Forget-me-not: Souvenirs of Girlhood in the Transatlantic Album
Curators: Deidre Lynch, Faith Pak, and Norah Murphy
In Stéphanie de Genlis’s 1798 novel Les Petits émigrés: ou Correspondance des jeuns enfans (translated in 1799 as The Young Exiles and much reprinted over the next two decades), the young heroine, member of a royalist family that has fled revolutionary France for asylum in a country village near Zurich, sends a gift to a cousin who has remained behind. It is a sort of blank book, one that Juliette D’Armilly identifies as a Swiss or German “invention,” and which is to serve her dear Adriana, she writes, as “a book of remembrances” (un livre de souvenirs in the original French). The letter Juliette writes to accompany her present reads like a how-to manual drawn up for her cousin’s use. As she explains, “all the persons one loves are requested to write something in [the book]; one sets down in it one’s own thoughts, and...
Exhibit Created by: Deidre Lynch, Faith Pak, Norah Murphy
Romantic Visualities and the Construction of Mexico, 1804-1844
This gallery explores the work of artists and explorers in Mexico and Central America between 1804 and 1844. Romantic explorers visually constructed Mexican history, archaeology, and geography in relation to Romantic conceptions of the picturesque landscape. Their depictions were further complicated by the contemporaneous tension between the visual technologies of the panorama and the camera lucida. Consequently, explorers in Mexico were forced to negotiate between the cultural implications of Romantic visualities—of the sublime and of the picturesque—and the values of Romantic exploration and enlightenment, such as encyclopedic recording and faithful representation.
Exhibit Created by: Matthew Francis Rarey
The Romance of Ruins
In the eighteenth century, ruins all over the world were being rediscovered and reinterpreted aesthetically as their popularity and their importance as artistic subjects increased. An increase in travel and travel literature exposed British society to ruins both local and foreign, spurring interest in capturing their picturesque nature. At the same time, a growing awareness of historical documentation and scientific excavations of sites like Pompeii also affected the prevalence of ruins and commanded the attention of the Romantic audience. Frequently "created" as well as found, Romantic ruins invited spectators' reflections on transience, death, and decay. As such, ruins were a staple in Romantic landscape art and garden design. Goethe created at least one ruin in Weimar. Even today the entrance into a subdivision in Austin, Texas is a "ruined" Texas limestone structure, purpose built.
'Philosophical Playthings': The Spectacle of Air-Balloons
Few cultural phenomena captured the popular imagination of late eighteenth-century Britain more intensely than the rage for air ballooning, or the “balloonomania” as critics sometimes called it. “The term balloon is not only in the mouth of every one, but all our world seems to be in the clouds,” declared a 1785 book titled London Unmask’d (137). The excitement had begun in France when the Montgolfier brothers launched the first human flight in front of the Royal Family and 100,000 spectators, on October 15, 1783. The first flight in England, by Vincento Lunardi the following September, attracted an estimated 150,000 spectators. The Morning Post reported that “St. Paul’s Cathedral took the advantage of Lunardi’s Balloon excursion, by raising the price, which used to be only twopence for going to the top, to two shillings, and both the galleries had a great number of spectators, many of whom in the stone gallery fell down the recesses and broke their shins, as they...
Exhibit Created by: Paul Keen, Melissa Speener
Seeing beyond the Dark Room: Representations of the Camera Obscura
This image gallery explores the unstable place of the camera obscura in Romantic visual culture and offers a critical revision of Jonathan Crary’s central thesis in Techniques of the Observer (1990). In this text, Crary contends that the camera obscura is a model of rational, disembodied vision that is later subsumed by a modern, subjective mode of observation. The varied representations of the optical apparatus in the Romantic period, however, complicate his notion that the camera obscura as a principal model of observation was roundly discarded in the first quarter of the nineteenth century in favor of a conception of modern vision based on new optical technologies. The images which make up the gallery are illustrated plates drawn from a wide variety of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century books on science and optics, ranging from dense theoretical texts intended for the scientifically erudite reader to the popular genre of rational recreations for the curious...
Exhibit Created by: Beth Zinsli
Epitomized by Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Watching a Sea of Fog (c. 1817-18), and the Wordsworthian peripatetic, the gentlemanly or artistic wanderer is integral to the Romantic imagination. Wandering lies at the heart of picturesque sightseeing, blank verse poetry, specimen collecting, and the Romantic cultivation of self. However, these forms of sanctioned wandering exist against a backdrop of less desirable movements that, nonetheless, inform, color and at times literally converge with the endorsed amblings of the inquisitive artist-gentlemen. Unsanctioned forms of wandering existed on a spectrum of criminality, which at times included peddlers, actors, shepherds, discharged soldiers, beggars, orphaned children, gypsies, sailors, highwaymen, and pirates, among others. These disparate groups, while often meticulously differentiated, were also increasingly amalgamated as vagrants through a series of common burdens and discriminatory practices, resulting from the...
