Saturday, March 28, 2009

AHNCA Symposium (Part 2)

Yesterday was the Sixth Annual Graduate Student Symposium in Nineteenth-Century Art, co-sponsored by AHNCA (Association of Historians of Nineteenth-Century Art), the Doctoral Program at the CUNY Graduate Center, and the Dahesh Museum of Art. Last week I posted about this and put the abstract for my paper online. The symposium was held at the Graduate Center in the Martin E. Segal Theatre, the same location where we held the Why Victorian Art? symposium in early February. Symposia such as this are excellent opportunities for so-called "junior scholars" to discuss aspects of their dissertations or other art historical projects on which they are working. Just when you thought everything had been said about a particular artist or topic, it's surprising to discover there's apparently always something more that can be said. These symposia also are excellent opportunities to network with fellow students and many of the leading art historians in the field. Below I summarize each of the papers, although I leave open for discussion whether or not my occasional interpretation of each is completely accurate. I confess that I often find it difficult to listen to conference papers for the first time and fully grasp their entire meaning (i.e., I'm a visual learner, not an audio learner). It would have been helpful to have read abstracts ahead of time to be more familiar with what the papers would be discussing. Regardless, it's fortunate that with art history, there are always pretty pictures to look at.

I spoke last on the morning panel session about the Ottoman Turks at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, examining the ambiguity of Anglo-Turkish relations as both colonialist and exoticist and issues of Otherness and the Self. Hannah W. Blunt (Boston University) spoke first about the American artist William Bradford's tour of Greenland and discussed issues of reality and the picturesque in the composite photographs used for his travelogue and Bradford's subsequent landscape paintings of the Arctic circle. Stassa B. Edwards (Florida State University) discussed Oscar Rejlander's theatrical performative photographs that were used by Charles Darwin in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). (It turns out Stassa and I have colleagues in common: we both worked as interns at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.) Stephanie O'Rourke (Columbia University) spoke about the 19th-century optical illusion of the "waterfall effect" and used this to discuss issues of motion with regard to the ever-increasing spread of the railroad in early Victorian history, drawing on J.M.W. Turner's painting Rain, Steam, Speed - the Great Western Railway (1844) to exemplify the impact of motion. This painting from the Tate is the image you see above, with Turner suggesting the rush of the train as a symbol for new industrial technology. This is one of Turner's best-known works, mostly for his handling of the swirls of paint to suggest the atmospheric conditions of the steam train. If you look closely, you can also see a minuscule white rabbit hopping just in front of the train, which scholars have interpreted as a symbol for how technology was advancing beyond nature. I've written about Turner on this blog before. I'm not a huge fan of his work, but I do think he was an amazing artist.

If the morning session was about the English-speaking art world, then the afternoon session was all about the French. My fellow co-student Karin Zonis (CUNY) presented on a heretofore unexamined French Revolution print by an unknown engraver named Duplessis, considering the work as an example of what she calls a middle-ground print, using aspects of both fine art engraving and popular prints. Phoebe Prioleau (Columbia) discussed fictional accounts by Balzac, the Goncourts, and Zola that utilize the imagery of the skin of artists' models as a metaphor about the creation of art. Emily Eastgate Brink (Stanford University) spoke about the appreciation of Japanese manga prints by Hokusai in late 19th-century France. Justine De Young (Northwestern University) gave a paper on paintings of women dressed in mourning at the 1872 Salon as new allegorical subjects for French patriotism over the loss of Alsace-Lorraine in the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. The last speaker of the day was Andrew Eschelbacher (University of Maryland), whose paper dealt with the overthrow of the independent city-state the Paris Commune in 1871 and the Third Republic's use of public monumental sculpture to consciously erase the memory of the Commune's brief, but bloody, period in French history. By the late 1880s, however, aspects of the Commune were being incorporated into French public art, as seen in the figure of Labor in the work reproduced here, Jules Dalou's The Triumph of the Republic (1889) [image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons].

According to Petra ten-Doesschate Chu in her book Nineteenth-Century European Art (2nd ed., 2006), this work shows "a larger-than-life figure representing the republic, complete with Phyrigian cap and fasces [symbols of freedom and legal order]. She stands on a globe, which rests on a chariot pulled by two lions. Symbolizing the strength of the people, the lions are led by the genius of Liberty, a young boy with a torch in his raised right hand. Additional allegorical figures--Labor, Justice, and Abundance (or Peace)--surround the chariot on the other three sides." (p.376)

Brian Lukacher (Vassar College) and Anne Higonnet (Columbia) were the respondents for the sessions. The members of the selection committee, all of whom were present, were Petra Chu (Seton Hall University), Stephen Edidin (New York Historical Society), Brian Lukacher, and Patricia Mainardi (CUNY). All in all, it was a great academic day, and I was fortunate to be part of it. The Dahesh Museum of Art is sponsoring an award for the best paper given at the symposium, so I'm sure I'll be reporting back very soon on who the winner is. I think I know who they are going to pick (no, I don't think it's me!).

UPDATE (4/5): All of the speakers received word that Andrew Eschelbacher won the Dahesh prize for the best paper presented at the conference. This wasn't a surprise to me or KZ, as we both thought he was going to get it. His paper was written and presented well, and his argument convincing, so he rightfully deserves the award.

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