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The first exhibition to focus on fashion in the works of the Impressionists opens in Chicago
Gustave Caillebotte. Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877. The Art Institute of Chicago, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection.

CHICAGO, IL.- The groundbreaking and critically acclaimed exhibition Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, which opened in Paris in October 2012, landed at the Art Institute this summer as the final stop on its world tour. Organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, the exhibition broke attendance records in Paris and has been lauded by international and national critics alike. Roberta Smith of the New York Times called the New York presentation a “thrilling, erudite show” with “visual fireworks, historical clarity, and pitch-perfect contextualizing.” Vogue proclaimed the show “breathtaking” for its portrayal of “art’s passionate love affair with fashion in the boulevards and salons of late 19th-century France.” And now audiences in Chicago are able to spend the summer with the first exhibition to explore the role of fashion in the revolutionary Impressionist movement.

Featuring over 75 major figure paintings by the Impressionists and their contemporaries in tandem with the couture that inspired them, Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity stunningly demonstrates how, in the hands of the Impressionist painters, the movement of a perfectly executed dress, the seasonal change in styles, and the increasing availability of fashionable clothing all became instruments in defining modernity. The works in the exhibition, many of them rarely or never before seen in Chicago, tell the story of late 19th-century Paris—then the world’s undisputed style capital—and how its new department stores, ready-made clothing, fashion magazines, and burgeoning middle class all inspired artists seeking a new visual language to accompany their times. The exhibition includes large-scale works by luminaries such as Gustave Caillebotte, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Georges Seurat, Alfred Stevens, and James Tissot. For the presentation of the exhibition in Chicago, the Art Institute collaborated with international opera director Robert Carsen to conceive an immersive installation unlike any other presented at the museum.

“Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity is precisely the type of exhibition that the Art Institute does best,” said Douglas Druick, President and Eloise W. Martin Director of the museum. “With pioneering scholarship, the exhibition brings fresh perspectives to landmark works of art of the period and infuses them, and their historical era, with a new vibrancy and immediacy. Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity is also a testament to our close relationship with our colleagues in Paris and New York. It would not have been possible without their generosity and collegiality, particularly Guy Cogeval, the president and director of the Musée d’Orsay.”

“Working with paintings of this caliber is, of course, thrilling for a curator,” said Gloria Groom, David and Mary Winton Green Curator of Nineteenth-Century European Painting and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago. “But equally exciting is to be able to add dimensions to the works of art by the presentation of period dresses and accessories, many of which, thanks to exhibition curator Susan Stein, were lent by multiple departments at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Establishing the conversation between the paintings and actual artifacts—dresses, gloves, corsets, parasols—and working with Robert Carsen on their presentation have both made this exhibition a singular experience for the Art Institute.”

The exhibition takes visitors deep into Paris in the second half of the 19th century. The city was then the bustling center of a rapidly changing Europe and home to scores of artists seeking to capture the pulse and nuances of modern life. The Impressionist artists found fashion to be the perfect vehicle for defining and expressing modernity. The daring shapes and cuts of dresses and suits, rapidly changing styles, and the birth of department stores and fashion magazines all embodied a modern spirit that was lived and captured by artists drawn to the dynamic city. The first exhibition to draw this connection between fashion and painting during this period, Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity charts the economic, commercial, social, and artistic changes that upended the existing order and replaced it with something more closely resembling life today.

The paintings are brought to life with a judicious selection of period dresses, shoes, hats, fans, parasols, corsets, photographs, and fashion plates that vividly illustrate the booming consumer culture of the time. Dialogues between paintings and the garments depicted in them—such as Albert Bartholomé’s In the Conservatory (c. 1881) and the purple and white summer dress worn by Madame Bartholomé or Claude Monet’s Camille (1866) and an English promenade dress (1865/68)—not only underscore the intimate relationship between fashion and painting but also indicate how artists used, manipulated, and transformed fashion as a platform for their groundbreaking explorations. Visitors to the exhibition can experience galleries that examine burgeoning middle-class consumerism in the late 19th century, domestic portraits, fashion en plein air, under-fashion, photographs and fashion plates, men’s fashion, spaces of modern life, and evolving silhouettes as seen, for example, in the shift from the crinoline to the bustle.

Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity features iconic paintings by Impressionist artists as well as work by notable contemporaries James Tissot, Alfred Stevens, Carolus-Duran, and Jean Béraud. Many of the paintings, on loan from museums around the world, are rarely seen outside of Europe. Conversely, beloved works in the Art Institute’s of Chicago’s permanent collection, most notably Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877), will return home to Chicago, joining Georges Seurat’s monumental A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884 (1884–86), which was not displayed as part of the exhibition in Paris or New York.

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