Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity
Art Institute of Chicago
June 26–September 29, 2013

Previously at:
Musée d’Orsay, Paris
September 25, 2012–January 20, 2013

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
February 26–May 27, 2013

Catalogue:
Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity.
Edited by Gloria Groom with contributions by Heidi Brevik-Zender, Helen Burnham, Guy Gogeval and Stéphane Guégan, Birgit Haase, Justine De Young, Elizabeth Anne McCauley, Silvie Patry, Aileen Ribiero, Valerie Steele, Françoise Tétart-Vittu, Philippe Thiébaut, Gary Tinterow, and David Van Zanten.
New Haven, CT and London: Chicago Art Institute in association with Yale University Press, 2012.
336 pp.; 478 color illus; key dates in fashion and commerce, 1851–89; checklist of the exhibition; appendices on fashion plates and cartes de visite; bibliography; index.
$65.
ISBN-13 978-0300184518

To say that Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity was a popular success would be a misleading understatement—and perhaps not a very surprising one. Impressionism has long had the power to draw the public into museums in record numbers, and keep them returning again and again regardless of the quality of the content being offered. What distinguished this exhibition was that the subject of Impressionism was presented in a fresh context that offered the visitor new insight into the relationship of fashion to modernity and its influence on the painters working in the avant-garde vocabularies of the 1860s through the mid-1880s. Charles Baudelaire’s exhortation to paint ‘modern life’ runs through both the exhibition and the catalogue as a recurring motif, underpinning the conceptual framework not only of nineteenth century Paris, but also of subsequent generations of artists whose work responded—in myriad ways—to the foundation established during those critical decades. Focusing on the relationship between fashion and painting allows a broad scope of investigation that is directly relevant to being the ‘painter of modern life’. In fact, one could argue that although art historians have often noted the importance of contemporary clothing in the controversies created by Gustave Courbet’s A Burial at Ornans (1849–50, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) or Edouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass (1863, Musée d’Orsay, Paris), few have paid attention to the fashion in its own right. This exhibition consciously shifts the focus to fashion as an integral—and even central—element in the development of la nouvelle peinture, the new painting that emerged with Realism in the middle of the century.

The concept for the exhibition was first proposed by Gloria Groom, the David and Mary Winton Green Curator at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008; it was enthusiastically supported by Gary Tinterow, who was then the Engelhard Chairman of Nineteenth-Century, Modern and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and by Guy Cogeval, president of the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. Because of the multi-media nature of the material proposed for the exhibition, the project team also included the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum and the Palais Galliera (Musée de la mode de Ville de Paris) and the Musée des art décoratifs in Paris, whose specialized expertise provided a welcome cross-disciplinary perspective for both the exhibition and the catalogue. Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity opened in the fall of 2012 in Paris, traveling in early 2013 to New York and finally, home to Chicago where the show opened on June 26, 2013. With few exceptions, each of the venues offered the same art objects, but the installations naturally were unique to their respective spaces; this review is based on the presentation at the Art Institute of Chicago in the summer and fall of 2013 (fig. 1).

The gathering hall at the entrance to the temporary exhibition space at the Art Institute of Chicago serves several functions, one of which is providing a place for visitors to acclimate themselves to the low lighting levels of the subsequent galleries. In this case, the walls were lined with photographic murals detailing the exquisite fabrics and laces that would be on view in the forthcoming art works; it was an especially appropriate strategy for this show, enticing visitors with the allure of fashion just as the printed fashion plates did in the nineteenth century. On entering the first gallery, a quotation from Edouard Manet (1832–1883) sets the tone unequivocally: “The latest fashion is absolutely necessary for a painting. It’s what matters most.” Nearby are two small paintings showing women reading fashion journals: Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) created Young Woman Reading an Illustrated Journal in 1880 (Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design) just shortly after Manet painted Woman Reading (1879–80, Art Institute of Chicago) (fig. 2). Painted at approximately the same time, these two images illustrated not only the importance of the fashion press, but also the clear significance of clothing in establishing a woman’s social position and awareness. As Justine De Young notes in her essay on “Fashion and the Press”, “Manet was praised by critics for his skill in conjuring accurate and realistic portrayals of modern people wearing the correct dress, displaying the proper attitude, and occupying the appropriate milieu for their socioeconomic status. Here he depicts a woman wearing a street dress, matching felt hat, and kid gloves, an ensemble suitable for a public outing and befitting the subject’s age and social status” (241). In contrast, Renoir’s woman is shown from behind with her hair somewhat tousled as she leans back in an upholstered chair perusing a double-spread illustration in a fashion journal; this is an intimate domestic scene rather than a public setting and the fashion cues are entirely different from Manet’s model reading at the brasserie.

