How the Impressionists Dressed for Success
“The latest fashion... is absolutely necessary for a painting,” artist Édouard Manet announced in 1881. “It’s what matters most.” When most people think of Impressionism, they may think of flowers, haystacks, water lilies, dancers, and even nude bathers, but rarely of haute couture caught on canvas. Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, which runs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City through May 27, 2013, focuses on how Impressionists from the 1860s through the 1880s depicted the latest fashions as a sign of a new spirit and freedom—the same spirit and freedom that led to their then-radical art movement. As Manet suggested, in many ways, showing the latest fashions in art was what mattered most. For modern audiences who tend to look past the clothes to the people and things, Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity reminds us of how the Impressionists “dressed” for success.
Fashion as we know it today started just around the same time the Impressionists began working. Paris emerged as the style capital of the world first in the mid-1860s as new innovations such as the department store, Prêt-à-Porter (i.e., ready-to-wear) clothing, and the fashion magazine created and catered to a public appetite for fashionable wear. As the exhibit’s press release points out, “those at the forefront of the avant-garde—from Manet, Monet, and Renoir to Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Zola—turned a fresh eye to contemporary dress, embracing la mode as the harbinger of la modernité.”
The exhibition gathers together a greatest hits of Impressionism on fashion: Monet’s Luncheon on the Grass (1865–66; not to be confused with Manet’s version, which isn’t in the show) and Camille (1866), Renoir’s Lise (Woman with Umbrella) (1867), Manet’s La Parisienne (circa 1875), Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877), Edgar Degas’s The Millinery Shop (circa 1882–86), and Mary Cassatt's In the Loge (1878). Surrounding these paintings (loaned from 40 international museums and one-third of which appear in New York City for the first time), the curators place examples from the Met’s Costume Institute of the actual dresses, skirts, coats, hats, shoes, walking sticks, and parasols that appear in the paintings. Contemporary photographs, fashion illustrations, and fashion journals on display complete the illusion that you’re right there walking amidst the fashionable set.
But as you look at the works, you often get the sense of being looked back at. The well-dressed figures in Jean-Frédéric Bazille’s 1867 painting Family Reunion (shown above) challenge you with their collective gaze. We are the next generation, they silently say with their eyes, the generation without kings and queens to bow before. Zola congratulated his friend Bazille upon seeing Family Reunion. You can be “an artist by painting a frock coat,” Zola remarked, recognizing that the new rightful subject matter of the new art form was the new fashion modern-thinking individuals wore not just as a trendy item, but as a badge of honor.
When this exhibition ran in Paris at the Musée d’Orsay, they titled it simply Impressionism and Fashion. By adding “modernity,” the Met makes the challenge embedded in this exhibition obvious. First, we see the challenge posed originally by the Impressionists and their fashionable subjects to the status quo. But, secondly, these fashion forward artists and individuals challenge us today—the inheritors of this modern sense of individuality. Do we still use fashion as a statement of independence? Or do we simply wear corporate logos and mass produced wear like mindless sheep? Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity manages to make us see both Impressionism and the origins of high fashion in a new light that also illuminates our modern relationship to both art and clothing in a fascinating and thought-provoking way.
[Image: Jean-Frédéric Bazille (French, 1841–1870). Family Reunion, 1867. Oil on canvas. 58 7/8 x 90 9/16 in. (152 x 230 cm). Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Acquired with the participation of Marc Bazille, brother of the artist, 1905.]
[Many thanks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for providing me with the image above and other press materials related to Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, which runs through May 27, 2013.]
Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.
University of Utah research finds that men are especially well suited for fisticuffs.
- With males having more upper-body mass than women, a study looks to find the reason.
- The study is based on the assumption that men have been fighters for so long that evolution has selected those best-equipped for the task.
- If men fought other men, winners would have survived and reproduced, losers not so much.
