Fashion and Appearance in Quebec Art

1880-1945

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Photo: MNBAQ

ADAM SHERRIFF SCOTT, Anne, Wife of the Artist, 1937-1938. Oil on canvas, 214.5 X 123 CM. Coll. MNBAQ. Restauration by the CENTRE DE CONSERVATION DU QUÉBEC

In the past two years, the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec has presented a series of exhibitions dedicated to fashion through the display of dresses, of photographs and of stage costumes.  They all denote its former director’s resolve to establish the correlation between the fields of art and fashion.   Art historian Esther Trepanier had come to the Musée from her position as director of the Superior fashion school of Montreal (SFSM) and was thus particularly qualified to undertake such a task.  «Fashion and appearances in Quebec art : 1880 -1945» is the last chapter of her vast project. Teaming up with Veronique Borboën a costume specialist and researcher, she has assembled more than a hundred works by Quebec artists along with advertizing posters, fashion catalogues and photographs to describe the diversity of styles, their evolution over three quarters of a century in Quebec as well as the economic factors behind them.

Because clothes are so revealing of the person who wears them, many of the works exhibited are portraits.  Seen through the history of art and design, we can note the evolution toward modernity in the works of art and the various trends in the choice of fabrics and material, the design of clothes and accessories.  Further, as a cultural observable fact, fashion defines, as expected, gender and identity but also the social class and, in many cases, the occupation of the subject depicted.  The pearl tiara with an aigrette worn by Mrs Philippe Landry and the fur coat thrown of the back of the chair in the portrait of Mrs McKenna are very telling.  So are the overall of the artist Joseph-Charles Franchere’s self portrait and the ceremonial frock coat of Louis-Alexandre Taschereau

Since fashion is a multifaceted phenomenon that can be approached from the social aspect of urban and industrial development, the curators have added to the many portrait in the show, images of groups in smoky and sombre taverns on the one hand and, on the other, street scenes with elegant passersby, scenes that also deal with the advent of department stores and their appealing window displays.  Also included are images with socio-cultural content dealing with child labour, indigence and the changes brought about in the labour force by the technological revolutions with new machinery and processes.  But, beyond all of this, what this exhibition shows is that, contrary to conventional wisdom,  both men’s and women’s fashions, in Quebec , have followed closely the major international trends of their day.

The exhibition will run until May 6, 2012.  A magnificent illustrated catalogue (in French) will prolong the pleasure of your visit.  Special visits in company of Mrs Esther Trepanier will take place this Saturday, March 10 à 2:00Pm and on April 14, also at 2:00PM.