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Images of fashion exploded in the 20th century with the proliferation of ready-to-wear and glossy fashion magazines. As photography gradually became the medium of choice for fashion advertising, artists who worked by hand began to emphasize interpretation and impression over pure likeness. They also played up drawing’s advantages over photography. A figure’s poses and proportions, for example, could be manipulated to show off clothes to their best advantage. Skilled artists could convincingly depict the drape and texture of textiles with remarkably minimal means. Evocative details and locales could easily be incorporated into the designs, fostering the fanciful and escapist possibilities of fashion.

This show features 50 drawings by 26 artists, dating from the 1940s through the 1980s. Each section of the exhibition is organized roughly chronologically, allowing us to see how styles changed over time—not only the clothing itself, but artists’ dynamic interpretations of it. The works are selections from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection of fashion art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as well as gifts from the artists themselves. The Museum now owns nearly 10,000 works of 20th-century fashion art, including the archives of preeminent Women’s Wear Daily artist Kenneth Paul Block and American couturier, Arnold Scaasi. Thanks to the Sharfs’ continued generosity and encouragement, the collection continues to grow.

 

Above: Larry Salk, Bathing beauties with smiling gentleman, 1965. Watercolor, gouache, ink on board. Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. Reproduced with permission.