This first gallery was designed rather sparely with grey walls, hard wood flooring and the two, modestly sized paintings to set the stage. Moving into the second gallery, the viewer was introduced immediately to what might be considered a distinctly art historical topic on the development of the full-length portrait. Entitled “Monet’s Camille: Reimagining the Full-Length Portrait”, the floor was now carpeted and the wall color shifted to a deep red. Arsène Houssaye’s statement in an 1869 edition of L’Artiste was stenciled on the introductory partition wall: “La Parisienne is not in fashion, she is fashion.” This sentiment sums up the perspective that was explored throughout the exhibition. Why was Paris fashion such a key element in defining ‘modern life’, and how did this phenomena influence the art, the artists and the women who modeled the fashions for them at the time? It should be noted at the outset that although the exhibition focused on Impressionist painting, there were also a number of Salon paintings that served as stylistic counterpoints while simultaneously demonstrating the influence of fashion in their compositions.

No one was a more consistent model for the Impressionists than Camille Doncieux, Claude Monet’s mistress and wife, who is shown not only in her husband’s paintings, but in numerous works by Renoir and Manet. Certainly, her role as the model for The Woman in a Green Dress (1866, Kunsthalle, Bremen) shown at the Salon of 1866 brought her unwelcome notice as critics parsed the possible meanings of the green dress, including the presumed social status of the then obscure model (fig. 3). Here in the gallery, the viewer could see not only the painting, but also an 1865–68 English promenade dress that may have been the twin of the original garment. By positioning the gown in a glass case with a mirror at the rear, viewers could see both the front and back of the dress, and could compare the real object to the painted rendition of it nearby. This strategy was used throughout the exhibition, enabling the public to carefully scrutinize the details of the clothing and understand the sophistication of construction that was typical of nineteenth century fashion. It was impossible not to notice the beautiful handwork on the pleats and tucks and ruffles that are unlike anything seen in later centuries.

Similarly, the exhibition catalogue, also titled Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity, contains nine special sections that highlight specific paintings. The first of these is Gloria Groom’s multi-faceted discussion of The Woman in a Green Dress, encompassing everything from the possible source of the original dress to the reasons why Monet (1840–1926) chose to paint a full-length portrait, but then failed to provide a name for the model until the last minute (44–51). Groom’s discussion of the fashion context of this dress is used to explain why critics considered this painting to be so unusual when it was shown at the Salon. The gown failed to provide sufficient visual cues about either the model or her position in society, thus creating an unresolvable ambiguity about Camille’s social status. As Groom points out in her analysis of Joris-Karl Huysmans commentary on Impressionist painting, “One wonder how Huysmans would have judged Monet’s Camille, neither trollop nor grande dame, whose true modernity resides in her dress—the fashion and the fit—and the multiple readings of the model it provided” (51). In contrast, on the opposite side of the partition wall from The Woman in a Green Dress was Monet’s portrait, Madame Louis Joachim Gaudibert (1868, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) (fig. 4). This was strictly a private commission, which the artist painted in a more conventional style, following the tradition of detailing the luxurious materials used in the gown and the domestic setting. In this case, there could be no doubt about Mme. Gaudibert’s social position or her fashionable elegance.

The third gallery, “Cult of Appearances” contained an impressive array of print materials related to fashion: newspaper articles, fashion plates, cartes de visite, and journals. These ephemeral publications frequently provided artists with inspiration for the styles that they hoped to paint; and they served as style guides for both men and women who were interested in following the latest trends in clothing and accessories. Two unexpected images were The Promenade (1871, private collection) and The Conversation (1870–71, private collection) both small oil paintings that Paul Cézanne copied from the hand-colored steel engravings in La Mode Illustrée from May 7, 1871 and July 31, 1870 respectively. Although Cézanne is not known for his depictions of fashionable subjects, he too was influenced by contemporary fashion plates in his exploration of how to capture modern life on canvas (70–71).











Gallery four marks the beginning of another theme, “Intimate Portraits”. Having established the framework for the exhibition with carefully selected examples in the first three galleries, the curators next initiated an in-depth investigation of portraiture with an abundance of paintings. The shift was underscored with a dramatic change to clear light blue walls that beckoned to the visitor surrounded by the more somber deep red walls of the previous gallery (fig. 5). The use of carpeting here is unusual for the Art Institute of Chicago, but it served to create an environment suggestive of the luxurious fashionability of boutiques and the grand magasins (department stores) of 1860s Paris. Likewise, gallery four introduced curved glass display cases into each corner as a means of showcasing a selection of black and white gowns, each one shown against a wallpapered backdrop (fig. 6). These historic costumes were always similar to the gowns shown in the paintings, and they were occasionally identical. Impressionist images of women in this gallery were joined by canvases from Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, whose work was closely allied with the younger painters, and from Alfred Stevens and James Tissot (1836–1902), whose paintings offered a traditional stylistic counterpoint throughout the exhibition.

The spotlight fell first on Renoir’s 1878 family portrait of Madame Georges Charpentier and her Children (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), described by Sylvie Patry, chief curator at the Musée d’Orsay, as “a portrait of taste and fashion” (248) (fig. 7). In another of the extended essays on a single work of art in the catalogue, Patry notes that the painting “is also a manifesto of modern portraiture, in which the model, in keeping with Duranty’s admonishment in La nouvelle peinture (The New Painting; 1876) is represented not just by her clothes, but by her surroundings, too” (248). Indeed, the drawing room in which Mme. Charpentier posed with her two children is a tour-de-force of Japonisme with its hanging scroll, bamboo furniture and painted screens; a reflection of the widespread fascination for all things Japanese during this period. Like the couture gown, most likely designed by Charles Frederick Worth, the interior design identifies the Charpentiers as sophisticated, fashionable members of society.