Exhibit Created by: Lucy Kimiko Hawkinson Traverse
Women and Power in James Gillray’s Caricature: Irony Elaborating on Paradox
This gallery explores how James Gillray’s caricatures of women convey the paradoxical nature of feminine power in Romantic culture. To effect his satire, Gillray utilizes ironic presentations that juxtapose discrepant images, imply a discrepancy between image and word, or create discrepancy by inverting traditional connotations of an image, person, or event. At times this means the irony exists within the frame of the print; at times within the relation between print and viewer; at times within the dialogue between the caricaturist and Romantic aesthetic paradigms; and at times of all these modes operate together. During the height of Gillray’s career in the 1790s, social and economic changes tied to increasing urbanization and foreign wars raised “uneasiness about women’s role in society” (C. McCreery, Satirical Gaze 4): gender ideals were increasingly regimented into public and private spheres. The real woman’s conundrum revolved...
Exhibit Created by: Alicia Barbara Williams
Rethinking Company Paintings
During the Romantic period, India was one of Britain’s most prized colonies. From the establishment of the East India Trading Company in 1600 to the mid-nineteenth century, these two cultures were inextricably entwined as a result of the exchange of goods such as textiles, spices and crafts; this initially commercial exchange eventually facilitated and occurred alongside the exchange of ideas and people. This gallery is made up of images of India drawn by William Daniell and bound in his book, The Oriental Annual (London, 1834-40), and also includes miniature paintings done by Indian artists working in the Company style. The Company style paintings have been characterized as hybrids in which Indian artists employed techniques such as shading, linear perspective, and a subdued color palate to transform their more “traditional” art—which tended to be abstract, mythical, and brightly colored—into manifestations of the “picturesque...
Exhibit Created by: Sonia K. Meyers
You're Blocking My View!: The Spectator in the Romantic Art World
Romantic London is a city of spectacles: from Bartholomew Fair to Covent Garden, from the Great Exhibition Hall to the Royal Academy. These spectacles serve as both the location and occasion for a wide range of viewing practices and interactions, as spectators turn their gaze from the stage and exhibit to the boxes and crowds. This gallery seeks to examine the notions of the viewer and the gaze through the crowd scenes afforded by London’s social calendar of cultural spectacles. Focusing on the formation of the art spectator, this gallery traces the various modes of viewing art—from its conception in life-drawing classes to its display at the Royal Academy Exhibition, and finally to its place in the private collection. The expansion of the viewing public also occurred in sites of drama or live event: from the theatre and Westminster Abbey, which became a tourist site in the eighteenth century, to Bartholomew Fair and the Royal Cockpit, which drew spectators from all classes...
Exhibit Created by: Theresa H. Nguyen
The Aesthetics of Difficulty: George Back's Pragmatic Arctic Landscapes
The artwork of Sir George Back, Royal Navy explorer of the Canadian Arctic, invites our reexamination of the paradigms of Romantic visual culture via its depiction of the “otherness” that the Arctic represented to the British during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as the difficulty of physically navigating that landscape. A compelling combination of the picturesque, sublime and “true-to-nature”—a combination sometimes found in just one image—Back’s artwork is almost equally aesthetically and scientifically driven, and as such walks a peculiar line that evades merely imperialist, picturesque, sublime or scientistic tropes. In walking this line, Back’s work offers an aesthetics of the pragmatic that anticipates John Dewey’s conception of art; in this configuration, art does not “create the forms” in a landscape, but rather employs “selection and organization in such ways as to enhance, prolong...
Exhibit Created by: Nathan Jandl
Making Sense of Sound
What does sound look like? How might it be visually represented? Can it be explained in a scientific diagram? This gallery seeks to explore these questions by examining the form and significance of the ways in which the Romantic period sought to incorporate the ephemeral, ineffable, and invisible element of sound into the visual register. Beginning with an anatomical depiction of the ear and its various parts, this gallery traces the new scientific developments assisting Romantic scientists in understanding how the ear itself functioned. Ultimately, the gallery attempts to unpack the primacy of the visual as a means of understanding the aural, moving towards an understanding of these depictions of the aural as archival elements that encourage us to both challenge the primacy of sight and look beyond it. The gallery links images from scientific and medical texts, caricatures, and poetic descriptions, exploring both literal and tropic uses of music in the Romantic period. In seeking...
