Monday, 19 November 2012


It's always a plus when a work trip to Paris - a rare treat these days - coincides with an exhibition that I'm aching to see. And what I really wanted to see was the Musée d'Orsay's Impressionism and Fashion exhibition. So I was up before the crack of dawn, out of the house by 5.30am to recover on the train with a new Persephone book ... and by mid-afternoon, my time was my own.

Was it crowded? It seemed like every woman in Paris was there. Here's a review.

Women in the Garden, Claude Monet





















Fresh cotton muslin crinolines made me think straight away of this painting by Monet. Spotted and striped, flounced and braided ... one of the prettiest was striped with bands of marguerites and tied with a green ribbon sash.

Sans doute les Parisiennes sont femmes, mais elles sont plus femmes que toutes les autres femmes.

It all sounds so irresistible in French, pleats and panniers, pelisses, bustles and bows. I was fascinated by all the fashion magazines and descriptions of the big new Paris department stores. 
Puis venaient des tissus plus forts, les satins merveilleux, les soies duchesse, teintes chaudes, roulant à flots grossis ... les damas, les brocarts, les soies perlées et lamées.
And I realised that I absolutely must read Zola's La Bonheur des Dames. (The inspiration for that truly dreadful BBC costume drama a few weeks ago.)
Seeing these ravishing gowns brought the paintings and the city to life, as I imagined the latest fashions  filtering down from femmes du monde to the midinettes, with money of their own to spend for the first time. Look at this ... can't you just hear the rustle of silk? (Click on the picture for the fabulous detail.)




And then look at this ...
La Parisienne, Edouard Manet

Dans la Serre ou Mme Bartholomé, Albert Bartholomé
I loved this one, because can you imagine seeing the very same dress that was worn in the painting, still looking so fresh and crisp and new? Mme Bartholomé died six years later, only 38, and her husband devotedly preserved her lovely summer frock.

I spent four hours sighing over every furbelow and flounce ... and I haven't even mentioned the bonnets and hats. If only I could go back again next week! (The exhibition is going on to Chicago and New York, but not London.)

7 comments:

Sue said...

Not London. That seems very mean.

callmemadam said...

Lovely frocks! Thanks for posting this.

I didn't think I was missing much by not watching The Paradise and it seems I was right. You've inspired me to get hold of the original book, too.

mary said...

Well, you need some excuse for a trip to Paris, Sue.

I watched the first episode, Callmemadam - it was dire!
But I must read it. Might even try to read it in French. (Well, I probably won't. But I'm sure it's better in the original.)

Toffeeapple said...

Imagine all the cleaning and ironing of the frills and furbelows! Pretty dresses though and to see the original of a dress that is in a painting must have been marvellous.

mary said...

You'd definitely need a lady's maid, Toffeeapple. No wonder Miss O'Brien in Downton was always so cranky!

Darlene said...

Mary, how thrilling! There is something about masses of draping silk whether it be in art or right there in front of you that is just so darn appealing. And so hot on the heels of the Hollywood Costume exhibit too...you lucky thing!

I've never read Zola but with all this talk about Paris lately...who knows...I could be convinced to get out of England for a bit.

mary said...

Darlene, you would have loved it. Maybe we could entice you onto Eurostar and you'll think that you're not abandoning England? Undersea not overseas?