Art, Fashion and the Hybrid Art Object: Twentieth Century Artist-Designed Textiles

Fashion items are on display.



Professor of History of Art

Project Summary

My research project focused on textiles designed by European artists in the twentieth century who ventured outside of their more traditional mediums and away from hand-made works into printed textiles. I was influenced by research that I began in the spring on the work of multi-disciplinary avant-garde artist Sonia Delaunay. I had been exploring the question of how her designs for the Russian Ballet in the 1910-20s allowed her to apply her Simultaneous painting style to the human form through clothing crafted from traditional methods such as embroidery, and ultimately led her to delve into apparel design, and later into designing printed textiles for textile companies and department stores.

I was interested in the moment when artists began to turn away from the crafted, hand-made ornamented object that inevitably catered to an elite, to the industrially-manufactured, printed, mass produced textile that could be made available to a wider audience. After the Second World War, artists were commissioned by companies to create designs for textiles to be used for a variety of ends, such as clothing and interior design. I wanted to question what this meant to the traditionally highly regarded autographic work of the artist and what the correlation with print-making as a growing art form meant when transferred to textiles.

My aim was to conduct first and second-hand research to help me get better acquainted to the realm of Modern European art, as well as with European fashion history, in preparation for my senior honors thesis in History of Art. This research project has greatly contributed to my educational experience because it provided me with the opportunity to explore fields of decorative arts and fashion within art history, that are not traditionally offered at UPenn. It also introduced me to multiple research resources such as online collections, museum databases, and taught me how to navigate them. I also learned about scholars and curators who work in the realm of artist’s textiles who will serve as points of contacts to me from now on.

As part of my research I was able to travel to Paris and London to visit art and fashion exhibitions specifically connected to my topic. In Paris I visited multiple museums, such as the Centre Pompidou, which houses an exceptional collection of 20th Century European Modern Art and spent time studying major works by Sonia Delaunay, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Joan Miró, all of whom designed textiles for clothing. I also visited the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, where I learned about how he turned back to the early 1900s idea of recreating the canvas onto the surface of clothing, basing his designs on paintings by Pierre Mondrian and Serge Poliakoff. In London I was able to visit the Fashion and Textiles Museum to learn about printed textiles in England in the Post-War period. I was also able to get an appointment at the Victoria & Albert Museum Prints, Drawings and Photographs department and look at objects such as an original edition of Sonia Delaunay’s portfolio of textile designs and fashion illustrations.

 I am now in the process of combining my research with art-historical theory on what constitutes an art object and what separates or combines the applied and decorative arts with the fine arts as we know it.