On the other side of the partition displaying Madame Charpentier was another example of portraiture combined with Japonisme, this one Manet’s Lady with Fans (1873, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) (fig. 8). The sitter was NIna de Callias, a writer and salon hostess, who favored exotic interior design in her own home, but is here shown in front of a screen painted with Japanese fans from Manet’s studio (fig. 9). Her black, sequined harem pants and embroidered bolero speak of an unconventional sense of fashion, but one that was translated into more ‘respectable’ forms in other contexts; James Tissot’s Portrait of Mademoiselle L. L. (1864, Musée d’Orsay, Paris), shown elsewhere in this gallery, also incorporates a bolero as a expression of the sitter’s lively personality, but in a less overtly enticing composition (234).

Portraits of women clad in white gowns, which were typical for day dresses, were also featured prominently in this gallery. Manet’s portraits, Lady with a Fan (La Maîtresse de Baudelaire) (1862, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest) and Repose (ca. 1871, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence), offer a glimpse of the changes in fashion over the course of a decade (see fig. 8). The portrait of Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire’s mistress, shows a woman almost drowning in the exaggerated volume of her crinolined gown, while a decade later, Berthe Morisot’s day dress projects a more comfortable image of a woman relaxing. Manet’s keen awareness of fashion trends was very evident in this gallery, as was his ability to translate fashion into a statement about modern life; the paintings of both Jeanne Duval and Berthe Morisot share the ambiguity that was so noticeable in Monet’s The Woman in a Green Dress in the sense that the clothing and the models reveal considerably less about the women’s status in society than a traditional portrait would. Duval, a Creole woman from Haiti whose life was far from easy, and the comfortably upper middle class Morisot are both shown in the fashion of the time and in the context of rather casual settings that give little indication of their social or economic positions.

In another corner of the gallery, the viewer could find the counterpoint to Manet’s deliberate abstruseness. James Tissot instead offers two portraits of women in the same white dress, with a similar gown featured in the display case adjacent to the paintings (fig. 10). July: Specimen of a Portrait (ca. 1878, The Cleveland Museum of Art), the more casual of the two images, shows Tissot’s mistress Katherine Newton relaxing on a sofa in front of a window. She wears no petticoats beneath the flounced skirt and the distinctive yellow bows are left to flow onto the empty space of the sofa. The earlier painting, titled simply Portrait (1876, Tate, London), depicts a more formal pose and setting designed to show off the gown (with yellow bows crisply tied this time) as a stylish statement of good taste. Despite the differences between Tissot’s canvases, it is the dress that takes center stage in both, as the artist delineated the impeccable tiers of flounces and tucks in what was undoubtedly the height of fashion.

A comparison of Manet’s and Tissot’s paintings in this gallery revealed the changing relationship between portraiture and fashion in the nineteenth century. Gary Tinterow addressed this issue in his catalogue essay on “The Rise and Role of Fashion in French Nineteenth-Century Painting”, noting that art critics from as diverse perspectives as Emile Zola and the Goncourt brothers “all define[d] the goal of modern art as a spirited but accurate rendering of the appearance of life in and around Paris, the capital of modernity” (17). Likewise, painters from across the spectrum of aesthetic philosophy all “faced the challenge of expressing contemporary man and woman through a heightened emphasis on costume and fashion” (18). In the 1830s and 1840s J.A.D. Ingres (1780–1867) set the standard for portraits that incorporated contemporary fashion with meticulous attention to the precise details of couture, millinery and accessories; and well into the 1850s, he remained the “standard against whom all were measured” (19). He would continue to be respected by both Salon painters and the Realists/Impressionists even after he stopped painting portraits around 1860. By that time, however, the economic and social consequences of industrialization had led to the development of a “consumer culture” that was more focused on the fashion than on individual portraits. Tinterow put it succinctly, saying “the dress, not the face, was the focus” (21). This changing attitude was the source of frequent tension among painters themselves, between painters and art critics, and with the general public. As the example of Monet’s painting The Woman in a Green Dress so clearly demonstrated, both the public and the critics were perplexed by a large scale canvas depicting not a specific woman’s portrait, but a ‘portrait’ of a beautiful dress that expressed modern life in Paris. Fashion was gradually evolving into an ambiguous symbol of modernity as the growing availability of consumer goods made it difficult to pinpoint specific markers of economic and social class as revealed through dress.





































