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July 10th, 2006
Museum Explores ‘The Bizarre and the Beautiful’ in 18th Century Textile Design

The Bizarre and the Beautiful: Silks of the 18th Century On View through Spring 2007 in Gallery 271

In the 18th century, silk was indisputably fashion’s favored fabric. The exuberance that characterized European silk design at the beginning of the period was in marked contrast to the static formalism of the previous century. The new attitude toward design was driven by economics, technology and fashion. Drawn from the Museum’s collection, The Bizarre and the Beautiful: Silks of the 18th Century explores developments in textile design. On view through spring 2007 in Gallery 271, this focused exhibition will feature thirteen objects including French and English patterned silk dresses worn by some of Philadelphia’s most fashionable women of the time.

“This exhibition presents a delightful opportunity for us to draw on the Museum’s rich collection of 18th century textiles in exploring an especially dynamic and interesting period of silk design,” curator Dilys Blum said. The exhibition begins with silks from about 1700 that feature exotic patterns influenced by the East India trading companies’ imports into Europe including Chinese porcelains, Japanese lacquer work, and Indian painted and printed textiles. These exotic wares inspired a new style of European silk design, known today by the term “bizarre” and identified by uniquely layered patterns incorporating strange and fantastical imagery.

By mid-century, as the principles of painting were applied to silk design, a more romantic and naturalistic style emerged. The incorporation of images of flowers, plants, and picturesque gardens reflected the new gardening practices developing in Europe. While French silk designers rendered flowers and fruit in bold colors and disproportionate sizes, the English favored the more realistic depiction of natural forms. By the 1760s French taste again prevailed as English designers adapted patterns depicting swags of lace, fur, and feathers interspersed with small floral bouquets.

As Neoclassicism developed around 1790 silk design reflected this influence in its use of simple stripes, small patterns, and lighter weight silks. By the turn of the 19th century changing aesthetics and political events affected the silk industry. Cotton and cotton and linen would soon overtake silk as the preferred fabric.

Learn more about The Bizarre and the Beautiful: Silks of the Eighteenth Century.

About the collection of Costume and Textiles
Since its founding as an outgrowth of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has amassed one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of costume and textiles in the world. The storied and diverse collection, numbering some 30,000 objects, is among the greatest of the Museum’s many treasures. When the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building opens in the spring of 2007, a new, nearly 2,000-square-foot gallery dedicated to Costume and Textiles, a second, glass-walled study gallery, increased space for research, storage and conservation will provide unprecedented access to this broad collection, which ranges from Chinese Han Dynasty textiles to the couture of famed 20th century designer Elsa Schiaparelli and fine examples of contemporary designs by France’s Jean Paul Gaultier, England’s Vivienne Westwood, Italy’s Gianni Versace, and Japan’s Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, among many others.

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