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NDENCA Seminar | “Permanently useful” and “practically beneficial”: Art Journal’s Illustrated Catalogues as records of taste and stylistic debate, 1851–1900
February 21 @ 11:00 am - 2:00 pm
Lieske Huits, PhD candidate, University of Cambridge and Victoria & Albert Museum
Lieske Huits (she/her) is a PhD candidate in the History of Art at the University of Cambridge in an AHRC-funded collaborative partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum. Her research project, “A New Visual Narrative of Nineteenth-Century Historicism” reconsiders the concept of historicism in the decorative arts, focusing primarily on the reception of revival styles in nineteenth-century illustrated print media. She previously obtained her BA (cum laude) in the History of Art and Architecture from the Free University of Amsterdam, and her ResMA (cum laude) in Arts and Culture from Leiden University. Her research interests include the reception of the past in the arts of the long nineteenth century, historicism and revival styles in the decorative arts and architecture, nineteenth-century international exhibitions and the dissemination of taste, and the collecting and display of historicist artifacts in museums of decorative arts.
“Permanently useful” and “practically beneficial”: Art Journal’s Illustrated Catalogues as records of taste and stylistic debate, 1851 – 1900
In the preface to The Art-Journal’s Illustrated Catalogue to the Great Exhibition of 1851, the editors describe the catalogue as a “record of the great gathering of Works of Art and Industry”, suggesting it could present a permanent manifestation of the Exhibition in print long after the building has been taken down and its contents dispersed. Over the course of the next five decades, The Art-Journal published illustrated catalogues for many of the major international exhibitions, which now represent one of the largest and most cohesive archives of the British reception of the international exhibitions of the second half of the nineteenth century and one of the major sources through which the various exhibitions are studied. However, as this paper will show, these catalogues were far from encyclopedic publications detailing the exhibitions’ displays and contents. Stated as having the aim of rendering the exhibitions “permanently useful” as well as “practically beneficial” to the education of manufacturers and artisans of all classes and all countries, they pushed a narrative centering around the improvement of and eventual supremacy of British manufacturing, in line with The Art-Journal’s agenda of more closely connecting British manufacturing to the arts.
This project therefore proposes to look more closely at these catalogues themselves, considering them not as simple records of the exhibitions, but as highly selective presentations of the wares on display. Despite their significant role as a historical source in scholarship, little has been published on these catalogues as creations in their own right, and it is therefore necessary to first consider how they were conceived and what their aims were, before examining their contents more closely. Next, I want to examine how these catalogues represent the wares on display at the exhibitions, looking in particular at their use of language on the one hand, and their visual representation of artefacts on the other. Through this examination, this project aims to shed light on the way these catalogues facilitated a debate where the role of style was central to issues in manufacturing, a debate that on the one hand straddled the world of manufacturing and sales, and on the other, the world of art criticism and art education.