caa.reviews Centennial Project
Lucy Oakley, Editor-in-Chief, caa.reviews (2008–11), Editorial Board (2006–8), and Council of Field Editors (Nineteenth-Century Art: 2004–8)
In celebration of the College Art Association’s 100th birthday, the caa.reviews editorial board presents the top “readers’ picks,” one for each year of publication since the journal’s origin online in September 1998. Each pick is accompanied by a brief description—illuminating the review’s contributions to, influence on, and place in the field—written by current and former members of the editorial board, Council of Field Editors, and editors-in-chief. To identify the most popular reviews, we used statistics from Google Analytics beginning in 2007, when they first became available for the site, through 2010. This enabled us to see the total number of hits on individual reviews over the course of three years. The editorial board chose this quantitative approach to the journal’s history in part to highlight a key difference between caa.reviews and CAA’s other two, print-based journals—we can track closely what our readers read and learn which reviews they are accessing.
Even though this statistical measurement doesn’t allow us to see what readers were choosing before 2007, the Google Analytics list is quite revealing. Earlier reviews have continued to be among the most popular, years after they first appeared online. Despite its early publication date, it
did not come as a complete surprise to learn that the review with the most hits by far (almost 7,000) is Quitman Eugene Phillips’s assessment of Timon Screech’s Sex and the Floating World: Erotic Images in Japan, 1700–1820 from February 4, 2000. Holding a distant second place, with about 2,000 hits, is Monica McTigue’s review of several books on Installation art, published on February 6, 2006. Next on the list is Swati Chattopadhyay’s review of Kamil Khan Mumtaz’s Modernity and Tradition: Contemporary Architecture in Pakistan, published in 2001. These selections reveal the journal’s continuity while highlighting the diversity of its coverage across geographic and subject boundaries.
In presenting the caa.reviews Centennial Project, I’d like to thank not only my predecessors as editor-in-chief, Larry Silver and Rick Asher, as well as Sheryl Reiss, my designated successor, but also all past and current editorial-board members, field editors, and CAA staff members whose hard work and dedication to the journal over the years have made its publication possible. Last but not least, we are all deeply grateful to the hundreds of reviewers whose careful readings and lucid analyses have made perusing caa.reviews so richly rewarding, and whose inspired contributions have sparked readers to return for more, again and again.
Happy Birthday, CAA, with many thanks to you, our readers!
Laura Auricchio, Editorial Board (2008–12) and Council of Field Editors (Eighteenth-Century European Art: 2007–13)
In 1980, literary theorist Stanley Fish teased apart the layers of complexity that lurk behind a deceptively simple question: “Is there a text in this class?” (Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980) Commonly heard at the start of a semester by students wondering which book to purchase, the query may also operate on a more existential level, challenging the very notion that a literature course should accept a singular “text” as its object of inquiry.
In 2007, Juliet Bellow, a young scholar studying the intersection of art and dance in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe, offered a similarly thoughtful response to another seemingly straightforward question: “What textbooks cover the field of nineteenth-century art?” Given the sheer volume of nineteenth-century survey courses offered throughout the country, many of the readers who made Bellow’s the most visited review of 2007 were probably faculty members in search of guidance. Which text, they might have wondered, should I assign to my class? Bellow did this group of readers a great service by analyzing the comparative methods and merits of four major textbooks published between 1984 and 2006. Yet her review also provides much more.
Piece by piece, Bellow identifies and dismantles every assumption implied by the concept of a “textbook on nineteenth-century art.” Aptly, the essay opens with a question: “What do we mean when we say ‘the nineteenth century’?” Bellow takes nothing for granted as she walks us through the historiography and current state of a field whose boundaries and topography we may have thought we knew. What are the exact dates of the “nineteenth century?” What types of visual culture belong to the category of “art”? What do we expect from a “textbook”? What should we expect from a textbook? Piling query atop query, Bellow encourages readers to interrogate the phenomenon that Fish, in his subtitle, terms “the authority of interpretive communities.” Prompting such lines of inquiry may be the most valuable contribution that any review can make.
What do we mean when we say “the nineteenth century”? Where does it begin? Where does it end? What does it contain or exclude? How do we make such choices—on what basis? Surveying four major textbooks, this review offers a look back at the ways these questions have been answered over the past two decades, beginning with the first publication of Robert Rosenblum and H.W. Janson’s 19th-Century Art in 1984 and ending with the second edition of Petra ten-Doesschate Chu’s Nineteenth-Century European Art in 2006.1 Although other forms of scholarship (journal articles, monographs, exhibition catalogues, and the like) perform such work, the textbook’s overt task is to define the field. The textbook, that is, exercises a disciplinary mechanism, self-consciously engaged in the project of canon-building, perpetuation, revision, or reform.2
The problem of definition is particularly thorny in the case of these four textbooks, since the enduring centrality of the concept of the “long nineteenth century” shapes the ways we study and teach the period. According to this trope, the nineteenth century begins and ends with two equally bloody, paradigm-shifting events, thereby stretching from the political revolutions of the late eighteenth century in France and America to the battlefields of World War I in the early twentieth. This way of construing the nineteenth century emerged soon after the end of the war itself. A.J. Grant and Harold Temperley published Europe in the Nineteenth Century (1789–1914) in 1927 (New York: Longmans, Green and Co.), when thousands of grands mutilés still walked the streets of London, Paris, and Berlin. Grant and Temperley set these parameters by interpreting the war as a direct outgrowth of trends stemming from the Age of Enlightenment: the emergence of parliamentary or representative governments, the conceptualization of “nationhood” and the concomitant growth of nationalism, and the development of disastrously complicated alliances (viii, 2–3). Cemented in Eric Hobsbawm’s trilogy—The Age of Revolution, 1789–1848 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and Cleveland: The World Publishing Co., 1962), The Age of Capital, 1848–1875 (New York: Scribner, 1975), and The Age of Empire, 1875–1914 (New York: Vintage, 1987)—the “long nineteenth century” continues to structure historical accounts of the period, as evidenced in Michael Rapport’s publication Nineteenth-Century Europe (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), which covers precisely these years.3 Not all authors endorse this idea uncritically, however. For example, in his introduction to The Eighteenth Century: Europe 1688–1815 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), T.C.W. Blanning intriguingly annexes the French Revolution and Napoleonic era to an earlier epoch characterized by “expansion” in terms of “the size of armies, literacy rates, state intervention, the acreage of overseas empires, industrialization . . . [and] the number of Europeans on the planet” (1). Nevertheless, “the long nineteenth century” has been remarkably durable.
The belief that the nineteenth century actually begins somewhere in the eighteenth has proven useful to art historians: the emergence of representative governments across Europe and the United States dovetails nicely with the contemporary rise of the Neoclassical style. (Of course, this occurred to many observers at the time, not least Johann Winckelmann.) The four books reviewed here conform to this dominant view, though each varies somewhat in the precise date with which the author chooses to begin her or his account. Hewing closely to this model, Lorenz Eitner introduces his text with a discussion of Enlightenment values: the commitment to materialist thought, the reform of absolutist monarchy, and, in the arts, the rejection of the “courtly Rococo” (4). Citing Denis Diderot’s protest against this “prostituted” style—“I think I have seen enough teats and bottoms” (4)—Eitner sets the stage for the entrance of Jacques-Louis David and the “spirit of idealism and optimism” his work exuded. Stephen Eisenman’s text also places the starting date for this period in the 1780s, a moment when “the new-model artist . . . vaunts his independence from the dictates of royal patrons and postures of conformity . . . to make contact with the large audience who thronged the spaces of the public exhibitions” (18) in the old palace of the Louvre.4 Here the emphasis falls less on dissatisfaction with the Rococo per se, and more on the political and social conditions that allowed David and his circle to employ Neoclassicism as a “counter-example to a corrupt present” (18).
Patriotically, Rosenblum and Janson open their volume in the year 1776, a “landmark year in transatlantic history” (14)—though, intriguingly, they do not begin in the United States but at a Royal Academy exhibition in London. In place of David we examine Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Omai (1776) and William Hodges’s A View Taken in the Bay of Otaheite Peha (1776), images that evoke the confrontation between Europe and its “others” that would become a staple of nineteenth-century visual culture. Chu’s account could be said to begin quite early in the eighteenth century, for Hyacinthe Rigaud’s Louis XIV (1701) graces the frontispiece of her first chapter. Distinguishing the “modern” from the “early modern” period—which, she argues, began in the Renaissance and ended around 1750—she devotes a lengthy chapter to the flowering and decline of the Rococo. Presenting the obverse argument to Eitner’s, Chu locates the origins of Enlightenment philosophy in the patronage and salon of the ultra-Rococo Madame de Pompadour.
