"In the Conservatory," with costume nearby

“In the Conservatory,” with costume nearby

I read about the show, Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, which just closed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (it will open at the Chicago Art Institute on June 25), months ago when it was still on at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris and, being a sucker for costume, knew I had to see it once all those bustles sashayed into New York.

It was great fun, seeing those dresses on manikins standing near paintings by Manet, Monet, Renoir, and my beloved James McNeill Whistler, to name a few. Such close picks, the costumes looked as if they’d come to life in the paintings. “In the Conservatory,” 1881, shows a charming Mme. Bartolome, painted by her husband, her face in shadow, standing in the cool of a conservatory doorway, lilacs in bloom in the garden behind her, wearing a complicated purple and white dress. And there the actual dress is, beautifully preserved and impossibly small-waisted.

"Young Lady," by Edouard Manet, 1866

“Young Lady,” by Edouard Manet, 1866

It’s huge show, full of delights, but seeing the clothes worn in some of my favorite paintings was the biggest treat. To begin with, Manet’s “Young Lady,” 1866: Here she stands, daintily sniffing violets, wearing the palest pink duster, a cameo at her throat. Improbably, a parrot roosts on a pedestal before her. That shell pink wrapper, her demure gaze glazed with a hint of seduction, is an exotic drawing room moment.

A new painting, but one with quite a wallop, was James Tissot’s 1864 “Portrait of Mlle. L. L,” an Anne Hathaway look-alike. Mille. LL wears a lipstick-red, ball-fringe-trimmed bolero jacket, popularized by the Empress Eugenie of Spain, a fashionista in her own right. With her frank gaze at the viewer, having ditched the crinolines, her look is strikingly modern.

"Women in the Garden," by Claude Monet, 1866

“Women in the Garden,” by Claude Monet, 1866

Monet’s “Women in the Garden,” 1866, is so full of life you feel you could join these lovely ladies dashing about or merely sitting, enjoying the summer day. Monet achieved a radical angle for the painting by digging a ditch and climbing into it with his canvas and paints. The effects of light and shadow reveal the love Monet felt for three of the sitters, all images of his soon-to-be wife, Camille.

"Luncheon on the Grass," fragments, by Claude Monet, 1865-66, with costumes

“Luncheon on the Grass,” fragments, by Claude Monet, 1865-66, with costumes

Only fragments remain of Monet’s “Luncheon on the Grass,” 1865. This was to have been a 20-foot painting showing the most stylishly garbed Parisians imaginable. What is left is a charming portrait of seven life-sized figures, sitting, standing walking, in dappled sunlight. Once again you’re struck by the utter modernity of these figures and how familiar they look. Sadly, the better part of the work succumbed to a landlord’s damp basement when the artist failed to pay the rent.

“The latest fashion . . . is absolutely necessary for a painting. It’s what matters most,” Edouard Manet declared at around the time that fashion was popularized in department stores and their racks of  “pret a porter” numbers. Paris became not only the incubator of modern impressionist painting, but also the fashion capital of the world. Memorabilia included here attest to that fact: fashion photographs, catalogues, hand colored engravings of swanky folks, the women’s enormous skirts like upside down mushrooms. Accessories include: fans, gloves, parasols, shoes, teeny kid gloves, and wince-inducing corsets.

"The Parisienne," by Edouard Manet, 1875

“The Parisienne,” by Edouard Manet, 1875

“Black is the queen of colors,” so said Auguste Renoir, and when we come to the black room, we believe him. Berthe Morisot’s 1875 “Figure of a Woman (Before the Theater)” and Manet’s “The Parisienne,” 1875, draw you in, but a large portrait of Ellen Andree (she was Degas’ model for “The Absinthe Drinkers”) in black knocks your socks off. She, a former department sales girl, wears, as the accompanying wall placard says, “the riding habit of an amazone,” and she’s fully up to the name. Nearby, a nearly identical and equally splendid costume is displayed.

"Portrait of Manet," by Fantin-Latour, 1867

“Portrait of Manet,” by Fantin-Latour, 1867

Lest you think men have gotten short shrift here, one large room is devoted to the metro-sexual fellow of the day—top hats, a wool Derby, and a straw boater are as crisp as can be. Canes fill another case. Caillebotte’s 1880 “At the Café,” shows a fellow of dubious character, while Fantin-Latour’s 1867 portrait of Manet, shows us an elegant bon vivant, no bohemian artist, he. Degas’ wonderful “Portraits at the Stock Exchange,” is a glimpse of everyday life at the Bourse, the angled top hats animating the picture. Whistler’s “Arrangement in Flesh Color and Black,” a portrait of Theodore Duret made in 1883, show a weary-looking gentleman, holding a women’s cape, as if waiting, not happily, for his wife to complete her toilette, or emerge from the ladies room. A 26-year-old Renoir painted with his feet up on the rungs of a chair by Bazille in 1867, looks disarmingly callow.


"At the Milliners," by Edouard Manet, 1881

“At the Milliners,” by Edouard Manet, 1881

A room of hats and pictures capturing various milliner’s visits is especially delicious, particularly Manet’s “At the Milliners,” made in 1881, with its brilliant colors. We really should wear hats again!

