Art, Architecture and Visual Culture
Chapter 2 analyses pictorial narration via inanimate objects. the art of inanimate narration. It traces the shift from traditonal figure-centric story-telling to the sophisticated use of things as narrative prompts. This process started in the 1830s and involved objects shedding their former status as symbols and attributes on the one hand, and as clutter or ethnographic detail on the other hand. The chapter argues that paintings' use of material traces parallels, even anticipates, the centrality of clues in forensic investigation. Clues are narrativised objects. The chapter draws on semiotics, detective stories and forensic history to pick apart key paintings and the stories told about them by reviewers. Candles and toppled chairs feature prominently. Case studies include Karl von Piloty's Seni Before Wallenstein's Corpse (1855), Jean-Léon Gérôme's Death of Caesar (1867), Jean-Paul Laurens' Excommunication of Robert the Pious (1875) and the changing reception of David Wilkie's genre pictures.
Chapter 5 opens out the discussion onto developments in pictorial narrative after the 1890s. Some form of narrative painting lingered on but, on the whole, the common audiences of nineteenth-century narrative images now split into two. The popular audiences of narrative entertainment migrated into cinema while the audiences for modernist 'high art' turned their back on narrative. The epilogue contains a brief account of the constitutive links between narrative painting and emergent cinematic forms, and an outline of the troubled critical fortunes of the narrative mode among twentieth-century modernist critics. The book ends with an example of twentieth-century curators' failure to understand the narrative of George Leslie's Fortunes (1870; renamed Trout Stream in 1932) and concludes that we have lost a distinctive mode of narrative visual literacy.
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.
Chapter 3 introduces the concept of grounded speculation as a way of understanding the narrative reception of paintings. Much nineteenth century art criticism was narrative in tone, structure and address. Reviews invited readers to participate in collective story-telling about pictures. Critics wove elaborate tales about paintings, often providing narrative information in excess of what the actual image appears to contain. Reviews deploy narrative rhetoric, such as cause and effect, character motivation, nested narratives and even direct speech. Art historians have sometimes tended to test these reviews against the paintings to determine if they were 'correct'. This chapter, by contrast, takes the reviews as its primary material and analyses them, using narratological tools. Case studies include Theodor Fontane on Benjamin Vautier's After School (1862), an anonymous writer on John Burr's Domestic Troubles (c.1869), Camillo Boito on Bernardo Celentano's Council of Ten (1862), Victor Champier on Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant's Herodias (1881), Théodore Véron on Francisco Pradilla's Queen Joanna the Mad (1877) and three conflicting accounts of Simon Durand's A Wedding at the Mayor's Office (1875).
Chapter 4 looks at visual description. Literary scholars identify description as constituting a narrative 'pause' (Gérard Genette), and art historians contend that there is an opposition between description and narration (Svetlana Alpers). This chapter argues that the posited dichotomy of narration and description is misleading when it comes to nineteenth-century narrative paintings. These paintings narrate by means of describing; in them, narration is always descriptive narration. Reviewers described figures and objects (content-description) and also, briefly, technique (formal description). Critics argued that one and the same work addressed two different viewer constituencies: the story of a picture appealed to the masses while brushwork and technique appealed to connoisseurs. Case studies include William Quiller Orchardson's Mariage de Convenance (1883) and Georges Rochegrosse's Death of Caesar (1887). The chapter concludes with an in-depth analysis of the tension between narration and description in Henri Regnault's chef d'œuvre Execution without Trial (1870).
Chapter 1 lays the theoretical and terminological groundwork for the book. Narrative theorists mainly agree that a narrative consists of a succession of events that unfold in time, are linked by causal connections, and are experienced and acted out by characters. This basic template was developed for literary storytelling. However, the text-based model presents some challenges when transferred to static images. Nineteenth-century paintings addressed these challenges in ingenious ways and, indeed, turned the putative limitations of pictorial narrative into strengths. The paintings mapped temporal cause-and-effect logic was mapped onto space and activated the viewers' imagination via one fruitful moment. Chapter 1 draws literary narratology (Aristotle, Gérard Genette, Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, Mieke Bal) and on theories of visual narration (Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Franz Wickhoff, Max Imdahl). Case studies include: Jean-Léon Gérôme's Christian Martyrs' Last Prayers (1863-83), Camillo Miola's Death of Virginia (1882) and Franz von Defregger's Weekend Tyrolean (1882).