Built for mayhem<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIyMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzk4NTQ2OX0.my6nML12F3fEQu3H4G0BScdqgaMZkRQHxgyj-Cmjmzk/img.jpg?width=980" id="906fc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd77af7a881631355ed8972437846394" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers are, of course, talking averages here, not stating a rule: There are plenty of accomplished female pugilists, as well as lots of males who have no idea how to throw a punch.</p><p>Even so, says co-author <a href="https://www.wofford.edu/academics/majors-and-programs/biology/faculty-and-staff" target="_blank">Jeremy Morris</a> says, "The general approach to understanding why sexual dimorphism evolves is to measure the actual differences in the muscles or the skeletons of males and females of a given species, and then look at the behaviors that might be driving those differences."</p><p>Carrier has been interested in the idea that millennia of male fighting has shaped certain structures in male bodies. Previous research has reinforced his hunch:</p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/2/236" target="_blank">When a hand is formed into a fist, its structure is self-protective</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://unews.utah.edu/flat-footed-fighters/" target="_blank">Heels planted firmly on the ground augment upper-body power</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24909544" target="_blank">A study examined facial bone structure as being especially well-suited for taking a punch</a>.</li> </ul> <p>(That last one is our favorite. Do you know the German word "<a href="https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Backpfeifengesicht" target="_blank">backpfeifengesicht</a>?" It's an adjective describing "a face that badly needs a punching.")</p><p>"One of the predictions that comes out of those," asserts Carrier, "is if we are specialized for punching, you might expect males to be particularly strong in the muscles that are associated with throwing a punch."</p>
Testing the theory<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzMxMTE2MH0.UXJICMy57UPYUWskhK98alctOrPidJL9yxMkz3HDQrM/img.jpg?width=980" id="98718" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b12287684ac3e740b70392e6433a6b8f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers measured the punching — and spear-throwing — force of 20 men and 19 women. The assumption was that early humans were punchers <em>and</em> spear-throwers.</p><p>Prior to testing, each participant had filled out an activity questionnaire so that "we weren't getting couch potatoes, we were getting people that were very fit and active," says Morris.</p><p>For punching, participants operated a hand crank that required movement similar to throwing a haymaker. The purpose of the hand crank was to spare participants any damage that might be inflicted on their fists by throwing actual punches. Subjects were also measured pulling a line forward over their heads to assess their strength at throwing a spear.</p><p>Even though all of the participants, male and female, were routinely fit, the average power of males was assessed as being 162% greater than females. There were no gender differences in throwing strength recorded. Other untested, though presumably likely, hand-to-hand combat activities come to mind including tackling, clubbing, running, kicking, scratching, and biting.</p><p>Carrier's takeaway: "This is a dramatic example of sexual dimorphism that's consistent with males becoming more specialized for fighting, and males fighting in a particular way, which is throwing punches."</p>
Boys will be boys<p>It, er, strikes us as odd that, even in science fiction — hi-tech weaponry notwithstanding — the hero <em>is</em> going to wind up duking it out with some bad guy, or alien, in the climactic battle. What is it about men punching, anyway? Are they more sexually attractive? The study suggests so:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>The results of this study add to a set of recently identified characters indicating that sexual selection on male aggressive performance has played a role in the evolution of the human musculoskeletal system and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in hominins.</em></p><p>It's tough to contribute to the gene pool after being killed in battle.</p><p>Also, while the authors aren't <em>quite</em> saying that males' historical fighting role is mandated by biology and not by social expectations, neither are they quite <em>not</em> saying it.</p><p>As Carrier explain to <a href="https://attheu.utah.edu/facultystaff/carrier-punch/" target="_blank">theU</a>: "Human nature is also characterized by avoiding violence and finding ways to be cooperative and work together, to have empathy, to care for each other, right? There are two sides to who we are as a species. If our goal is to minimize all forms of violence in the future, then understanding our tendencies and what our nature really is, is going to help."</p>
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Cool hand rebuke<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjY1NTYyOH0.0MCPKN3If94mYCNf3mMNrnTvJXjXN_bKLhgk9203EXk/img.jpg?width=917&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=453" id="1627b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d76421ba1ea0de4b09956b97e80c384" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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