Fashioned by Sargent: Painting Fashion

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Oct. 2023. 248p. ed. by Erica E. Hirshler & others. ISBN 9780878468942. $65. FINE ARTS
In this accompaniment to an exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and the Tate Britain, an international group of art and fashion historians focus primarily on American painter John Singer Sargent’s (1856–1925) portraits and the dynamic of the clothing in relation to the sitter and to Sargent’s artistic process. While his portrait subjects would bring clothing and accessories to their sittings, Sargent ultimately controlled and manipulated what they would wear, the color of their dress, their pose, and the setting, this catalogue explains. In some cases, a dress by the popular designer Charles Frederick Worth would be rejected by Sargent in favor of a simpler frock or would be manipulated by the painter’s pinning of the fabric. Essays cover subjects such as the influence of old-master grand manner portraiture on Sargent, differences between dress in his portraits of Europeans and Americans, issues of dress and gender in the portraits, and the larger culture of dress during the 19th century. Other essays focus on important individual portraits such as Madame X and the actress Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, with the latter including an image and discussion of the actress’s elaborate costume in the portrait.
VERDICT With gorgeous images and accessible text, this exhibition catalogue is highly recommended for audiences interested in fine art in relation to fashion.
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