Mary Ellen Edwards, born in 1839, was one of the very few women who could claim to have had a career in the field of commercial illustration. The term ‘career’ is appropriate because this work was based on commission, gave her a public identity, and continued for her entire adult life, supporting her financially when necessary, unlike the sporadic or charitable contributions to this field of women regarded as amateurs, however talented. Although Edwards seems to have had ambitions to rise from the field of commercial art into the fine art domain, it was as an illustrator that she came to widespread notice in the 1860s and remained visible until the turn of the century. Despite marriage (twice) and motherhood, which were commonly thought to be incompatible in the middle class with a paying job, Edwards sought to maintain a career in an increasingly contested field as the century proceeded. In this role she was one of only two women to get individual attention from Forrest Reid in his celebrated 1928 retrospective Illustrators of the Eighteen Sixties. This chapter puts Edwards’s long catalogue of work on record for the first time and looks for an explanation of her nearly unique achievement.
In Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon’s charming and deceptively simple pen drawings for her 1859 manuscript ‘An Illustrated Comic Alphabet’, small children dressed in adults’ clothing role-play pastimes and occupations set out in her hand-lettered text – the traditional rhyme ‘A is an Archer’, also known as ‘Tom Thumb’s Alphabet’. Decorated letters of the alphabet in red ink embellish each page, along with rustic branch borders. Howard-Gibbon, a young British woman, was working as an art teacher in the small town of Sarnia in Canada West when she created her manuscript. One hundred years later, the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books in Toronto received ‘An Illustrated Comic Alphabet’ as a donation. The librarians there determined that Howard-Gibbon’s manuscript was the earliest known Canadian picture book, and it continues to be prized today. In 2017, it was featured in an exhibition about alphabet books at the University of British Columbia, ‘From Apple Pies to Astronauts’. This chapter delineates the historiography of ‘An Illustrated Comic Alphabet’ and argues that while ‘An Illustrated Comic Alphabet’ has been viewed as a precursor to the more accomplished work of Kate Greenaway, it is better understood and appreciated as an innovative variation on illustrated versions of the rhyme ‘A is an Archer’, which first appeared in print in 1702.
Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale (1872–1945) enjoyed acclaim in her lifetime as a watercolourist and painter of what was called ‘Neo-Pre-Raphaelitism’. Amongst the leading imaginative artists of the Edwardian period, she continued to represent the Pre-Raphaelite strain of literary, historical, and decorative art until its appeal finally dissolved in the 1930s. If she is remembered now, it is for this aesthetic affinity. Yet at the beginning of her career, in the last decade of the nineteenth century, it looked as if it would be as a black-and-white artist that she would be successful. The 1890s was a great decade for illustration, with the expansion of the illustrated press by George Newnes and others; the proliferation of ‘artistic’ magazines of which The Studio represents the peak; and the large number of fine artists who did not disdain to embrace design, as enacted by William Morris’s circle. The success of Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway demonstrated what was possible for a pragmatic practitioner open to the frankly commercial application of creativity. Accordingly, Fortescue Brickdale’s early designs included advertisements, headpiece and tailpiece vignettes, literary illustrations, nursery rhymes and fairy tales, calendars and stained-glass windows; in periodicals, exhibitions, and one-off publications. This chapter examines this dimension of Fortescue Brickdale’s body of work and argues that the richness of this output of Fortescue Brickdale’s apprentice years is as fascinating for what it shows about that era’s culture as for what it reveals about this one artist.
Eleanor Vere Boyle (1825–1916) was a Victorian illustrator of children’s books, known for having illustrated Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales in 1872. Her adaptation of the classical fairy tale ‘Beauty and the Beast’, in Beauty and the Beast: An Old Tale New-Told, was published in 1875, the same year as Walter Crane’s Toy Book. However, whilst Crane featured Beauty and the Beast in flashy bourgeois surroundings, with hints at Japanese decoration, Greek and Renaissance art, Boyle’s version emphasized, on the contrary, the natural world through ‘an almost pantheistic obsession in the landscapes and descriptions of nature’, as Betsy Hearne has argued (Hearne 1989, 46). Boyle’s fascination for the natural world – which climaxed at the end of her life when she wrote and illustrated garden books such as Days and Hours in a Garden (1884), A Garden of Pleasure (1895), Seven Gardens and a Palace (1900), and Garden Colour (1905) – highlighted her indebtedness to the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Moreover, her hyper-realistic vegetation revealed her interest in horticulture. This chapter traces the evolution of Boyle’s works and examines her illustrations and rewriting of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to analyse the ways in which Boyle subverts contemporary gender and imperial ideologies.