A good pair of jeans will never go out of style. A go-to staple for any wardrobe, denim pants go well with almost anything. Dressed up or down, they are the ultimate fashion item. And, believe it or not, they have their place in art history too. Want to know more? Sit back and relax in your favourite pair of jeans and let us tell you all about the long relationship between art and denim!
Beggar Boy With A Pie, Unknown, C. 1600s
While jeans seem like a pretty modern invention, they are in fact, hundreds of years old. It is widely reported that denim comes from Nimes in France, with “de Nimes” meaning “from Nimes” in French. It is said that the first jeans were worn by workers because the cotton was long-lasting and sturdy. However, there are also claims that jeans are actually from Genoa, Italy, and the city claims that they have been producing denim for sailors since the 1500s. That said, the Italian variety began life as brown trousers before being dyed blue. At this point, the pants were known as “bleu de Gênes”, meaning “Genoa blue”. Art historians have recently discovered an anonymous painter from northern Italy who painted peasants in blue denim as far back as the 1600s, showing us that jeans have actually been here for a very long time. In fact, the unknown painter is now known as the Master of Blue Jeans.
A Desirable Location Behind Closed Doors, Ian Berry, 2021
Thought jeans were just for wearing? Think again! British artist Ian Berry creates his work out of blue jeans. Yup, that’s right, and he doesn’t just paint on denim, the whole artwork is crafted out of different pieces and shades of blue jeans. This particular work marks a year in lockdown. Don’t the shades of blue just elevate the image?!
Officer Of The Hussars, Kehinde Wiley, 2007
Isn’t this image just epic! Kehinde Wileys paintings insert young African Americans into pieces of art history that have historically excluded them, and his subject certainly looks empowered in this work. His sitter in this painting mirrors a work of the same name by Theodore Gericault, bringing his low-riding jeans to the fore.
Self-Portrait With Badges, Peter Blake, 1961
British artist Peter Blake is perhaps most famous for working on The Beatles cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. However, he is an incredibly successful artist beyond that. We just love this self-portrait in a complete double-denim look. Super cool, full of personality, and just as fashion-forward in 1961 as it is today fifty years later.
Self Portrait With Fried Eggs, Sarah Lucas, 1996
This image of Sarah Lucas is pretty iconic. The photograph is one of a series where Lucas confronts stereotypes of sexuality and gender. Looking both masculine in her stance, and feminine in the positioning of the eggs, she really subverts dated idea about gender and turns it on her head. Jeans are an item that defies gender norms and we completely love that about them!
Reclining Figure, Jean Marchand, 1920
This painting of a beautiful reclining figure is very reminiscent of the reclining nude goddesses of art history. Except her there is a slight difference, the inclusion of a pair of cool blue jeans. Updating our ideas of nudity for the 20th century.
Distance Between Us II, Mo Negm, 2018-19
This gorgeous painting by Mo Negm bridges East and West, history and modernity. The lone figure on the left is wearing blue jeans as he hands a rose to the ancient Egyptian deities on his right. A denim garment that can easily move between time periods.
Text Lizzy Vartanian