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IRH Lecture: “Cultivating Beauty: Indoor Gardening and the British Aesthetic Movement, 1860–1900”

February 22, 2021 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Monday Seminar: Cultivating Beauty: Indoor Gardening and the British Aesthetic Movement, 1860–1900
Lindsay Wells
Dana-Allen Dissertation Fellow (2020–21)
Art History, UW-Madison

How can plants illuminate the entwined legacies of empire and the environment in Victorian art? This question lies at the heart of my doctoral dissertation, which explores how artists associated with the British Aesthetic Movement used cultivated plants to visualize colonial and industrial expansion. Focusing on the visual culture of late-nineteenth-century Britain, my project recovers the environmental stakes of Aesthetic painting by interpreting its distinctive botanical imagery alongside concurrent trends in Victorian gardening. As coal consumption increased throughout the nineteenth century, so did the need to innovate new forms of horticulture that could protect plants from fossil fuel pollution. Advances in glasshouse engineering and the rise of terrariums and parlor gardening subsequently allowed the Victorians to grow miniature gardens within their homes, where they curated elaborate collections of ornamental flora from Africa, Asia, and other regions of British colonial activity. Indoor gardening grafted together the promise of environmental renewal with the politics of British imperialism, and my IRH presentation argues that it reworked the standards by which Aesthetic artists pictured colonial and industrial expansion as deeply rooted in the vegetal world.

Lindsay Wells is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Art History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research explores nineteenth-century British visual culture alongside the environmental legacies of botanical imperialism and fossil fuel pollution. Her articles on the cultural history of plants and gardening have appeared and are forthcoming in Victorian StudiesVictorian Literature and CultureVictorian Periodicals Review, and The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Victorian Women’s Writing. Lindsay has received support for her research through fellowships with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, the Winterthur Museum, the Delaware Art Museum, and the Huntington Library.

[Due to COVID-19, this event has been moved to a digital conferencing platform. To participate please send an email with your name, university affiliation, and how you heard about the event to IRH at info@irh.wisc.edu.]