Mona Thelemaque 1 Reviewing the Arts
REVIEW 4 Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago With the groundbreaking display of legendary paintings paired with lavish dresses and accessories, the “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity” exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave., successfully demonstrated that men and women were increasingly defined and categorized by their outward appearance in 19th century France. In addition, it also highlighted that fashion and art were closely connected and that artists and their subjects strived to convey their modernity through those media during a time when impressionism came of age and Paris emerged as the world’s fashion capital. The Art Institute of Chicago hosted the internationally acclaimed exhibit, overseen by Gloria Groom, from June 26th to September 29th of this year at the Regenstein Hall. Featuring 14 period costumes and 79 major figure paintings by such renowned artists as Monet, Manet, Renoir, Caillebotte and Degas, the exhibit vividly documented how social status, education, taste and moral character were all signaled by what individuals chose to wear in public, which was usually customized to fit a specific occasion. The simple white dress, for example, was highly recommended by fashion magazines for summertime sojourns and was considered informal and modern. The exhibit was elaborate but never lost its fascination and always astonished with the display of spectacular paintings and costumes. It covered several rooms and was categorized by the development of different trends in the world of Parisian art and fashion from the mid-1860s through the mid-1880s, so that one room smoothly transitioned into the next. First, the exhibition focused on women’s contemporary fashion, including the rise of specific outdoor and indoor
Mona Thelemaque 2 Reviewing the Arts garments and the increasing interest in accessories and shoes. The sections carried such titles as “Refashioning Figure Painting”, “The White Dress” and “The Black Dress”. Only one gallery was dedicated to men’s attire, perhaps reflecting the prominent role of women in the world of fashion and art. In the course of the exhibit, the rise of the department store, referred to as cathedral of business, illustrated fashion magazines, ready-to-wear apparel and the couturier fashion house were explored. Witty quotes, such as “La Parisienne is not in fashion, she is fashion” from Arsène Houssaye, writing in the magazine L’Artiste in 1869, were spread across the gallery walls and captured the attitudes of the time and the central themes of the exhibit. The entwined rise of modern fashion, modern painting and modern life was presented through thoughtful and clever display design. The combination of period costumes and paintings, often large-scale figure paintings, inspired by the actual garments created visual fireworks. Impressionists were regarded painters of modern life who captured changes in consumer behavior and tastes. With the growth of cities, for example, an increasing number of the bourgeoisie found walking a necessity and desirable activity. Therefore, outdoor dresses that did not have trains grew popular. While impressionist painters could make a trend alive like JorisKarl Huysmans stated in 1876 “The modern painter…is an excellent couturier” they also relied on fashion as Édouard Manet said “The latest fashion…is absolutely necessary for a painting. It’s what matters most.” Style was a communication tool of Parisian fashionistas to express youth, trendy elegance and active participation in public life and it was central theme to the works of the impressionists who promoted la mode as the bridge to modernity. Street paintings, for example, highlighted the parade of urban fashion, on boulevards, outside of church and at social events.
Mona Thelemaque 3 Reviewing the Arts The gallery “En Plain Air” was an extraordinary feast for the senses. In addition to the visuals, the sound of chipping birds filled the room and artificial turf covered the floor which helped set the mood. Paintings highlighted contemporary leisure scenes: Aristocratic families were shown at their country estates, for example, wearing fashionable contemporary garments that were not only appropriate of their wealth and title but also the occasion. A white cotton piqué day dress with beautiful embroidery and Monet’s “Luncheon on the Grass” were breathtaking highlights of this gallery. In another painting in this room, a woman was only wearing her corset, petticoat and chemise, but no dress which was viewed more scandalous than if she had been nude, which implied information about the values and conventions of the time. The “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity” exhibition is about much more than fashion as social marker and ornament. The revolutionary and memorable paintings presented in the exhibition resulted from the impressionist’s quest to give expression to the impulse of contemporary life during a time of great urban change that did not just give rise to a new genre of painting, but also to modern fashion and modern life. Fashion would never again assume the central place in modern art it occupied in Paris during the impressionist era.