Adorned: Fashion and Style in American Art

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Depictions of fashion in the history of art can conjure as many interpretations as there are styles of dress. From conveying a subject’s wealth and social status to unique personal tastes, these expressions are likewise clues to an artwork’s culture, time period and the artist’s influences. Our American Online auction features a range of costuming details captured by American artists, from the festive seaside attire of Martha Walker’s Day at the Beach to Hovsep Pushman's inspired rendering of traditional Ottoman attire in Guardian Of The Seraglio. Click ahead to learn more about these fashionable works.   

American Online
31 July  — 17 August

Adorned: Fashion and Style in American Art

  • Hovsep Pushman, Guardian Of The Seraglio. Starting bid $50.
    An American artist of Armenian extraction, Pushman studied Chinese arts and culture in Chicago, before travelling to Paris where he enrolled at the Académie Julian. His works are often contemplative portraits, characterised by their inclusion of exotic dress. In the present work, a guardian stands before a seraglio, the sequestered space for wives and concubines in a traditional Ottoman home. The figure wears a brightly coloured yellow and black head covering and a sumptuous jewel-tone robe of emerald, maroon and purple. 

  • Frank Weston Benson, Lavender Trimmings . Starting bid $50.
    A native of Salem, Massachusetts, Benson began his career painting portraits of distinguished families for the Library of Congress and went on to become an instructor at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Benson is known mainly for his Impressionist plein-air paintings, in which he focused on articulating the effects of light. As the present work's title suggests, here it is the accouterments of dress that are most memorable; the woman's white dress with ruffled detail around the collar is offset by the glossy lavender ribbon trimming and a bright yellow detail at her back, perhaps a bow or plume of feather.

  • Joseph Sill, Jane Toolhunter. Starting bid $50.
    In this refined portrait from the first half of the 19th century, the subject’s elegance is conveyed through the delicacy of her dress. She gazes serenely over her shoulder, emphasising the white fur trim of her grey cloak. A simple headpiece of a transparent material, possibly silk, falls over her simply coifed black hair.

  • Irving Ramsay Wiles, A Woman Seated. Starting bid $50.
    Irving R Wiles studied with William Meritt Chase at the Art Students League in a New York and then at the Académie Julian in Paris, where he took private lessons with Carolus-Duran, John Singer Sargent's instructor. Wiles rose to prominence in 1901 when his painting of actress Julia Marlowe was exhibited at the National Academy of Art to critical applause. Subsequently he became one of the most sought-after portraitists for a well-to-do clientele including politicians and business leaders. In the present work, the woman’s social stature is conveyed through the richness of her embellished black dress, which seems to shimmer across the bodice.

  • John Martin Tracy, Out for a Stroll. Starting bid $50.
    Like many of his contemporaries, John M Tracy travelled to Paris to study painting and became acquainted with many fellow American artists abroad. Returning to the United States, Tracy embarked on a career painting landscapes and portraits, but eventually turned towards sporting scenes. Tracy is considered perhaps the first prominent artist to depict pointing dogs and scenes of upland bird hunting, as seen in the present work. In this interesting painting, a man with cane in hand dons a traditional hunting ensemble of suit and high socks and stands staring out across a field surrounded by hunting dogs. A woman beside him, in a dark dress and hat, playfully pats one of the hunting dogs who leaps up beside her. 

  • Julius Leblanc Stewart, Portrait of Marie Renard. Starting bid $50.
    Artist Julius Leblanc Stewart earned the sobriquet “the Parisian from Philadelphia” having spent the entirety of his career in the city. He was best known for his society portraits, and this work, dated to 1890 on the upper right of the canvas, is exemplary of his oeuvre. The subject, Marie Renard, is seated in profile and turns her head, looking out from the canvas towards the viewer. In her lap papers are gathered, giving the appearance that she has paused from reading. The painting is dominated by Stewart’s impressionistic rendering of fabrics as Renard’s ivory dress spills across the canvas, shadows rendered in tones of lilacs, greys, greens and blues, while in the background a lavender curtain fills the right side of the canvas. 

  • Martha Walter, A Day At The Beach. Starting bid $50.
    Philadelphia-born artist Martha Walter studied under William Merritt Chase at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She specialised in light-hearted, colourful beach scenes often in Gloucester, Coney Island and the French Coast. Here the figure of a woman in a flowing white dress dons a wide-brimmed white hat as she strolls down the beach. The composition's festive atmosphere is brightened by women's and children’s summer hats and the red-and-white striped beach canopies. 

  • De Scott Evans, Taxidermist. Starting bid $50.
    De Scott Evans experimented with many genres of paintings, but is primarily known for his images of elegant upper-class women. In this unusual scene, two women adorned by very elaborate hats and colourful dresses peruse a darkened taxidermy shoppe.

  • William Merritt Chase, Henry William Biddle . Starting bid $50.
    A leading proponent of Impressionism in the United States, William Merrit Chase was an influential teacher to many American artists and went on to establish the Chase School, now Parsons School of Design at New School in New York. A widely successful painter, Chase worked in a variety of genres and was known for his mastery of colour and light. In this distinguished portrait, Henry William Biddle appears seated, wearing tailored three-piece suit. The details of a cane, which Biddle holds in his left hand, and his pocket watch chain, lend an air of personality to the subject, and an immediacy, as though Biddle may stand at any moment. 

  • Franz Dvorak, Woman Sitting by a Window. Starting bid $50.
    Born in Prague, peripatetic artist Franz Dvorak moved to Vienna and Munich and then to the United States where he settled in Philadelphia. It was there that he became familiar with the tenets of New Spirituality, which proved significant to his aesthetic. Influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement as well as Aesthetism, Dvorak’s paintings are often vividly hued, sensuous scenes of mystical fairies, nymphs and women amid resplendent botanical settings. In the present painting, the subdued scene of a woman seated by a window is enlivened by her bright yellow dress accented by a mint-green collar and surrounding cushions of blue with floral pattern. 

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