Edges and Resistance

I've included a eclectic range of visual culture here to emphasize the variety of art and design that was going on in the very late 19th century beyond Post-Impressionism.

Because modern art is so much a part of our historical culture, there is a tendency for students learning about it to think that it consumed everyone, delighted everyone...and that is not the case. Paintings like this which were academic in style and literary or historical in subject were tremendously popular with most of the public. This is a glorious example of academic painting and why people then and now find it so absorbing. Beyond the technical expertise (notes how Godward depicts the gauzy fabrics, the marble floor and walls, the different textures of silk ribbon, animal skins, and flesh), there is the undeniable lure of the female body. This was a very erotic painting for the 19th century, certainly for Victorian England which was so obsessed with outward morality. Today, art historians interested in issues of gender are intrigued by possible subtexts to the representation of the female body, including those that address issues of gay and lesbian behavior. Looking at these paintings from a purely heterosexual, male oriented position is no longer possible.
This is an example of pressed glass, a process developed by an American Inventor, John Bakewell, in 1825 so that glass could be more cheaply produced because it is poured into molds. This is an example of how manufacturing could produced a product that was less expensive but still well designed. Handblown and cut glass remained costly but pressed glass ultimately replaced metal drinking containers.
This is "Pimpernel" wallpaper which was designed by William Morris. I am especially fond of this one since it was the first design of his that I ever studied. The image in the video is a detail which is usually how it is shown in textbooks but I though you would like to see it actually hanging on a roll which is the way that it was purchased in the 19th century.
Sabot referred to handmade wooden shoes generally worn in France and parts of Belgium by peasants and lower class workers. They were still being made and worn in the late 19th century, but they would be replaced rapidly by factory made leather shoes.
Julia Margaret Cameron was a British photographer who specialized in studio portraits (quite respectable because she had assistants so she was not alone with male clients) and historical and literary themed photographs like the one pictured. This particular representation of a child as an angel has a long European history dating in which deceased children were depicted in portraits with wings. Photographs like this that directly reference fine art models were one way that photographers used to associate their works with fine art despite the use of a camera. That is why the poses, the filtering, the developing techniques to create light and shadow and depth were so important.
Another example of 19th century photography mimicking fine art, in particular, the history painting which was the highest category of academic art. By the early 20th century this would dramatically change.
If you were a wealthy child living in the late 19th century, this could have been your doll. It's fragile since most of it is biscuit, a kind of china. It's hand painted and the dress and hat and shoes are fairly faithful examples of what a wealthy little girl would wear. We don't often think of children and toys as part of modernity but they were. Gender specific toys were important to the correct upbringing of children. They were also a growing industry and a place where craft could still command a presence. They were utilitarian; children used them as one way to learn how to emulate appropriate adult behavior.
Fans like these were luxury items and quite necessary for a woman. Using a fan properly could signal interest, disdain, an invitation, a rejection...there was an entire language of fan etiquette. They could have bases of metal or wood or ivory and often they were hand made and painted. A wealthy woman would own many. They are superb examples of craft by artisans who were still learning the trade in apprentice like conditions. The paintings ran the gamut from historical scenes to literary stories to original and creative. It was also trade like these that William Morris was concerned were going to be destroyed by manufacturing.
This is an example of a fan in the Art Nouveau style. Notice that the black ground is edged by a curving line and that linear effect is repeated in the fan's border as well. There is an all over emphasis on surface pattern and that is also typical. The figures are rather academic, almost nostalgically so.
Alphonse Mucha was a well designer and this is one of his designs for wall paper. Compared to William Morris (and he was familiar with his work), this pattern is more open and we can really see long sweeps of curving lines and that is the Art Nouveau influence.
Job was the brand name for a cigarette and this is an ad for the company. Mucha was well known for his work for Job and this is rather a signature work. His ads usually featured a beautiful woman with flowing, long hair, a patterned background and, of course, a cigarette. By the 1890's the "New Woman" movement was part of Parisian life and cigarette smoking, along with drinking in public, shopping, and more independence, was one of the ways that modern women were being depicted.
This is one of several famous posters that Toulouse-Lautrec designed to advertise French clubs like the Moulin Rouge. She is doing a dance called the "Can-can" which began earlier in the century and was known for its jumps and high kicks. It was considered a little scandalous but never banned. Toulouse-Lautrec's posters are designed in the Art Nouveau style; heavy emphasis on a sinuous, curving line, exaggeration of proportions to achieve an expressive effect (and that is a debt to Post-Impressionism as well). The perspective is skewed: we see this from both above the stage and from the orchestra pit and that was a trope that the artist often employed. It created a more dramatic and graphic effect. This was absolutely popular culture. These posters were tacked up on kiosks in the city as well as on buildings. They were advertising, modern, catchy, sexy and very specific in terms of audience.
Credits: All media
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