Fashion and Satire: The Drawings of Orson Byron Lowell and Charles Dana Gibson

by Matthew Innis |

The exhibit pairs a collection of satirical illustrations with Gilded Age fashion pieces and accessories. Focusing on the life of “high society” in New York City, the illustrations invite the viewer to understand fashion as a vehicle for representing and interpreting societal ideals in the Gilded Age.

Orson Byron Lowell and Charles Dana Gibson were two of the most influential illustrators of the late 19th and early 20th century, working from about 1890 to 1930. They created fashion-filled compositions that linked dress and witty social commentary. Their observations about people in society and their foibles were artfully represented in popular publications like The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, Vogue and the original Life magazine.

The exhibition juxtaposes about 50 Lowell and Gibson illustrations with actual period costumes and accessories, displayed on mannequins or in cases, set up in “vignettes” adjacent to the illustrations. This not only brings the illustrations, in effect, “to life” in three dimensions for the visitor; it also allows the visitor to see the historic clothing as part of a broader context of Gilded Age society in New York, as well as inherently beautiful artifacts in their own right.

Costume pieces featured in the exhibition range in opulence from a beaded silk chiffon flapper dress and a silk satin wedding dress to both men’s and women’s wool one-piece bathing suits. Accessories such as a hand painted silk and wood fan, a fancy velvet and ostrich feather picture hat and a number of decorative walking sticks also help bring the illustrations to life.

The exhibition comes to the Society from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection, the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, MA, and the Lasell College Fashion Collection and Lasell Archives in Newton, MA. It also includes several pieces from the Society’s Permanent Collection.

Where: Society of Illustrators, New York (NY)

When: September 5 – October 28, 2017

Society of Illustrators

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