Sunday, March 4, 2018

What did artists wear when painting outdoors?

After the the last post on Sorolla painting outdoors, a couple of readers questioned whether artists in the 19th or early 20th century really wore a jacket and tie when painting outdoors.

Bror Ljunggren (Swedish, 1884-1939)
One person said: "These photos have to be taken with a grain of salt, because having a picture taken was a big event back then and people were basically posing for a picture. So, it's possible that they were posing and setting up certain elements that maybe they weren't exactly always doing when working, like wearing a suit for example."


I used to think that artists who appeared formally dressed in photos were suiting up for the camera. But the more I've read and learned, the less I think that is true, especially in these plein-air photos. Ladies wore beautiful dresses and hats when they painted. 


Sometimes they had smocks or aprons, but there were nice clothes underneath. 

William Merritt Chase and his students
By the twentieth century, compact, portable Kodak cameras were very common, and there are plenty of candid photos of people in groups painting outdoors. If it looks candid, it is candid.  

John Singer Sargent painting outdoors
If they were among friends, family or other men, gentlemen might remove their jackets, but they kept their hat, a tie, and vest outdoors. Written accounts say that men would apologize to a lady when they were in their shirt sleeves. So Sargent is very informal here. He was also known to mutter "Damn, damn, damn" when a painting wasn't going well, but he would check first to see if ladies were present.  

By the middle of the 20th century, all the rules changed.
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Related reading: "Why did men stop wearing hats?" (Esquire)

16 comments:

Bob Easton said...

I doubt that most were dressing for the cameras. With my interest in woodworking I have found many photos, as well as illustrations, of woodworkers of similar eras. Most all featured men in shirts and ties, and often, due to unheated workshops, in jackets as well. The standard of "work attire" has certainly changed.

Gavin said...

Maybe it was dependent on the artist and their temperament. For example, if you look at Klimt he always looked like a beggar in a robe, despite I think it was financially okay. Monet on the other hand was living beyond his means in his earlier life, but spent what he didn't have to dress up like a dandy.
Personally I love the dress from this period, it adds a lot of character to the paintings. For some reason it pains me to paint or draw figures in jeans and a t-shirt.

Susan Krzywicki said...

I've studied gardening in this era and find the same thing: their daily attire is as shown. Sometimes there are old photos of women who have gathered up their skirts and tucked them into their waistbands or used some other method of getting some of the bulk out of the way. And there are a few pictures of women wearing what looks like men's pants.

It intrigues me that all of this clothing is wrinkled and often looks a bit tired in old photos. When you see these clothes exhibited in a museum, they are pressed and clean. There is some life in them. But in real life, they must have required a time-consuming level of care: washing, ironing, and even getting dressed.

Charley Parker said...

I think there was also a concern among artists in the 19th century that they be dressed appropriately to be accepted as members of the upper classes — among whom they found their clients and patrons — and not be perceived as "tradesmen".

scottT said...

It's interesting to see this from another source...through the eyes of artists. Sargent's painting of outdoor painters generally show them dressed up as well (Paul Helleu in vest, jacket, and straw boater). Monet is depicted in a blue smock or overshirt, which interestingly is similar to what he is also depicted gardening in. I'm thinking also of the well dressed plein air painters painted by Winslow Homer. None of these are formal portraits. It would appear that this is the way they really dressed.

A Colonel of Truth said...

Well, Nike and Under Armor had yet to be founded so what else was there but civilized attire for the civilized, and not.

Glenn Tait said...

Lawren Harris, of the Group of Seven, right up until his death in 1970, would put on a suit and tie to go into his studio when he painted. If I remember the documentary correctly part of his reasoning was that he "was going to work", so even though his studio was in his home it helped him to divide his homelife and professional life.

Pip Emma said...

I have a photo of my grandparents taken on their honeymoon in the Adirondacks,summer, 1902. Grandpa is wearing a suit with a vest, gold pocket watch and chain, and a straw "boater." My grandmother was wearing a long white dress and a big hat. Think Gibson Girl. I have a later picture of both my grandfathers working on a cultivator in the barn and both are dressed like Sargent in the plein air photo. Think how dressed up we used to be for an airplane flight. Different times, different expectations.

When I paint I wear my special sweatpants, an apron, and a fleece. They’re all covered in paint. I don’t see how people stay clean when they’re in the "flow."

Drake Gomez said...

As early as the 16th century, one of the ways painters distinguished themselves from other artists and craftspeople was through their dress. Leonardo himself made this point in his notebooks when comparing "well dressed" painters to sculptors, whom he described as being covered in marble dust. I'd be curious if this point of distinction carried over three hundred years to influence the way painters dressed in the 19th century.

Paul McCall said...

The 1960s were the death of "dressing for work." I can recall my grandmother in the late fifties, early sixties wearing gloves whenever she went shopping. My Dad wore a jacket and tie to work every day of his life. Now people barely cover themselves when going to Wal-Mart.

Steve Gilzow said...

The clothing may differ from era to era, but muttering “Damn, damn, damn” never goes out of style.

GJ said...

Depends who and when, right? Aldro Hibbard, Charlie Hunter——at least three pairs of socks.

David Webb said...

Here's a photo of some of the members of the Wapping Group of Artists, taken soon after the WWII:

http://www.thewappinggroupofartists.co.uk/wapping-group-past-members.php

Robert said...

Very interesting. You're probably right. It really is interesting how much the fashion situation has changed, and how incredibly casual people dress now compared to back then. Men apologized to women for being in their shirt sleeves? Amazing. Sounds like another planet, haha.

Michael Yaggi said...

I believe the photos are real. My Dad, up into the 70's when working around the house and needed a part to fix something would go and take a shower. Then he would put on his suite and go to the hardware store to buy the part he needed. Then come home and change back into his work clothes which were his old suite and old dress shoes. If he needed another part he would go through the same routine again. Just part of the culture to always dress your best.

jasneskis said...

Ignorance is blist. What is not mentioned is there were no casual cloths then, only nice clothes for the common middle class. Cloths were used for different things as they got older or didn't fit. There were hand-me-downs from cousins, friends, siblings, neighbors, etc. All cloths then were the nicest affordable. Ladies only wore dresses and men coats and ties. Nothing less was exceptable. As people had more leisure time and more affluence. throw away money, they afforded other cloths. Check closets in old houses, big enough for two outfits, some houses had no closets. They used wardrobes or a nail on a wall. Most common people long ago had 2 outfits one old for everyday, one new for church and visiting, lucky if they had 3. They had 2 pair of shoes, one old for everyday and one new for going out and church. I still only wear old cloths to paint, but casual, as this is easily affordable now. My good new cloths are still kept for visiting, other outings, and church. I ruin an outfit as soon as worn around paint. My closet reflects this. Walk-in, or wall to wall. When I was young ties were worn by boys attending school, and only dresses for girls. Limited wardrobe. Shorts were acceptable for home, beach and for children. Different times, different customs. At the time those pictures were taken, ankles visible on ladies was risque, much less shorts or slacks. The common people, then as now often tried copying the more affluent who set the style, not television as today.
I might add painting generally was for the more affluent. As many commoners worked with no time or money for hobbies.