Leaving the “Intimate Portraits” gallery, the visitor moved into “At the Milliners”, one of the most charming installation designs in this exhibition (fig. 11). The plush carpeting continues into this space, but the curving glass cases used to showcase historic gowns in the previous gallery were here transformed into full-blown nineteenth-century retail display cases; and the walls were painted in a pinkish-mauve shade suitable for flattering women’s complexions. Greeting visitors at the entrance to this space was Tissot’s 1883–85 painting, The Shop Girl (Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto); because of its imposing size (57.5 x 40 in.), it felt like this attractive young woman was welcoming visitors into her magasin de nouveauté, a boutique where accessories and trimmings would be for sale. The modest size of the gallery further reinforced the sense of having entered a small, chic shop with exquisitely designed fashion accessories. One display case featured women’s shoes, fans, opera glasses and decorative boxes; above the case were two small oil paintings of shoes by Eva Gonzalès from 1879–80 (fig. 12).[1] It should be noted that the grace of these beautifully crafted accessories attracted considerable attention from the museum visitors, undoubtedly replaying a scene that occurred many times in late nineteenth century Paris.

On the other side of the partition with The Shop Girl painting, the viewer came face to face with a large display of custom-designed hats (fig. 13). Silk ribbons, dyed ostrich plumes and sumptuous velvets and furs lured viewers into speculations about what it might be like to own such luxurious headwear, with some women openly mourning the loss of such stylish accessories. Opposite the display case was Edgar Degas’s painting, The Millinery Shop (1879, Art Institute of Chicago) offering insight into the life of a milliner as she designs a new hat (fig. 14). Gloria Groom’s thoughtful essay on this painting—and the associated accessories in this gallery—raises the question of the relationship between artists and artisans, and in particular, how Degas (1834–1917) may have understood this parallel. “The admiration Degas expressed for the hand-wrought, his identification with the artisan, and his recognition of art as a commodity are most profoundly expressed in his millinery shop paintings, which are complex, and evolved in meaning and style over time. Expressive of his appreciation of both women who create (milliners) and women who make aesthetic choices (clients), they also show the artist’s equation of carefully arranged handmade objects with artists who arrange compositions and colors” (231). Groom’s analysis points the way for further investigation into the evolving perceptions of the role of ‘fine art’ and ‘commercial art’ and when the blurring of those distinctions began.

Gallery six, adjacent to “At the Milliners”, was a small transitional space with a single painting, Lise—The Woman with the Umbrella (1867, Museum Folkwang, Essen), and another curved glass display case showcasing an exquisite white muslin gown and a black lace parasol similar to the one in Renoir’s canvas (figs. 15 and 16.) As with The Shop Girl, the size of this six foot high canvas created a sense of immediacy and reality, as if the viewer had simply stepped outdoors for a stroll with a woman from 1860s Paris. Renoir exhibited Lise at the Paris Salon in 1868 in the hopes of establishing a mainstream career path in the years before the young Realists began exhibiting independently as the Impressionists. However, the critical reaction was mixed, with some commentators describing the canvas as the “sister” to Monet’s The Woman in a Green Dress from 1866. As then, the identity of the model was obscured by the artist’s emphasis on the fashionable day dress and the extraordinary silk lace parasol; the quality and elegance of this ensemble was impossible for Salon visitors to overlook. In her catalogue chapter on “Fashion en Plein Air”, Birgit Haase explained the Salon context clearly: “. . . this full-length portrait exemplified a type of modern woman, not the woman herself” (94). Outside of the Salon, however, Lise Tréhot, may well have been an active participant in establishing the mise-en-scene for Renoir’s composition; a recognized dressmaker in her own right, it seems probable that she designed this gown for herself, perhaps even in collaboration with Renoir’s plans for future paintings. Variations on this same dress appear in several of the artist’s works with minor changes to the color of the sash or the accessories.[2]

Stepping out of the intimacy of this small gallery into the next space, the viewer was met with a completely unexpected scene: an indoor park setting complete with (artificial) grass, Parisian park benches and the sound of birds chirping (fig. 17). Like “At the Milliners”, the theme of this gallery, “En Plein Air”, was expressed as a translation of the actual experience depicted in the paintings—within the confines of a museum of course. With curving platforms to keep the crowds at arm’s length from the artworks, and light blue walls adding to the open air feel, the exhibition design was clearly intended to maximize the impact of the iconic images on display. The first surprise was Gustave Courbet’s depiction of Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine (1856, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris), a painting that might not typically be included in an Impressionist show, but which was entirely appropriate in the context of both plein air painting and the importance of fashion as a key element of modernity (fig. 18). In a sense, Courbet began a conversation about fashion and morality in this image, painting the stylish dresses and accessories with attentive detail, but also making it clear that the woman in the foreground had removed her gown in public before settling down to rest on the river bank. As Haase explains in the catalogue, “It was above all this violation of socially determined dress codes that made the scene offensive to contemporary viewers” (86–87). Manet would face a similar predicament in 1863 with Luncheon on the Grass (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) when he paired nude and semi-nude women with fully dressed contemporary men in a forest setting, thus transgressing acceptable norms for the use of the nude in art, and instead, presenting unapologetic public nudity in Parisian society.

