Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Stripes & Dots in a Summer Dress and a Painting, c. 1880

Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Isabella reporting,

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.


Lauren Stowell said...

I wonder what the critic meant by "cloying?" How off-putting! I think this is just about the coolest thing ever. What treasures!

Sandra said...

I saw this show last week and loved it! This dress's waist was soooo tiny though.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Lauren R., here's the link to the NYT's review of the exhibition. On the whole, the critic liked it very much - which made her comment singling out this painting stand out all the more:

GSGreatEscaper said...

I thought this painting was a photograph for a second. I wonder if the problem with people's perception of this painting is that we are used to wonderful color photography; but in 1880 that did not exist, so this painting would have been much more impressive. We are used to thinking of 'impressionist' painting as being slightly hazy and prefiguring abstraction; we can't put ourselves back into that time and appreciate this.

Ursula LeCoeur said...

I saw the show several weeks ago and thought the dress and the painting were beautiful. I agree with Sandra. The dress had a very tiny waist for an adult woman. She didn't need Weight Watchers, that's for sure.

Myralee Voots said...

I'm intrigued by the skirt's tiers of tiny two-toned pleats--I think that they are pleats! Were they sewn using purple and white striped fabric?

jacqueline | the hourglass files said...

I hope the dress travels with the exhibition to the Chicago installation! I know not all of the garments will.

It so wonderful to be able to see exactly how she wore this dress — with the hat, bracelet, ring, and the white shoes. Without this painting, we wouldn't know how she accessorized the dress.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

I think it's a beautiful painting. And a beautiful dress. And I agree, how nice to see the actuality side by side with the painting. It makes the painting more real. How I wish I could have seen that show!

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

I suspect that part of the critic's objection was that this painting seemed less a "pure" impressionist painting than most of the others in the exhibition - more romantic & realistic. For that reason, I'd also guess that this particular painting might not have been included if it hadn't had the dress along with it. M. Bartholomé was wise to have kept them together!

Yes, the waist was tiny. Nearby was a case of corsets from the 1860s-80s, with a great deal of boning & lacing needed to achieve this shape. One of the technological "advances" in corseting was the invention of metal grommets (as opposed to the old-fashioned hand-worked ones) which permitted tighter lacing, and these clothes definitely had that look.

Myralee, you have good eyes (and probably sew, too)! The "purple" lower skirt is in fact the striped fabric precisely pleated. If you look inside the pleated cuffs on the sleeves, you can see the white stripes. The effect when the wearer walked must have been wonderful - little sharp ruffling flicks of white in the purple!

JaneGS said...

I went to the exhibit at the Met when I was in NYC at the end of March, and absolutely loved it and especially this dress.

My 18-year old daughter was with me, and we agreed that she would look stunning in it!

My understanding of lack of clothing that has survived has more to do with the fact that textiles deteriorate much more quickly than ceramics, metals, and paintings.

I remember when I was in grade school, I had a teacher who read all the Little House books to her class, and she commented on the minute detail with which Laura was able to describe the dresses she and her sisters wore fifty years earlier. They didn't have a lot of dresses and they had made everyone of them and the details were a treasured memory that survived after the dress itself was worn out.

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