Despite the general acceptance among art historians (these four in particular) of the late eighteenth century as the nineteenth century’s starting date, their consensus breaks down altogether concerning its endpoint. The historical community more readily agrees that the nineteenth century ended in 1914 than that it began around 1789. Art historians, by contrast, seem to find this idea terribly problematic. The textbooks reviewed here present two separate models for terminating the period in 1900. Eitner and Eisenman both look to a single artist, Paul Cézanne, as the pivotal figure who divides the nineteenth century from what followed. Eitner justifies this decision in purely Wölfflinian terms, differentiating the artist’s “rigorous process of selection and rearrangement” of motifs from the “objective openness to reality” of the Impressionist generation (445). In turn, Cézanne’s art was “furthered” by Fauvist, Cubist, and Expressionist artists of the twentieth century, “quarried for ideas and stylistic motifs” (464). Eisenman, on the other hand, declares Cézanne to be the “logical endpoint” (389) to this period insofar as he inaugurated “that modernist paradigm, the revolutionary artwork that is at the same time apolitical” (390).5 Taking to an extreme the belief among many late-nineteenth-century artists that “reality itself was hopelessly degraded and no significant public sphere for art any longer existed,” (357) Cézanne’s pictures, according to Eisenman, constituted their own reality, thus blazing the trail for generations of modernist artists to come.
The other two texts instead find a historical marker to end the nineteenth century: the Paris International Exposition of 1900. For Rosenblum and Janson, this milestone stems from the broader division of the book into four periods, based on major political events that correspond closely to Hobsbawm’s: moving from 1776 to the end of the Napoleonic era in 1815, the Europe-wide revolutions of 1848, and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71. The 1900 Exposition, Rosenblum argues, “concluded psychologically an old century and inaugurated a new one which now, in long historical retrospect, often seems to extend, rather than rupture, nineteenth-century traditions” (n.p.).6 Unfortunately, this event doesn’t measure up to the others in terms of its world-historical importance, making it seem that much more arbitrary. Further, the works that Rosenblum associates with the Exposition—Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo’s bland The Fourth Estate (1898–1901) and Pablo Picasso’s morose The End of the Road (1898–99)—suggest that the nineteenth century had run its course and somehow deserved to be supplanted by the twentieth.7 As befits the managing editor of Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, an online journal dedicated to the “long nineteenth century,” Chu extends her narrative to include artists on the other side of the fin-de-siècle, including Antoni Gaudí, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and Gustav Klimt. However, she follows Rosenblum in ending her text with the 1900 Exposition and a comparison of “fashionable and avant-garde art” (524) of this moment: John Singer Sargent’s Mrs. Carl Meyer and her Children (1895) and Picasso’s Pedro Mañach (1901). “If Sargent’s portrait exemplifies the culmination of nineteenth-century Naturalism,” she argues, “Picasso’s sets the tone for twentieth-century abstraction” (527). Rather than point to areas of commonality between the two (the foregrounding of facture, the flattening of the picture plane, the use of non-naturalistic color), Chu sets these paintings at odds. As a consequence, the nineteenth century again seems to end not with a bang but a whimper.
As we shall see, such variations among these four books tell us a great deal about their authors’ particular scholarly orientations and the story of nineteenth-century art that each plans to tell. The good news is that these texts demonstrate there are as many histories of nineteenth-century art as there are definitions of the period. A wide variety of methodologies are represented, allowing scholars of varying orientations to find a text that corresponds with their preferred style in the classroom. In what follows I will argue that the textbooks under review exemplify, loosely speaking, four interpretive tendencies—formalist, biographical, political, and contextual—each with its own unique strengths and drawbacks.
Rosenblum and Janson: Covert Formalism
The front jacket illustration of this textbook’s first edition—a detail of Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June (1895)—says it all.8 One need not crack its spine to realize that 19th-Century Art constitutes a determined rethinking of the nineteenth-century canon (or, as Rosenblum put it in his original introduction to the text, a correction to the “twentieth century’s hall of nineteenth-century fame” [n.p.]).9 Speaking on his own behalf and that of his late collaborator, H.W. Janson, both of whom taught in the Department of Fine Arts at New York University, Rosenblum shrugs off the modernist preoccupation with “a succession of supremely great artists . . . concerned first and foremost with purely artistic problems” (n.p.).10 Instead, he claims, this text will “give the nineteenth century back to itself” (n.p.). That is, much like 1900: Art at the Crossroads, the exhibition Rosenblum later curated, 19th-Century Art reconfigures the history of the period by providing what its authors consider to be a more representative sample of art-world developments.11 In particular, the text promises an international scope that will “challenge the prevailing Francocentric view” (n.p.) of the nineteenth century.12 Thus its account of this period begins not in Paris but in London, where British artists and their “new popular audiences worked together to break the traditional molds of Western painting” (16).
Rosenblum characterizes this refusal of French hegemony as a “United Nations approach to Western art” (n.p.)—and, like that much-maligned institution, his text could be criticized for proposals and compromises that please no one in the end. At times, this inclusive approach brings to our attention less-celebrated works that benefit from the authors’ serious analysis, while also providing fresh insights into old chestnuts. For example, the eccentricities of Paul Cézanne’s Five Bathers (1885–87)—its unconventional poses, spatial ambiguities, and anatomical distortions—emerge more forcefully when Rosenblum places the work in dialogue with William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Nymphs Bathing (1878) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Bathers (1884–87). More than twenty years after the text was first published, this may no longer seem a particularly radical set of comparisons. Yet Rosenblum’s refusal to treat Bouguereau as a negative foil to the other two painters remains striking even today. Rather than a simple confrontation of avant-garde and rear-guard (and perhaps something in between), he presents a picture of three artists responding to the particular conventions and possibilities available at this moment. As much as their differences, the shared concerns of these artists come to the fore, and we can see all three struggling with their relation to artistic tradition—though the results vary widely.
To some extent, one could characterize Janson’s entire contribution to this textbook as an exercise in such art-historical exhumation, given the conventional relegation of nineteenth-century sculpture to the crypt of critical esteem. A fairly large portion of the book is devoted to sculpture—though still, it should be noted, only a fraction of the space occupied by painting. In these sections we see a wide cross-section of developments in the medium. We can measure, for example, Antonio Canova’s Neoclassicism against the stiffer, more formal version offered by such contemporaries as Joseph Chinard and Bertel Thorwaldsen. Janson’s final chapter, on the period 1870–1900, demonstrates a broader range of stylistic possibilities, comparing and contrasting the work of Alexandre Falguière, Jules Dalou, Auguste Rodin, and Edgar Degas, among others. This opening of the field is visible even within the oeuvre of a single artist: the text provides a savory comparison of two works by Emmanuel Frémiet, the stately equestrian Joan of Arc (1872–74) and the deliciously histrionic Gorilla Carrying Off a Woman (1887).
It is also true, however, that the authors’ comparison of non-canonical pieces with famous works of art does not always show the former to great advantage. From the heights of Eugène Delacroix’s thrilling July 28: Liberty Leading the People13 (1830), the text comes down with a thud to consider Gustaaf Wappers’s cluttered, banal Episode from the Belgian Revolution of 1830 (1835). Rosenblum simply cannot find any way of making the latter work as compelling as the former, either in terms of its subject or style. The same certainly is true of Janson’s unhappy pairing of Rodin’s Iris, Messenger of the Gods (ca. 1890) with Adriano Cecioni’s Dog Defecating (ca. 1880). To be fair, perhaps such inequities help us to understand how and why canons are formed—though I would venture to guess that this was not the authors’ primary intention.
The other problem inherent in the “United Nations” approach is that the comparisons don’t always work, in spite of the often valiant efforts of its authors. The rhetorical strain of fitting incongruous examples together becomes palpable at certain moments, as when Rosenblum likens Jean-Léon Gérôme’s L’Éminence Grise (1874) to Édouard Manet’s The Railroad (1873). It is interesting and relevant to know that both works were exhibited at the Salon of 1874. This fact in itself provides enough fodder for an illuminating class discussion. But to say that Gérôme’s painting “offers a split-second slice of life” (361) comparable to that of Manet’s nanny and her overdressed charge? Such statements are more apt to confuse the reader than to reveal some significant truth about the two works under discussion. Moreover, the text’s tendency toward inclusiveness and analogy threatens to make the entire century into a bit of a muddle. If all of the same formal options or tendencies are present at any given moment—and this is the impression that one gets from the book—then any sense of change over time is obscured. Certainly this view provides a significant corrective to standard, narrow histories of the period. Yet something central to the story of nineteenth-century art also is lost in the process.
