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?

3 thoughts on “Lining the Nest: Art History and Victorian Studies

  1. I have a related question for those of us who teach Victorian literature about how we might best integrate Victorian visual art into our courses.

    One fairly straightforward thing that I’ve done in my teaching is to talk about illustrations for literary texts. For instance, I’ve relied upon Lorraine Janzen Kooistra’s book, Christina Rossetti and Illustration, to talk about various visual interpretations of the famously enigmatic poem “Goblin Market”. Sticking with Rossetti, I’ve also used various pre-raphaelite paintings to illustrate a discussion of Rossetti’s poem “In An Artists Studio.”

    Does anyone have any non-PRB-related suggestions for how to profitably integrate Victorian visual art into a lecture or seminar course on Victorian literature?

  2. Jen, I opened wordpress’ automatically generated you-have-a-comment email about 30 seconds before I had to rush out the door this morning. I didn’t catch that it was from you. I’ve spent all day thinking that it was from someone other than the regular FA contributors – and that you’d likely have lots of advice (George Eliot month notwithstanding).

    It’s nice to return to find a familiar -I was going to say, face- blogger.

    I don’t have much experience with Victorian high art; however, illustrated magazines offer the perfect opportunity to discuss serialization and illustration at the same time. To get students interested I too like to start with one of Lorraine Janzen Kooistra’s precepts: illustrations are often obstreperous. I have students look for illustrations’ extra-textual content. I also have them consider why a particular scene might be illustrated and not another (this is particularly effective with children’s stories – there are almost no illustrations of Little Red Riding Hood being eaten alive even though it’s the most exciting part of the story). Both exercises help us imagine the text’s suppositional reader.

  3. Thanks Connie! I really like that idea of discussing how (and why) certain narrative moments lend themselves to visual representation!

    A secondary issue with these kinds of questions, I suppose, is the relationship between the publisher, the illustrator, and the author. I imagine that we would read illustrations by the author, (say, Thackeray’s in Vanity Fair) differently than illustrations appended by a publisher or illustrator without authorial involvement. (It might be an interesting moment to talk about the process of Victorian publishing).

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