CHICAGO -- When Nina de Callias modeled for Edouard Manet in 1873, the reigning hostess of an important Parisian salon wore gold jewelry, sequined harem pants and an embroidered bolero jacket. As she stretched across a sofa, her low-cut white blouse and full red lips said, "Come hither."
This 19th-century scene, sedate by today's standards, is far more seductive than any "selfie" sent from Geraldo Rivera's cell phone. Madame de Callias' estranged husband found the picture so erotic that he forbade the painter from exhibiting it, and so it stayed in Manet's studio until his death.
This captivating canvas, "The Lady with Fans," is among 75 paintings and 17 exquisitely detailed dresses that make up a highly sensual, thought-provoking exhibition called "Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity." The show examines the rise of department stores, French fashion magazines and photography and demonstrates how each of these nurtured and influenced the Impressionists. The spread of the sewing machine also helped fuel interest in 19th-century fashion.
Extended because of popular demand through Sept. 29, the exhibition is making its final stop at the Art Institute of Chicago. The show was co-organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
(Attention full-blown fashionistas: Stop reading now and start checking for available flights to this Midwestern mecca of architecture, art, awesome restaurants plus a brand-new Fashion Retail Outlets of Chicago mall in Rosemont, Ill., near O'Hare International Airport.)
The show contrasts the Impressionists' portrayals of well-dressed Parisians at home, strolling on boulevards or picnicking in gardens with the realism of French painter James Tissot, the son of a draper. Next to the Impressionists' work, Tissot's highly detailed portraits of a Parisian shop girl or a tableau of well-dressed gentlemen resemble photographs.
Besides these exciting visual juxtapositions, there's an entire glass case devoted to distinctive hats from the era as well as separate cases for delicate shoes and artworks called "The Assault of the Shoe." Even corsets are shown to dramatic effect. This was an era when getting dressed, or undressed, required either saintly patience or Olympic endurance.
There are so many arresting paintings in this exhibition. The one that will remain with me for years is a portrait painted in 1879 by Mary Cassatt. Titled "Woman With a Pearl Necklace in a Loge," it shows a red-haired woman with creamy skin who is holding a fan in her gloved hand. She is clearly delighted and it's such a refreshing change to see that Cassatt, known for her scenes of domesticity, could capture the glitter of a night at the opera.
Of all the garments, a ball gown created in 1886 by Charles Frederick Worth is truly the most eye-popping. Made of ice blue satin, ribbed velvet and cream lace, it's a sculptural triumph of textile design.
The Worth gown is shown in the same gallery with "A Ball," a gathering of aristocrats and grande dames in a room with red curtains, polished wooden floors and gleaming lamps. The men are in black formal wear while the women appear in form-fitting, mermaid-style dresses, a design that Worth invented.
Another gallery is dominated by a life-size portrait of Pauline Croizette, whose black, lace-trimmed gown and flower-trimmed cap mark her as a modern, fashionable woman. Madame Croizette is "The Lady With the Glove," a portrait exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1869 and painted by her husband, Charles Carolus-Duran.
With her exposed right hand, Pauline slowly removes the tightly fitted white glove from her left hand. Soon, she will flutter her fingers, a flirtatious move that was also meant to restore circulation.
One of the last gowns visitors see was worn by Madame Bartholome, who posed around 1881 for her French husband, Albert. The background for "In the Conservatory" is an outdoor garden with purple and white flowers. Madame Bartholome stands in the foreground attired in a purple and white cotton gown with a tightly fitted bodice and pleated, columnar skirt.
The portrait meant a great deal to Albert Bartholome because it captured a happy time for him and his wife. After she died in 1887, the grief-stricken painter kept the summer dress and it survived to be shown in this exhibition. Though faded, it is a touching memento of lost love and mourning.
Marylynne Pitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1648.