The methodologies employed by both Rosenblum and Janson in their separate sections of the textbook seem—at least, at first—to be as catholic as the authors’ array of artworks. Rosenblum makes the following sweeping declaration in his introduction to the original text:
Art historians should be as flexible, various, and comprehensive as possible in their approaches, and be willing to consider anything from the history of technology to the abiding mysteries of genius and psychology as potentially illuminating their ever more vast subject. Works of art, after all, are made by people and, like people, should not be forced into a single perspective that views them only as functions of, say, aesthetic or economic or psychoanalytic systems. (n.p.)
In addition, Rosenblum promises to “incorporate into the history of art some of the burning social issues of gender, of race, of sexuality which dominated the thought of all intelligent young people over the last few decades” (n.p.)—a promise that he keeps to a great extent. For his part, Janson justifies his method somewhat differently. Introducing the text’s first section on sculpture, he at once questions the notion of “period style” and asserts the importance of “social and cultural environment, which must have affected artist and patron alike to some degree” (92). While still maintaining that “art comes from art,” he likens his approach to a “counterpoint pattern” in which style and context are set in harmony (92). Yet as Anne Wagner has noted in a review of Janson’s 19th-Century Sculpture (an expanded version of this text published separately in 1985), he continues to rely heavily on traditional stylistic labels such as “Rococo,” “Romantic,” and “Neo-Baroque.”14 Moreover, some of his sections are organized in eccentric and inscrutable ways: the chapter on sculpture between 1815 and 1848, for example, “begin[s] . . . with the areas where the impact of political change on sculpture was least pronounced, and . . . conclud[es] . . . with those where it was greatest” (200).
In spite of all these claims, 19th-Century Art approaches its subject from a formalist perspective. History is recounted, but in a patchwork fashion. Rosenblum skips over, for example, the fall of the Jacobins in his haste to compare Jacques-Louis David’s monumental paintings Death of Marat (1793) and Napoleon Crossing the Alps at the Saint-Bernard Pass (1800–1). The emphasis, as this particular pairing suggests, is on individual works of art. And it is in this arena that Rosenblum shines. Clearly the product of many years of careful looking, his sections of the text make for compelling, even visceral reading. One often feels as if transported into a university lecture hall listening to him riff.15 From time to time, drama morphs into melodrama, with flowery, breathless passages that I came to think of as “Rosenblumisms.” Vincent van Gogh’s The Night Café at Arles (1888), for example,
projects a psychological environment of conflicting emotions, from a hellish, breathless agitation that dizzily funnels us upward into the scene across the converging rush of yellow floorboards, to a barren inertia, in which a waiter in white stands almost like a prison or hospital attendant among his charges, who, at the far corners, sink in lassitude. (431)
The author reaches a similar fevered pitch when discussing Charles-François Jalabert’s Nymphs Listening to the Songs of Orpheus (1853), in which “the academic conventions of marmoreal flesh and drapery have softened and multiplied into a florid hothouse that evokes a pastel world of luxurious surfeit and erotic plenty, a nostalgic whiff of the style and civilization of Rococo France” (243). (As this last example suggests, one finds a good many paintings of nudes among the text’s abundant “Rosenblumisms.”)
At certain moments this rhetorical tendency makes Rosenblum prone to exaggeration and overstatement. Thus the work of George Seurat is not simply regularized but machinelike: his A Sunday on the Grande Jatte (1884–86) is “an army of robots” painted with “belt-line . . . regularity” (413–14), and the birds in Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp (1885) “fly in a military formation that almost prophesies an air-force display” (416). Many art historians (including this reviewer) would dispute this characterization of Seurat’s work. I also found myself frustrated with Rosenblum’s application of the term “photographic” (as well as its corollaries “empirical,” “documentary,” and “journalistic”) to such varied artists as Paul Delaroche, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Horace Vernet, Gustave Courbet, Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, Thomas Eakins, James-Jacques-Joseph Tissot, Adolph von Menzel, Gustave Caillebotte, and Degas—and this is just a partial list. Yet while one may disagree with some of his observations, the text indisputably stands as a model for students of the value of close readings of artworks.
Rosenblum completed a revised edition of the textbook in 2005 that—in addition to providing gorgeous color illustrations of nearly every image in the book—corrects some problematic observations in the original version. Emending his anachronistic assertion that in Ingres’s Louis-François Bertin (1832) the “descriptive wizardry is so acute that . . . we feel this must follow rather than precede the invention of photography” (191), Rosenblum adds a comparison with official portraiture (both painted and photographic) as well as a broader meditation on the relationship between the two media after 1839. One only wishes that the second edition included more examples of such rethinking. The book retains its basic structure and hews almost entirely to the original text—which means that it remains essentially unaffected by interpretations that emerged in the twenty years after it first appeared. The burden of scholarly updating is placed on a series of informational boxes inserted into the text that briefly cite the propositions and conclusions of more recent work. So, following Rosenblum’s discussion of Frederic Edwin Church’s “apocalyptic” Cotopaxi (1862), we now have the commentary of Angela Miller, Andrew Wilton, and Tim Barringer, who cite the political turmoil of Civil War in the United States and the work of J.M.W. Turner as possible influences on the painting’s style and subject (282). Though such additions are better than nothing, their literal marginalization in the box format makes these insights seem supplemental to the primary narrative. If this scholarship should make us view an artist differently, why not integrate it into the body of the text?
The only other notable change in the second edition is the inclusion of photography. We now find alongside Camille Corot’s Memory of Mortefontaine (1864) Gustave Le Gray’s Tree Study in the Forest of Fontainebleau (1856) and Lady Hawarden’s Clementina Before a Mirror in her Underwear (ca. 1861) paired with James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Symphony in White No. 2: The Little White Girl (1864), among several other important additions. Curiously, however, this much-needed update only underscores the awkward duality of the textbook’s organization: the separation of media into painting and sculpture. This is in part a function of the laudable decision to take sculpture seriously in this volume—not only in giving it a reasonably prominent place but also in looking to an expert in the field to discuss its development and characteristics. But this division is at odds with the book’s overall mission: that of drawing unheralded connections among disparate works. Moreover, the inclusion of photography only points up the absence of other “minor” arts in this textbook, such as prints or objects of decorative art. These days, as contemporary artists increasingly shrug off traditional definitions of media, 19th-Century Art’s division of painting and sculpture into such “separate spheres” seems a quaint remainder of bygone disciplinary concerns.
Eitner: Life Lessons
Lorenz Eitner warns his readers straightaway that his text is not a comprehensive history of nineteenth-century art: he readily proclaims that its contents “reflec[t] the attitudes, and perhaps prejudices, of its author” (xxi). This, of course, is true of any survey text. Yet the extreme selectivity of 19th Century European Painting: David to Cézanne may make it a difficult fit for some courses on the subject.16 This winnowing of artists also seems a reaction against the approach exemplified by Rosenblum and Janson. According to his introduction, Eitner—now professor emeritus in the Department of Art and Architecture of Stanford University—intended this volume to compensate for the lack of a general textbook on art of the early to mid-nineteenth century. That its original publication postdates Rosenblum and Janson’s 19th-Century Art by three years, however, suggests that more than gap-filling, the book aimed to reassert Eitner’s particular vision of the nineteenth-century canon.
Eitner presents a top-heavy, medium-specific version of the period at hand.17 Indeed, the book might more appropriately be titled European Painting, 1789–1870. Cézanne is the sole representative of the Post-Impressionist period; readers will find no mention of Seurat, Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, or Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, let alone late nineteenth-century painters from other countries. As its title indicates, this text also concerns itself nearly exclusively with painting, an approach affiliated with the modernist art-historical tradition explicitly rejected by Rosenblum and Janson. Thus Eitner’s treatment of a figure such as Honoré Daumier, whose production famously spanned various media, quickly glosses over his lithographic and sculptural caricatures in favor of his paintings. These sympathetic images of working-class subjects—so different in flavor from Daumier’s satirical works in other media—certainly should be considered in any overview of the artist’s oeuvre. However, given that the paintings remained almost completely unknown until after the artist’s death, some art historians might question their prominent place in Eitner’s narrative. Other significant forms of nineteenth-century visual culture—such as photography, decorative art, and architecture—make no appearance in this volume.
