One big fashion and art exhibition closes this month while another opens: at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity closes on May 27 while across the Atlantic, In Fine Style: the Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion just opened at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace in London. I had hoped to see both exhibitions, but will probably end up of seeing neither; for some reason I thought the Met show was up all summer. Oh well, I have been perusing the catalog of the former and I’m already familiar with most of the paintings in the latter, and I have some general comparative observations, which would almost certainly either be reinforced or refuted if I saw the actual shows.
First observation: the early modern era was a much better time for MEN’s fashion. Tudor and Stuart men got to dress up in fabulous, colorful clothing for all sorts of occasions, and they had ARMOUR. There is no comparison for the Belle Epoque. One of the galleries in the Met show is entitled “Frock Coats and Fashion: the Urban Male”, but these stockbrokers are clearly no match for the enigmatic sixteenth-century man in red or King Charles I.
Edgar Degas, Portraits at the Stock Exchange, 1879, Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Portrait of a Man in Red, German/Netherlandish School, c. 1530-50, Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; Daniel Mytens, Portrait of H.M. King Charles I, 1628, Royal Collection© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Second observation: black-and-white is classic. No matter what the occasion, black-and-white attire is timeless and striking. The Met exhibition has a gallery of black dresses and white dresses, also completely classic, but what I notice looking at both eras is the eternal elegance of the two non-colors together. Below we have two very different scenes: seventeenth-century mourners and a lady of leisure on a sunny late nineteenth-century afternoon, united by their attire.
Sir Anthony van Dyck,Thomas Killigrew and (?) William, Lord Croft, 1638; Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; Albert Bartholomé, In the Conservatory (Madame Bartholomé),1881; “Summer Day Dress Worn by Mademe Bartholomé in the Painting ‘In the Conservatory”,1880, which is described as cotton printed with PURPLE dots and stripes but it reads black to me–a good illustration of why I should have seen this exhibition in person!
Third observation: texture = luxury+artistry. This is where the art and the fashion really meet. In both exhibitions, the fabrics are absolutely luxurious, and the artists’ ability to depict their textures is absolutely amazing. Obviously the Met exhibition, which places garments adjacent to paintings (as in the example above) illustrates this artistry in a really compelling way, but the artists of the Tudor-Stuart era, who are depicting royalty and nobility, are also compelled to inject that luxurious texture into their subjects’ portraits, as illustration of their exalted status.
Glistening fabrics from both eras: James Tissot,Evening (The Ball),detail, 1878; Sir Peter Lely, Frances Teresa Stuart, Duchess of Richmond, c.1662, Royal Collection© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Fourth observation: it’s all in the details. Both exhibitions feature “little” things that are incredibly important: trims, jewelry, undergarments, patterns. Whether the sixteenth-century ruff or the nineteenth-century corset, details are important to these societies–and these artists. You would think that the details would be more important in the early modern portraits than the nineteenth-century en plein air paintings, but that is not the case. The details are always important.
Details of Marcus Gheeradts the Younger’s (attributed) Anne of Denmark, 1614, Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and Ckaude Monet’s Camille, 1866, as banners for their respective exhibitions.