Victorian Britain in the Mile High City

Today’s guest blogger is Jennifer R. Henneman, who holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Washington, and is Assistant Curator of Western American Art at the Petrie Institute of Western American Art at the Denver Art Museum. Jennifer’s interdisciplinary transatlantic research, which has taken her from the wilds of the American West to the cosmopolitan streets of London, reflects her own upbringing on a cattle ranch in Montana and her interest in the dominant cultural and artistic spheres of the late Victorian era. In addition to creating exhibitions for the Denver Art Museum, Jennifer currently pursues a book project on the 1887 American Exhibition in London.

My daily walk to work at the Denver Art Museum includes a southward view down Broadway, one of Denver, Colorado’s primary north-south thoroughfares. Above the westward skyline rises “Jonas Bros / Furs” in red neon letters. A legacy of the city’s 1920s urban landscape, the sign towers over the art deco building out of which the Denver branch of the Jonas Brothers’ taxidermy and fur company operated for much of the 20th century.[1]

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Photo courtesy of the author.

The success of the Jonas Brothers’ firm was built on a 19th century tradition of big game hunting in the Colorado Rockies and its associated industry, taxidermy, which reached highest popularity during the latter part of that century. Lately, taxidermy is much on my mind as I consider the ramifications of North American hunting trophies exhibited within the Fine Arts Galleries of the American Exhibition in London of 1887, an event best known for hosting Buffalo Bill’s Wild West on its first tour abroad. I am interested in the strangeness of the Fine Art Galleries, in which the moulded forms of animal bodies held court adjacent to over a thousand works of American art. Hunted by British sportsmen in North America, these trophies reinforced active British participation in America’s westward expansion, and remind me of the imperial footprints left by such hunters in my current Colorado vicinity.

Continue reading “Victorian Britain in the Mile High City”

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“We Sit Starving Amidst Our Gold”

Though I could not go to Venice this year — where NAVSA/BAVS 2013 is about to begin — Venice, it seems, came to me, by way of Toronto’s Globe and Mail. Last Saturday’s edition featured on the cover of its arts section an image taken from the “buzz” piece at the 2013 Venice Biennale, Jeremy Deller’s “We Sit Starving Amidst Our Gold.”

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Image courtesy of British Council. Jeremy Deller’s British Council commission is at La Biennale di Venezia until 24th November and will tour national UK venues in 2014. http://www.britishcouncil.org/visualarts.

“Hey,” I said to my partner before reading the piece, “that looks like William Morris throwing that yacht!” I’m both proud and ashamed of my nerdiness in this regard. Continue reading ““We Sit Starving Amidst Our Gold””

Victorians and the Art of Photocollage


Reprieve! I’ve been steeped in regret at not having posted a review of Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage when it was on at the AGO over the summer. My impressions have liquefied and dribbled off somewhere in the intervening months. Let me offer the Elizabeth Siegel’s curatorial lecture in their stead. In July I would have said that Victorian ephemera was ideal for the summer months, but now that patio season is over, I’m more inclined than ever to get out my pinking sheers in solidarity with Siegel’s subjects.

“Playing with Pictures”: Victorian Photocollage at the Met

A current exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York showcases a little-known, playful, and funny form of Victorian art. Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage features a collection of photocollages created by Victorian women (and a few men), in which they integrated photos of family members and friends with watercolour paintings, sketches, and writing to create strange new worlds. I wish I could see them in person! Roberta Smith gives the show a positive review in the New York Times, contextualizing the work within the history of photography. Continue reading ““Playing with Pictures”: Victorian Photocollage at the Met”

Lining the Nest: Art History and Victorian Studies

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 Continue reading “Lining the Nest: Art History and Victorian Studies”