As Eitner notes in his introduction, this text’s “focus is the individual artist” (xxi). He approaches the project, then, like a modern-day Vasari: most of his chapters are devoted to single artists and follow these figures from their early training to their last days.18 Clearly someone who relishes the biographer’s role, Eitner has a keen eye for the most dramatic and telling anecdotes from an artist’s life. For example, he connects William Blake’s birth into the family of a “striving tradesman”—a class background he describes as “favorable to self-education” (86)—with the artist’s rejection of the Royal Academy and innovative approach to his craft, particularly visible in his invention of the technique of relief etching. Eitner’s account of Camille Corot’s peripatetic existence provides analogous insights into the artist’s production. He cites the family’s purchase in 1817 of a country house in Ville d’Avray (one of Corot’s preferred landscape sites) and notes, poignantly, that the artist remained financially dependent upon his parents into his mid-forties, when he finally sold his first painting. Plucking more obscure details from the historical record, Eitner infuses them with meaning—as in the case of Ingres’s activities during the revolution of July 1830, “protecting, rifle in hand, the paintings of the Italian masters in the Louvre” (177).19 Anecdotes such as this bring Ingres’s oeuvre to life, making his stylistic conservatism (based on a worship of Classical and Renaissance art) more accessible to undergraduate readers.
At the same time, such colorful details sometimes squeeze out a more nuanced view of the historical record. For it is also the case that Ingres served alongside the “liberal” Eugène Delacroix during the “glorious three days,” and that the artist in fact supported the revolutionaries—as illustrated in his sketch for an allegorical image of these events.20 Additionally, such significant biographical details at times are mixed with less illuminating ones. If the fact that Turner entered the Royal Academy at the tender age of fourteen fleshes out an important aspect of the artist’s reputation, it is perhaps less essential to know that in 1798 he took up with a mistress who (in Eitner’s interpretation) “reliev[ed] Turner of any temptation to think of marriage” (152). Indeed, some of the stories reported in the text seem so romantic that one cannot help but wonder at their origin—such as the assertion that François-Pascal Gérard “died on January 11, 1837, whispering, in Italian, a prayer that his mother had taught him in his childhood” (44). Moreover, Eitner occasionally attempts to establish parallels between an artist’s biography and work that will seem shaky to some readers. He links, for example, the shipwreck portrayed in Theodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa (1819) with “a catastrophe of a different sort”—the pregnancy of his aunt, with whom he had been having an affair (191).
If Rosenblum and Janson at least claim to employ a smorgasbord of methodologies, Eitner remains unapologetic in his nearly exclusive focus on such biographical interpretations. While he writes several fine passages of visual description—including a sensitive discussion of Ingres’s Madame Rivière (1805)—Eitner’s textbook provides surprisingly little formal analysis.21 This is not to say that the author is shy about passing judgment on the quality of an artist or specific work. On the contrary: Joseph-Marie Vien is described as “an artist of modest gifts and little imagination” whose Cupid Seller (1763) displays a “special tedium . . . all in intentional contrast to Rococo vivacity” (6–7).22 Likewise, Eitner claims that Jacques-Louis David’s Distribution of the Eagle Standards (1808–10) “did not suit [the artist’s] talent” (28).23 This assessment would be more revealing if the author went on to suggest possible reasons for the painting’s un-Davidian “confusion of waving cloth and straining limbs” (28)—could the artist perhaps be adopting the style of some of his more successful students?
Such a disapproving tone pervades Eitner’s chapter on “Academic and Salon Painters.” Justifying the inclusion of these artists with the assertion that “their omission from accounts of the art of their time creates an awkward gap and falsifies the historical picture of that period” (283), the author goes on to suggest that these artists deserve no thoroughgoing evaluation. “It is not rewarding,” he writes, “to compare the painting surfaces of a Gérôme with those of a Cabanel in detail, for while there are differences in paint structure, both seem equally dead” (297). Such stylistic analysis only makes sense, according to Eitner, in relation to the “far more diverse works of the exceptional, independent geniuses” to whom he devotes the bulk of the text. Yet as I already have pointed out, this sort of grappling with form and style is, to a great extent, withheld from us—possibly because the author assumes this will be provided in the classroom. Furthermore, the lack of formal analysis in this volume is exacerbated by the state of the book’s illustrations (all reproduced in black and white). Only a portion of the works discussed are illustrated; moreover, because the images are both physically separate from the text and are given no figure numbers, the experience of reading this text can be extremely frustrating.24
If Eitner largely neglects the formalist approach, he is openly hostile to historical interpretations of artworks. Declaring this stance early on in the text, he argues that “progressive art of the nineteenth century would mainly be . . . a matter of ‘free’ personal self-expression and of artistic problem solving” (17)—rather than a response to, or a representation of, the social and political conditions of the moment. This position occasionally requires some rhetorical dexterity. To declare Delacroix’s Massacres at Chios (1824) “a personal statement . . . unfit for official use” (198) is not only to erase the painting’s insistently topical subject matter but also to ignore the political tone of the firestorm it set off at the Salon.25 In particular, Eitner refuses to view Impressionism in “political” terms, claiming that this style inherently “prevented the artist from functioning, in any straightforward way, as a commentator or critic of society” (350). Thus Degas is said to have embarked on his series of images of ballerinas because both he and his father loved music—not because of the social resonance of the Paris Opéra in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Manet’s The Balcony (1868) likewise merits no mention of the changes Baron Georges Haussmann imposed upon the city during this period. For Eitner, the painting’s significance lies only in its reflection of Manet’s interest in Spanish art.
In the course of refuting contextual readings of Impressionism, Eitner occasionally creates straw men and proceeds to skewer them. He dismisses as a “tendentious exaggeration” the impulse to “interpret signs of industrial civilization in [Claude] Monet’s landscapes as deliberate social comments, stern reminders of modern realities and their threat to ‘bourgeois’ summer peace” (368). This claim caricatures what many social art historians say about these paintings. Similarly, his discussion of Manet’s Olympia (1863) argues that
recent interpretations have stressed the picture’s treatment of the theme of prostitution as its main point, but it is clearly something other than, and more than, a social document. . . . He used the opportunity his subject offered him for painterly exploration, a deeply meditated arrangement of color harmonies and contrasts, setting the light cream of the nude against the white and pink satin of the couch, and against the dark brown skin of the attendant who offers the bouquet. (310)
Eitner may have had any one of several art historians in mind when writing this passage—he does not name any of the offending parties. However, one cannot help but measure this characterization against what is certainly the most famous interpretation of this painting in the last twenty years, that of T.J. Clark in The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers (New York: Knopf, 1984). Clark’s argument about Olympia indeed centers on her identity as a prostitute; no argument there. But Clark’s focus is the relationship between the figure’s equivocal class status and the indeterminacy of Manet’s rendering—and grounding that analysis in terms of pictorial form is what makes this such a forceful (one might even say irresistible) interpretation.
Eitner’s antipathy to contextual studies—an approach that has dominated this field for over a generation—makes the text seem outdated. This is nowhere more evident than in the annotated bibliographies included at the end of each chapter, which predominantly feature texts written prior to 1987.26 Influential studies of David published in the recent past—Dorothy Johnson’s Jacques-Louis David: Art in Metamorphosis (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993) and Ewa Lajer-Burcharth’s Necklines: The Art of Jacques-Louis David after the Terror (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999)—are conspicuously absent from Eitner’s summary of the literature on the artist. Though it is a relief to find both Robert Herbert’s Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988) and Richard Shiff’s Cézanne and the End of Impressionism: A Study of the Theory, Technique, and Critical Evaluation of Modern Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984) among the works cited on Impressionism, it is surprising not to see Steven Adams’s The Barbizon School and the Origins of Impressionism (London: Phaidon, 1994), Patricia Mainardi’s The End of the Salon: Art and the State in the Early Third Republic (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), or Janis Tomlinson’s Goya in the Twilight of Enlightenment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992) in the bibliographies appropriate to their subjects (to name just a few examples). Additionally, many of the books that Eitner does cite are written in languages other than English, which makes them a hard sell to students in a basic survey of nineteenth-century art. Another oddity of the bibliographies is that they are almost devoid of scholarly articles, a major venue for new interpretations. Eitner seems to prefer exhibition catalogues, which are among the few recent texts he includes. He also employs a strange system of categorization in the bibliographies, separating out what he deems “interpretations” from other books (primarily biographies, catalogues raisonnés, and exhibition catalogues, which evidently do not constitute “interpretations”). This, for example, is the fate of T.J. Clark’s Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution (London: Thames and Hudson, 1973), Michael Fried’s Courbet’s Realism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), and Sarah Faunce and Linda Nochlin’s “fairly imaginative” catalogue Courbet Reconsidered (Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Museum and New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), all lumped together under the heading “special studies” (280).
