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Dress with evening bodice (detail), c. 1850, American, Silk, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Gift of the Estate of Matta Grimm Lacey, 1976.33B,C. Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum.

HARTFORD, CONN.- The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn., is mounting the first exhibition to fully explore the Romantic era as a formative period in costume history from Mar. 5, 2016 – Jul. 10, 2016. “Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Fashion & Its Legacy,” presents historic garments alongside literary works, paintings, prints, and decorative arts to illustrate how European fashion from the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque eras influenced new styles created in the Romantic era between 1810 and 1860. The exhibition explores how Romantic era principles of historicism, imagination and emotion, religion and the natural world—rejections of Neoclassical order and rationality—impacted not only costume but fine and decorative art, architecture, interior design, literature and music, and reveal the Romantic roots of recent Goth and Steampunk fashions. Lynne Z. Bassett, Costume and Textile Historian and museum consultant, is organizing the exhibition.

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Coat-dress and belt, Fall 2013, Designed by Sarah Burton for the House of Alexander McQueen, Bonded felt and leather, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Costume and Textile Purchase Fund, 2013.22.1-2; Boots, Fall 2013, Designed by Sarah Burton for the House of Alexander McQueen, Leather, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Costume and Textile Purchase Fund, 2013.22.3A,BCourtesy Wadsworth Atheneum.

The first half of the 19th century—the Romantic era—is characterized by a societal shift away from the order and reason of the Enlightenment period, and corresponding embrace of imagination and emotion, originality and vision, and individuality and subjectivity as guiding principles. Romanticism idealized nostalgia for the bygone quiet rural life in a time of cultural stress, offering an escape from the social and economic uncertainty of the Industrial Revolution. These values gave rise in America to the Hudson River School of landscape painters, Transcendentalist philosophers including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and a fascination with revisiting historic costume designs that has endured to influence fashion in the present day. 

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Wedding Dress (detail), 1838, Silk satin, Courtesy of the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut, 1950.60.0Courtesy Connecticut Historical Society.

“Gothic to Goth” explores how 500 years of European fashions were selectively integrated into creative new styles by showcasing women’s and children’s clothing and accessories from 1810−1860, alongside literary works, paintings, furniture and decorative arts of the period. Costume pieces, drawn largely from the Wadsworth Atheneum’s own collection, were carefully chosen to delve deeply into the inspirations of the little understood Romantic era of fashion. A cotton muslin dress from c. 1820, one of the earliest works in the exhibition, is an early example of historical revival clothing, with sleeves inspired by a Renaissance “slashed” style. A cotton dress from the 1830s incorporates the large, puffed sleeves and wide collar of the 16th and 17th centuries, while the decorative tab edging of the collar recalls clothing in the 13th and 14th centuries and the crenellations of Gothic revival buildings. In another mix of styles, a dress from c. 1840 reveals an overall silhouette akin to a Gothic arch and a bodice inspired by 16th-century gowns. A veneration of nature and spirituality is also embodied in the costume, as well as in the furniture and decorative arts featured in “Gothic to Goth,” along with the Romantic interest in historical revival. Garments including wedding gowns, a nursing dress, children’s clothing and accessories commemorating friendship reflect the sentimentalization of love, marriage and motherhood in popular Romantic era art and literature. 

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Parlor chair, c. 1863, American, probably Boston, Rosewood and silk damask, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Horace B. Clark and Thomas L. Cox, by exchange, 1985.2.2; Dress with evening bodice, c. 1850, American, Silk, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Gift of the Estate of Matta Grimm Lacey, 1976.33B,C; Chantilly lace shawl, c. 1850-75, French, Silk, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Kraatz, Paris, 1984.70. Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum

A look at recent Goth and Steampunk fashions concludes the exhibition, revealing their roots in the rich imagination and aesthetic of Romanticism, and featuring designs by Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gaultier, Nightwing Whitehead and House of Coniglio. The entire exhibition showcases approximately 40 fully-dressed mannequins, in addition to accessories, furniture, paintings and decorative arts objects.

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Evening gown, 1986, Designed by Hélène Hayes, Velvet and silk, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Gift of Susan E. O’Connor, 2013.28.5. Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum

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Dress, c. 1837-40, American, Silk, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Gift from the Estate of Miss Laura B. Pease through Dwight Pease, 1950.401; Shawl, c. 1845, English, Wool and silk, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Maria D. Thompson, The Thompson Collection, 1922.246; Bonnet, 1837, American, Silk and cane, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Gift of Miss Amy L. Steiner, 1950.531; Shoes, 1841, American, Silk and leather, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Gift of Miss A. Gertrude Ensign, 1946.261-262Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum

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Dress, 2007, Design by Alexander McQueen, Velvet and satin, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, Gift of Anonymous donors in London who are friends of the Peabody Essex Museum, 2011, 2011.44.1 © 2012 Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA, Photography by Walter Silver

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Dress made from 18th-century fabric, c. 1840, American, Silk, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. T. Stewart Hamilton, 1961.109A,B. Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum

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Dress with evening bodice (detail), c. 1850, American, Silk, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Gift of the Estate of Matta Grimm Lacey, 1976.33B,C. Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum

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Vampire suit (jacket and jeans), 1998, Cotton, lycra, and metal; Trench coat, 1998, Nylon, metal, and polyurethane; Tattoo shirt, 1994, Nylon; Belt, c. 1993, Metal; Chains, c. 1990, Metal and leather; Bag, 2000, Leather and metal; All previous objects designed by Jean Paul Gaultier. Wallet, 2010, Sold at Hot Topic, Leather, thread, and metal; Boots, c. 2000, Manufactured by Dr. Martens, Leather, rubber, and cotton. Collection of Richard Patrick Anderson; Ensemble styled by Richard Patrick AndersonCourtesy Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of / Handout.

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Bee-Baby necklace, 2015, Designed by House of Coniglio, Found materials including watch, ceramic doll, rhinestones, and gold-filled chain, Collection of House of Coniglio.

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Watch chain, 1834, Made by Sarah Dodge, Loom-woven glass beads, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Gift of Miss Mary W. Clarke, 1943.435Courtesy Wadsworth Atheneum.