Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Why Victorian Art?" - Part 1

The image you see here (courtesy of the Tate) is a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti entitled Aurelia (Fazio's Mistress) (1863-73). The picture represents the lover of a 14th-century Italian poet named Fazio degli Uberti, whose poetry Rossetti had translated and published in a collection entitled Early Italian Poets (1861). The model for the picture was Rossetti's mistress, Fanny Cornforth, which makes the picture an autobiographical subject and the painting a visual poem itself. This picture represents a new trend in Victorian painting at the time, with images of beautiful women sitting before mirrors, in windows, or on balconies, works which Rossetti is credited with making popular. These works conjure romantic visions of the Italian Renaissance in their modeling and posing. These works are, in truth, beauty for beauty's sake. Paintings like this became extremely popular among the nouveaux riches industrialists who loved the sensual subjects and use of colors. But they were also controversial because they challenged the Victorian middle-class ideology that painting should teach a moral lesson.

The complexity of this painting demonstrates how intricate Victorian art can be, something about which I have written on this blog in the past ["Victorian Painting (Part 1)"]. I bring this up again because I have organized a symposium entitled "Why Victorian Art?" that in part will address this issue. The symposium, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the City University of New York Graduate Center next week, on Friday, February 6th. My fellow PhD students Margaret R. Laster and Paul Ranogajec have been instrumental in helping organizing this. I will write more about the symposium after it is held, but for now, below is some information on the symposium. I am not officially presenting, but acting as the so-called master of ceremonies, providing opening remarks and introducing all the speakers. It's going to be a fascinating day of discussions. If you would like more information, send me an email.

In American academia, British Victorian art has been perceived pejoratively as regressive relative to French art’s trajectory toward modernism. In sharp contrast, English departments in the United States have encouraged the study of British Victorian literature since it was first set down on paper, with postmodern scholars championing Victorian literature’s handling of issues from colonialism and racism to aspects of gender and sexual identities. The Victorians were the dominant imperial power and leaders of the industrial world at the dawn of the twentieth century, but the study of Victorian visual art and culture is still largely looked upon unfavorably in the United States, with American museums only rarely mounting exhibitions about Victorian art. Recently, this trend has been slowly changing. More students are pursuing dissertation topics in the areas of British Victorian painting, sculpture, architecture, and photography. Furthermore, conferences such as the 2008 annual meeting of NAVSA acknowledge the rising importance of Victorian art, including interdisciplinary panel sessions on topics such as sculpture and global contexts, queer visualities, and Darwinism and the arts. "Why Victorian Art?" will bring together scholars to address two critical issues: why the study of Victorian art has been overlooked in the U.S., and how a closer examination of Victorian art can provide new or alternative perspectives in the study of nineteenth-century art and culture.

* Geoffrey Batchen (CUNY Graduate Center), "Perplexity and Embarrassment: Photography as Work"
* Jordan Bear (PhD Student, Columbia University), "Knowing Too Much?: Victorian Photography Now"
* Kathryn Moore Heleniak (Fordham University), "The Victorian Prelude: New Subjects, New Patrons, New Public Collections as Seen Through the Lens of William Mulready’s Career"
* Richard Kaye (Hunter College/CUNY Graduate Center), "You May Safely Gaze: The Conservatism of Contemporary Victorian Art Criticism"
* Margaret R. Laster (PhD Student, CUNY Graduate Center), "Victorian Art and American Gilded Age Collectors: Henry G. Marquand and Catherine Lorillard Wolfe"
* Elizabeth C. Mansfield (New York University), "What Is Victorian Art?"
* Andrea Wolk Rager (PhD Student, Yale University), "Art and Revolt: The Work of Edward Burne-Jones"
* Catherine Roach (PhD Student, Columbia University), "Why Not?: Victorian Paintings-within-Paintings"
* Jason Rosenfeld (Marymount Manhattan College), "Not Stokstad-Worthy?: Mainstreams of Modern Art and John Everett Millais"
* Talia Schaffer (Queens College/CUNY Graduate Center), "Why Victorian Crafts?"
* Peter Trippi (Editor of Fine Art Connoisseur), "The Challenges of Exhibiting Victorian Art in America: A Case Study"


Carolyn said...

Good Luck with the Conference!

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