In terms of content, the primary additions to the revised edition of Eitner’s text are four chapters on women artists—Angelika Kauffmann, Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, Berthe Morisot, and Mary Cassatt. Separating out Kauffmann and Vigée-Lebrun from their male colleagues, Eitner argues that the “intellectual and emotional climate” of the late eighteenth century “favored, for reasons that are not fully understood, the entrance of women into the profession of art” (103). Rather than searching for those elusive reasons, Eitner spends his time describing Vigée-Lebrun as a person who “celebrated her own beauty, of which she was very conscious” (109). We are told that the artist “put her stress on [her sitters’] attractiveness and fashionability” (109) instead of delving into their psychological depth or social station. His chapters on Morisot and Cassatt suffer less from this type of treatment than from a seemingly half-hearted attention. In comparison with twenty pages devoted to Camille Pissarro and nine to Alfred Sisley, Morisot merits only six and Cassatt five.
For the most part, Eitner’s text also remains unaffected by the contributions of feminist scholarship to our understanding of nineteenth-century art more broadly. Of Degas’s brothel scenes, for example, Eitner comments that the subjects “aroused [the artist’s] curiosity to the highest degree, yet evidently without troubling his sexuality” (338). Likewise Auguste Renoir’s La Loge (1874), now a major monument in feminist interpretations of Impressionist painting, is treated as a “straightforward” (387) depiction of its male and female subjects. The artist’s late bather paintings are discussed in terms of Renoir’s “struggl[e] with the problem of representing large-scale figures in the natural light of the out of doors, to him the fundamental challenge in Impressionism” (389). For many art historians, the nineteenth century that takes shape in passages such as these bears little resemblance to the one we have come to know over the last twenty years—and would be loath to give up.
Eisenman: Negative Politics
As its title suggests, Eisenman considers the interpretive approach taken by the six contributors to Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History to be a “critical” one, called forth by artworks that are themselves “critical” according to a definition helpfully elaborated in a substantially revised introduction to the text’s second edition.27 “Critical” art, we learn, refuses simple mimetic depiction or “surface appearance” (12). Instead, such work “exposes the design and form of an historical, social, and ideological edifice” (12).28 To put it in vernacular terms, the critical art object speaks truth to power. It operates (again, in Eisenman’s words) “as a challenge to ruling ideas about hierarchy and value, and as the forward, cultural wedge of insurgent classes and communities” (16–17). In so doing, the artwork provides within itself the tools for its own interpretation: “the critical art historian,” Eisenman claims, “needs only to follow where it leads” (12).
Though some scholars might argue that such characteristics existed in artwork of earlier periods, Eisenman (a professor in the Department of Art History at Northwestern University) locates the conditions for “critical art” in developments specific to nineteenth-century society. He posits a productive friction between an increasingly democratic art world—in which works were “no longer the reliably pliant vehicle of entrenched elites” (9)—and the rise of capitalist and imperialist structures that continually worked to pull art back into the service of elite interests. The heroes of Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History produce art self-consciously opposed to such hegemonic social, political, and economic institutions. In some instances, this means that a case must be made for an oppositional stance that may not clearly exist. Against the grain of recent scholarship on Francisco Goya, which shows him to have negotiated a careful path between courtly patrons and a mass audience, Eisenman assigns the artist “a political and psychological identification with groups and individuals who exist on the margins of the ruling society” (89–90).29 Gauguin, too, is cast as a “critical” artist whose “best works are subtly but forcibly marked by modern signs of artistic alienation, class division, and degrading labor” (364). While this intriguing remark will prompt many readers to look at the artist’s oeuvre in new ways, some may find the suggestion that his primitivist images of Tahiti “provid[ed] audiences with a new and compelling critique of European culture” (364) a harder sell.30
As Przyblyski points out in her incisive review of the text, this approach does not end in a significant revaluation of the nineteenth-century canon.31 This is particularly true insofar as Eisenman’s application of the label “critical” to a given work is determined largely on the basis of its perceived visual quality. “Formally innovative works of visual art,” he argues tautologically, “may in fact be judged more significant than conservative ones because they played a greater role in bringing about (or, at least, compellingly addressing) historical change” (16). Thus while on the one hand Eisenman praises Rosenblum and Janson’s aim to revise the canon, he condemns them on the other for their unwillingness to make “critical judgments” (16) about artworks and artists.32 Eschewing what he calls the “scientific” approach taken by such textbooks, which simply present art-historical “data,” Eisenman claims that this book “travel[s] freely” between formal and social-historical analysis of objects.
At its best, Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History does just that. The chapters written by Thomas Crow on late-eighteenth and early nineteenth-century France, and by Frances Pohl on early to mid-nineteenth-century America, serve as models for the sensitive interweaving of acute visual description and trenchant observations about politics and society. Crow’s contribution draws on and synthesizes the main ideas in his Painters and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Paris (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985) and Emulation: Making Artists for Revolutionary France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995). In his narration of the rise of Neoclassicism and its gradual shift to Romanticism, Crow incorporates artists’ biographies, the history of artistic institutions, audience response, and formal analysis—while still making this complex treatment accessible to a college-level reader. A particularly compelling discussion of David’s Lictors Returning to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons (1789) contrasts the painting’s visual “syntax of disassociation” (30) with the heroic masculine ideal offered four years prior in The Oath of the Horatii. Crow connects this compositional “dismemberment” not only with the literal violation of the bodies of Brutus’s traitorous sons, but also with the late eighteenth-century viewer’s awareness of the fractures produced in the construction of a coherent “social body” (30).
For the most part, Crow’s evident sympathy for artists like David and Géricault, who exemplify what he considers “the Revolutionary ideal of the independent, public-minded artist” (64), does not feel heavy-handed. Nor does his condemnation of those artists who do not fit this mold—though he does try to turn even “official” artists into unwitting opponents of their conservative patrons. He argues, for example, that “the outward forms of the restored Bourbon dynasty, propped up by foreign powers, would necessarily be a theatrical show of past moments of glory,” pointing to works such as Ingres’s The Vow of Louis XIII (1824) and François Gérard’s Entry of Henri IV into Paris (1817). Contrary to these artists’ intentions, however, their pomp “produced the most profound exposure of [the regime’s] shallowness and artificiality” (78). Not all readers will agree with this assessment. Yet even if we reject Crow’s conclusion, it nevertheless prompts us to view these works, too often dismissed as simple propaganda, as complex actors in an unstable artistic and political milieu. Only rarely can you catch this section of the text presenting a one-sided interpretation, as in its analysis of Anne-Louis Girodet’s masterful Jean-Baptiste Belley (1797). Claiming that this portrait of a freed Senegalese slave—the first black representative to the National Convention from Haiti (then Saint-Domingue)—“celebrates a heroic triumph of Enlightenment ideas and the principle of equality” (41), Crow erases many of the image’s disturbing complexities. He describes Maurice Raynal, the white man against whose marble bust Belley leans, as an abolitionist campaigning against colonial exploitation (when in fact his views changed dramatically over the course of the 1790s). More surprisingly, given Crow’s interest in the homosocial networks that emerged from David’s studio, he also passes over the homoerotic presentation of Belley’s body—an element that may also subtly destabilize the subject’s claim to political equality.33
Francis Pohl’s chapters rival Crow’s achievement in their inventive recasting of traditional accounts of American art. Eschewing such forms of textbook organization as artists’ biographies and stylistic progression, her chapters approach this period through two subjects that recur obsessively in its visual culture: Native Americans and African Americans. As other reviewers have pointed out, this is the only portion of the textbook that disturbs the accepted canon by paying serious attention to lesser-known artists (Theodor Kaufmann, Nathaniel Jocelyn, Charles Bird King, Wo-Haw) and artifacts (photographs, book and newspaper illustrations, painted buffalo-skin robes).34 Some may find this to be too radical a move, and lament the absence of, say, William Sidney Mount or George Caleb Bingham from Pohl’s narrative. Yet she still manages to include most prominent U.S. artists of this period, and in the process forces us to see the ways in which their work was haunted by the specter of those written out of America’s founding myths. We are led to notice, for example, the literal marginalization of Native Americans to the decorative frame of Emanuel Leutze’s triumphal Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (Westward Ho!) (1861–62). Or the way in which George Catlin’s images of North American tribes, such as The Last Race, Part of Okipa Ceremony (1832), summon a nostalgia for the demise of a way of life that conveniently omits the cause of that passing: the deliberate actions of the U.S. government.
