Impressionism Fashion & Modernity
Monet Women in the Garden, 1866, oil on Canvas, Musee d' Orsay, Paris. Picture courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago
Last weekend, I got inside my car and drove excitedly into the city to view, The Art Institute of Chicago’s new show; Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity open now through the 29th of September. My excitement stemmed from an article I read in the Chicago Tribune, introducing the premise of the exhibit. Which I interjected to be, looking over the history of fashion through the eyes of the painter, during the height of the impressionist period. A very changing time in the fashion world with the rise of the department store making available to the everyday person the latest styles. I started out a figure painter, and that is what helped me fall in love with the beauty of textiles and the great ability of the painter to interpret them. To be able to see the actual fashions, what the models wore, side by side with the painting, made this painter a bit weak in the knees.
Picture courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago
The show was highly received in Paris and in New York, judging by the crowds, while I was in Chicago, I can see it is being well received here too. I have to admit though I found myself disappointed. I was expecting more fashions to companion the actual paintings. I felt all the dresses should have been given more prominent placement, or at least; all the dresses should have been on a rotating pedestal, like the three pieces around the room with the chirping birds. The rotating pedestal added to the sheer volume of the dresses, awarded them a sense of movement, and an aliveness that gave much to the relationship between dress and painting. Now that I have mentioned the chirping birds, I have to say something about that room. One of the rooms in the exhibit (trust me, you will know which one) had audio playing of chirping birds, and on the ground was trampled on, not so pleasant looking fake grass, overkill I believe and very distracting. I understand what they were trying to do; transporting you out of your environment to that in which the painting was created by taking you out of the typical white wall museum setting. Honestly, is that not the job of the painting and the fashion to transport you? When you are in a museum, you are in a museum, let the artwork speak for itself; let the painting have a conversation with the dress that sits next to it for heaven’s sake.
Manet, The Parisienne, 1875, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. Picture courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago.
The reasons I stated above are not enough not to see this exhibit. The moments in the exhibit when conversation between painting and fashion took place were quite powerful and should be experienced. Moments that transport you to the time the artwork was created, where you can choose to stay and watch the painter construct his or her masterpiece, or choose to walk out of his studio and walk down the street and enjoy the fashions of the time. This exhibit’s strength was found in reminiscing though history during a time when painters were capturing ideals on canvas, were every brush stroke brought a sense of joy to the viewer. As seen in the amazing paintings on loan to us from Pairs Monet’s, Madame Louis Joachine Gaudibert, 1868. and Women in the Garden, 1866. There were also a number of great painting by James Tissot, I had never seen before. My particular favorite is The Shop Girl from the series Women of Paris 1883-85, There is a pile of ribbons sitting on shop table that are so lusciously painted, from far away, I though the ribbons were a piece of juicy meat. Not to mention paintings by Manet, Cassatt, Morisort, Renoir, and Degas. This exhibit is not to be missed by any lover of the impressionist, lover of painting, or fashion history for that matter.
Monet, Lady with Fan, 1873, Musee d' Orsay, Paris. Courtesy of The Art Institute Of Chicago
I would love to know your thoughts on the show.