When I worked in book publishing, the classic joke was that a surefire hit was simple – just publish a book called Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog. Well, the Met’s latest surefire hit, Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity, is about to open and it doesn’t take a genius to predict lines around the block. It has every element of visual pleasure – beautiful women and elegant men in gorgeous clothes painted by everyone’s favorite Impressionists (Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Seurat, Morisot), plus gorgeous real period costumes and fancy quotes conflating fashion, art and Paris. (“The latest fashion… is absolutely necessary for a painting. It’s what matters most,” Edouard Manet, 1881) It’s a bon bon that everyone will enjoy, as they did in Paris, where half a million people flocked to the exhibition, and in Chicago, where it will travel after New York.
Between the mid-1860s and the mid-1880s, when Impressionism came of age, a number of factors turned Paris into the style capital of the world: the rise of the department store, the beginning of store-bought clothes, the proliferation of fashion magazines, and the notion among the avant-garde that – as is still true today – fashion mattered. It expressed what was new, modern and fleeting, and thus, for the Impressionists, particularly focused on capturing moments in time, what men and women wore, to the opera, at home, in parks, with their children, depicted the world in which they lived. Or idealized “society” versions of that world.
The exhibition, an international collaboration, was organized by the Met, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Musee d’Orsay, in Paris. It involved seven Met curatorial departments, forty international lenders, and in New York, was organized by Susan Stein, Curator in the Department of European Paintings. There are eighty paintings – some familiar, some not — thematically and chronologically organized throughout eight large galleries, interspersed with sixteen period costumes and accessories, including shawls, hats, corsets, fans, shoes and vitrines of period magazines, photographs and journals.
The first two rooms are a feast of Monets, followed by a room that focuses on the “white” dress, and another on the “black” dress (exquisite), and a succeeding room highlights men’s and women’s hats.
Women in the Garden, Monet
The juxtaposition of real fashions and their painted versions is particularly fascinating, especially because, in many cases, the original dresses are miracles of dressmaking.
The exhibition begins with Claude Monet’s “The Green Dress,” and ends with Seurat’s first study for “A Sunday in La Grande Jatte.” What follows are other highlights.
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity