I feel as if I have awoken from a dream where I was able to step back in time to Victorian Era France and walked through my favorite salons, studios, gardens, and parks! I was able to see replicas of dresses from various now 'infamous' paintings. I saw men's top hats, tailored suits, corsets, parasols, vintage opera glasses! I must admit having a weakness for a man wearing a top hat, always have!
It was my extreme pleasure to find included in this exhibit such hidden gems as the daguerrotype of Berthe Morisot wearing that famous dress. I saw under glass French Victorian newspapers depicting Victorian illustrations in black and white inks, some etchings, and spied one copy of the London Illustrated News which made my heart skip a beat!!
Here are the highlights, some of my favorites that shall never leave my memory...
Claude Monet’s Woman in a Green Dress
Claude Monet began painting Lady in a Green Dress (1866) during the summer of 1865 in the Forest of Fontainebleau, together with his friend Bazille and nineteen year old Camille Doncieux, his lover. She stood and posed for hours in that park only to find that autumn in Monet’s Paris studio, he decided to transpose the painting to a large format instead. So the legend goes, Monet worked that winter, before the Salon opened, so he could have it finished in time. He painted a full-length portrait in four days of Camille: Lady in a Green Dress.
His efforts were well worth it. The portrait of Camille was a huge success at the Salon, garnering generous comments like the now famous one from Emile Zola, “It is both supple and firm. Softly it drags, it is alive, it tells us quite clearly something about this woman. It is not a doll’s dress, the muslim dreams are wrapped in: this is fine, real silk, really being worn.”
Claude Monet's Women in the Garden has always been one of my absolute favorite paintings. I remember being enraptured by the woman on the right walking around a tree in her beautiful white flowing dress. It was the dress that caught my attention. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her and barely noticed the other women seated to the left of the painting. I wanted that dress, not necessarily to be that woman but just in a park wearing a gorgeous flowing dress! Well, I never knew the history of this particular painting because I never really wanted to ruin it by knowing the background until now…imagine my surpirise being able to cast my eyes on this painting for the first time, standing in front of it in the middle of a room filled with Monet masterpieces juxtaposed against matching dresses, all equally stunning. Where in the world do I look first? Don’t rush me, just leave me here in my drunken, blissful, heady stupor, I beg you…So, my friend standing next to me begins to tell me the history of this painting. “It was a failure you know?” she says to me. Bubble burst, smile faded, eyes clearing, focusing now…”No, really?” giggling from crowd behind me!
So the story goes, Monsieur Monet, was determined to paint lifesize figures in a landscape and according to Emile Zola, once again, it was his dream! He took a canvas measuring two and a half metres by two, dug a trench to accommodate the lower part of the painting while he worked on the upper. He finished the painting but the Salon jury turned it down; rejected it! A failure for Claude Monet!! They felt the figures didn’t seem to be part of the natural scene; they were like statues in a garden. Even though, Camille, posed, sat and stood for all the figures in the painting. That’s right she is every woman! Cue Chaka Khan!! The Salon unmoved, wanted another Lady in a Green Dress.
replica garden dress
Repose by Edouard Manet
Of Edouard Manet’s painting itself, Berthe Morisot said of him in a letter to her sister Edma, “His paintings, as always, create the impression of some wild fruit, a bit unripe even. I am far from disliking them…I look strange rather than ugly. It seems that the term femme fatale has been circulated among the curious.”
Repose is Manet’s second major portrait of Morisot. Begun in the summer of 1870 and interrupted in September by the Franco-Prussian War, at which time Manet joined the artillery. When Paris fell in January 1871, Manet joined his family in the south of France. In March of that year, Manet wrote to Berthe’s mother, requesting permission to exhibit a portrait of Berthe in the Salon. “I have received word from Paris that there will certainly be an exhibition that will open on May 20. Would you please allow me to submit the study that I have made of Mlle B. This painting is not at all in the character of a portrait, and in the catalogue I will call it an etude.” ́́ Berthe wrote to her sister Edma when she and Manet returned to Paris that September, “Manet has rediscovered that I am not too ugly and would like to have me back as his model.” The painting was completed by January 1872 and acquired by a dealer along with twenty-three other of Manet’s canvases.
