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The Eighteenth Century Woman

Start Date 12 December 1980
End Date 5 September 1982
Venue Metropolitan Museum of Art
Location New York, USA
Curator Stella Blum

The eighteenth-century woman — what made her unique and how does she differ from women ot other times? Women have always been aware of the power of their femininity, but never has womanly wile been applied with such grace, subtlety, and ultimate success as it was during the eighteenth century. With her hips expanded by panniers, waist made small by corsets, and breasts pushed high above a low décolletage, the eighteenth-century woman appeared supremely feminine, submissive, dependent, defenseless. She was, however, a torce cloaked in silks, ruffles, tringes, artificial flowers, and laces. Beyond herself, the woman of the eighteenth centurv went on to spin a web that included her surroundings. Bv degrees, she softened and shaped her environment. She made her apartments, salons, and boudoirs, and their furnishings an extension ot herself — scaled to her size and decorated to her taste. So persuasive was the charm and grace ot the atmosphere she created that men became willing complements to her in appearance, manners, and movements. On easy terms with men, the eighteenth- century woman won their respect and through artful maneuvers and calculated coquetries became a profound influence on the politics, economics, and aesthetics of her era. In our exhibition, the beautiful costumes of opulent brocades, luxurious satins, and delicate taffetas, along with their exquisite trimmings, help to provide us with an insight into the silken strategy with which remarkable eighteenth-century women molded their centurv in their own image.

Exhibition catalogue