Impressionism and Fashion

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Prospérie de Fleury and her Dress

Albert BartholoméIn the Greenhouse© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
The painter Albert Bartholomé (1848-1928) and his wife Prospérie (1849-1887), known as Périe, daughter of the Marquis de Fleury, made an elegant couple. They were friends of the arts and inclined to be a little haughty. The painter Jacques-Emile Blanche (1861-1942) depicted the salon where Périe "was so welcoming to commoners, bohemians, intellectuals and dinner guests alike, that evenings spent discussing music, painting and books, and especially politics where Degas, a staunch nationalist, set the tone with an authority accepted by everyone (except Mary Cassatt, the free-spirited American artist), seemed to take place in a world apart, one unique to Paris".

Bartholomé presented the portrait of his wife at the 1881 Salon, entitled In the Greenhouse. This painting was offered to the museum in 1990 by the Société des Amis du Musée d’Orsay. The following year, the Bailly Gallery gave the museum the white cotton dress printed with polka dots and violet stripes worn by the model.
AnonymeDress worn by Madame Bartholomé© Musée d'Orsay, dist. RMN-Grand-Palais / Patrice Schmidt
On the death of his beloved wife, in 1887, the artist gave up painting and took up sculpture on the advice of Degas. His first work as a sculptor was the poignant tomb for his wife (Bouillant Cemetery, Crépy-en-Valois) before he went on to achieve fame with his famous Monument for the Dead in the Père-Lachaise cemetery, inaugurated on 1 November 1899.

The dress, that the artist kept almost as a relic, consisted of two parts. The stiffened bodice, with a polka dot pattern and three-quarter sleeves striped like the turned back collar, is lengthened to form a tunic which is drawn up in two panniers on the hips, forming two panels bordered with pleated flounces at the back under a large flat bow of violet faille. The skirt is striped, drawn in at the back and fully pleated. The outfit is embellished with violet faille bows and round glass buttons.

Women at Home

Summer Outfit© Stéphane Piera / Galliera / Roger-Viollet
Clothing for the woman at home varied according to the time of day. From wearing very little – a simple dressing gown for the “morning” that required her to wear a corset – she would move on to a morning dress, and then a more elegant outfit for the afternoon.
For morning dresses, and for summer dresses, light cotton or jaconet was used, in fine stripes or printed with flowers, dots or ribbons.
All the elegance of the dress, cut very simply – loose fitting jacket or bodice buttoned up at the front and a gathered skirt – lay in the arrangement of the decorative flounces and in the quality of the styling achieved through starching and delicate pressing. The department stores sold dresses that were partly made up – in other words, embellished with flounces and braids but not sewn up, so they could then be tailored to fit the client.

Pierre-Auguste RenoirPortrait of Madame Charpentier and her Children© The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / image of the MMA
For the cooler seasons and when receiving guests, she would wear a silk town dress decorated with ribbons, and adorned with flounces, ruching and lace. Unlike the lighter morning or summer dresses, making a town dress required the skills of a tailor, a seamstress or the dressmaking department of the Paris shops.
With its low, square neckline and adorned with velvet and Chantilly lace, the black dress worn by Mrs Charpentier in Renoir’s painting is a beautiful example of the kind of dress the mistress of the house would wear to receive visitors when she was holding a salon. Such dresses as these might sometimes have been worn to the theatre or to a dinner.

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