Pohl does not allow this thematic focus to detract from careful formal analysis of the objects under discussion. To the contrary, it often prompts her to see nuances in these images that might otherwise be overlooked. This is true of Eastman Johnson’s Old Kentucky Home (Negro Life in the South) (1859), a painting that easily could be dismissed as a simple genre scene of life in the antebellum South. Pohl instead calls attention to subtle signs of class and racial identification provided in the figures’ costume, pose, and placement within the composition. Zeroing in on the wide range of skin color contained in the painting, she notes that while this variety “could be accounted for by the varying skin colors of Africans themselves . . . [it] could also be caused by another avenue of contact that was quite common between male slave-owners and their female slaves—rape” (184). This type of observation seems the fulfillment of the promise made to readers in Eisenman’s introduction: a “critical” scholarship that will read form and history jointly to produce new (and, yes, political) understandings of nineteenth-century art. The only complaint one could make about this section of the text—as John House does in a review of the first edition—is that it isolates America’s treatment of its dispossessed subjects from European Orientalism, “another type of engagement between Western art and the ‘other.’”35 Such a cross-cultural dialogue would only strengthen Pohl’s already worthy contribution.
Indeed, Linda Nochlin—whose appearance in the textbook is limited to a relatively short chapter on the work of Mary Cassatt and Thomas Eakins—would have been the perfect person to accomplish this task with an updated version of her article “The Imaginary Orient.”36 Nochlin’s section, as one might expect, forcefully inserts issues of gender into this narrative of the nineteenth century, with several insightful pairings of works by Cassatt and Eakins on similar subjects. While this chapter, importantly, extends the book’s treatment of U.S. artists through the later years of the century, it is surprising that Nochlin’s role in the interpretation of this period is so minimal. A more meaty text from this doyenne of the field on the subject of mid-century Realism or Impressionism—even a broader version of her existing chapter, including parallel comparisons between Morisot or Eva Gonzales and Manet—would have been more satisfying.
Such a contribution would have leavened the second half of Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History, authored almost entirely by Eisenman—a denser and more abstract piece of writing than one finds in the book’s other sections. For Eisenman, who relies heavily on Marxist theory in his interpretive approach, the history of art after 1830 is dominated by the development of three distinct responses to a broader historical phenomenon: the breakdown of a public sphere characterized by pluralism and open debate.37 Artists negotiating the diminished role that this situation offered them could opt to either content themselves with “flatter[y] and entertain[ment]” by aligning with the Academy; “see[k] no social or political role at all” by becoming otherworldly modernists; or “reasser[t] cultural authority and political engagement” by forming an avant-garde “counter-public sphere” (206). Given his political orientation, it is not surprising that Eisenman does not favor artists he places in the first two categories.
This includes much of the Impressionist generation, whom he characterizes as “individualists who lacked the world-historical ambition, Romantic fervor, and avant-garde convictions of the two previous generations of French and European artists” (288). Equating this individualist orientation with these artists’ modernist fascination with the optical, Eisenman describes the world they conjure in their paintings as
one which cannot be manipulated, grasped, or even touched, except with the eyes. It is a world where use-value has been banished, and exchange-value—which posits the universal equality of things—enshrined instead. For the Impressionist painter, nature and the built environment appear as commodity-forms, or fetishes (as defined by Marx), alienated from the biological processes or human labor that brought them into being. (291)
The point of this passage is well taken. It is essential to view the Impressionist cult of visual sensation as an aesthetic stance with significant social and political underpinnings. And Eisenman provides a detailed discussion of the formal qualities that evoke such values: the elimination of chiaroscuro, the attention to relationships of color, and the “densely clotted” (290) paint, all of which force the viewer to come to terms with the flatness of the painted surface. However, at several moments in the book I found myself wishing that Eisenman had given himself more space to articulate further the connections between his broad ideas and the specific objects he chooses to include. He begins his chapter on Realist art with an evocative citation of Marx’s famous phrase “all that is solid melts into air,” relating this to “a depiction of epochal anxiety, transformation, and desacralization” in the work of Courbet, Daumier, and Jean-François Millet. But is there a formal component to these artists’ work that meshes with Marx’s phrase? Or is this where the parallel breaks down?
Nowhere are the possibilities (and problems) with the text’s approach more evident than in the authors’ repeated use of the term “dialectic.” This concept starts out promisingly in the introduction, where Eisenman points to the dialectical orientation of both Blake and Goya: in their work, “neither light nor dark, reason nor unreason, neither God nor the devil are singular and eternal . . . they are multiple and protean, contingent upon the political and social perspectives of the spectator and upon fast-changing historical events” (10). Winningly, Eisenman describes the “reactionary” Ingres as an artist whose classicism was formed through a dialectical engagement with modernity and social change (10). In the body of the textbook, however, this nuanced approach is not as much in evidence. “Dialectic” is employed in so many different ways that it no longer retains any real meaning. It encompasses the strong contrasts of light and dark in Neoclassical paintings and the interplay of flatness and depth in works by the Macchiaioli; the relationship between Géricault’s pendant paintings of soldiers, The Charging Chasseur (1812) and The Wounded Cuirassier (1814); the complementary myths of city and country in Realist and Impressionist art; and the contradictory position of women in Courbet’s images.
In addition to the aforementioned introduction, the second edition of the text includes a new chapter by Brian Lukacher on German and American landscape painting—expanded from a six-page detour in his sections on British landscape—thus making Pohl’s sections on the United States less lonely. Eisenman himself has added a chapter on Toulouse-Lautrec, whose work barely made a ripple in the first edition of the textbook. Where previously Eisenman dismissed the artist as “depict[ing] uncritically the Parisian world of fashion and entertainment” (329), he now emphasizes the “celebration of sexual desire” in his paintings and posters. He interprets Toulouse-Lautrec’s images as inverting traditional relationships between sexuality and the commodity. “For more than a hundred years,” he writes, “capitalist commerce has used sex to sell commodities and thereby intervene in the domain of erotic and imaginative life.” In contrast, Toulouse-Lautrec “highlight[s] pleasure as a refuge from working-class labor, and fetishism as a form of emancipation” (332). Finally, like Rosenblum and Janson’s, this revised edition increases the attention paid to photography with a chapter by David Llewellyn Phillips entitled “Photography, Modernity, and Art.” A short but comprehensive treatment of this subject, the chapter begins with pre-photographic media (the camera obscura and the Diorama) and ends with the invention of the first Kodak camera in 1888, addressing along the way both technical and thematic issues related to the medium. Though one might question the decision not to extend this inquiry through the end of the century, Phillips’s contribution fits well with the rest of the text—particularly in its preoccupation with the tensions between photography’s democratizing promise and the drive toward professionalization amongst its practitioners, between its role in the development of mass culture and its increasing recuperation into the realm of high art. Like the other examples of “critical art” analyzed in this textbook, photography is viewed here as “reveal[ing] deep tensions within the hierarchical structures of bourgeois society,” marked by its “intrinsi[c ] connect[ion] to the ascendancy of industrial capitalism” (268), yet providing within itself the means of resistance to that very system.
Chu: A Broader Context
The newest survey text on the block, Petra ten-Doesschate Chu’s Nineteenth-Century European Art, takes a far wider view of its subject than its predecessors.38 Chu, a professor in the Department of Art and Music at Seton Hall University, begins her introduction with the declaration that history “cannot be packaged neatly in century-long periods” (13). Thus, she concludes, “to tell properly the story of nineteenth-century art, we must begin nearly forty years before 1800” (13), for it was in the middle of the eighteenth century that the “tremendous ideological and cultural upheaval” of modernity originated. Setting a somewhat triumphalist tone for the volume—particularly relative to Eisenman—she asserts that the period under discussion was characterized by a “slow but steady process of democratization” (13–14). While Chu acknowledges the emergence of urban and rural underclasses and the rise of colonial regimes during the nineteenth century, the stress here is on the nineteenth century’s positive achievements: the “unprecedented supply of commodities” (14) resulting from the rise of capitalism, “growing mobility of people and goods” (14), the widening of the franchise, and, more broadly, “a powerful belief in progress, a sense that, with the help of science and technology, humankind has the power continually to improve the world” (15).
