Inspiration: Impressionism and Fashion at the Musée d’Orsay

“Le peintre moderne…est un excellent couturier”
Joris-Karl Huysmans, 1876

Frédéric Bazille, “Réunion de famille” 1867

I wasn’t planning on posting about my visit to the Musée d’Orsay to see the Impressionism and Fashion exhibit.

“I’m doing too many museum pieces for Informed Style” I thought to myself.

“I already mentioned it during the November 2012 Dream Month piece” I reassured myself.

But after spending 3 hours exploring the exhibition and taking over 8 pages of notes…it became evident that it deserved a bit more attention.

Edouard Manet, Jeune dame en 1866, dite aussi la femme au perroquet
© The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image of the MMA

The show brings together garments, paintings, printed materials and literary references. The curators have struck a good balance between each of these, and that helped keep my interest throughout the extensive (i.e. long) exhibition.

All of the large pieces of text – introducing the theme of each room, for example – were in French, English and Italian which meant that a greater number of visitors could understand the show. The more detailed notes under each painting or garment were exclusively in French. I’ve never been more thankful for having learned a second language, as these portions were where you got the lowdown on who was in each painting, what they did/who they knew and what the features of a garment were.

I would suggest brushing up on your french, bringing a french dictionary and renting the audio guide for the exhibit in order to augment your experience.

In re-reading all of the notes I took (sorry, they are very strict on the no photography rule, so no snaps to share) I saw a couple of parallels between what the Impressionist artists did, and what happens in the fashion industry now. For example, in Renoir’s ‘La Loge’ (pictured above) an elegant woman is seen in a theatre box, her companion behind her.

The women, in all of their finery, were seated in the front row to ‘see and be seen’ in order to indicate the status of their husband. However, it’s noted that the clothing the woman in Renoir’s painting is wearing would have been far too expensive for either the artist or the model to have owned, and in order to get around that difficulty artists often borrowed clothes from the couturiers in order to get the right image. Sounds an awful lot like the loans of items to stylists for photo shoots now, doesn’t it?

Even if you won’t be able to get to Paris to see the show before it closes on January 20th, the Musée d’Orsay has put together an excellent website that provide video, images and audio related to the exhibit – – well worth checking out.

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