For years I’ve felt right at home in the nesting colony that is Victorian Studies. As Victorian Studies expanded in the last decade to include history along side literary criticism, I’ve snuggled in and lined my Victorian Studies nest with novels, popular science treatises, artificial limb catalogues, late-century films, and body building manuals. Although visual culture is central to Victorian Studies, it was only at the joint VSAWC and VISAWUS conference in October that I started to think about the art historians that might be nesting in the same Victorian Studies colonies.
This year’s joint Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada and Victorian Interdisciplinary Association of the Western United States conference was co-hosted by the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. With its focus on markets and marketing, the conference attracted a range of visual culture scholars and art historians who established the nuanced relationship between Victorian art and commerce. Julie Codell demonstrated how the artists’ aesthetic and commercial identities were shaped by new journalism. Mary Elizabeth Leighton and Lisa Surridge explored the life of images, separated from their accompanying text, in the Cornhill Gallery. Sophia Andres made a case for Pre-Raphaelite writing – found in the painterly detail in the novels of the Pre-Raphaelite’s associates. Anne Helmreich mapped the network of the journals, continental art houses, and critics who helped to get works of art into the National Gallery or otherwise sold. Pamela Fletcher traced the rise and critical reception of commercial galleries. My list is far from exhaustive – there were a multitude of art-focused papers at the conference.
I’d like to make a CFAH (a call for art historians). I’ve read that the disciplinary focus on modernism pushes those of you who study nineteenth century art into continental studies. I (and I imagine all the floating academicians) would love to know how to make a web space, like The Floating Academy, a home for art historians who study British work. Would you built a nest here in Victorian Studies?