Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Women in black: Fashion, modernity and modernism in Paris, 1860–1890
by De Young, Justine Renee, Ph.D., Northwestern University, 2009, 449; 3355748
Abstract (Summary)

In mid-nineteenth century Paris, following fashion was no longer merely an elite preoccupation and fashionable modern women took on a newfound prominence in the art exhibited at the annual Salon, in the city’s new public parks and on its broad boulevards. The rise of the department store, the advent of mass-produced clothing and the explosion of the fashion press had made the latest fashions and fashion knowledge more affordable and accessible to stylish Parisians of all classes. At the same time, the black-clad parisienne—whether housewife or harlot, widow or shopgirl—became a favored subject among modernist artists like Édouard Manet and John Singer Sargent and their academic contemporaries like Charles Marchal and Carolus-Duran. Women in black epitomized the ambiguity of life in modernity, when even mourning dress had become fashionable. I argue that artists’ embrace or rejection of fashion in painting was implicated and often actively participating in discourses of the time surrounding women and modernity.

Chapter 2 explores the rise of the modern fashion system—from fashion editors to advertising, from department stores to haute couture—and the new consumer culture it engendered. Chapter 3 investigates the new ambiguity of dress and the link, or lack thereof, between dress and morality, debates about which came to a head at the Paris Salon of 1868. Chapter 4 discusses the nineteenth-century depiction of widows and the rejection of fashion in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune (1870-71). Chapter 5 addresses the archetypal figure of the Parisienne, symbol of French sophistication and chic, before and after the war and the nationalist and commercial forces that drove her appearance.

An object-based, social historical study, the dissertation relies upon close visual analysis, contemporary Salon criticism, caricature and fashion writing to contextualize artworks within the society and culture of nineteenth-century Paris. Fundamentally, it aims to explain the prominence of fashion in the discourse of the 1860s and 70s, to situate artists’ representations of modern women within this discourse, and to position the woman in black in her ubiquity and multivalency as a key figure through which to understand the period.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Clayson, Susan Hollis
Commitee: Eisenman, Stephen F., Van Zanten, David T.
School: Northwestern University
Department: Art History
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 70/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: European history, Fine arts, Art history
Keywords: Caricature, Carolus-Duran, Fashion, France, Franco-Prussian War, Manet, Edouard, Marchall, Charles, Modernism, Paris, Salon, Sargent, John Singer, Widows, Women
Publication Number: 3355748
ISBN: 9781109150698
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