Directly in the line of vision, to both left and right, from Courbet’s painting were two canvases by Tissot, The Two Sisters (1863, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) and The Marquis and Marquise de Miramon and Their Children (1865, Musée d’Orsay, Paris). As in earlier galleries, Tissot’s work served as a visual contrast to the emerging Realist/Impressionist aesthetic. Although both of these paintings show beautifully clad figures posed in an outdoor environment, they maintain clear identities as specific individuals; in other words, these are portraits. In comparison, Monet’s two-part canvas Luncheon on the Grass (1865, Musée d’Orsay) offered a more casually staged country picnic among friends; even though the identities of the models are known today, the intent of the painting was to create a glimpse of modern life in 1860s Paris (see fig. 17). Elsewhere in the gallery, one of Monet’s studies, Bazille and Camille (1865, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC), demonstrated the influence of fashion illustrations, which typically positioned models so that the clothing became the primary center of attention, as it was in this canvas (fig. 19). A soutache-trimmed white walking dress similar to the one Camille wore in this painting was shown in the freestanding display case immediately opposite the painting (fig. 20).

The “En Plein Air” gallery also featured Monet’s Women in a Garden (1866, Musée d’Orsay, Paris), Renoir’s The Swing (1876, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) and The Couple (1868, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, Cologne) as well as Frédéric Bazille’s Family Reunion (1867, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) (figs. 17, 21, 22). Each of these paintings represent key phases of Impressionism and as a whole, they reveal the consistency of the group’s fascination with fashion as an emblem of modern life. It must be noted too that seeing all of these works side by side was a rare gift to the public, and most especially, to art historians.

The tone shifted as the viewer moved into a small, red-walled gallery featuring Manet’s quintessential image of a fashionable woman, La Parisienne (ca. 1875, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm) (fig. 23). The actress Ellen Andrée posed for this painting, but the real subject here is the “new woman”—a woman whose sense of style effaces her social status and defines the essence of elegant sophistication. In her catalogue essay, ”Edouard Manet, The Parisienne”, Françoise Tétart-Vittu explores the genesis of the Parisienne in the years immediately following the end of the Franco-Prussian War, noting that 1874 was a seminal year for fashion. That year, Stéphane Mallarmé was in the process of publishing his short-lived fashion journal, La Dernière Mode, and there was also a major exhibition on costume developed by the Union Centrale des Beaux-Arts Appliqués à l’Industrie that featured 6,000 works from 250 lenders (78). The interest in fashion, and specifically France’s claim to leadership in that field, was a significant element in rebuilding national pride after the disastrous losses resulting from the war. A close look at the Formal Dress (ca. 1877, Maison Roger, private collection) shown opposite La Parisienne demonstrated why fashion might well be a source of civic pride (fig. 24). The artistry in the design and construction of this garment drew expressions of amazement from the reverential groups of viewers peering intently at the pleated flounces and draped silk organza, not to mention several different types of hand-made lace; anyone with even a minimal knowledge of dressmaking was awestruck by this extraordinary gown.

Paris offered many venues for displaying such gowns and in gallery nine, the thematic focus explored some of those locales with “Seeing and Being Seen”. Jean Béraud delineated the society ball in his encyclopedic canvas titled simply A Ball (1878, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) (fig. 25). Exhibited at the Salon of 1878, this composition provides a glittering perspective of women in frothy sleeveless ball gowns interspersed with their black-clad escorts. The richness of the interior décor matches the opulence of the participants’ attire, albeit in a somewhat lethargic rendition of a party. In contrast, this gallery included several works by Berthe Morisot (1841–1895) and Mary Cassatt (1844–1926), both of them women who were personally familiar with Parisian society events at formal balls and the opera. In Young Woman in a Ball Gown (1879, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) Morisot captured an elegantly gowned woman who seems to be waiting anxiously for her theatre-going companion; in spite of her designer dress and personal beauty, the viewer is drawn into the image by her slightly apprehensive expression. Mary Cassatt’s sister Lydia seems to have had no such qualms in Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge (1879, Philadelphia Museum of Art) where she is shown thoroughly enjoying an evening at the Opéra (fig. 26). Both of these canvases revealed the important influence of couturier Charles Frederick Worth (1825–95), whose gowns these young women were wearing. The sleeveless, off-the-shoulder style popularized by Worth was the latest fashion in the late 1870s, and like the Maison Roger formal dress, it was always exquisitely designed and crafted. Worth’s ice blue satin gown on display in this gallery exemplified this attention to quality. As Groom notes, “Here, ice blue ribbed velvet is combined with luminous satin to create a gown of subtle and ethereal contrasts. Lace and flowers frame the shoulders and beaded fringe trims the edge of the overskirt; it would have trembled with every subtle movement of the wearer” (181).

Evening dresses for older women, or those who did not wish to bare their shoulders, proved equally fascinating to the Impressionist painters. Renoir’s painting of Nini Lopez in The Loge (1874, Courtauld Gallery, London), for example, makes a strong statement about the power of fashion, this time with a strikingly bold black and white striped gown accessorized with pearls and flowers (fig. 27). Unlike the upper class women painted by Cassatt and Morisot, however, Nini Lopez was simply an artist’s model from Montmartre, the same neighborhood where Renoir lived in the 1870s. The artist proposed the idea of setting the painting in an opera loge and then proceeded to “transform Nini from model to upper-class patron of the Opéra giving her a deluxe outfit and adding the dress-coat-or tailcoat-clad male figure behind her. . . . Her ensemble was absolutely up-to-date. It was also clearly out of reach for both artist and model” (39).

