If you are visiting Chicago this summer, don’t miss the new Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibition, running from June 26 through September 22, 2013, explores the relationship between art and fashion from the mid-1860s through the mid-1880s, as Impressionism came of age and Paris emerged as the style capital of the world. Featuring 75 paintings by artists such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir and Seurat, it asks whether the Impressionists were fashionistas and what role fashion played in their goal to paint modern life with a “modern” style.
The exhibition is neatly organized, with each room featuring paintings depicting a certain type of fashion. The works of art begin with intimate scenes of women at home before progressing to family gatherings in garden or parks and then to couples dancing in ballrooms or strolling along the boulevards of Paris. In this way, they showcase a range of women’s fashion, from what was typically worn in the home to what was acceptable in different public situations.
Organized by the Art Institute, together with New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the exhibition features the best of the best in Impressionist painting. An 1866 Monet painting of his girlfriend Camille is presented as his attempt to gain favor as a society painter. A Degas painting is provided as an example of women dressed for relaxing at home, with monochromatic, gauzy fabrics. A life size, but unfinished, painting by Monet shows a move toward painting outdoor scenes. And an 1878 Renoir portrait of Madame Charpentier and her children is said to be the piece that jump started his career.
The décor of the rooms seem to match the themes, particularly the “outdoor” room with a grass-like carpet covering the floor and birds softly chirping in the background. Mannequins accompany many of the paintings, showcasing the same or similar garments. Another room focuses on accessories, displaying slippers, shoe boxes, gloves, perfume bottles and hats that were popular during the Impressionist era. And while most of the exhibition features women’s fashion, one room is devoted to men’s fashion and art, although that wasn’t quite as diverse or interesting as the others.
Unlike many exhibitions, which can be sparse on the explanations, each of the 75 paintings on display include thorough descriptions of the artwork and its significance. Quotes on the walls provide additional context and the audio guide ($7) offers even more insight into the connection between fashion and art in the Impressionist era.
In addition to the main exhibition, other exhibitions throughout the museum relate to fashion, including Undressed: The Fashion of Privacy; Africa Wrapped, Robed, Beaded; Fashion in Antiquity; Fashionable French Farce; and Fashion Plates: 19th Century Fashion Illustrations. Each runs through September or October.
- Contributed by Katie Aune