All Dressed Up: Costume, Fashion & Style in Paintings - Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate


Fashion paintings turn a Harrogate gallery into a catwalk of art

There is often great art in great fashion. And, if a new exhibition at Mercer Art Gallery in Harrogate is anything to go by, the converse is true too.

All Dressed Up: Costume, Fashion & Style in Paintings, which runs until July 7th, tells the story of British fashion across the centuries and across the social classes.

The paintings, all selected from the town’s fine art collection, offer an engaging look into costumes and their wearers: from the fashionable garb of 16th century Knaresborough aristocrat Sir Francis Slingsby, who was beheaded for treason, to the working clothes of 1930s’ Kentish hop-pickers.

Among the most captivating works is Dame Laura Knight’s Rehearsal, which portrays 1930s’ dancers in their practice clothes. She was a prolific painter and draughtswoman whose favourite subjects were the circus and the theatre, which she drew or painted from life.

Henri Guillaume Schlesinger’s Girl and Lovebirds depicts a young girl wearing a fine silk dress typical of the 1870s’ wealthy middle-classes. The painting utilises a time-honoured code to symbolise the emergence of female sexuality – from the cooing lovebirds to the rose bud pinned to the girl’s clothes.

John Flanagan’s portrait of Dolores shows a woman with a short boyish haircut dressed in the Bohemian style of the 1920s, clearly implying that his subject was someone who lived an unconventional and perhaps artistic life.

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Curator Jane Sellars said: ‘I think our visitors will enjoy this show. There are short commentaries with the pictures that present the works either from a social-historical view or from an art historical angle.

‘The focus is costume, but there are many more ways to look at these paintings. Seen together, they put on show the wealth, breadth and richness of the Harrogate collections with a new and diverting theme.’

If you would like a closer look at historic costume, there will be an All Dressed Up study day on April 22nd focusing on historic costume in Harrogate’s fine art and museum collections with talks from costume curators from the Victoria & Albert Museum.

The session is from 9.45am to 4pm at Mercer Art Gallery and costs £30 per person. To book a place, call 01423 556188, email or visit the gallery.