* Painters depicted light on moving fabrics, flesh
* Paris served as Belle Epoque catwalk for the fashionable
By Alexandria Sage
PARIS, Nov 8 The bold horizontal brushstrokes of
Manet's 1876 female portrait, "The Parisian," convey the raw
energy of a new painting style that turned heads well over a
century ago with its focus on light, its sketch-like feel and
But the star of the life-sized oil is a shimmering black
dress of taffeta silk that highlights the painter's prowess -
and provides a starting point for "Impressionism and Fashion," a
show that runs through January at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.
The exhibit brings together more than 60 major works from
1865-1885, when French painters from Monet and Renoir to Degas
and Caillebotte found inspiration from daily life in and around
Paris, then a world capital of style and scientific progress.
The show - organised with New York's Metropolitan Museum of
Art and The Art Institute of Chicago, and sponsored by luxury
group LVMH - calls itself the first dedicated to the
"determining role of fashion" in the art of the Impressionists.
Besides paintings, it features dozens of mannequins in
bustled, tightly corseted dresses, fashion magazines of the time
as well as hundreds of sepia photographs of bourgeois women
posing in their best finery by Eugene Disderi.
"The invention, dynamism and fleeting charm of fashion
couldn't help but seduce a generation of artists and writers
anxious to record the palpitations of modern life in its
infinite diversity," wrote Guy Cogeval, president of the Musee
d'Orsay in the exhibit's catalogue.
Here we see Renoir's "The Theatre Box" - on loan from
London's Courtauld Gallery - in which a woman, resplendent in a
black and white striped gown accessorised by strings of pearls,
poses with her opera glasses, well aware she is being watched.
The variety of textures in her outfit offered the painter as
many opportunities to flaunt his technical mastery.
The Impressionists, who eschewed the idealised subjects of
romanticism, chose to portray their subjects in everyday
settings, whether at cafe tables, strolling the new grand Paris
boulevards, at dances, in front of the piano, or in the park.
Two of the female subjects of Claude Monet's colossal
"Luncheon on the Grass" face away from the painter, providing us
with a better view of their full crinolines and trains, and
replicating the three-quarter pose popular in fashion plates.
PARADING THEIR BEST
The changing landscape of Paris in the latter half of the
century provided ample fodder for the Impressionists, as old
neighborhoods gave way to gleaming new boulevards - Belle Epoque
catwalks where society women could parade their best trappings.
Manet's "The Balcony" depicts a well-dressed man and two
women in white, one of whom is painter Berthe Moriset, who watch
passersby from above as they, in turn, are watched.
Depicting male dress was a frustration for the Impressionist
painters, who felt constrained by its limited vocabulary of long
trousers, black tail-coats and top coats.
But in Caillebotte's "At the Cafe," the burly male subject's
rumpled trousers, out of date bowler hat and solitary stance
speak volumes, hinting at disillusionment with modern urban
After all, the modern bourgeois man was "judged by the
cleanliness of his cuffs and shirt collar ... and by his tie
which had to be of a certain width," the exhibit notes said.
Nudity could pose a problem for a show focused on clothing,
but the satin undergarments worn by the young courtesan in
Manet's "Nana" offer related titillations.
In Henri Gervex's huge canvas, "Rolla," a beautiful young
woman is stretched out dozing on a rumpled bed, her clothing
cast aside, under the gaze of a half-dressed man. The painting
was refused entry to the 1878 Salon on moral grounds.
The exhibit ends ironically with Caillebotte's masterpiece,
"Paris Street; Rainy Day," whose figures are covered by long
coats and umbrellas as they stroll the city's wet streets.
"Impressionism and Fashion" travels to New York and Chicago
(Reporting By Alexandria Sage)