Nineteenth-Century European Art not only bites off a larger-than-usual chunk of time to discuss; it also defines “art” more broadly than any of the other volumes reviewed here.39 In many ways, this approach could be seen as the heir to Rosenblum and Janson’s emphatic inclusiveness. To my mind, this textbook bests the earlier volume in its more synthetic approach. Right off the bat we can see this method at work in Chu’s chapter on the Rococo. This movement is defined not simply through the paintings of François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard but also through sculpture (Etienne-Maurice Falconet’s Seated Cupid (1757)), decorative art (vases from the Sèvres porcelain factory of 1761), and architectural decoration (the Salon de la Princesse in the Hôtel de Soubise (1732)). At the end of the book we find the same approach applied to Art Nouveau, in a section that includes Paul Abadie’s Sacré Coeur (1876–1914), Hector Guimard’s designs for the Paris Métro (1899–1905), a screen by Emile Gallé (1900), and posters by Jules Chéret and Toulouse-Lautrec. Importantly, Chu does not reserve this treatment for art movements that are traditionally seen through such a wide lens. She characterizes Neoclassicism, for example, as a phenomenon exemplified as much by Wedgwood pottery as by familiar works of “high art.”
Like Rosenblum and Janson, Chu attends to many works that traditionally lie outside of the nineteenth-century canon. Though she retreads many of her predecessors’ choices (including Jean-Pierre Cortot’s Marie-Antoinette Supported by Religion [ca. 1825] and Edwin Landseer’s odd portrait of Victoria and Albert, Windsor Castle in Modern Times [1841–5]), she also comes up with some novel additions of her own. Unusually, she contextualizes Goya’s work with a discussion of the work of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and Anton Raphael Mengs for the court of Carlos III—including a hilariously unflattering portrait of the king that provides a nice pairing with Goya’s Family of Carlos IV (1800–01). Her refusal of a medium-specific approach also allows Chu to construct some inventive comparisons that rival Rosenblum’s. A section on Orientalism juxtaposes Gérôme’s Prayer in the Mosque (ca. 1872) and Eugène Fromentin’s Arab Falconer (1863) with Maxime du Camp’s photograph View of Cairo: The Citadel and the Mohammed Ali Mosque (n.d.) and Charles Cordier’s sculpture Negro of the Sudan in Algerian Costume (ca. 1856–7)—an array that allows us to see the different ways in which the “Orient” and “Orientalism” took shape for French audiences in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. It just so happens that the next section addresses the theme of the nude, and it occurred to me as I was reading that instead of Ingres’s Venus Anadyomene (1848) Chu might have chosen the artist’s hallucinogenic Turkish Bath (1862) because of its thematic analogies with the previous group. But to some extent this points up the success of Chu’s method. It implicitly asks us, in emulation of the author, to forge new connections—across media, countries, and genres.
At the same time, Chu’s commitment to the “United Nations” approach to textbook writing sometimes seems a bit too thorough, verging on inclusiveness for inclusiveness’ sake. Her section on “Spanish Art after Goya” proves the important point that Goya was not the only painter in early nineteenth-century Spain, but the author offers little to make José de Madrazo y Agudo and Vicente López come alive for those of us who were previously unfamiliar with their work. In places Chu also appears to select images on the basis of her thematic categories when other examples by the same artists would be more characteristic or illuminating. She chooses, for example, Julia Margaret Cameron’s photograph Sir John Herschel (1867) to fill out an otherwise skimpy section on Victorian portraiture instead of focusing on one of the artist’s more intriguing Pre-Raphaelite studies. And this book also has its share of art-historical clunkers, especially in the second half. Two examples of Victorian animal painting are provided when one would do. Likewise, the survey of naturalist paintings of the 1880s (with its French, “Nordic,” German, and Belgian variants) reminds us of the popularity of this genre—but perhaps too assiduously.
In thus shedding traditional definitions of canonicity, this text sometimes gives “major” nineteenth-century artists short shrift. (Rose
Professor, Department of Art, American University
1 Robert Rosenblum and H.W. Janson. 19th-Century Art. Revised and updated edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005. 544 pp.; 370 color ills.; 170 b/w ills. Cloth $85.00 (0131896148); Lorenz Eitner. 19th Century European Painting: David to Cézanne. Revised Edition. Boulder: Westview Press, 2002. 746 pp.; 432 b/w ills. Paper $50.00 (0813365708); Stephen Eisenman. Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History. 2nd Edition. London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 2007. 428 pp.; 63 color ills.; 365 b/w ills. Paper $63.90 (0500283354); Petra ten-Doesschate Chu. Nineteenth-Century European Art. 2nd Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2006. 560 pp.; 284 color ills.; 298 b/w ills. Paper $99.20 (0131886436)
fn2. My discussion of the goals of the survey text is indebted to Jeannene Przyblyski’s analysis. She notes that “while the explicit jobs of the art historical survey text have been selection, classification, and formal analysis, its implicit tasks might be said to be exclusion, qualification, and disqualification. . . . Such tasks, explicit and implicit, reveal the linked way in which the authoring of the survey and the processes of canon formation are at bottom policing functions.” This is in the context of her review of Stephen Eisenman’s Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History (1994), which is also reviewed here. See Jeannene Przyblyski, “19th-Century Art,” Art Journal 54, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 104.
fn3. In contrast, Hobsbawm defines the twentieth century as a “short” one in his The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991 (London: Michael Joseph and New York: Viking Penguin, 1994). (Another version of the book was published as The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914–1991 [New York: Pantheon Books, 1994].) The choice of these dates also is due (at least in part) to Hobsbawm’s commitment to a Marxist interpretation of history: in The Age of Revolution, for example, he attributes the “transformation of the world between 1789 and 1848” to “the ‘dual revolution’—the French Revolution of 1789 and the contemporaneous (British) Industrial Revolution.” See Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution, 1789–1848 (1962) (New York: Vintage Books, 1996): ix. Hobsbawm was only one of several scholars who brought this concept into greater public consciousness in the 1960s: in 1967, John McManners published his narrative of the period, Lectures on European History 1789–1914: Men, Machines and Freedom (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1967).
fn4. Eisenman’s text is composed of chapters by six separate contributors; this one, “Patriotism and Virtue: David to the Young Ingres,” was written by Thomas Crow. I will return to the issue of multiple authors later in the essay.
fn5. Eisenman is, in fact, the only one of these authors whose other scholarly work concentrates on the late nineteenth century, focusing particularly on the work of Paul Gauguin and Odilon Redon.
fn6. The introduction to the original edition of the textbook, which was edited out of the more recent version, is unpaginated. All quotations cited as n.p. come from that portion of the text.
fn7. Moreover, neither work was actually displayed in the Exposition. Da Volpedo had hoped to show his painting there, but was unable to complete it in time; Picasso’s image was not one of the works he submitted for the Spanish section of the fair (475–76). I find Janson’s selection of Georges Recipon’s quadriga for the Grand Palais (1900) and Aristide Maillol’s Night (1902) similarly deflating.
fn8. Just over twenty years intervened between the first publication of this textbook in 1984 and the issuing of a revised and updated edition in 2005.
fn9. Interestingly, in her review of this textbook, written shortly after it was first published, Amy Fine describes it as “much less polemical, much more restrained in its revisionist views than the front cover . . . would lead one to believe.” To illustrate her point, she notes that “the lengthiest sections are devoted to the modern masters.” While I would agree with her characterization as far as the book’s methodology, I do think that in terms of its content the book is perhaps more revisionist than she would argue. See Amy M. Fine, “19th-Century Art,” Woman’s Art Journal 6, no. 1 (Spring–Summer 1985): 41. It also should be noted that the cover image for the revised edition, Vilhelm Hammershoi’s Interior, or The Corner of a Dining Room (1899), has nowhere the same impact as the original image.
fn10. As Rosenblum noted in the original introduction to the text, Janson died in 1982 with the manuscript incomplete, and the task of editing his contribution was taken up by his former student June Hargrove. Perhaps because of this, Rosenblum’s voice dominates. Rosenblum himself died late last year. In January 2007, their department at NYU was renamed the Department of Art History.
fn11. The exhibition was held in 1999–2000 at the Royal Academy in London and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Reviews of the exhibition include Richard Shiff, “1900: Art at the Crossroads,” Artforum 39, no. 2 (October 2000): 138–39 and Richard Thomson, “1900,” The Burlington Magazine 142, no. 1167 (June 2000): 391–94. Rosenblum was, it should be noted, not alone during the 1980s in this revisionist approach: the Musée d’Orsay also experimented with it by hanging works by “avant-garde” artists of the nineteenth century alongside those of “official” or “academic” painters. For more, see Andrea Kupfer Schneider, Creating the Musée d’Orsay: The Politics of Culture in France (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 1998).
