Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Departing for the Promenade/Will You Go Out With Me, Fido?
by Alfred Stevens, 1859, Philadelphia Museum.

Alfred Stevens (1823-1906), Belgian by birth, but Parisian by adoption, might be known as “the painter of paisley. He delighted in depicting modern women in fashionable contemporary dresses and elegant interiors. It may be difficult for us today to appreciate the originality of the genre Stevens invented for himself because he had a host of imitators. As his work was popular with American clients, many of his best works are to be found in museums in the United States.

In Departing for the Promenade, also known as Will you go out with me, Fido? (1859, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The W.P. Wilstach Collection, bequest of Anna H. Wilstach, 1893), a charming, dark-haired young woman is opening the door, but turns back towards the tiny white lap dog that follows at her feet. Over her dark velvet gown the graceful folds of a magnificent paisley shawl draw our attention. Stevens shows us exactly with what pretty gestures and elegant nonchalance this most prized of fashionable accessories was worn. The complex pattern of the shawl is contrasted with the strict geometry of the paneled wall and door. This bright, brilliantly patterned textile becomes the focus of the painting and a metaphor for the palette of colors with which the artist creates his illusions.

For Stevens, the eclipse of the paisley shawl must have been a melancholy turning point, depriving him of a motif he had made his own. For us, today, his paintings offer a vivid demonstration of the glamour of these colorful feminine garments that brought a note of oriental exoticism to the streets and salons of Paris during the heyday of the Second Empire.

Joan T. Rosasco, Ph.D.