"The Shop Girl," by James Tissot, 1883

“The Shop Girl,” by James Tissot, 1883

In a stand-out Tissot (1883-5), “The Shop Girl,” one of a series of fifteen paintings of “the women of Paris,” the shop girl smiles and holds the door for you, while a window-shopping man outside appears to flirt with another clerk.

A plum day dress by the House of Worth (1886) announces the return of the bustle, not the soft pear-shaped ones we’re more used to, but a jutting flying buttress of a bustle, to be worn on Hausmann’s broad boulevards, to see and be seen. The last room of the show is devoted to all the places one could be on display – the circus, the theater, the loge. Most importantly, one could be seen on the streets, as in Caillebotte’s famous 1877 “Paris Street, Rainy Day.”


"Paris Street, Rainy Day," by Gustave Caillebotte, 1877

“Paris Street, Rainy Day,” by Gustave Caillebotte, 1877

Anticipating today’s fashion when “street” often becomes couture, this show is a new vision of Paris at a time when fashion and art merged.




Serge Diaghilev

Serge Diaghilev

If you’re anything like me, seeing this fabulous show will take you at least two visits. It’s huge, covering two floors of the East Building of the National Gallery in Washington, DC. Devoted to the merging of art, choreography, dance, and original music that became the first modern ballet company: Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, this exhibition showcases more than 130 costumes, set designs, films, paintings, costume designs, posters, and other charming ephemera, including the earrings worn by Nijinsky in Scheherazade.

Diaghilev, with his peculiar brand of entrepreneurialism and artistic vision, comes fully alive here. We learn from the beautiful exhibition companion book, that in 1905, at 33, Diaghilev organized an exhibition of Russian historical portraits in the capital, St Petersburg. The tsar himself, Nicolas II, personally opened the display and enjoyed seeing his Romanov ancestors among the paintings Diaghilev secured by visiting great houses and cajoling the owners to lend them for the show. Diaghilev expected to be named minister of culture, at the very least, but events conspired against him, and after 1906 his entire career took place outside of Russia.


Costume from Coronation Scene, Boris Godunov, 1908

Costume from Coronation Scene, Boris Godunov, 1908

Yet Russia, its exoticism, spirit, and folktales are present everywhere here – if Diaghilev couldn’t celebrate his homeland in his homeland, he made it glitteringly accessible to Europe and beyond. At the opening of this show, we see a spectacular robe from the coronation scene of Boris Godunov (1908), a bell-shaped garment embroidered with silk and metal thread, glass beads, in what appears to be a pomegranate pattern, its orientalism setting the tone for what’s to come.

The exhibition is organized by ballet–Prince Igor, Les Sylphides, Petrushka, and Scherazade among them–each having its own section. The only known footage of a 1928 Diaghilev rehearsal of Les Sylphides plays next to the costumes and miniature set designed by Alexandre Benois. One of the innovations that Diaghilev and his collaborators brought to dance was liberating the torso from stiff stays to allow a more fluid line. Brilliant silks, flowing trousers, and Turkish-inspired tunics abound. You’d be stunning at any black tie affair decked out in one of Prince Igor’s Ikat coats. Charming pencil sketches by Valentine Hugo (1911) show Nijinsky in the title role of Petrushka while screening on a wall we see a performance of the same ballet by the Joffrey Company (1981).


Costume, Prince Igor

Costume, Prince Igor

Be warned: The costume sketches by Leon Bakst will cause lightheadedness, lust, and the desire to rip them from the walls. In fact, to call them “sketches” hardly does them justice. Dramatically posed, beautifully drawn and accented with vivid color and metallic paint, they’re works of art in themselves. We see the 1910 costume for the chief eunuch from Scherazade – he wears raspberry silk with paisley applique, a plumed turban and wonderfully striped trousers. An official-looking bunch of keys hangs from his belt. Bad news: you’re a eunuch. Good news: the clothes are great.

How can you not fall in love with Bakst’s Odalisque (1911)? She flips an orange scarf with abandon, wearing a see-through top, one shoe off, in transparent “harem” pants. Bakst traveled widely—to Greece, North Africa—and brought back ideas for costumes.


The Little God costume from "The Blue God"

The Little God costume from “The Blue God”

Some little-known ballets are showcased here as well: The Blue God, a Fokine mash-up of Hindu and Buddhist images, was performed only six times. The “little god” costume with headdress of stacked heads, is particularly charming. Another gorgeous Bakst sketch for a Temple Dancer, Young Raja, and Pilgrim from The Blue God left me craving the shoes, pale green with turned up toes. A mannequin leaps, wearing a costume covered with rose petals from the The Rose. Nearby, we see a beguiling photograph of Nijinsky wearing the costume, as the Spirit of the Rose.

One of the many joys of this show are the paintings—Modigliani’s portrait of Leon Bakst (1917), with a blond moustache and twinkly blue eyes to match his scarf; a 1910 Jacques Emile Blanche painting of a costumed Nijinsky for The Oriental; and “Exit the Ballets Russes,” a 1914 cubist work by Fernand Leger.

