Among the gorgeous garments on display in the exhibition American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity is an exquisite black evening dress attributed to Madame Marie Gerber of the house of Callot Soeurs. Andrew Bolton, curator in the Met’s Costume Institute, spoke with Met News editor Jennette Mullaney about the dress’s bold design and glamorous, influential owner.
The silhouette of this dress is a significant departure from the wasp-waisted form favored by the Heiresses and Gibson Girls of the 1890s. How did this more relaxed silhouette emerge?
By about 1906 women had begun to discard their corsets and adopt looser gowns. Some women continued to wear the corset, obviously, but more fashionable women tended to adopt a corsetless silhouette. The principal designers who advocated a corsetless silhouette were Poiret, Paquin, and the Callot Soeurs.
And why did they advocate it?
Partly, they were inspired by the dress reform movements of the late 19th century. More importantly, perhaps, they were inspired by the Orientalism that was pervasive in the arts during the early 20th century. For many designers, the imagery of Eastern cultures offered a freedom from the traditions and conventions of the West. You see the influence of Orientalism in this dress, a one-piece bifurcated garment draped between the legs like the Indian dhoti.
The design would have been very outré in 1910, when it was made. Rita Lydig, who was the owner, favored this silhouette. Rita was very adventurous in terms of her self-presentation.
She was a style icon.
Absolutely. She was also a muse to many artists—Boldini, Ignacio Zuloaga. Artists were very much inspired by Rita’s singular style and beauty.
Many of the Bohemians were involved in the arts. Does the design of this dress reflect contemporary artistic movements?
It reflects Orientalism and the influence of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, especially the artistry of Diaghilev’s designer, Leon Bakst.
Rita was a great patron of the arts. Caruso, Puccini, Rodin, and Sargent, among others, were all entertained at her house on 52nd Street in New York. Rita was also a great collector. She collected majolica, tapestries, and Chippendale furniture. She was also a passionate collector of 17th- and 18th-century lace, and would commission the Callot Soeurs, who were specialists in lace, to create vests, tunics and blouses out of her collection. Rita would have worn this dress with one of her lace vests.
Rita was known for ordering the same design in different colors. There are three extant examples of this design in ivory, raspberry, and black. All three are on display in the American Woman exhibition. Two are shown with lace evening vests. I chose to show the black design without a vest, so you can see the details of its construction in greater detail.
Image: Attributed to Callot Soeurs (French, active 1895–1937), Designer (attributed), Madame Marie Gerber (French). Dress, Evening, 1910. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mercedes de Acosta, 1954 (2009.300.1198).
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Join the Met’s Flickr group and share your photos of Doug + Mike Starn on the Roof: Big Bambú. Add your submissions with the tag "big_bambu" and we’ll select one photo to feature in the October issue of Met News, which has a readership of more than 100,000.
We also continue to welcome your photos taken at the Main Building and The Cloisters Museum and Gardens. Browse our group pool or check out our photo of the week, chosen every Monday by our Flickr moderator. In addition to our pool we have a photostream, divided into collections, featuring pictures of exhibitions, Museum events, and special programs.
Image: Photo by Doug and Mike Starn. Big Bambú installation view, March 2010. © 2010 Mike and Doug Starn / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
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This month, a unique series of gallery talks will explore the use of color in art. In addition, summer graduate interns will be giving gallery talks on specialized topics from Friday, July 23, through Sunday, August 1, at the Main Building. Talks will be given at 11:00 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday, with additional talks at 7:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
From Tuesday, August 3, through Friday, August 6, summer college interns will be offering gallery talks at The Cloisters.
Join our summer college interns for guided tours at the Main Building that highlight particular works in the Museum’s encyclopedic collection.
Image: Head intern Ryan Wong leads a training session for interns in the Greek and Roman Galleries.
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A Village Lost and Found
Friday, July 23, at 6:00 p.m. ($20)
Beautifully reproduced photographs by the pioneering stereographer T. R. Williams—showing the life of an Oxfordshire village 150 years ago—have been preserved in the book A Village Lost and Found. Authors Brian May, guitarist from the band Queen and a stereoscopic photography enthusiast, and Elena Vidal, a photographic historian, will discuss their 30 years of exhaustive research and the challenging process of presenting the images in 3-D. A book signing will follow the presentation. Purchase tickets.
Stereographs on Flickr
If you’re interested in stereographs, see some beautiful examples submitted by a member of our Flickr group.
Image: A Village Lost and Found shown with a stereoscopic viewer.
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