Agenda: Impressionism Fashion and Modernity Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

While researching the annual Met Costume Institute 2013 exhibit, Punk: Chaos to Couture, I stumbled on to a current exhibit, Impressionism Fashion and Modernity.

Wait. What? Is this the same exhibit that was shown at the Paris Musée d’Orsay in Fall of 2012? It is!

I am not an art or costume historian. That said, I have taken a few art history courses, can design and sew a dress, and have a maddening crush on Paris. As I was scheduling my visit to view the exhibit, I found a three session short course on the exhibit and immediately signed up!  The short course is also being held in April.

Although I realize that positive reviews sound distinctly not modern in our critical world, Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity exceeded my expectations.

First, this is a once in a lifetime experience. The work exhibited is on loan from over a dozen museums and the pieces are some of the top works in their respective museums. So, unless you are planning a month-long trip that encompasses the great museums of Europe and North America, here is your chance to see some of the great works of the Impressionist period in one location.


I was especially excited to see Monet’s “Luncheon on the Grass” (shown above left) in the same exhibit as “Camille” (shown above right). Monet was working on Luncheon, when Courbet (featured as the sitting man) offered him a friendly critique, causing Monet to abandon the work and paint Camille in the green dress. He completed “Camille” in four days and entered it in the Salon of 1866.

Luncheon on the Grass” remained unfinished and was damaged. Monet removed the damaged areas of the work and the two surviving panels are included in the exhibit. The third panel is missing.

Second, I love the simplicity of the exhibit. While some may find the presentation a bit “old-school” (i.e., no loud soundtrack, hologram, or crushing fashionista crowds), the presentation of garments highlight and complement the paintings, driving the conversation of how these artists were moving away from realism and towards impressionism, capturing the light using broad brushstrokes and color variations. And the garments and accessories are almost all displayed in a 360 degree format, which is a logistical challenge for the curator and rarely happens during the Met’s Costume Institute annual shows.

Fragment of Day Dress and Shawl | Fragment of Monet


Finally, for those patrons attending the exhibit to better understand the impressionist period and why fashion is so integral to those works, the presentation makes it abundantly clear how fashion allowed the artist to capture a moment and emphasize the complexities of light against the silhouettes and fabrics.

We know that these artists were experimenting with what the eye was truly seeing. How better to achieve that than to add a dramatic white day dress on a woman sitting in a garden of flowers, allowing to the artist to demonstrate, even amplify, the power of color manipulation made from the shadows created by the sun?


If they found the fashion/style/trend important enough to replicate it exactly, shouldn’t we evaluate and respect their work from that same perspective? Having examples of those costumes (which this exhibit has in spades) helps continue the learning and the conversations, which all good exhibits should strive to accomplish.

The dates for the exhibition in the United States are below.  I don’t have anything against the Costume Institute’s selection of Punk for this year’s exhibit…ok, maybe I do, but we can talk about that after I see it in May.  For now, I can say that this will be the best fashion exhibit of the year and you don’t want to miss it!

Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity | The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Now to May 27. 2013

Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity | The Art Institute of Chicago | June – September 2013


All images via the Metropolitan Museum of Art Selected Highlights of Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity