Looking for something fresh to do around the city? Get your girls together! Take a date! Or treat your parents. And visit the new St. Louis art exhibit: Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade. The intersection of fashion, art, history, and Parisian culture comes alive with 60 works of art and a range of period hats dating from 1875 to 1914. Enjoy paintings and pastels by Degas that have never been exhibited in the United States. I was invited by the St. Louis Art Museum (co-organized with the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco) along with a few of my blogger friends (Carmen, Diana, and Psyche) to preview the exhibit. Here’s why you won’t want to miss it:
4 Reasons to Visit the New St. Louis Art Exhibit
One: See street style photography before its time. During this period, Degas painted observations of contemporary Parisian life. He often captured women focused in their life, and seemingly unaware of the artist’s presence. This must have been the closest thing to street style photography in the 1800s! Actually, photography was going through some major breakthroughs at this time moving from glass plates to the introduction of plastic film. Degas himself experimented with photography and used it to influence his art.
Two: Support a female dominated trade. By the 1900s, 25,000 of the estimated 28,000 artificial flower makers in Paris were women. And most of the 8,000 people working in the city’s millinery trade were women. Top designers in the industry of flower and hat making included Caroline Reboux, Camille Marchais and Mademoiselles Cotel.
Three: Get the 1800s boutique experience. Have you ever wondered what it was like to shop in Europe during the 1800s? There is a cute little milliner boutique vignette (totally Instagram worthy) complete with period chairs and hatboxes. You can also see first hand what it takes to create one of their custom hats from the shape, to the tools, and also the embellishments.
Four: Observe how art became a way to support women laborers. Chiquita Banana has nothing on these hats. Straw, feathers, flowers, ribbons, sequins, and even entire birds adorn the historic hats. Bouquets of artificial flowers are even piled on top of hats from front to back for the most dramatic designs. These hats can span as wide as two feet. Degas recorded the incredibly skilled labor behind the hats with his art. He celebrated the value of milliners’ skills during a period of increased support for women’s labor rights, including better wages and hours, in the garment industry.
There are so many amazing things about this new St. Louis art exhibit! It teaches history, gives us an appreciation of beauty, and offers a glimpse into casual European society. Personally, the exhibit expanded my knowledge of Degas’ contemporary period. It also showed me how art can contribute to society’s wellbeing in revolutionary ways. This exhibit runs until May 7, 2017 at the St. Louis Art Museum. Learn more online here.
All images courtesy of Elizabeth Wiseman.