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"Fabric of Vision: Dress and Drapery in Painting"
2002-06-19 until 2002-09-08
UK United Kingdom
This unique exhibition looks at the ways artists from the Renaissance to the 20th century have used clothing and drapery in their paintings to express emotion and create drama. It includes a stunning array of masterpieces by some of the greatest European painters, from Mantegna and Caravaggio to Matisse and Modigliani.
Artists bring dress and drapery to life, showing us how to see and feel it. In responding to contemporary fashion, they present to each age a compelling image of how clothes should be worn. The exhibition opens with a striking series of paired paintings of clothed and nude women, by such artists as Veronese, Tintoretto, Van Dongen and Bonnard, showing how the prevailing fashion in clothing even determines how the naked female body is represented and made to appear desirable.
In the early Renaissance, artists respected the actual nature and behaviour of cloth, and looked back to the sculpture of classical antiquity for examples of how it should be depicted. From the 16th century onwards, in the work of such painters as Tintoretto and El Greco drapery took on a life of its own, filling canvases with impossible swirls and billows, and communicating intense emotions. In Caravaggio's Boy bitten by a Lizard, the white shift falling from the boy's shoulder as he starts back in pain underscores the mood of bittersweet sensuality, an effect echoed centuries later in Cindy Sherman's self-portrait photograph. During the 18th century, in history paintings by Fragonard and Tiepolo and portraits by Reynolds and Zoffany these effects grew ever more theatrical, until the neo-classical revolution introduced a new taste for simplicity in dress, designed to suggest the naked form beneath the clothes. The evolution of the tailored suit with its suggestions of virile masculinity can be traced in Delacroix's romantic portrait of Baron Schwiter, Lehmann's portrait of Liszt and Munch's 1906 portrait of Harry Graf Kessler.
During the 19th century, painters such as Tissot and Toulouse-Lautrec made much of the contrast between soberly dressed men and flamboyantly clothed women, while others including Corot and Alfred Stevens explored the psychological implications of pensive, solitary women in fashionable outfits, a subject later taken up by photographers. The exhibition concludes by showing how with the onset of the 20th century the representation of fabric became subordinated to the artists' formal pictorial concerns, and the free display of paint itself. In works by Vuillard and Matisse, dress and drapery are suggested, not described, by expressive patterns of flat colour and serpentine line.
The exhibition is conceived and curated by the art historian, critic and historian of dress, Anne Hollander.