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Fashion à la Figaro: Spanish Style on the French Stage

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, fashion historian. The 2012 discovery of a drawing by Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806) depicting his so-called fantasy figures is the inspiration for a revelatory exhibition of the corresponding paintings—rapidly executed, brightly colored portraits of lavishly costumed individuals, including the National Gallery of Art’s Young Girl Reading (c. 1769). Fragonard’s Fantasy Figures, on view from October 8 through December 3, 2017, examines the 18th-century Parisian world of new money, unexpected social alliances, and extravagant fashions from which these paintings emerged. In this lecture held on November 26, 2017, Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell explores the profound effects that Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’s Figaro trilogy had on French fashion—though less familiar than the work's well-documented impact on society and politics, these influences were nonetheless transformative. Among his many careers, Beaumarchais had spied for Louis XV in Spain, and his Figaro trilogy drew upon his knowledge of Spanish culture, custom, and costume. The plays—and the operas they inspired—popularized fashionable interpretations of traditional Spanish dress, prolonging the vogue for fantasy portraits à l’espagnole in France.