A guaranteed swoon is the sloe-eyed Faun, Rudolph Nureyev, from the 1967 Joffrey Ballet performance of Afternoon of the Faun. Just under the screen are arrayed three of the nymph costumes you see the dancers wearing as they approach the pied

Costume, by Leon Bakst for Afternoon of the Faun

Costume, by Leon Bakst for Afternoon of the Faun

Faun. If you find yourself wishing you could watch the whole ballet enfold, you can content yourself with Bakst’s seductive sketch, featured as the signature image of the show.

The strident, insistent notes of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, along with the film of the Joffrey Ballet’s 1987 performance, strikes you: how extraordinarily avant-garde this work of art was in 1913. Chilling and brutally beautiful, one can see how much this work must have influenced modern dancers to come—Martha Graham and Erick Hawkins particularly. The costumes (by Nicolas

Costumes, Rite of Spring

Costumes, Rite of Spring

Roerich) are displayed in a circle in the middle of the room. Painted silk and felted wool, you have to wonder how the dancers fared under the bright stage lights.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the show’s first floor is coming upon a small crayon and pencil work, entitled “A Mask,” done by Vaslav Nijinsky after succumbing to schizophrenia. One of many similar works he did from 1918-1919 while being treated in a sanitarium, it conveys the feeling that the person behind the mask is imprisoned. Nijinsky never danced again.

Three dance performances accompany the show:

The Washington Ballet – June 9, 1:00 and 3:30

Kirov Academy of Ballet – July 13, 1:00 and 3:30

Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company – August 11, 1:00 and 3:30

The show, in the National Gallery’s East Building, will be seen until September 2, 2013




Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park

Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah – inspiration is everywhere!

“Hoodoos” are pillars of dramatically shaped colored stone, like armies of Chinese terra cotta warriors marching along a vast pink and salmon amphitheater. These fanciful creations, made by millennia of erosion and geological forces, cast a spell on all who visit. When my husband Richard and I were recently there, we might well have thought that the native language of the Hoodoos was French, given the legions of French people in rented caravans who flocked to gasp Gallicly at the magnificent scenery. We also encountered delightful Dutch families on spring school leave, resolute Germans, a few Italians, and tight formations of Asians, swathed in layers against the bitter 30-mile-an-hour winds and temperatures barely into the 40s. Americans were decidedly in the minority.

The scouring winds made the air bracing, clean and fresh, scented with ponderosa, pinion pine and juniper, and the night skies thick with stars.

This land was named for Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce who came with his family in 1875 to build settlements, a road to the plateau top, and ultimately, an irrigation canal, created by diverting the Sevier River—by hand.

Cabin in Bryce Canyon National Park

Cabin in Bryce Canyon National Park

We stayed in a charming 1920s vintage cabin, one of several not far from the rim of the canyon. The Lodge, now on the National Register of Historic Places, was built by the Union Pacific Railroad with the intention of making Bryce Canyon part of their new loop tour of the southwest. The Lodge itself is a rustic charmer, with faithfully reproduced pine furniture grouped around the massive stone fireplace. The food was surprisingly good in the dining room – elk chili, perfectly seared tuna, “Ebenezer’s trout,” quinoa and roasted vegetables.

Hiking around the rim, I met a woman from Paris, a painter, and when I asked her if she planned to paint what she’d seen and photographed, she said, “I’m an abstract painter, so no, not the canyon, but ah, yes, the colors! The pinks!” It was far too windy and cold to sketch, and after several hours on the trail, we retreated to the Lodge to read and doze in front of the roaring fire.

Sunrise is magnificent here—but then, so is sunset—lighting or extinguishing the hoodoos one by one, or in clusters. Just be prepared to bundle up, unless you’re here in August. A fleece, gloves, a down vest, hoodie, and even earmuffs would have been welcome!

Sunrise, Bryce Canyon

Sunrise, Bryce Canyon

You can easily fill a day or two, driving to viewpoints around the park, or to Mossy Cave Trail, an easily managed hike along “Tropic Ditch,” the canal carved in 1892 by those intrepid Mormon settlers. Even now, it provides water to nearby Tropic and Canyonville. Snow was still melting in the cave at the end of the trail, while wild flowers were just beginning to make an appearance in the valley.


The Three Gossips

The Three Gossips

Should you come, be sure to drive “Scenic Byway 12” where you’ll see the Red Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and more – miles and miles of jaw dropping panoramas, no two alike: enormous boulders that looked spray-painted in bands of chocolate, pale green, purple, magenta; lunar grey and cream landscapes; bizarre “melting” rocks that had us exclaiming, “Look! Jabba the Hut!” or “Gaudi!” or “Henry Moore!” Everywhere are living sculptures you’re tempted to name, and indeed, should you venture further to Arches or Canyonlands National Parks you’ll shed your Bryce layers and hike out to meet The Three Gossips, Sheep Rock, Balanced Rock, and Delicate Arch—where “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was filmed.


Richard and I at the Lodge, Bryce Canyon

Richard and I at the Lodge, Bryce Canyon

After a day of hiking you’ll be ready to roll into nearby Moab and slake your thirst with a Hoodoo Ale.