Saturday, August 3, 2013

Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity

Worth at least a three-hour drive: Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, at the Art Institute of Chicago. This exhibition gives us art devoted not to cathedrals, haystacks, and water lilies, but to well-dressed men and women (mostly women). Clothes in these works seem to both mask and reveal the human subject: one is what one wears. The studio portrait gives way to what appears to be a moment of everyday life (titles often carry a year): someone is reading a newspaper, someone is trying on a hat.

For Elaine and for me, the great discovery of this exhibition is James Tissot. His work seems more Pre-Raphaelite than Impressionist. I wish I had realized while still in the museum that Tissot’s The Circle of the Rue Royale depicts Charles Haas, the model for Proust’s Swann:

And yet, dear Charles Swann, whom I knew so little when I was still so young and you so near the grave, it is already because someone whom you must have considered a little idiot has made you the hero of one of his novels that people are beginning to talk about you again, and perhaps you will live on. If people talk so much about the Tissot painting set on the balcony of the Rue Royale Club, where you are standing with Galliffet, Edmond de Polignac and Saint-Maurice, it is because they can see there is something of you in the character of Swann.

Marcel Proust, The Prisoner, translated by Carol Clark (London: Penguin, 2003)
The perfect adjunct to the big show: Undressed: The Fashion of Privacy. Both exhibitions run through September 29.

[The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a gallery-by-gallery tour.]

comments: 4

Diane Schirf said...

I guess I should find time for this . . .

Elaine Fine said...

The room that has garden paintings and other outdoor paintings also has an AstroTurf floor, which gives the feeling of walking in a garden.

brownstudy said...

A fabulous exhibition -- the kind of thing I enjoy going to a great museum to see.

I overheard a woman tell a friend that the reason the women in the paintings are always pictured knitting or reading is that the stitching of their dresses and jackets restricted their arm movements so much that they couldn't raise their hands to shoulder height. I'd never heard that, but it sounded plausible.

Michael Leddy said...

I said to Elaine when we were there that it’s no wonder that there are relatively few female painters from the time — women could barely move, much less paint.