Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity at The Met

by Alex R. Travers

The early 19th century offered a redefinition of beauty. Poets became attached to new styles of clothing and the influential writer Charles Baudelaire chose fashion as his standard to express a new aesthetic. Fashion became a topic of thought and research and was now heavily covered in the media. Fashion plates—illustrations depicting the highlights of fashionable styles of clothing—were circulating around England and France, allowing dressmakers and consumers to have access to the latest foreign fashions, accessories, and hairstyles. Novelty shops and department stores such as Le Petit Saint-Thomas, La Belle Jardinière, Le Bon Marché, and Le Louvre flourished selling “ready-made” jackets, overcoats, paletotes, and lingerie. Fashion started playing a critical role in art as painters like Manet, Monet, Renoir, Ingres, and Tissot were fascinated by the vibrancy and fleeting allure of the latest trends. It was the beginning of fashion’s rise to stardom.

Apart from its visual beauty, fashion also had a symbolic value: it embraced the new leisurely lifestyles of the middle class. Among the many discoveries of the 1800s, fashion assumed an important place. The advent of photography also aided in the study and comparison of styles. Before 1839, painting had been the sole source of information; with photography, the study of fashion became readily available.

To celebrate fashion’s great achievements, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity—an exhibition that will carefully observe the role of fashion in the works of the Impressionists and their contemporaries. This stunning survey, which will run from February 26 through March 27, 2013, will include about 80 major figure paintings seen in concert with period costumes, accessories, photographs, and popular prints made between 1860 and 1880. Highlights of the exhibition will include Monet’s Luncheon on the Grass (1865-66) and Women in the Garden (1866); Bazille’s Family Reunion (1867); Bartholomé’s In the Conservatory (ca. 1881, paired with the sitter’s dress) and 15 other key loans from the Musée d’Orsay; Monet’s Camille (1866) from the Kunsthalle, Bremen; Renoir’s Lise –The Woman with the Umbrella (1867) from the Museum Folkwang, Essen; and Manet’s La Parisienne (ca. 1875) from the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, which has never before traveled to the U.S.; Caillebotte’s Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877); Degas’s The Millinery Shop (ca. 1882-86) from the Art Institute of Chicago; Renoir’s The Loge (1874) from The Courtauld Gallery, London; and Cassatt’s In the Loge (1878) from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.