Exhibit Created by: Emily Johanna Madsen
Innovations in Encompassing Large Scenes
In late-18th and early-19th century Britain, popular interest in "scenes" that exceed or lie beyond the everyday world was heightened by factors such as the emergence of London as Europe's first world-city; James Cook's and George Vancouver's voyages of discovery, which completed in outline the modern map of the globe; and improvements in transport and communication technologies, which brought the distant into the orbit of the near. The consequent appetite for large scenes, evident in the cult of the sublime, was met in part by new virtual-reality technologies—most notably the Eidophusikon, Panorama, Moving Panorama, and Diorama—and an entertainment industry based on them. Thesenew medi a typically conjured an illusion that seemed so real audiences felt they had been transported, during the time of performance, into the world it represented. With these developments in mind, the following gallery introduces a diverse variety of works in order to map some of the myriad, often...
Exhibit Created by: Peter Otto, Abigail H. Nedeau-Owen
Visualizing Grammar for Children
Though the Victorian period is often considered the Golden Age of childhood, the children’s book market was an active political and moral battleground as early as the 1770s. With Rousseau’s new theories about children and their education challenging the older but well-entrenched philosophy of Locke, children’s books—and, more specifically, their illustrations—became a central issue for those invested in the debate. At the same time, violent riots in favor of Parliamentary reform caused the aristocracy to fear the possibility of a full-scale revolution like that raging in France. This fear made social control more important than ever to the upper-class, from which most authors and publishers came. With so much change at stake, education became an essential concern, and it was vital that "proper" ideas about race, class and gender be instilled in children as early as possible. This desire to inculcate young minds with the "correct" worldview reveals itself through images that evoke...
Exhibit Created by: Rebecca Grace Tarsa
Global Gilpin: The Picturesque Takes a Tour
During the Romantic era, tourism—and picturesque tourism, in particular—gained popularity across the Continent. While William Gilpin’s enormously popular British domestic tours were circulating in the 1780s and 1790s, an intense debate about the nature of the picturesque was being waged, partly in response to Gilpin’s “authoritative judgements” on the topic (see Stephen Copley's essay "Gilpin on the Wye: Tourists, Tintern Abbey, and the Picturesque" in Prospects for the Nation, ed. Michael Rosenthal, et. al, New Haven: Yale UP, 1997; 133). Aesthetic theorists such as Uvedale Price (one of the leading writers on the topic and author of the 1810 piece Essay on the Picturesque) and Richard Payne Knight, author of the 1805 An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste, criticized Gilpin’s conceptualization of picturesque landscape viewing as “illogical” and “inconsistent,” suggesting that the picturesque could not be understood as a single aesthetic...
Exhibit Created by: Rebecca Soares
George Cruikshank (1792-1878), who began his long and influential career as a caricaturist and book illustrator at the age of eight, working in his father’s shop, produced a steady output of political prints for over sixty years, although he focus had shifted to book illustration by the mid 1820’s. His works, which include more than 6000 graphic designs, ranged from portraits (some satiric, others not, depending on the tastes of his patrons and employers), attacks on politicians, the British monarchy, and Napoleon, illustrations for children’s books, and advertising for the Temperance Movement. By the second decade of the nineteenth century he was admired as the leading British caricaturist. Just before and after Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815, Cruikshank executed a number of political caricatures of the defeated French Emperor. These and earlier portraits of Napoleon at key moments in his career present a double sided image of the artist as by turns a created of dignified...
Exhibit Created by: Lauren Schroeder
Flânerie: Strolling Amongst Aestheticized Selves of the Romantic Period
This gallery is a virtual stroll through the crowds of Romantic Britain in search of personifications of artistry. As an exercise in flânerie, this gallery juxtaposes and assembles for our view those figures who fashion themselves as artistic through their clothing, conduct, and gestures. These figures demonstrate the diverse ways in which artistic identity was being codified for appropriation and commodified for consumption, and so point to the multiplying intersections of art and commerce. Although the Romantic artist is often thought of as a stable embodiment of creative genius and sensibility who creates his artistic persona to elevate himself above the commercial masses, the growth of the art market during the Romantic period actually encouraged a wider range of artistic identities as professional artists began to specialize in diverse practices (see David Solkin's Painting for Money; New Haven: Yale UP, 1993). The people represented here take part in this fracturing...
