Ridicule! Fashion in caricature 1600 to 1900

An exhibition curated by Adelheid Rasche and Gundula Wolter

Ever since the early Baroque, as fashionable clothing became popular in wider circles, numerous moralising and admonishing, as well as satirical and critical, prints on the subject of fashion appeared in Germany, France and England. In these prints fashionable clothing served primarily as an expressive sign of social shortcomings. It was denounced as senseless expenditure, amoral vanity or as a threat to body and soul. Later new elements of fashion — hoop skirts, tower headdress, coloured men’s shirts — were depicted as the ludicrous varieties of bad taste, out-of-fashion accessories or national characteristics in clothing fashion condescendingly commented on. Seldom did these visual satires and caricatures target the individual piece of clothing inciting criticism or derision. Rather, they concentrated on fashionable dress behaviour itself, since it served as a non-verbal, broadly understood communication system, as a means of representation and as an expression of a particular cultural orientation. Till the last third of the 19th century fashion caricature numbered among the most successful of social caricatures; afterwards it rapidly lost its significance due to changed social conditions and forms of reception.

The representative selection presented in this exhibition draws attention to the most important issues and visual strategies in European fashion caricature, revealing the independent significance of this artistic genre’s message. A panorama with numerous masterworks from this genre is unveiled in 11 sections: it starts with the groups „Caricature as commodity“ and „Fashion – Fashions – Fashion makers“ in the passage. Immediately afterwards the caricatures from „See and be seen“ present the significance of the social sites of fashionable life. The centre of the exhibition consists of five chronological groups from Early Baroque to the Second Empire. Here several historical clothing objects presented within the context of the caricatures make the relationship between reality and fashion caricature visible. Three special topics follow: „Nature versus fashion“ addresses the problems confronting the fashionably dressed person before the forces of nature. „A look behind the scenes“ focuses on the broad subject of artificial beauty used to attain the respective fashionable physical ideal. A fitting conclusion is provided by the extremely varied caricatures of the group „Fashionable men – dandies, fops, elegants“.