Looking back in time, one era merged the arts and fashion into a single medium better than any other. The Impressionist movement, which endured from 1867 to 1886, primarily in France, is now being celebrated with Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, an exhibit that opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this week, its second stop after Paris’s Museé D’Orsay. It’s there that you’ll find an assortment of paintings and sartorial artifacts connecting the worlds of art and fashion into a single channel.
The exhibit is a time capsule from an era which its curator Susan Alyson Stein says “came of age when fashion as we know it today was coming of age.” It progresses though a series of eight parlor galleries that explore Impressionism’s diaphanous evolution throughout the mid-19th century -- an aesthetic revolution which Stein attributes to the fact that “fashion breeds change, which stems from the constant appeal of novelty.” Works by artists including Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, and August Renoir are on view, some featuring historical trend setters like Baudelaire’s mistress Jeanne Duval, and the Empress Eugénie of France.
Surprises are in store as well: the show opens with Monet’s Camille (a 1866 painting of the artist’s lover and future wife), whose green and black striped dress is perfectly rendered with jewel-like quality. It’s not the Monet of scattered strokes that the artist is best known for, but the divergence from Monet’s signature technique (which he’d discover more than five years later) makes his concentrated efforts in rendering Camille’s society dress that much more prevalent. In the exhibit’s lobby, a vitrine containing a dress similar to Camille’s (this one from England) is on display as a nod to the era’s congruency between cloth and paint.
Tissot’s The Shop Girl, hanging in a neighboring room, epitomizes the two mediums’ intertwinement. In a time where dressmakers’ house visits were being replaced with the birth of specialty stores, Tissot “places us in the role of a satisfied customer leaving the shop,” says Stein, with piles of ribbon trim scattered about a Parisian boutique as window shoppers peer inside.
Seamlessly jumping between paintings of the fashionable life and sartorial artifacts, the exhibit explores the modern equation of fashion as art, and art as fashion. One display case is filled with three impossibly small, detailed corsets, while petite pink slippers lay just feet away along with embellished fans, mirror compacts, and various fashion plates. Stein says the various mediums “are meant to engage interest on many different levels, providing a visual context in which to appreciate the Impressionist paintings…providing clarity in their relationship [to fashion].”
‘Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity’ will run at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from February 26 through May 27