My daughter was off school this Friday and we took a trip to our local art museum which turned into an absolute delight. The Cincinnati Art Museum holds a tremendous collection of textiles, most of which are not on display, but from time to time they pull out all the stops and put on an extravaganza. This is one of those times.
From October 9, 2010 through January 31, 2011 they have on special exhibit a collection entitled “Wedded Perfection:Two Centuries of Wedding Gowns.”
I counted over 60 bridal gowns displayed on mannequins, many on platforms that allow viewing in the round. None were behind glass and most included a short commentary along with a wedding day photo of the bride herself.
Many of the gowns are Victorian hand-worked treasures crafted by seamstresses of consummate skill and displaying the sumptuous ornamentation we associate with that era. One earlier gown is on show dating from around 1735 worn by a bride resplendent in full panniers and unexpected forest green brocade. Then the exhibit skips over most of the eighteenth century beginning again with a breathtaking Regency 1801 white-on-white embroidered Napoleonic bridal dress. (All those Jane Austen fans can expect their hearts to quicken with a ladylike flutter when they see this one. It is as pristine as if Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice has stepped out of the novel before your very eyes.) The exhibit pieces then move forward historically right up to the modern era, including a gown worn as recently as 2009 along with a stunning creation (somehow both slinky and demure,) designed and worn by Vera Wang at her own wedding. Also in what must have been an absolute coupe for the museum, they have on loan from Queen Elizabeth II herself, a miniature of Queen Victoria in her white bridal gown that set the standard for wedding attire enduring even today.
Since you are already in the museum, the space directly across from “Wedded Perfection” houses another special exhibit “Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman” which consists of an impressive number of portraits, all eighteenth century women who held a certain renown in their particular spheres. One gets a strong impression of eighteenth century costume and Gainsborough conveys the delicacy of the finery that even to this day evokes a certain mood of refined passion that women’s dress at the time must have meant to arouse in the viewer. Having viewed quite a few runway shots of Spring 2010 in the past month or so, let me tell you, walking through this exhibit shows you how differently others have thought about fashion, the female form and women’s beauty.
On a side note, the Gainsborough exhibit room has in one corner two complete women’s dresses of the period and somewhat amusingly next to one of the costumes stands a mannequin wearing eighteenth century unmentionables- a no-nonsense corset and fully extended wire panniers both constructed of perversely prosaic materials to have been worn under such gilded outergarments.
If you are passing through Cincinnati or possibly visiting relatives over the holidays, this is an incredible experience for home-sewers. I don’t think you will ever have another chance to view at such close range over sixty custom or couture bridal gowns. As I walked through with my little girl, I saw a lot of other mothers attending with their daughters, even if the said daughters were gray of head. I have never seen so many people craning their necks to read all of the museum commentary and the women would often bend down and touch the picture of the bride. This exhibit, unlike some other forms of art, really touches our personal history maybe even more deeply than it illustrates our cultural history.
There is a book by the same name “Wedded Perfection: Two Centuries of Wedding Gowns” with photos of the exhibit and additional commentary. I looked through it at the museum and the volume is wonderful. If you never find yourself in Cincinnati your library may have the book. I encourage you to check it out if you have an interest in historic costume as do many home-sewers. Or, if you are up for a splurge, the book can be ordered from the museum gift shop or amazon.com.
But if you come here for holidays, business or you live in the greater metropolitan area, I hope that you take a day and go to the Cincinnati Art Museum. Admission is free with no extra charge for special exhibits. Parking is not free near the museum, but there is a small free lot in the curve right before you enter the gates of the museum along with streetside parking in Mount Adams, the district in which the museum is located. Gainesborough is through January 2, 2011 but Wedded Perfection continues until January 31st. I plan to keep returning until they take it down.
Next Post: Tuesday, November 16, 2010: Simplicity 3768 Pintuck Pleasant Blouse: Pattern Review