Repose was exhibited in the Salon of 1873 but not applauded; instead it was greeted with much disdain. Critics did not like the informality of the sitter’s pose; she was described as “tired and ruffled” and as “the woman with a suspicious look.” Apparently, it confused everyone. However, as for myself, standing in front of this beautifully richly ebbed canvas dripping in creams and rouges of cranberry wine reds, I was overtaken with the beauty of Berthe Morisot. Perhaps this particular study, ‘Repose’ can only be appreciated now, decades later when people from all walks of life flock to it, echoing the same sentiments, ‘Isn’t she beautiful. What a woman’ was all I heard standing in the crowd, slowly edging forward trying to get a closer look at Madame Morisot! Still cannot believe I saw her!!
Now we get to the importance of the dresses...two black dresses were on display housed in glass cases, both pertaining to two paintings:
La Parisienne-(study of Ellen Andree),1874-5, National museum, Stockholm, Exhibited in Paris only. Viewed for the first time in the U.S. this year. left the painting La Parisienne by Edouard Manet. The replica dress and the photograph I found of subject, a woman named Ellen Andree, the woman in the black dress! An interesting side note: This painting was intended for the Salon of 1876 but was replaced by a painting called Laundry according to Madame Leenboff. It was sold by Mme Morisot to a Dr. Max Linde from Berlin around 1902.
Berthe Morisot's painting Figure of a Woman Before the Theatre, 1875 on the left, the replica dress which is exquisite to see up-close followed by the well-known photograph of Berthe Morisot painter in her own right. Side note: the woman in the painting was known only by Madamoiselle M by Morisot. She was too old at the time to be her daughter Julie Manet. A mystery perhaps?
I must say it was a dream to see Berthe Morisot as subject in paintings by Manet which primarily filled the exhibit. On the Balcony was one of the only paintings by Berthe Morisot herself. The highlight for me was staring at the small daguerrotype photographs of her under glass. I never thought I would have an opportunity to view her paintings or her in paintings unless I flew to France!
Now, for the painter who in my opinion epitomized the Victorian era...James Jacques Tissot
James Tissot's Seaside has always been one of my favorites, ever since I was a teenager! This painting belongs to a series of allegories representing various months of the year. The sitter’s relaxed pose and the distant beach suggest a summer vacation by the sea. Bright sunlight is reflected off the sand and filtered through the awning into the room, where it rebounds from the woman’s ruffled dress onto her face. The model has been identified as Kathleen Newton, Tissot’s British mistress from 1876 until her death in 1882.
James Tissot's The Circle of the Rue Royale. Housed at Musee d'Orsay, 1868. All those distinguished looking men and wearing top hats! I found this painting fascinating and very interesting. I imagined various reasons for frenchmen to be seated out on an estate. Perhaps they are waiting for their women who are getting ready for dinner and the opera? Perhaps it's just guy talk and no women are allowed? Either way they look good to me! It really is a gorgeous painting up close. I'm sure in reality the men were friends of Tissot and owed him a favor, so they posed for him, or something like that!
James Tissot's Women of Paris The Circus Lover, 1885. I've never seen a circus quite like this one before! Ringling Barnum and Bailey the french version perhaps! Is that a woman with her back to us wearing a top hat? I've never seen a woman wearing a top hat and with a lovely feather on top? It's some sort of festive hat. The woman looking out at us is Kathleen Newton. I have to say walking through the exhibit when I came upon this one I originally had my back to it so when I turned and saw it I was eye level with Kathleen, herself. She was just staring at me. I can only imagine what she must have been thinking!
Evening by James Jacques Tissot, 1885. Musee d'Orsay
A rather small painting but with exquisite detail in her dress, the fan she's holding, the colors are amazing. I have to say I loved getting up close to the paintings so I can also search for the painter's signature to see how they signed it; their handwriting size and shape. Tissot signed J.J. Tissot very small and never in an obvious place whereas Claude Monet had a large signature usually on the bottom of the painting and for some reason his 't' at the end of his surname was larger than the rest of it!
Well, I hope you enjoyed the exhibit and my rambling hasn't bored you yet!
Here's a link to the exhibit, Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity
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