Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity: A Must See at the Art Institute of Chicago

Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity: A Must See at the Art Institute of Chicago
Left. Albert Bartholomé. In the Conservatory, c. 1881. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, gift of the Société des Amis du Musée d’Orsay, 1990, RF 1990 26. Right. Summer dress worn by Madame Bartholomé in the painting In the Conservatory, French, 1880. Musée d’Orsay, Paris, gift of the gallery Charles and André Bailly, 1991, ODO 1991

“There are only two ways to be a Parisienne: by birth or by dress.”

Run, don’t walk to to Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity opening June 26 at the Art Institute of Chicago–as it’s sure to be the hottest ticket in town.

Four years in the making, the blockbuster exhibition took both Paris and New York by storm, drawing raves from the critics and smashing attendance records at the Musée d’Orsay at its first stop in October 2012 on its world tour.

Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity, the brainchild of Gloria Groom, David and Mary Winton Green Curator of Nineteenth-Century European Painting and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, who collaborated with the Met and the Orsay calls the show, “The most rewarding exhibition I’ve ever worked on.”

On the surface you may think this is just another exhibition of pretty Impressionist paintings or you may poo poo the whole concept of “art and fashion” as gimmicky, but you’d be wrong on both counts.

Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity brings a fresh perspective to the famous works of Impressionist artists from 1862 to 1887 infusing their paintings with the historical era, creating a new vibrancy and immediacy with a groundbreaking grasp of 19th-century Paris–the world’s undisputed style capital of the time.

Over 75 major figure paintings by the Impressionists and their contemporaries are on display in tandem with the couture that inspired them. The couture is a lot more than just dresses. It includes an inspiring collection of 18 period dresses from ball gowns to summer muslins along with shoes (even the intricate painted shoe boxes they came in), a gallery devoted to hats and hat art, fans, parasols, corsets, gloves, jewelry, photographs and fashion plates–all complementing and completing the history of the times.

Dialogues between paintings and the garments depicted in them—such as Albert Bartholomé’s In the Conservatory (c. 1881) and the purple and white summer dress worn by Madame Bartholomé or Claude Monet’s Camille (1866) and an English promenade dress (1865/68)—not only underscore the intimate relationship between fashion and painting but also indicate how artists used, manipulated, and transformed fashion as a platform for their groundbreaking explorations.

The works in Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity, many of them rarely or never before seen in Chicago, include 23 paintings on loan from the Musée d’Orsay.  Not to be missed are the surviving panels of Claude Monet’s colossal 20-foot-wide canvas Luncheon on the Grass–that had been cut into pieces in 1866 when it wasn’t finished in time for the Salon. The pieces have been reunited and are shown together for the first time in the United States in a grass-carpeted gallery that explores light and shade–to the accompaniment of chirping birds.

Conversely, beloved works in the Art Institute’s of Chicago’s permanent collection, most notably Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877), have returned home to Chicago, joining Georges Seurat’s monumental A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884 (1884–86), which was not displayed as part of the exhibition in Paris or New York.

Each of the 14 galleries in the exhibition have something special to offer. Galleries examine the burgeoning middle-class consumerism in the late 19th century, domestic portraits, fashion en plein air or under-fashion (known now as underwear, think Victoria’s Secret), photographs and fashion plates, men’s fashion, spaces of modern life, and evolving silhouettes as seen, for example, in the shift from the crinoline to the bustle.

The Chicago show features a collaboration with international opera director Robert Carsen to conceive an immersive installation unlike any other presented at the museum.

Featured artists in Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity include: Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot, Gustave Courbet, Gustave Caillebotte, Georges-Pierre Seurat, Frederic Bazille, Henri Gervex with their contemporaries James Tissot the most widely represented with ten canvases, Alfred Stevens, Carolus-Duran, Henri Fantin-Latour and Jean Béraud.

Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity is on view from Wednesday, June 26 through September 22, 2013 (with member previews now through tomorrow, 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Special Information

The Art Institute of Chicago will be offering extended and special hours throughout the summer.

Friday Evening Viewings: The exhibition will be open until 8:00 p.m. on Friday, June 28, and Friday, July 5. Only the exhibition (not the museum) will be open for those hours. Additional Friday evening viewings may be added throughout the exhibition, so please check the website for information on extended hours. General admission charges apply. Visitors should use the Michigan Avenue entrance.

Saturday Evening Viewings: The exhibition only (not the museum) will be open late for special viewings on select Saturday nights throughout the summer: July 13, August 3, August 24, August 31, and September 14. These evenings will be special occasions in which visitors are encouraged to dress up according to a specific theme. Check for details as the special Saturday evenings draw near. General admission charges apply. Visitors should use the Michigan Avenue entrance.

Exhibition Surcharge: There will be a $15 surcharge ($12 for students and seniors) for Illinois residents visiting the exhibition during the museum’s Free Thursday Evenings.

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