Modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immovable.

(Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life, 1863)

Geneva – Galerie Artvera’s is pleased to present its new exposition, L’Air du Temps, l’art de la modernité 1900-1930, which looks at the thirty key years during which the fashion, costumes and codes of the past underwent radical transformations. Thirty or so masterpieces by Aronson, Aizenberg, Delaunay, Korovin, Magnelli, Marval, Picasso, van Dongen, Ryback, Tappert and Vlaminck will be on display from 27 April to 28 July 2018.

Many artists, intellectuals and authors have examined fashion from a historical, sociological and pictorial point of view. In the early twentieth century, the rise of industrial society and the mass consumption of clothing was the result of demographic and social changes. Women took care of their appearance, showcasing the couple’s social success, and their role was to be consumers.

Thus, the petty bourgeoisie and the working people bought their clothing in the department stores being built in the cities. Women’s magazines also encouraged shopping. The most well-to-do had their clothing made to measure by dressmakers and tailors, thus giving rise to haute couture.

The importance of external appearances encouraged consumers to follow the latest trends. Society events allowed women to showcase their day dresses, evening dresses and opera outfits. To stand out, high-society women endlessly adopted new fashions and created new trends, while sublimating their bodies in a world of codes and proprieties.

Fashion, modernity and painting

Fashion entered the spirit of the times and contributed to modernity. The art of adornment became ubiquitous and fascinated Baudelaire in particular, who praised it in his writings and encouraged artists to take a closer look at the aesthetics of their time. The representation of contemporary outfits by painters was a mark of modernity.

We have to paint the life of our era and paint it well.

(Jacqueline Marval, Figaro, 21 January 1927)

By closely examining the scenes representing outdoor and indoor activities, and the aristocratic and working-class scenes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we immerse ourselves in what was considered “modern” at the time. These scenes bear witness to the codes, customs and clothing of the past.

Artists observed and depicted these variations. As a historical mirror, painters indicated the transformations of clothing that were dictated by the specific needs of everyday life. Receptions, celebrations, sport, leisure pursuits and professions demanded specific clothing. Fashion not only followed social needs, but also played an active part in bringing together the masses and distinguishing the elites from the petty bourgeoisie, the women from the men, and the disreputable from the respectable.