Most clothing has a short life-span. People of the past treated their clothing much as we do today. When garments wore out, or went out of style, or ceased to fit, they were discarded, handed down, or remade. The pieces that do survive over the generations are rare. Some were saved because of extraordinary craftsmanship, others because of a connection to a famous person, and still more because they were worn for a special occasion like a wedding.
And then there's this dress, lower right. Sewn from white cotton printed with purple stripes and dots, this summer gown was made by an unknown French seamstress around 1880. It's the only extant garment featured in the current exhibition Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that is also shown in a nearby painting. (I've already blogged about the show here and here.) In the Conservatory, left, was painted c. 1880 by Albert
Bartholomé (1848-1928), and features the artist's wife stepping from their garden. Their marriage was apparently a happy one, with Mme. Bartholomé overseeing a salon in their home that included friends like American painter Mary Cassatt (1845-1926) and Symbolist novelist Karl Huysmans (184801907).
Sadly, Mme. Bartholomé died in 1887. Bartholomé kept the painting of his wife and the dress in which she posed as mementos, and both are now in the collection of the Musée ďOrsay in Paris. While the art critic for the New York Times dismissed the painting as "cloying" and its inclusion in the show as "a wide miss," gallery-goers when I saw the show didn't seem to agree, clustering around the painting and the dress in a case nearby. M. Bartholomé would have been proud.
Above left: In the Conservatory, by Albert Bartholomé, c. 1880, Musée ďOrsay, Paris. Lower right: Summer Dress, printed cotton, c. 1878-1880, maker unknown, Musée ďOrsay, Paris.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.