Metropolitan Museum’s New Exhibition

Fashion Makes An ‘Impression’

 Madame Louis Joachim Gaudibert, 1868, Monet

I attended countless shows during the course of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week which ended last Thursday, and am keeping my eye on the unfolding fall winter 2013 collections in London, Milan, and Paris. So I suppose it’s as good a time as any, to contemplate the connection between fashion and art. But while there may be many differing opinions as to whether or not fashion IS art, what cannot be denied is that there is an ongoing connection between the two, that has existed through the ages. There’s probably no better setting in which to continue the dialog and debate, than the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and coincidentally, their new exhibition, ‘Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity’,  (February 26 – May 27), deals with this subject, and effectively puts any questions as to the connection, to rest.

In the Greenhouse, Albert Bartholome

Yesterday morning, I attended a press preview during which time the Met’s director, Thomas P. Campbell, and the exhibits’ curator, Susan Stein, made their remarks. Mr. Campbell eloquent as always, observed, that “in the mid 1860’s to the 1880’s, the pivotal years when Paris was emerging as the fashion style capital of the world, members of the French avant garde were not only captivated by the novelty and allure of contemporary fashion, they also sought to give it expression in their depictions of modern life. This exhibition draws on a number of important sources, to illustrate the extent to which artists of the impressionist era, turned a fresh eye to the fashion’s of their day. They observed the stylish men and women around them as the key to capturing on canvas the pulse and flow of contemporary life, with all its nuances and richness. Susan Stein our curator of 19th century European paintings, conceived the Met’s beautiful presentation. The realization of the exhibition in it’s present form acknowledges the exceptional generosity of 40 international lenders and the cooperation of holdings of 7 curatorial departments at the Met.

Portrait of Mademoiselle, Young Lady in a Red Jacket, James Tissot, 1864

On view are a large number of the most beloved and renowned impressionist era paintings, many of which are traveling to the United States for the first time. It’s a testament to the richness of the Met’s vast collection, that so so many period costumes and accessories, fashion plates, photographs and other documentary material could be integrated so effectively into the exhibition by Susan and her fellow Met curators”. He also noted that when the exhibit debuted in Paris last fall, it not only “broke attendance records at the Musee d’Orsay with nearly half a million visitors, but people were actually weeping when it closed” (the show will travel to Chicago after it closes in New York and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a must see).

Madame Georges Charpentier and Her Children, Auguste Renoir, 1875

Ms. Stein said the exhibit, (which “explores the defining role of fashion in the works of impressionist era painters of modern life, and reflects institutional collaboration at its best”), was “4 years in the making, 80 paintings strong, and 8 galleries full”. “Re fashioned for New York, it represents a selection of paintings newly accessorized with a full compliment of period costumes and a wealth of documentary material”. “It is organized chronologically and thematically, and the installation was conceived with an eye to illustrating the rich and multi faceted dialog between art and fashion as it unfolded from the mid 1860’s, when admiring critics dubbed Monet’s portrait of his future wife ‘The Green Dress’, and the mid 1880’s, when Degas capped off his famous series of milliners, and Seurat pinpointed The Vogue for the emphatic bustle.”

Luncheon on the Grass, Claude Monet 1865-1868

Because I studied art history in college, and Impressionism was my favorite period, I really enjoyed this and agree that the selections are exemplary (I also loved the in depth descriptions alongside the iconic works of art). Among my favorite paintings: Claude Monet’s ‘Camillle’, 1866, featuring an “extremely fashionable fur trimmed paletot and satin striped dress”; Monet’s ‘Madame Louis Joachim Gaudibert’, 1868, in which the “expensive silk dress and imported shawl upstage her face”; Monet’s ‘Luncheon in the Grass’,1865-66: an “enormous scene of picnicking in the forest of Fontainbleau”; Monet’s ‘Women in the Garden’1866, in which his future wife Camille, modeled for at least “three of the well dressed women’s striking (successive) fashion place poses”; August Renoir’s ‘Madame Georges Charpentier and the Children’ 1878, in which Renoir “gave expression to the poetry of an elegant home and the beautiful dresses of our time”; Edouard Manet’s ‘Lady with Fans, Portrait of Nina Callias’ who was decked out in “fetching costume befitting her arts and hedonistic lifestyle”, 1878; Albert Bartholome’s ‘In the Greenhouse’, 1881, featuring his wife Perie, a “chic Parisienne” and “well known hostess in artistic and literary circles”, wearing a “striking purple and white dress”; Gustave Caillebotte’s ‘Paris Street, Rainy Day’, 1877, depicting a street scene in Paris in the “prosperous 8th arrondissement”, in which “umbrellas create a sense of decorative unity”; James Tissot’s ‘The Circle of the Rue Royal’, 1868, which “represents eminent members of an exclusive mens’ club”, and depicts the arrogantly relaxed gentry, recalling both 17th century prototypes and the conventions of contemporary fashion illustrations in its rich characterization of a full range of men’s attire” (one full gallery was devoted to men).

Paris Street, Rainy Day, Gustave Caillebotte

What was also highly effective, was the way in which certain quotes were blown up and featured prominently on the walls, juxtaposed next to the famed works of art. Opening the exhibit, this said it all: “The latest fashion… is absolutely necessary for a painting. It’s what matters most”, by Edouard Manet, 1881. And a room filled with nothing but paintings featuring pure white dresses, was accompanied by Emile Zola’s observation, 1883: “There was nothing but white, yet it was never the same white but all the different tones of white competing together, contrasting with, and complimenting each other, achieving the brilliance of light itself”. Indeed, as anyone who has ever gone shopping for white paint knows, especially white paint by Ralph Lauren, there ARE countless shades of white.

 -Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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