This dichotomy between Renoir’s economic status and that which he painted underscores the fluid nature of society during the early years of the Third Republic. Although not discussed in depth in the exhibition, the political implications of fashion’s influence on modern life lie just below the surface of these images. The ambiguity about social status that is present in many Impressionist paintings suggests at least the hypothesis that external factors do not determine individual worth. When understood in conjunction with the industrialization of the textile industry and the growth of ready-to-wear (or ‘ready to be finished’) clothing, the conclusion that style was determined by personal aptitude becomes inevitable; and it sets the stage for continued democratization of French culture as the century progresses.

Gallery ten changed the subject entirely with “In the Boudoir” as its theme. With dusty rose walls, this modestly sized gallery is dominated by two large paintings: Henri Gervex’s Rolla (1878, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) and Manet’s Young Lady in 1866 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The contrast could not have been more stark. Gervex’s melodramatic scene illustrates the moment before the debauched Rolla poisons himself; although not before casting a backward glance at Marie, his teenage companion, lying naked amid the sumptuous bed linens (fig. 28).[3] Valerie Steele described the controversy about this image that arose after it was removed from the Salon of 1878 because of impropriety: “Henri Gervex’s painting Rolla caused a scandal not because of its classically beautiful nude, but because of the pile of clothing next to the bed . . . This little still life enacts a striptease, which shocked the public” (133). The twenty-first century museum-going public, however, could not fail to notice such a splashy theatrical image in an otherwise elegant space and perhaps to wonder how well it fit in with the the exhibition’s exploration of fashion as an expression of modernity. More interesting was a display case beneath Rolla filled with an array of undergarments. Here, viewers could study the intricate tucks, pleats and ribbons of corsets, corset covers, drawers, and petticoats as well as fans and shoes; and again admire the sophisticated artistry that went into the creation of these humble everyday items.

Prominently positioned on the shorter wall of the gallery was Manet’s Young Lady in 1866, demonstrating the seductive allure of clothing (fig. 29). In his essay on this painting, Gary Tinterow explains that this composition is “an elaborate allegory of the five senses” with the peeled orange (taste), bouquet of violets (smell), parrot (sound) and monocle (sight) as symbolic references. Naturally, touch was signified by the sensual appeal of the satin peignoir (26). And it was the dressing gown itself that captured critical attention in the 1860s, with complaints that the peignoir did not reveal the body beneath—an irony that cannot have been lost on Manet, whose Olympia (1863, Musée d’Orsay) of three years earlier was criticized for her embarrassing lack of clothing (29). Much of the attraction of the peignoir, however, is the purely visual fascination with the paint itself. Manet has translated the tactile qualities of the satin fabric into a voluptuous exploration of color that beguiles the viewer into exploring the gradation from pink to cream to mauve to rose to lavender as the peignoir seems to shimmer in the artist’s characteristically undefined space. The Young Lady offers an erotic alternative to the flamboyant image of Rolla, and more importantly, an expression of modernity in its acceptance of sensuality as an ordinary aspect of life rather than as a stage piece.

This small gallery also contained Manet’s Nana (1877, Hamburger Kunsthalle), Morisot’s Woman at her Toilette (1875–80, Art Institute of Chicago) and Tissot’s Portrait of the Marquise de Miramon, née Thérèse Feuillant (1866, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) in addition to several prints and drawings. What is most remarkable about these images in general is how different the subject matter is from earlier art historical periods. These art works are not updates of Venus at her toilette or Susannah at the bath, but images of women—including ‘proper ladies’—engaged in personal grooming activities in the intimacy of their boudoirs.

The next gallery, “Masculine Elegance”, introduced a male perspective on fashion and signaled a change from the intimacy of earlier themes. The exhibition space was again grounded by hard wood flooring, and the walls were painted a discrete warm grey. Large glass display cases with examples of men’s suits were placed in the corners adjacent to the entrance, with Henri Fantin-Latour’s portrait of Edouard Manet (1867, Art Institute of Chicago) claiming pride of place in the center of the wall (fig. 30). Manet’s reputation as an urbane, stylish Parisian was widely recognized and always admired. Philippe Thiébaut’s comments on Fantin-Latour’s portrait highlight the artist’s obsession with tailoring: “One is struck by the impeccable cut of his frock coat, which shows the natural curve of his shoulder, revealing the cuffs of his shirtsleeves and the front pockets of his waistcoat, where a watch and its chain are tucked” (139). The elegant kid gloves, silk top hat and blue cravat add the essential elegant accessories as well. On an adjacent wall was Bazille’s small portrait of his friend, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1867, Musée Fabre, Montpelier) seated casually on a chair in formal daytime attire (fig. 31). In contrast to Manet’s traditional three-quarter length pose, Renoir has clearly made himself at home, putting his feet up on the chair and assuming a jaunty position while Bazille paints. As the son of a tailor, Renoir knew the value of fine design, and he too followed the standards of style for men in the 1860s, but his casual pose in this portrait suggests that fashionable tailoring does not necessarily imply that a man can’t be comfortable.

