Saturday, July 8, 2017

Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade at the Legion of Honor

The Legion of Honor in SF is exhibiting Degas paintings centered around hats. This video provides a bit of a deeper back ground because Degas was far more than a painter of pretty hats.

Edgar Degas, "The Millinery Shop," 1879–1886. Oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 43 5/8 in. (100 x 110.7 cm). The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection, 1933.428. Bridgeman Images

, "The Conversation," 1895. Pastel on paper, 25 5/8 x 19 3/4 in. (65 x 50 cm). Courtesy of Acquavella Galleries.

Mary Cassat

"Portrait of Zacharian," ca. 1885. Pastel on paper laid down on board, 15 5/8 x 15 5/8 in. (39.7 x 39.7 cm). Private Collection.
James Tissot’s “The Shop Girl”

A new special exhibition at the Legion of Honor this summer takes a closer look at the work of impressionist artist Edgar Degas and his attraction expressed in paintings to high-fashion hats and the women who created them. "Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade," on view June 24-Sept. 24, features 60 impressionist paintings and pastels, including key works by Degas and others, including Renoir, Manet, Cassatt, and Toulouse-Lautrec. Forty exquisite examples of period hats will also be on display. And as the exhibit shows, Degas was not the only Impressionist painter to be intrigued by hats, both women’s and men’s. There are works by his friends and contemporaries, including Édouard Manet, Berthe Morisot, and  Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Degas’ fascination inspired a visually compelling body of work that documents the lives of what one fashion writer of the day called “the aristocracy of the workwomen of Paris, the most elegant and distinguished.” Yet despite the importance of millinery within Degas’s oeuvre, there has been little discussion of its place in Impressionist iconography.

Paris, already recognized as the fashion capital of the world, had about 1,000 milliners at this time. The millinery trade, along with the first modern department store, Au Bon Marché, gave birth to modern consumerism and changed gender roles with women in the workforce — all of which is depicted in the works on display in addition to the art and industry of hat making.

The exhibition focuses on the intersection between the historical context of the Parisian millinery trade and the contemporaneous, avant-garde art of Degas and the Impressionists. Degas explored the theme of millinery in 27 works, focusing particularly on hats, their creators, and consumers. These are often radical in their experimentation with color and abstracted forms, and are central to his portrayal of women, fashion, and Parisian modern life.

Degas’s largest painting on the theme is "The Millinery Shop" (1879-86) from the Art Institute of Chicago. In the painting, a woman sits surrounded by six hats, reflecting on the latest fashions for spring and summer. The hats dominate the composition and offer an overview of the range of materials (ribbons, flowers, feathers) and colors (cream, aqua, oranges, greens) used in stylish hats. One bonnet (late 19th century) from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston on display in the same room—a capote toute en fleurs (“all in bloom”), lavishly embellished with ribbon, bows, and silk flowers—might have been plucked directly from Degas’s painting. A hat from the Fine Arts Museums’ collection, distinguished by an African starling bird with outstretched wings, speaks to the flourishing international trade in luxury materials, especially feathers, which the Parisian millinery industry helped to support.

Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade: Tue.–Sun., through Sept. 24, 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m.,  Lincoln Park (100 34th Ave.), $28, 415-750-3600,

Images courtesy of the Legion of Honor

1 comment:

Carla Ives said...

I have always loved the Impressionists. I think my favorite is Cassatt but I enjoy the rest of them, too, including Degas. I recognize many of the works depicting hats. I didn't realize, however, the connection between the hats of the day and the actual millinery industry. This is fascinating information and I thank you for it.