Art Notes: Finery at the National Gallery
Fabric of Vision: Dress and Drapery in Painting, an exhibition devised by the clothes-historian Anne Hollander, is at the National Gallery until 8 September 2002. As a study of clothes in art it is more a collection of interesting footnotes than a coherent thesis. Various disconnected theories, none utterly new, struggle for room, like belated passengers jostling as the entrance of a platform where a train is about to depart. It is a fault on the right side, since Ms Hollander accommodates them all. The designers of the exhibition have not helped her much by dimming the lights in three of the bunker-like rooms.
It remains difficult to find much coherence among her propositions, true as they are; for instance, that El Greco's vestments are physically impossible to wear, that the simplicity of post-Napoleonic clothes was a reaction against the pomp of the ancien regime, and that Tissot exploited the drabness of men's evening dress as a foil for the gorgeous clothes of the women. In spite of that, the exhibition is rich in witty incidental observations, most of all in the first room. There it is suggested that the clothed figure sometimes conditioned an artist's perception or expectation of what lay underneath the clothes.
The room is dominated by Jordaens's gross picture of King Candaules's exposure of his naked wife to his henchman Gyges (National Museum, Stockholm). Herodotus, who tells the story, does not mention her name, although she is the central figure in the depictions by Primaticcio, Jordaens and Etty, and the fresco by Tiepolo imagined in Anthony Powell's Temporary Kings. …