NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (FEBRUARY 26, 2013) (REUTERS) - A new exhibition opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Tuesday (February 26) that seeks to explore the role fashion played in the works of Impressionist masters and their contemporaries.
Called 'Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity', the show brings together a trove of paintings from greats like Edouard Manet, Claude Monet and others and displays them alongside fashion popular at the time.
"We're looking at a period from the mid 1860's to the mid 1880's when Impressionism came of age and Paris emerged as the style capital of the world," said Susan Alyson Stein, curator of European Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"With the rise of department stores, the advent of ready-made clothing, the proliferation of fashion magazines, artists took a fresh look at contemporary dress as a way to invigorate stale conventions with modern sentiment."
Stein said the show illustrates how the Parisian milieu provided inspiration for the artists of the time. While some society artists produced extremely accurate paintings of their clients and wearing their very fashionable attire, the major Impressionist artist looked to capture something more fleeting, the "look of the moment - the passing whims of fashion."
"It's not so much that meticulous precision or detail in every thread and hemline and so on, as much as it is to capture that here and now. The things that are here today and gone the next," added Stein.
A good example of this feeling for the moment can be seen in work such as Monet's 'Women in the Garden', which shows a group of well dressed women having a picnic on a sun-splashed lawn. In the painting one lady wears a white dress with decoration on the hem, very similar to a real dress on display just yards away.
Although Stein points out the exhibition was not made for the viewer to play 'spot the dress in the painting', there are a few examples of paintings depicting exactly the same dress on display; pairings like Albert Bartholomé's work called 'In the Conservatory' which features the same white and lavender dress worn by Madame Bartholomé on view directly in front of the work.
But Stein points out it's the work of the Impressionists, with their looser, more ephemeral style, that are the standouts of the show, in works by Manet like 'The Parisienne' that turned heads when it was first seen in 1875.
"The artists were responding to the tenor of the times and to critics who said 'history painting is dead, take a look at modern life.' This you will see in artists who we now regard as the great innovators of the age and also their more academically-minded contemporaries," said Stein.
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.
The exhibit brings together more than 80 major works from over 40 locations around the world.
The show was on display at the Musee D'Orsay in Paris before arriving in New York. Stein says the Met has added to the show with items from own collection including art, costumes and supporting documents like photographs and fashion magazine clippings from the era.
The show runs though May 27th and will then move on to the Art Institute of Chicago.