Narrative painting in nineteenth-century Europe

Nina Lübbren
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This is the first book-length study to intervene in both art-historical and narratological debates with a rigorous scholarly focus on nineteenth-century painting. The years roughly between 1830 and 1890 make up a moment in which European paintings spoke to a broad public in a way that was unprecedented and has probably not been achieved since, and narrative was a key ingredient in its appeal. The book defines narrative paintings as paintings that invite narrative responses. It analyses reviewers' language in detail, drawing on literary theory, and links reviews to close readings of selected paintings. The book draws on reception theory to argue that narrative meaning arises from an interaction between pictures and public. Story-telling critical reviews responded to story-telling paintings and addressed non-specialist audiences' delight in puzzling out a narrative. Paintings' non-perfomative technique, thought to appeal to connoisseurs, served narrative ends. Whereas earlier art had told stories through the body, nineteenth-century pictures shifted the focus onto inanimate objects. Narrativised objects became clues, and viewers reconstructed events from the material traces they had left. Case studies come from across Europe, with an emphasis on England, Scotland, Germany, France, Spain and Italy.

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