Were the Impressionists fashionistas? And what role did fashion play in their goal to paint modern life with a “modern” style? This is the subject of the internationally acclaimed exhibition Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, the first to uncover the fascinating relationship between art and fashion from the mid-1860s through the mid-1880s as Paris became the style capital of the world. Featuring 75 major figure paintings by Caillebotte, Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Seurat, including many never before seen in North America, this stylish show presents a new perspective on the Impressionists—revealing how these early avant-garde artists embraced fashion trends as they sought to capture modern life on canvas.
In the second half of the 19th century, the modern fashion industry was born: designers like Charles Frederick Worth were transforming how clothing was made and marketed, department stores were on the rise, and fashion magazines were beginning to proliferate. Visual artists and writers alike were intrigued by this new industry; its dynamic, ephemeral, and constantly innovative qualities embodied the very essence of modernity that they sought to express in their work and offered a means of discovering new visual and verbal expressions.
This groundbreaking exhibition explores the vital relationship between fashion and art during these pivotal years not only through the masterworks by Impressionists but also with paintings by fashion portraitists Jean Béraud, Carolus-Duran, Alfred Stevens, and James Tissot. Period costumes such as men’s suits, robes de promenade, day dresses, and ball gowns, along with fashion plates, photographs, and popular prints offer a firsthand look at the apparel these artists used to convey their modernity as well as that of their subjects. Further enriching the display are fabrics and accessories—lace, silks, velvets, and satins found in hats, parasols, gloves, and shoes—recreating the sensory experience that made fashion an industry favorite and a serious subject among painters, writers, poets, and the popular press.
Truly bringing the exhibition to life are the vivid connections between the most up-to-the-minute fashions and the painted transformations of the same styles. Pairing life-size figure paintings by Monet, Renoir, or Tissot with the contemporary outfits that inspired them, the show invites inquiry into the difference between portrait and genre painting, between Tissot’s painted fashion plates and Manet’s images of life experienced, demonstrating for the first time the means by which the Impressionists “fashioned” their models—and paintings—for larger artistic goals.
Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Major funding for Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity at the Art Institute of Chicago has been generously provided by Alexandra and John Nichols.
JPMorgan Chase is the Corporate Sponsor of Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity at the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Auxiliary Board of the Art Institute of Chicago is the Lead Affiliate Sponsor of Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity.
The exhibition catalogue has been underwritten by Laurie and James Bay and the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation.
Annual support for Art Institute exhibitions is provided by the Exhibitions Trust: Goldman Sachs, Kenneth and Anne Griffin, Thomas and Margot Pritzker, the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation, the Trott Family Foundation, and the Woman’s Board of the Art Institute of Chicago.
This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
$25 nonmembers, $15 members
These special themed evenings celebrate our favorite fashion trends of 19th-century Paris. Get decked out in your best on-trend attire and enjoy an exclusive after-hours viewing of Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity plus a cash bar.
August 16, 9:00 p.m.–12:00 a.m.
$25 nonmembers, $20 members and students, $15 Evening Associates
Check out special after-hours tours of Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, plus enjoy live music and performances by acclaimed theatrical ensemble Collaboraction in the Modern Wing. Complimentary appetizers with cash bar.
Looking for more events related to Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity? Check our calendar for lectures, family programs, film screenings, and more!
June 22–September 29 Galleries 124–127 Through nearly 120 drawings and prints, as well as select paintings, photographs, and materials from the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, this exhibition explores the connotations of informal dress and undress in intimate, private circumstances, presenting the fascinating flip side to the very public face of high fashion.
May 26–October 6 Gallery 137 This special presentation of works in the Art Institute’s collection highlights six forms of status dress from Africa. Each wrapped, robed, or beaded example features a lavish use of materials that emphasize status through dazzling display.
Fashion in Antiquity
June 26–September 22 Galleries 150–154 In antiquity, one’s clothing, hairstyle, and jewelry not only expressed individual status and identity but also told the story of a wider network of trade and travel in the Mediterranean world. Explore the nuances of dress and textiles in Greek vase painting; the elaborately constructed coiffures of the Roman Empire; and the glittering adornment in Byzantium.
Fashionable French Farce
Through October 15 Galleries 223A and 225A Caricaturist Honoré Daumier was in his element with the fashion foibles of the 1850s, while Félicien Rops skewered Parisian art and couture of the 1880s. This special rotation of Rops’s etchings and Daumier’s lithographs ranges from corset voyeurs and vengeful fashionistas to crinoline skirt parachute parodies.
July 2–September 9 Ryerson and Burnham LIbraries The 19th century’s version of today’s high-gloss fashion photography—woodcuts, engravings, and other mechanically reproduced illustrations—sheds light on the history of women’s dress. Please note: The libraries are closed on Saturdays and Sundays.