Everyone has memory of the “good times.” Just like life, there were “good times” for arts. The belle époque times refer to the “good times” spanning from the end of the 19th century to just before World War I, when Europe enjoyed unprecedented wealth and peace. Culture and arts flourished, led by Paris, the streets were lined with trendy cafes and stores, filled with sophisticated men and women. This painting created by German Expressionist painter August Macke (1887-1914) captures a scene of those times.
An elegantly dressed woman in a parasol stands in front of a hat shop window, looking at the hats. The hat on her head looks fancy and classy, but she is already infatuated by the new ones on display. The woman’s style is today’s version of trendy "fashion people." She wears a red long-tailed coat similar to a man’s tailcoat and a narrow hobble skirt. Back then, women were emerging as new drivers of consumption. As more women entered the workforce, they preferred to wear two-piece suits or masculine tailored jackets than traditional dresses.
When he drew this painting, Macke was residing in a small lake village in Germany. The small but affluent town was filled with high-end stores, and the hat store became his inspiration for drawing. Known for his bold colors and simple yet striking compositions, he became one of the leading German artists of Expressionism along with Wassily Kandinsky.
The year 1914 marks the final year of Belle époque as well as the onset of World War I. After finishing this painting, Macke was called to serve the army and died with the battlefields after a month. The war had taken the life of a promising young artist, but his works vividly reflect the “good times” one hundred years ago. As if to attest that the old adage that “life is short, art is long.”