Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade

By Simon Kelly, Esther Bell, Melissa E. Buron, Laura L. Camerlengo, Kimberly Crisman-Campbell, Susan Hiner, Françoise Tétart-Vittu, et al.

Fin-de-siècle Paris was the global center of the fashion industry, hosting close to one thousand milliners between the years of 1870 to 1914. These artists created a rich and diverse array of headwear typically covered with such extravagant trimmings as silk flowers and ribbons, ostrich plumes, and even whole birds. The millinery shop, which functioned both as a studio for hatmakers and a boutique for stylish patrons, reflected the culture of consumerism and spectacle developing at the time.

The Impressionists, who avidly chronicled contemporary life, explored the subject of hatmaking in its myriad aspects and appreciated milliners not just as aesthetic subjects but as fellow artists with admirable creative skills. Edgar Degas explored the theme with an exceptional intensity in numerous paintings, pastels, and drawings.

Published on the occasion of an exhibition co-organized by the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade is the first publication to examine fully the making of both fashionable hats and avant-garde pictures in the French capital during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Four essays contextualize the topic: Simon Kelly explores how Degas’s millinery works are central to his portrayal of women, fashion, and Parisian modern life; Françoise Tétart-Vittu examines the largely female profession of millinery from 1870 to 1910; Susan Hiner elucidates the genealogy of the modiste in the French imagination as seen through visual culture and literature; and Esther Bell establishes Degas’s millinery pictures as emblematic of the artist’s larger practice of creating a tension between modernity and the grand tradition.

Replete with lavish illustrations of hats by such famed makers as Caroline Reboux and Madame Virot and artworks by Degas and others, including Mary Cassatt, Édouard Manet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, this elegant volume highlights the significance of hats within Impressionist iconography and offers a fresh appreciation for a talented group of milliners and their extraordinary creations that inspired the imagery of the most innovative painters of the day.


Simon Kelly is curator and head of the department of modern and contemporary art at the Saint Louis Art Museum. He has published numerous books and articles on Impressionist and Barbizon painting, including Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from Le Gray to Monet (2013).

Esther Bell is curator in charge of European paintings at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. She has published widely on European art of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, including The Brothers Le Nain: Painters of Seventeenth-Century France (2016).

Melissa E. Buron is associate curator of European paintings at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. She has contributed to numerous publications, including Jewel City: Art from San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition (2015).

Laura L. Camerlengo is assistant curator of costume and textile arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. She is the author of The Miser’s Purse (2013).

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles. She is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette (2015).

Susan Hiner is professor of French and Francophone studies and the John Guy Vassar Chair in Modern Languages at Vassar College. She is the author of Accessories to Modernity: Fashion and the Feminine in Nineteenth-Century France (2010), as well as numerous articles and essays pertaining to nineteenth-century French culture.

Françoise Tétart-Vittu is a fashion historian and former head of the graphic arts department at Palais Galliera, Musée de la mode de la Ville de Paris. She is the author of many publications, including Le Dessin sous toutes ses coutures: Croquis, illustrations, modèles, 1760–1994 (1995).

Abigail Yoder is a research assistant at the Saint Louis Art Museum, focusing on modern and contemporary art and works on paper. She specializes in late nineteenth-century French art.

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