Hat’s Off! The Top 10 Most Stylish Hats in Art History


I don’t use a hat as a prop. I use it as a part of me. – Isabella Blow

Let’s take a note from fashion icon and Philip Treacy muse, Isabella Blow, and give the hat its noble due. Here are the top 10 stylish hats in art history. Each example is a wonderful clue into the style of the area in which it was painted or photographed.

1. Giovanni Arnolfini’s Summer Hat

The_Arnolfini_Portrait,_détail_(1) (1) Image: Detail of Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Jan Van Eyck painted the The Arnolfini Portrait in 1434. Surprisingly enough, the heavy-looking headpiece modeled on Arnolfini is an example of a summer hat often worn during that era by the merchant class. Traditional hats of this type were made of plaited straw and dyed in black. The somber looking hat suits Mr. Arnolfini, a pious merchant known for his conservative politics and business smarts.

2. Victorine Meurent’s Bonnet

manet_the-railwayImage: Detail of Edouard Manet, The Railway, 1873, Source: National Public Radio

The Railway, painted in 1873, was the last painting that Edouard Manet made with his favorite muse, fellow painter Victorine Meurent, and is widely considered one of his best renditions of a modern-age scene. Meurent appeared in many of Manet’s most celebrated works, but not quite so young and casually as in this painting. With her hair down, she sports a black sun bonnet topped with flowers and velvet ribbons. It’s a great touch of frivolity in an otherwise industrial scene.

3. Rembrandt van Rijn’s Plume

808px-An_Old_Man_in_Military_Costume_1630-1_Rembrandt (1) Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, An Old Man in Military Costume, 1630-31, Source: Wikimedia Commons

If there were ever a plume to envy (and sure, why wouldn’t you envy a good plume?), it would be in the hat featured in Rembrandt van Rijn’s An Old Man in Military Costume from 1630-1631. A grand ostrich feather stands proud against a velvet cap – an interesting display of softness in contrast to the steel of the military uniform.

4. Pierrot with Chapeau

WatteauPierrot Image: Jean-Antoine Watteau, Pierrot, formerly known as Gilles, 1718-19, Source: Wikipedia

Jean-Antoine Watteau painted Pierrot, formerly known as Gilles, in 1718-19. The character of Pierrot in the Commedia dell’Arte was cast as a fool or buffoon. His heart usually gets broken in the course of the plot, so it seems a bit heartless for us to want to steal the hat right off his sad head. But, we love its cute simplicity and unisex appeal. Sorry, Pierrot. It’s a rough life for a clown.

5. René Magritte’s Bowler Hat

son-of-man Image: René Magritte, Son of Man, 1964, Source: www.reneemagritte.org

Perhaps one of the most recognizable hats in all of history is René Magritte’s famous bowler hat in his self-portrait Son of Man of 1964. This dapper chapeau was a recurring feature in Magritte’s paintings as he explored themes of visibility – that which is hidden and that which is revealed.

6. Gustav Klimt’s Wide-Brimmed Hat

Gustav_Klimt_047 Image: Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch Bauer II, 1912, Source: Wikimedia

Adele Bloch Bauer was a close friend, muse, and patron of Gustav Klimt. She was a well-known socialite and great supporter of the arts in early 20th century Vienna. In 1912, Klimt painted Adele Bloch Bauer II, in which Bauer dons modern but opulent dress, complete with a wonderfully large wide-brimmed hat. Against a red backdrop, the hat helps bring Adele’s beautiful face into focus.

7. Pablo Picasso’s Cloche

seated-woman Image: Pablo Picasso, Seated Woman, 1937, Source: www.pablopicasso.org

Marie-Therese Walter was Picasso’s choice muse and lover in the 1930s. Although their relationship was virtually over by 1935, he continued to paint her for a few years afterwards. One such portrait is Seated Woman of 1937, painted in the Cubist style, which depicts Walter as a happy, colorful figure resplendent in striped attire, extending to the jaunty cloche on her head. With its little red bow, it completes the joyful look of the painting.

8. Vincent Van Gogh’s Furry Cap

van-gogh Image: Vincent Van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889, Source: The Courtauld Institute of Art

In his Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear of 1889, Vincent Van Gogh sports a sapphire blue cap with black fur in the chilling portrait, painted soon after the artist returned from the hospital after mutilating his ear. Van Gogh sported many a hat in his numerous self-portraits, but we really like the Russian-inspired design of this one. Too bad it didn’t cover his ears – the bandage is a sad prediction of Van Gogh’s tragic suicide.

9. Frida Kahlo Headpieces

self-portrait-with-necklace-of-thorns Image: Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940, Source: www.fridakahlo.org

Frida Kahlo’s vibrant and numerous self-portraits showcase the artist’s uncanny ability to expose her pain, pleasure, and national pride through stories based on dreams. She is typically shown in traditional Tehuana dress, which she wore in everyday life, including her elaborate headpieces of flower and silk. We particularly love the one in Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird for 1940, which features a magenta fabric woven through her hair and is clipped with butterfly pins.

10. Frank Horvat and Givenchy

3385 Image: Frank Horvat, Givenchy Hat B, 1958, Source: Jackson Fine Art

In 1958, journalist and fashion photographer Frank Horvat created an iconic set of collectible Givenchy ads, featuring a very fabulous white hat and aptly entitled Hat A, Hat B, and Hat C. Although each photo is elegant and beautifully composed, we’re partial to Hat B. In this image, the model confronts the viewer in a bold stare, showcasing the full profile of the glamorous hat.

Featured Image (From Left to Right): Vincent Van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889, Source: The Courtauld Institute of Art; René Magritte, Son of Man, 1964, Source: www.reneemagritte.org; Pablo Picasso, Seated Woman, 1937, Source: www.pablopicasso.org