Presented as a companion to the major exhibition Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, which investigates Impressionist artists’ expressive use of contemporary fashion in depictions of public life, this exhibition focuses on the private side of apparel—and the lack thereof. Featuring more than 120 drawings and prints, as well as select paintings, photographs, and materials from the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, Undressed explores the connotations of informal dress and undress in intimate, personal situations. These images, ranging from the late 18th to the mid-20th century and from continental Europe to the United States, offer a rare glimpse of the inner life of private individuals.
Displayed in the Jean and Steven Goldman Prints and Drawings Galleries in the Richard and Mary L. Gray Wing, the exhibition comprises various themes—artist and model, bathers, the domestic sphere, mother and child, romantic (and illicit) relationships, tragedy, and prostitution. The presentation opens with a hallmark theme of 19th-century art: women bathing and grooming themselves. Edgar Degas’s rarely seen pastel Woman at her Toilette is a highlight of this section. Additional works on paper by Mary Cassatt, Édouard Manet, and Pierre Bonnard, as well as The Tub, a sculpture by Degas, illustrate the popularity of the subject across media. Works by Paul Cézanne and Edvard Munch depict recreational male bathers, while those of Honoré Victorin Daumier inject humor into the theme.
Several galleries concentrate on private domestic moments, with explorations of such activities as dressing, sleeping, and reading; Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s Elles portfolio is of particular note, offering a glimpse into an interior world of women. Daumier’s comedic representation of bourgeois grooming is complemented by earlier British caricatures, and tender maternal scenes occupy an entire gallery, highlighted by the beloved works of Cassatt.
The drawing Model Reading in the Studio by Gustave Courbet anchors a gallery devoted to artists’ academic depictions of the nude or partially undressed model. Other galleries focus on the darker side of undress—prostitution, murder, and death scenes demonstrate the devastatingly vulnerable nature of nakedness.
Together these exceptional—and often rarely seen—works offer an alluring, tender, terrifying, and altogether behind-the-scenes perspective on dress and undress, the fascinating flip side of the very public face of high fashion.