ST. LOUIS — Best known for his depictions of Parisian dancers and laundresses, Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917) was enthralled with another aspect of life in the French capital—high-fashion hats and the women who created them. The artist, invariably well-dressed and behatted himself, “was not afraid to go into ecstasies in front of the milliners’ shops,” Paul Gauguin wrote of his lifelong friend.
Degas’ fascination inspired a visually compelling and profoundly modern 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.
Next year the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco will bring new light to the subject with the presentation of Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade, a groundbreaking exhibition featuring 60 Impressionist paintings and pastels, including key works by Degas—many never before exhibited in the United States—as well as those by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Édouard Manet, Mary Cassatt, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and 40 exquisite examples of period hats.
“This groundbreaking exhibition will provide a stunning experience for visitors while advancing scholarship of a little known but important part of Degas’ legacy,” said Brent R. Benjamin, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. “Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade will complement Impressionist works in our permanent collection, while giving proper context to Degas’ The Milliners, which the Saint Louis Art Museum acquired in 2007.”
The exhibition will be the first to examine the height of the millinery trade in Paris, from around 1875 to 1914, as reflected in the work of the Impressionists. At this time there were around 1,000 milliners working in what was then considered the fashion capitol of the world. The exhibition will open at the Saint Louis Art Museum on Feb. 12, 2017 and at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor on June 24, 2017.
“This continues our season of French Impressionism at the Legion of Honor,” says Max Hollein, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “This exhibition underlines also the many facets of our extensive collection, which comprises not only of extraordinary paintings and drawings of French Impressionism but also exquisite hats of the same period. The show presents a highly important part of Degas’ work in its extraordinary artistic but also social and historical context. It will be a revelation for many!”
Works from the collections of the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco will be supplemented by loans from international lenders.
The exhibition is curated by Simon Kelly, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Saint Louis Art Museum and Esther Bell, curator in charge of European paintings at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade will be accompanied by a scholarly, full-color catalogue edited by Kelly and Bell. The 256-page catalogue includes contributions by the exhibition curators, as well as Susan Hiner, George Shackelford, Françoise Tétart-Vittu, Melissa Buron, Laura Camerlengo and Abigail Yoder. The retail price of the catalogue is $75 for hardcover and $49.95 for softcover.
The exhibition will be on view at the St. Louis Art Museum from February 12 through May 7, 2017 and then go to the Legion of Honor from June 24 to Sept. 24, 2017.