I started the week with a profile on the amazing Gloria Groom and followed that with a review on the catalog that accompanied one of her incredible exhibitions Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity. I wanted to highlight some of the art in the exhibition and book in today’s Fashion Flashback. I know I have been featuring experiences with the designers I have worked with over the years but wanted to take this opportunity to talk about fashion in art.

I often wonder when we look at art what we are looking at…is it a period in time, is it the artist’s vision of that place in time, is it what we are actually seeing ourselves…in my opinion, it is all of these things and much more.  I find this especially true with the Impressionists. They were not only radically changing the way we look at art but incorporating the way people lived and, our subject, the way they dressed in the fashions of the day.

The women of high society could dress in THE couturier of the time, Charles Frederick Worth, wonderous creations.  If they couldn’t afford his pieces, those in society being captured by these new exciting artists could most certainly afford the garments, they would either follow the fashions and make their gowns themselves or have their dressmakers copy them. Then as now, we are captivated by Haute Couture (do follow all the incredibly beautiful garments in the current Spring Couture Collections. I think it is one of the best in recent years!  All very exciting!).

There were so many paintings in the exhibition and more in the catalog that I really didn’t know where to start so I will do so with my favorite artist, James Tissot.  I am horrified that I wasn’t familiar with him prior to the exhibition and that we don’t have a Tissot in our Art Institute’s extensive Impressionist collection is a major void.  While I can’t document that any of the garments are from the House of Worth, they most certainly could be. Here are a couple of my favorites. can relate to this painting of the shopgirl, naturally dressed in black and, of course, not Worth, selling her wares of fabrics and trims, it could be me in another time and location, Paris, where else! Tissot’s The Shop Girl, Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada. is my most favorite of all, look at the detail in the ruffles, the lace, the fan…amazing to say the least! Evening by James Tissot, Musée d’Orsay. Tissot rich in detail, he used this gown in several of his paintings, I can see why it is extraordinary, love the silk ribbons and the sofa covering and pillows, all very much of the Victorian period. July: Specimen of a Portrait, The Cleveland Museum of Art.

In the Conservatory, by Albert Bartholomé, 1881, Musée d’Orsay. The actual dress Madame Bartholomé wore in the painting, 1880. These items were featured side-by-side in the exhibition. This is the only actual garment featured all others were the “look” or “feeling” of the composition.

Auguste Renoir, Madame Georges Charpentier and Her Children, 1878, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. A typical painting of the time, Madame with her children in their sitting room complete with family dog.  Madame Charpentier is reputed to be wearing a Worth gown. Monet’s Madame Louis Joachim Gaudibert, Musée d’Orsay. The garment shown with is was breathtaking and showed the paisley cashmere shawl from India and Persia which was a major accessory of the time. I collect paisley shawls and will, of course, do a feature on them in a future post. Again note the staging of the room, floral carpet, roses in a vase on the table all to create an atmosphere.

Of course, I could not leave out two of the most famous paintings of all and both are in our own Art Insitute of Chicago collection and both are depicting everyday people.  The Seurat depicts a variety of people strolling and enjoying a Sunday in the park.  One could stare at this incredible work forever and still see something new.  The other is the massive masterpiece by Caillebotte, again showing us everyday people strolling down a Paris boulevard in a typical modern day (of the time) scene.  At the time it was painted it was considered quite controversial, we think of it today as a glimpse of the distant past. Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, The Art Institute of Chicago. Caillebotte, Paris Street, Rainy Day, the Art Institute of Chicago.

imageGloria Groom in a “modern” hoopskirt cage in the Costume Collection at the Chicago History Museum.


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