Fabulous Frauen – Fashion at the Hamburg Museum of Fine Art – Part One

As always I cannot say ‘no’ to visiting either a good local museum and if that local museum just happens to have a fashion exhibition on when I visit I am doubly excited. This happened last month when I visited Hamburg to meet friends and spent a morning in the Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (Museum of Fine and Applied Arts – I think!). This museum had a summer exhibition entitled ‘Dressed. 7 Frauen – 200 Jahre Mode or ‘Dressed. 7 Frauen – 200 Years of Fashion’ (the exhibition closed on 28th August), which told the story of fashion from the past 200 years through the clothing of seven women either from Hamburg or other parts of Germany.

The exhibition was easily found on the second floor of the main museum building with easy to find and read signs (both in English and German). The exhibition space itself was a large, second floor exhibition hall with no natural lighting which is standard to protect delicate pieces of textiles and dress. The exhibition is set up chronologically in terms of fashion and fashionable silhouettes with each section representing one women’s wardrobe with additional dress from the museum’s collection supplementing each women’s wardrobe.

The first section housed costume from the early to mid nineteenth centuries with an emphasis on the dress of the 1830s and 1840s. The dresses, shawls, and accessories were housed in a large, rectangular, glass fronted, and downwardly lit exhibition case with additional pull out drawers below. The lighting both high-lighted the dress and accessories whilst enhancing the beautiful objects on display. The central piece of this exhibition case was a late 1820s/early 1830s white ballgown or evening dress with gigot sleeves, empire waist, and a slightly bell shaped skirt accented with lace and a serpentine embossed design to the centre front hem. The matching accessories of a silk beaded bag, straw summer hat with a silk band and dried fruit, and green silk fringed parasol complimented the dress. The bonnet and parasol were suspended within the exhibition case with very fine and invisible fishing wire as to give the viewer an idea of what they both would look like whilst being worn; almost suspended in the animation of opening the parasol against strong summer sun in 1830s Germany.

I found the suspending of the accessories a particularly effective curative method in that the viewer could not only garner a 3D view of the item but they were also able to see what the items were made up by looking up and into both the parasol and summer hat. Beneath the same exhibition case there were four drawers that contained additional accessories from this time period including a beautiful pair of dancing pumps made of red or brown silk with an embroidered snow flake design, a dried floral hair wreath, and blue silk stocking garters. Beside each item there was a label in both German and English in the style of a label normally found within the museum’s collection store with information on when the item was made, the material it was made from, and the museum reference number. This simple touch of including a museum collection label was one of my favourite aspects of the exhibition as it enabled the museum viewer not only to understand how things were described when housed within a museum collection but also offered a reference number should the viewer seek to find out more information about the object. Additionally, housing the items within drawers that were similar to how dress items are stored flat within museum stores also gives the exhibition viewer an idea of how meticulously things are conserved and cared for within museum collections. 


Also within the first exhibition case there were six bonnets and hats made out of varying materials displayed on a shelf to the back of the case (see below). These bonnets ranged in simple bonnets made out of cotton and straw to more elaborate bonnets made out of silk, feathers, and satin and an elaborate hat with black lace and white ribbons. Again these bonnets were displayed either front on to the viewer or to the side in order to show the viewer how they would look on the original wearer from both the side and the front whilst also creatively showing the materials that the bonnets were made from.

Although slightly disconcerting in terms of the staring eyes of the wooden model itself the use of the model (see below) that was used to display a summer bonnet of fine muslin and silk flowers and ribbons again gives the viewer an idea of how this would have looked on it’s original wearer. Whilst the wooden model did not have the volume of the hairstyles fashionable in the 1820s-1840s you can still understand how these bonnets flattered the viewer’s features whilst also protecting them from the sun least their pale porcelain skin should gain a tan! In my next blog posts about this exhibition I will discuss the other sections of the exhibition in more depth including the curatorial choices in terms of placement of objects and how the items are displayed, exhibition labels, ethos and inspiration behind the exhibition and my thoughts on the exhibition.  




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