fn12. Interestingly, Rosenblum does not single out a particular textbook or scholar to exemplify the “Francocentric” point of view that he is combating.
fn13. This is one of several examples in this review of titles of well-known artworks that vary widely among the different textbooks. In each case I have chosen to employ the title that I prefer, but the reader should be aware that other translations and versions exist.
fn14. Anne Wagner, “The Old Art History,” Art in America 74, no. 2 (February 1986): 17.
fn15. Janson, it must be admitted, does not provide nearly as compelling formal analyses of the works in his sections of the text. Fine also notes that Rosenblum’s prose style is “excitable” and “intoxicat[ing].” See Fine, 41.
fn16. The original edition of this textbook, published in 1987, was entitled An Outline of 19th Century European Painting: From David through Cézanne. The revised edition was issued in 2002.
fn17. This reflects Eitner’s own scholarly background, which has focused primarily on the work of Theodore Géricault; he is the author of Géricault: His Life and Work (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983).
fn18. In his review of Eitner’s textbook, Christopher Parsons compares it to John Canaday’s Lives of the Painters (New York: Norton, 1969). See Parsons, “An Outline of 19th-Century European Painting from David through Cézanne,” Oxford Art Journal 11, no. 1 (1988): 74. Parsons also notes (correctly, in my estimation) that this focus on individual artists prevents the author from “full discussion of the stylistic labels used to cement the individual biographies together” (74).
fn19. Eitner implies that this was a form of official service, commenting that “the Revolution of 1830 found Ingres at his post as a national guardsman” (177). However, Andrew Shelton cites the memoirs of Antoine Étex (1878) as proof that Ingres’s participation, and that of other artists, was purely voluntary. See Andrew Carrington Shelton, “Paris, 1824–1834,” in Gary Tinterow and Philip Conisbee, eds., Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc./The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999): 281.
fn20. This sketch, in the collection of the Musée Ingres, Montauban, is titled The People, Victorious in July 1830. For a reproduction of the drawing, see Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch, 281. These events are also mentioned in the catalogue’s detailed chronology, by Rebecca A. Rabinow (see page 549).
fn21. Elsewhere, Eitner provides a fascinating discussion of the limits of language to convey the “sensuous experience” of viewing a work of art first hand, arguing that “interpretations of art are . . . flawed by a basic partiality: they convey not so much what the critic or historian actually experienced, but what his language and method allowed him to communicate.” This viewpoint may have influenced the way he approached his text. See Eitner, “Art History and the Sense of Quality,” Art International 19, no. 5 (May 1975): 75. It also should be mentioned that Eitner has an intriguing obsession with the subject of bituminous paint, which comes up several times throughout the book.
fn22. As many readers will know, this was featured as the initial image in Rosenblum’s Transformations in Late Eighteenth Century Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967)—thus demonstrating a clear difference between the tastes of these two authors.
fn23. Eitner translates the title of this painting as Presentation of the Eagle Standards; I have chosen to employ the more common translation.
fn24. The revised edition, which appeared in 2002, combines text with images in one volume (in the first edition, the illustrations were published in a separate volume). It is surprising that in the process the publisher did not correct this glaring problem.
fn25. Moreover, as Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby has pointed out, Delacroix exhibited his next painting on this subject, Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi (1826), at an exhibition dedicated to raising money for the cause of Greek independence: an explicitly political context. See Grigsby’s chapter entitled “White Slavery: Ottoman Africa” in Extremities: Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002).
fn26. This is in spite of the claims in the publisher’s gloss to the new edition that these sections of the book have been updated.
fn27. The original edition was published in 1994; the second edition appeared in 2002.
fn28. Eisenman here demonstrates his indebtedness to the aesthetic theory of Theodor Adorno, particularly the latter’s resistance to totality (social, metaphysical, or otherwise) and his commitment to a “utopian negativity,” that is, to a critique of society as it exists (an immanent critique) rather than an idealized vision of what society should be. Eisenman addresses these issues in his review article “Negative Art History: Adorno and the Criticism of Culture,” Art Journal 58, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 101–04. Adorno’s theories are elaborated in The Dialectic of Enlightenment (with Max Horkheimer (1944)), Edmund Jephcott, trans. (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002); Negative Dialectics (1966), E.B. Ashton, trans. (London: Routledge, 1973); and Aesthetic Theory (1970), Robert Hullot-Kentor, trans. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998). A helpful analysis of Adorno’s thought is provided by Simon Jarvis, Adorno: A Critical Introduction (New York: Routledge, 1998).
fn29. So, for example, Eisenman cites Goya’s images of majas and majos—representatives of a popular subculture—as evidence of this orientation, without noting that most of these images were made for noble or upper-class patrons. For more on this subject, see Tomlinson, Goya in the Twilight of Enlightenment, op. cit., and Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez and Eleanor A. Sayre, Goya and the Spirit of Enlightenment (Boston: Little, Brown and Co./Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1989).
fn30. In addition to Gauguin, Przyblyski notes that Eisenman “recuperates . . . Cézanne’s retreat into formalism in the name of utopianism” (see Przyblyski, 105). As I mentioned earlier in this essay, Gauguin has been a major focus of Eisenman’s scholarship: see, for example, his Gauguin’s Skirt (London: Thames and Hudson, 1997).
fn31. She also makes the point that in spite of the multi-author format, “this book is in the end no less oppressive in its authorial posturing than the conventional art historical survey,” not only in its defense of traditional canonical artists, but also in the “recurrent use of strangely old-fashioned terms such as ‘genius’” (Przyblyski, 105).
fn32. Such “relative indifference to formal quality” is, for Eisenman, “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” (16).
fn33. Both of these issues are discussed in Grigsby’s chapter on this portrait. Grigsby argues that in the pairing of Raynal with Belley, Girodet meant to invoke Raynal’s more radical, abolitionist views, but it seems possible that other conclusions could be drawn by viewers of 1797 (see Grigsby, 40).
fn34. See, for example, John House, “Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History,” The Burlington Magazine 138, no. 1114 (January 1996): 35.
fn35. House, 35.
fn36. Linda Nochlin, “The Imaginary Orient,” Art in America 71, no. 5 (May 1983): 119–31, 187–91.
fn37. In this formulation Eisenman relies heavily on the work of Jürgen Habermas, particularly The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (1962), Thomas Burger, trans. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991). This aspect of the textbook is treated helpfully in Steven Levine’s review “Nineteenth Century Art: A Critical History; Modernity and Modernism: French Painting in the Nineteenth Century,” Woman’s Art Journal 18, no. 1 (Spring–Summer 1997): 51.
fn38. As its title suggests, however, this textbook excludes American art from its purview. Chu’s textbook was originally published in 2003, followed three years later by the second edition, which is considered here.
fn39. Chu’s scholarship outside of this textbook similarly refuses traditional definitions of “high” and “low.” In addition to publishing numerous essays on Courbet and Realist art, she co-edited, with Gabriel P. Weisberg, The Popularization of Images: Visual Culture under the July Monarchy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994).
fn40. For these interpretations, see Nina Athanassoglou-Kallmyer, “Géricault’s Severed Heads and Limbs: The Politics and Aesthetics of the Scaffold,” Art Bulletin 74, no. 3 (September 1990): 482–92; Clark, Image of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution, op. cit.; and Tamar Garb, Bodies of Modernity: Figure and Flesh in Fin-de-Siècle France (London: Thames and Hudson, 1998).
fn41. Anne M. Wagner, “Rodin’s Reputation,” in Lynn Hunt, ed., Eroticism and the Body Politic (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991): 191–242.
fn42. These productions are considered in Lynn Garafola, ed., Rethinking the Sylph: New Perspectives on the Romantic Ballet (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press/University Press of New England, 1997).
fn43. See Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990) and Suspensions of Perception: Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999).
fn44. Vanessa R. Schwartz and Jeannene M. Przyblyski, The Nineteenth Century Visual Culture Reader (New York and London: Routledge, 2004): 3–4.
fn45. Interestingly, revised versions of both Chu and Eisenman’s textbooks have appeared far more quickly than the other two volumes under review—a tactic increasingly taken by publishers to ensure that their textbooks will continue to produce large revenues, and to reduce students’ resale of books to their colleagues. This is also annoying for the instructor who has spent a great deal of time working out a syllabus, only to have to go back and change all the page numbers a short while later when a new edition appears.
Please send comments about this review to email@example.com.
Copyright © 2016 College Art Association. Reviews and essays are licensed to the public under a under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
- By accessing and/or using caa.reviews, you accept and agree to abide by the Terms & Conditions.