On the same wall with Bazille’s portrait of Renoir were two distinctive images of solitary men by Gustave Caillebotte (1848–94) (fig. 32). These paintings provided yet another view of male fashion as well as a glimpse of the signs of economic status in masculine clothing. At the Cafe (1880, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen) portrays a less-than-fashionable man standing alone in a cafe, wrapped in his thoughts and seemingly unaware of his rumpled jacket and his out-of-date derby hat. A closer inspection might reveal that the derby hat was once fashionable, and that perhaps this presumed ‘barfly’ had simply fallen on hard times. He is, after all, patronizing a rather upscale cafe where other men wear silk top hats and beautifully tailored suits. Hanging next to At the Cafe was Portrait of a Man (1880, Cleveland Museum of Art), a similarly enigmatic and solitary figure, albeit a more prosperous one. Seated in a plush upholstered chair in front of a window, he too strikes an introspective pose, seemingly unaware of his surroundings. In both of these paintings, fashion defines the sitter by economic power, but Caillebotte also draws the viewer’s attention to the very private and isolated quality of these men lost in contemplation. As with the many of the images of women, these are not portraits of individuals, but explorations of modern life seen through the filter of masculine fashion.

Two paintings by Tissot offer a more public view of male fashion. The Circle of the Rue Royale (1868, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) is a large canvas that, in an earlier time, might have been called a grande machine; in other words, a display piece that was designed to attract attention and show off the artist’s technical skills (fig. 33). Indeed, this group portrait of the members of a very exclusive and conservative private club reflects the social values of an aristocratic past, even though some of the men represented here are industrial and military leaders rather than members of the defunct nobility. Their impeccable taste in fashion defines each one of them as they gather on an eighteenth-century neoclassical portico where Tissot has spotlighted the intricate details of gleaming shoe buttons, crisp white collars and casually tossed top hats and gloves. It is a fascinating catalogue of men’s fashion, even if a somewhat tedious painting of men looking bored and decorative. A more lively image is Tissot’s Frederick Gustavus Burnabynew-win-icon (1870, National Portrait Gallery, London), a portrait that reveals not only the sitter’s personality but creates a graphically sophisticated composition using a British soldier’s uniform. The bold red stripe on the trousers and the white leather pouch belt proclaim Burnaby to be a captain in the Royal Horse Guards, while simultaneously exaggerating the length of his already long leg. And while his pose with cigarette in hand may appear affected to twenty-first century eyes, there is nonetheless a certain energy and sense of real personality in this portrait.

The next gallery focuses on the consumer’s role in creating the fashion industry. Because this is a complex, historical topic, the curators and designers chose to set the scene with a wall-sized photo-reproduction of an engraving showing the interior of Le Printemps, one of the most popular department stores in Paris. Against this backdrop were quotations about the rise of the department store and its influence on French consumer culture in the nineteenth century. Emile Zola’s 1883 novel, Au Bonheur des Dames (Ladies Paradise) served as a prime example of what was then a new building type, and one that was surprisingly controversial at the time. This gallery invited close scrutiny of the many fashion plates and journals on display in the cases lining the walls, encouraging viewers to look closely at the seemingly endless variations in the ways that new trends in fashion were presented to the public. In addition, a digital station allowed visitors to ‘page through’ Henry Somm’s sketchbook of fashionable Parisians ca. 1885.











Gallery thirteen moved the thematic thread from inside the department store out to the “Spaces of Modern Life” (fig. 34). The charcoal walls and dark carpeting seemed a curious choice to represent the cityscape of Paris, although it did create a calming environment for viewers who may have been feeling overwhelmed by this point in the exhibition. As with the rest of the galleries, the art on display offered several iconic images associated with the 1860s-1880s. Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877), one of the Art Institute of Chicago’s most widely recognized masterpieces, set the stage for an exploration of urban renewal in Second Empire Paris. In Paris Street; Rainy Day, as well as Caillebotte’s painting of The Pont de l’Europe (1876, Association des Amis du Petit Palais, Geneva) and Manet’s close-up image of The Railway (1873, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC), the visitor was invited to imagine the real life of people as they strolled through the city in their fashionable clothing. Notably, the artists often chose to depict modern Paris, the city of newly designed grand boulevards and glass and cast iron railway stations. Likewise, the new Pont de l’Europe was a cast iron truss bridge exemplifying the design skills of French engineers. Together, these three paintings reflect the profound changes in the lives of Parisians as they watched their city emerge from a largely medieval urban form into an industrial metropolis. One might even say that the city itself was being “re-fashioned” for modern life.

