summer’s day. In plein air they sought to arrest the ephemeral qualities of light and shade and the passing whims of the latest trends (such as the vogue for cotton piqué dresses, adorned with black scrollwork embroidery, represented by examples from the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, and the Metropolitan).

Conceived on the scale of a grand history painting, Monet’s monumental Luncheon on the Grass (Musée d’Orsay, 1865–66) evolved from plein-air studies onto a 20-foot-wide canvas depicting stylish picnickers. The two large remaining fragments of the scene are shown together for the first time in the United States. Monet returned to the subject in Women in the Garden (Musée d’Orsay, 1866), which is joined by the once-scandalous Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine (Summer) by Monet’s predecessor Courbet (Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris, 1856–57), and Family Reunion, by his good friend Bazille (Musée d’Orsay, 1867).

Galleries 3 and 4. The exhibition continues with two galleries that focus on the white dress and the black dress, and consider the extent to which stylistic choices—in dress and color—combine to make both an artistic and fashion statement. As the poet Stéphane Mallarmé, who launched his own fashion magazine in 1874, observed: “Manet and his school use simple color, fresh, or lightly laid on, and their results appear to have been attained at the first stroke,” animating subjects “composed of a harmony of reflected and ever-changing lights . . . with movement, light, and life.”

Simple white dresses—such as the diaphanous morning and day gowns on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of the City of New York—brought an air of informality and authenticity to scenes of modern life, as exemplified by Renoir’s painting of his 19-year-old mistress, charmingly dressed for the country, in Lise (Woman with Umbrella) (Museum Folkwang, Essen, 1867); and Manet’s depiction of his colleague and future sister-in-law Berthe Morisot in Repose (Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, ca. 1871).

Black silk gowns—such as those on view from the Manchester City Galleries and the collection of Gilles Labrosse, Paris—conveyed worldly elegance and sensuous élan. The color black vivified sitters ranging from the beguiling bohemian Nina de Callias in Manet’s Lady with Fans (Musée d’Orsay, 1873); to the quirkily extravagant artist’s model and budding actress Ellen Andrée in Manet’s The Parisienne (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, ca. 1875) and the refined Madame Charpentier in Renoir’s portrait of 1878 (the metropolitan museum of Art).

Gallery 5. As the 1870s gave way to the 1880s, and the bustle yielded to the streamlined “princess style,” fashion claimed the interest of an ever-widening circle of artists, from Camille Corot (Lady in Blue, Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1874) to Paul Cézanne (The Promenade, private collection, 1871). Painters’ interests shifted along with the changing trends: their attentions, once drawn to the details of embroidered hemlines and flounced underskirts, gradually turned to the dematerializing effect of radiant sunlight on fabric; from the transience of short-lived fashion to the changeability of the weather or the time of day.

In The Swing (1876), Renoir emphasized the play of dappled sunlight shining on the figure’s beribboned dress. The painting is seen side-by-side with In the Conservatory (Madame Bartholomé) (ca. 1881, displayed with the sitter’s gown), in which Bartholomé rendered his wife’s dress with ardent exactitude (all Musée d’Orsay).

Gallery 6. While dress codes for women dictated a full panoply of outfits, the options for men in the late 19th century were simple, limited, and for both wearer and artist not terribly inspiring. Artists met the challenge of adding distinction to their depictions of the modern man with inventive cropping or poses and the novel use of accessories (typified by an assortment of period headwear and canes on view).

For example, in Portraits at the Stock Exchange (Musée d’Orsay, 1878–79) Degas exploited top hats to animate the scene and to define its central figure, the banker and collector Ernest May. Fantin presented the famously controversial Édouard Manet as a fashionable gentleman-flâneur, complete with top hat and silver-tipped walking stick, in his portrait of 1867 (Art Institute of Chicago). Caillebotte portrayed his model in different guises—as a rumpled “barfly” in At the Café (Musée d’Orsay, on deposit at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, 1880), and, that same year, as a melancholy bourgeois gent in Portrait of a Man (Cleveland Museum of Art).

Gallery 7. Artists’ appreciation for the newest styles extended to the trappings of consumer culture. Degas’s millinery series—represented by two pastels from the Metropolitan and his largest oil devoted to the subject, from the Art Institute of Chicago—explores the relations between customers and salesgirls, and between women and the objects of their desire. Tissot’s The Shop Girl (Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 1883–85) casts the viewer in the role of a satisfied customer leaving a boutique, in which not only money and goods, but also suggestive glances between the sexes, are exchanged; and Manet’s Before the Mirror (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1876) portrays the seductions of the toilette.

Degas’s images of milliners fittingly cap off an era when artists engaged the stuff of fashion—all the “pretty and familiar things” of which Baudelaire spoke—in a rich dialogue that unfolded over a 20-year period. With renewed focus, painters turned from consulting fashion magazines to depicting sitters reading them (Manet’s Woman Reading, Art Institute of Chicago, 1879–80, and Renoir’s Young Woman Reading an Illustrated Journal, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, ca. 1880); from seizing the silhouette at full length to studying the corsets that shaped its form and the hats and shoes that gave it height (Manet’s Before the Mirror, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1876, and Eva Gonzalès’s The White Slippers and The Pink Slippers, both 1879–80, loaned by Vera Wang and another private collection, respectively); and from exploring the effects of light and shade on aniline-dyed fabrics to lingering on underpinnings and accessories, down to a single jet earring (Degas’s eponymous print of ca. 1876–77, the metropolitan museum of Art).

Their pictures are seen alongside an array of accoutrements coveted by Parisian window-shoppers, from feathered hats and bonnets to lace-trimmed, silk and sateen corsets, drawn from the Metropolitan’s collection; and rosette-adorned slippers from the Museum of the City of New York.

Gallery 8. For the leading critics of the Impressionist age, modernity was an urban phenomenon. The newly widened boulevards of Haussmann’s Paris, like its grand ballrooms and gilded theater boxes, offered new vistas and venues to see, and places to be seen. Many of the paintings that punctuate the Impressionist era are, appropriately, a pavement-walker’s paradise.

Few works are more evocative of modern life or present a more powerful “portrait” of the newly renovated French capital than Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day (Art Institute of Chicago, 1877) in which the anonymity and sterility of the city unfurl beneath a tightly choreographed ensemble of gray silk umbrellas. This picture presides over a gallery of works that highlight the parade of fashion in the city: on the street, after church, at soirées, and at the theater, as depicted in such signature paintings as Renoir’s The Loge (The Courtauld Gallery, London, 1874) and Cassatt’s In the Loge (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1878).

The last Impressionist exhibition took place in 1886. Seurat debuted the Grande Jatte—and his pointillist technique. This monumental park scene (represented here by the final study of 1884, now owned by the Metropolitan), gave memorable form to the striking bustled silhouette of the day, as showcased by two sumptuous silk day dresses from the Museum’s collection. The painting also announced the end of an era. The next generation of artists—the Post-Impressionists—would champion evocation over description, imagination over observation, and timeless sentiment over the fleeting whims of fashion.

From sunny park scenes of women sporting summer dresses and parasols to rainy Paris streets with urban strollers clutching umbrellas—from hats to corsets, promenade day dresses to silk evening gowns—and from large-scale figure paintings of Parisiennes by Manet, Renoir, and Monet of the 1860s to scenes of modern life of the 1870s and 1880s, set in chic townhouses and opera boxes, the exhibition offers a new lens on the Impressionist era. It may be seen as both timely and topical, resonating with the recent conflation of high fashion and art in our time, and responding to recent scholarship.





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