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European and N. American Costume

Lace and appliqué tunic
French, ca. 1910-11
The lace revival that occurred in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century found expression in both reproductions of antique models and designs that reflected the influence of Art Nouveau. France and Austria led the renewed interest in lace making and artists and designers in both countries brought an entirely modern aesthetic to this medium. A number of leading French artists, including Félix Aubert, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Maurice Dufrène, and Mathurin Méheut, created patterns for lace. At the Paris exposition of 1900, examples of lace accessories and trimmings produced at the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna were widely admired for their innovation and sophistication and awarded a grand prix. The Dentelle de France, a national society, was founded in 1905 to foster interest in lace and to encourage the education of those in the industry; as part of its mission, the society sponsored exhibitions of both antique and contemporary lace. In many of their issues between 1898 and 1910, the periodicals Art Décoratif and Art et Décoration featured the new style of both Austrian and French laces.

On the front of this delicate tunic, the centrally placed bird with outstretched wings and extended tail surrounded by flowering orange branches reflects the profound interest in nature and stylization of forms that characterize Art Nouveau sensibility. The planar quality of the composition with its bold, simplified motifs and the juxtaposition of solid and void areas are enhanced by appliqué on lace: glossy, couched linen threads delineate the outlines and details of the sheer, matte linen elements against a fine diamond-net ground. The design is made to shape with the luxuriant plant motifs placed symmetrically along the side and center back seams, creating a flowing, rhythmic pattern around the body.

Although it is not possible to attribute this tunic to a specific designer, the depiction of the bird is similar to drawings by Mathurin Méheut that appear in an article titled "Les Oiseaux" by the artist Maurice Pillard-Verneuil in Art et Décoration in 1907. Méheut provided most of the illustrations including detailed studies of peacocks, falcons, magpies, owls, ducks, pigeons, and sparrows at rest and in flight. Additionally, he contributed a repeating pattern based on stylized falcons. Méheut's images complement Verneuil's assessment that artists should have a thorough understanding of natural forms in order to successfully translate them into decorative ornament. His belief that such an interpretation combines both the simplification of elements as well as capturing the models' essence is evident in the rendering of the tunic's motifs.

In contrast to the exaggerated S-curve of about 1900, the feminine silhouette of 1910 was straight and narrow. Fashion journals confirm the popularity of hip- and thigh-length tunics that accentuated this slim, high-waisted line as well as the extensive use of lace and openwork techniques such as broderie anglaise. The tunic was likely worn over a contrasting colored lightweight silk or linen under-dress to maximize the effect of its modern elegance.

Published in the Cora Ginsburg 2009-2010 catalogue.
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