On the opposite side of the gallery was a group of smaller paintings showing more personal levels of interaction with the changing cityscape. Morisot’s canvas On The Balcony (1872, private collection) shows a mother and daughter on their private balcony gazing out at the transformations of the city in the distance. In her commentary on this painting, Groom noted that “Caillebotte’s and Morisot’s balconies are for seeing rather than being seen” and certainly, the prospect of watching Paris being redesigned before their eyes would have attracted considerable attention (161). Degas also addressed the issue of a woman “seeing rather than being seen” in his small painting Woman with Binoculars (1875, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Galerie Neue Meister). This oil sketch on cardboard shows a fashionably dressed woman gazing through binoculars; her crossed arms and confident stance suggest that she not only knows what she’s looking at, but that she is familiar with this environment. Although the sketch itself does reveal the setting, we do know that this figure was originally intended to be part of one of Degas’s paintings of racetracks; it also testifies to the presence of apparently knowledgeable women at the races (175–76).

“Changing Silhouette”, the theme of the last gallery, summed up the exhibition by pointing out that the influence of fashion on modernity would continue into future decades, although Impressionism in its original form would not (fig. 35). This spacious gallery announced the “changing silhouette” dramatically with a large glass case full of bustled gowns positioned to match the poses of the female figures in Georges Seurat’s imposing scene, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1884 (1884, Art Institute of Chicago) (fig. 36). Across the room, Monet’s canvas of his stepdaughter Suzanne Hoschèdé in Study of Figure Outdoors (Facing Right)new-win-icon (1886, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) revealed his dwindling interest in fashion as a subject of his work; less concerned about painting modern life, the artist would increasingly paint figures only as elements within a landscape of shifting light, color and form.

Albert Bartholomé’s painting of his wife, however, exemplified the continuing emphasis on fashion as a part of the aesthetic conversation in late nineteenth-century France (fig. 37). In the Conservatory (ca. 1881, Museé d’Orsay, Paris) presents Prospérie de Fleury Bartholomé in her elegant new dress, the height of fashion in the summer of 1880. This day dress was a hybrid of hand-sewn and machine-made construction, probably from a mass-produced pattern that appeared in the fashion journals at the time. The development of readily available patterns enabled a growing number of women to enjoy the luxury of high quality design and fine dressmaking, provided of course that they either had couture skills themselves or could afford to hire a talented seamstress (fig. 38). The dressmaker responsible for Madame Bartholomé’s dress remains anonymous, but the quality of her work is very evident in the precision and elegance of the finished ensemble. In an unusual turn of circumstances, the dress shown in the exhibition was the same dress shown in the painting (fig. 39). Madame Bartholomé died shortly after her husband completed the canvas, and he preserved the dress in her memory. Although this unhappy background information is known to contemporary viewers, the painting also retains its independent existence as an image of fashionable modern life.

Before closing, it should be acknowledged that the exhibition catalogue for Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity offers an impressive compendium of information, resources and insight. Gloria Groom’s editorial direction is evident throughout and her synthesis and analysis of this multi-faceted subject is extraordinary. Because the exhibition traveled to three venues, the catalogue was organized independent of the individual exhibition designs. Lengthy thematic essays are interspersed with more focused analyses of individual paintings, and the illustrated checklist of works at the end allows readers to easily find the discussion of any one piece. For the general public, it offers a range of information in both informative captions and more scholarly discussions. This is also a catalogue that art historians can use as a research tool, and with any luck at all, it will be a catalogue that serves as a model for other museums.

Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity defied the oft-repeated perception that blockbuster shows—particularly Impressionism shows—rarely have scholarly content. There is no question that this was a blockbuster exhibition in the best sense of that word. It was enormously popular; it brought together a spectacular array of Impressionist paintings as well as comparative materials that enriched and enlivened viewers’ understanding of the subject; and it contributed a fresh perspective to art historical scholarship. The design of the exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago also deserves special mention for its elegant expression of an era through careful staging of historic clothing and a light-hearted re-imagining of Paris shops and parks. Ultimately, the exhibition design animated and contextualized the many layers of information on display. In an era when museums too often settle for superficial exhibitions or conveniently pre-packaged shows, Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity demonstrated that there is still a place for insightful scholarship, innovative thinking and art historical credibility.

Janet Whitmore
Independent scholar, Chicago
jwhitmore12ncaw[at]gmail.com




[1] Interestingly, the painting entitled The White Slippers is today in the collection of Vera Wang. The Pink Slippers belongs to a private collector in Paris. See Gloria Groom, ed., Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity (New Haven, CT and London: Chicago Art Institute in association with Yale University Press, 2012), 227.

[2] Other examples of Lise Tréhot in very similar gowns include Portrait of Lise (Lise tenant un bouquet de fleurs des champs) 1867 and Femme à l'ombrelle assise dans le jardin (Lise Tréhot), 1872. Both are included in the catalogue raisonné of Renoir’s work. See F. Daulte, Auguste Renoir, catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, vol. I, Les figures (18601890), (Lausanne, 1971), no. 32 and 80 (illustrated).

[3] The source for this story was a narrative poem by Alfred de Musset. See Alfred de Musset, Oeuvres complète de Alfred de Musset, (Paris: Garnier, 1975).

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