Artful Halloween Costumes

As a Halloween treat for my readers, I wanted to share the Halloween costumes we came up with this year.

Last spring when we were in Washington admiring the cherry blossoms, we happened to stop in at the National Gallery of Art and wandered through an exhibition of impressionist paintings. My four-year-old stopped in front of Renoir’s A Girl with a Watering Can and I did a double-take. The likeness was incredible! The idea for a Halloween costume was planted.

I enjoy Halloween and try to coordinate costumes with my girls each year. We all try to dress along the same theme. So, this year, we each found a painting in the impressionist exhibition that we somewhat resembled and tried to bring them to life.

Since they don’t sell Halloween costumes resembling late 19th Century impressionist paintings, we had to make them ourselves. We didn’t want to spend too much money on this project either so we did our best to do 19th century elegance on the cheap. Some great ideas resulted.

Le Gourmand (The Greedy Child) by Pablo Picasso


White stretch jersey fabric from my stash, hand-me-down patent leather shoes, pink socks.

When I first saw Le Gourmand, I thought it was of a little girl because of the dress and the red hair looked a smidge like my little girl. When my daughter was recently watching an old episode of Mr. Rogers, he indicated it was of a little boy! Since it was too late to change costumes, we decided to girl up the costume by switching the blue socks in the picture for pink ones. I just read on the National Gallery website, however, that it is in fact a little girl so perhaps we will locate some blue socks for trick or treating tonight to honor Picasso’s “blue period.”

“The young girl in this work is tipping her bowl to scrape out a last morsel of food. She is shown with just the barest necessities — a nearly empty bowl, a mug, and a scrap of bread on the table. The titles given this painting seem to be ironic comments on the child’s humble condition.”

Picasso: The Early Years, 1892-1906, Teacher’s Guide, National Gallery of Art Website

Here is my Picasso-inspired daughter in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden and with her doppelganger at the National Gallery.

Portrait of Sonia by Henri Fantin-Latour


Old, stained tablecloth, white blouse (from last year’s Halloween costume), faux fur (from eBay), ribbon (from eBay), straw hat (from Target), ostrich feathers (from eBay)

This painting is a little obscure to most people (and to me before this project) but it was the one I had the closest likeness to in the exhibit. This transformation required quite a bit of creative sewing but I think the end result was quite good.

The best picture we got at the museum with the painting was the one below. Please excuse the blurriness. The museum does not allow flash photography or tripods so this was taken by my four year old. She did quite a good job. With a flash, it would have been a great picture. It also shows that if you squint, the likeness is pretty accurate.

A Girl with a Watering Can by Auguste Renoir


Used blue velvet dress with glitter (from eBay), white Turkish lace (also from eBay), white plastic rose buttons from Canada (eBay again!), white jazz boots on clearance (but only available in women’s size 5), blue shoe polish, white socks and lace slip.

The inspiration for our costuming project ended up being the best costume of all! My little girl was instantly recognizable everywhere. Apparently Renoir’s “Girl with a Watering Can” is the National Gallery of Art’s equivalent of the Mona Lisa. It is an iconic piece of art that people strongly identify with.

We had to take our costumes to visit their paintings at the National Gallery of Art on Friday. My girls caused a minor paparazzi-like sensation and tourists from around the world asked to take their picture.

Many people stopped to tell me that they loved seeing the works of art come to life and that it gave a new dimension to the paintings to see the subjects eating a brownie in the cafeteria, running around on the lawn and falling down and getting scraped knees requiring a hug from mom. A mom with a young daughter who spotted us in the cafeteria asked where in the museum our paintings were and it became a new treasure hunt for her daughter to go find “us.” We also met many people in town for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear and learned that they appreciate fine art. Everyone recognized the Renoir. A few recognized Picasso and none knew Fantin-Latour.

I also gained a new appreciation for these paintings. When I was creating the costumes, I learned a great deal more about Victorian style. It was interesting to experience that what I would generally assume to be excessive decorations and accessories could be so classically beautiful. For my own costume, for example, if a modern woman were wearing this, she would probably skip either the hat or the fur wrap, or perhaps both. The Renoir dress is so full of lace and buttons you would think it would look terribly gaudy but yet even my husband commented that the dress is beautiful.

Hope you enjoyed a wonderful Halloween weekend!