Exhibit Created by: Katharine Wells
A Visual Revolution on the Wye Tour
“Start hence with us, and trace, with raptur’d eye, / The wild meanderings of the beauteous WYE; / Thy ten days leisure ten days joy shall prove, / And rock and stream breathe amity and love” (see Robert Bloomfield's poem, The Banks of Wye, 1.17-20). It is a June morning, near the turn of the nineteenth century. You are in Ross-on-Wye, England, a steadily growing town near the Welsh border. The bustle of early morning commerce reflects your own restless excitement. On this morning, you will be departing Ross via a pleasure boat that you have hired from a local inn. For three or four guineas (depending on the time of the season and your own ability to bargain), you will be swept south in a serpentine, looping fashion, down the River Wye and past some of the most beautiful scenes the British Isles offer. You will see the iron works at New Weir, Goodrich and Chepstow Castles, the soaring cliffs near Piercefield, and, of course, Tintern Abbey. If it is after 1798 and you have...
Exhibit Created by: Tim Heimlich
"The Narrative of the Collection:" Visualizing the Ashmolean and the British Museum through Romantic Era Guidebooks
Through images culled from two Romantic-era guidebooks, this gallery examines two early public museums in England: the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford and the British Museum in London. Although both museums underwent major reorganizations and redistributions in the latter part of the nineteenth century, their foundational collections emerged from the diverse and curious tradition of Wunderkammern, or “wonder cabinets.” The gallery looks into the revised second edition of John and Andrew Van Rymsdyk’s Museum Britannicum, published in 1791, and Philip Bury Duncan’s A Catalogue of the Ashmolean Museum, published in 1836, as visualizations of what Susan Stewart calls “the narrative of the collection” (see On Longing; Durham: Duke UP, 2003; 156). The narrative of these museums that emerges from the visual culture of this transitional period—from private to public collections, expansiveness to order—is fraught with anxiety, fragmentation,...
Exhibit Created by: Joanna Beth Lackey
George Cruikshank and the Phrenological Head
Phrenology, the “science” of analyzing a person’s character through the measurement of parts of her skull, reached the height of its popularity in the early nineteenth century. The pseudo-science was fashionable across class lines; handbooks and illustrated guides allowed even the non-expert to evaluate other humans by means of a putatively objective science. Phrenologists taught lecture audiences and readers to see with what Michel Foucault has termed the “clinical gaze,” a method of “reading” a patient by privileging the exterior and the visible as a reliable map of the interior and unknown (see The Birth of the Clinic, 103ff). Caricaturists satirized both the popularity of phrenology as entertainment and the implications of the clinical gaze in society. This gallery explores the work of George Cruikshank within nineteenth-century discourses of phrenology; as the author and artist of Phrenological Illustrations and other phrenological caricatures, Cruikshank...
Exhibit Created by: Kate Fedewa
Medieval Ruins and Nationhood in Romantic-era Travel and Popular Culture
The architectural patrimony of the Middle Ages received greater attention in the Romantic era because of three major factors. The first was the boom of domestic tourism beginning in the 1790s as a result of political tension on the Continent. The second involved the association of ruins with a growing sense of national pride in the beauty of the countryside of Great Britain, a sense developed in pastoral poetry and in the picturesque aesthetic. The culture of antiquarianism and preservation of artifacts belonging to Britain’s past constituted the third factor. Emphasizing material remains as sites of historical unity, ruins of Norman castles and ivy-covered Gothic abbeys moved into the national spotlight. These sites evoked a variety of responses in viewers, and the following is an outline detailing the modes of interaction of Romantic aesthetic theorists, antiquarians, and tourists with medieval ruins.
Exhibit Created by: Brandon Cook
The World Beyond: Romantic Art and the Supernatural
Exhibit Created by: Madeline Crane
Seascapes and National Pride in Romantic Visual Culture
Even in a setting evocative of the mundane—such as that of laborers working through the night in JMW Turner’s Keelmen Heaving Coals by Moonlight, or in the refreshing daytime setting of Richard Parkes Bonington’s Seapiece: Off the French Coast—the sea suggests something more significant in the works of many Romantic-era artists. Whether it be the fading edge of a barely distinguishable horizon, the careful rendering of shadow and light, or the movement captured in the foaming wave, these artists capture a certain mystery, a volatility, in their depictions of water which suggests the power of nature as a whole. This series of images not only conveys the enigmatic nature of the sea, but also implies the subsequent connection between harnessing such a power and establishing a nation’s pride. For an era still learning what lay within its depths and beyond is horizon, the sea held eternal potential, and so the battles waged over who could...
Exhibit Created by: Elizabeth Rose Mathie
Volcanoes, Science, and Spectacle in the Romantic Period
In 1787 Emma Hart (soon to be Lady Emma Hamilton) wrote home to England: “We was last night up Vesuv[i]us at twelve a clock, and in my life I never saw so fine a sight. . . . We saw the lava surround the poor hermit’s house, and take possession of the chapel, notwithstanding it was covered with pictures of Saints and other religious preservatives against the fury of nature. For me, I was enraptured.” Mount Vesuvius, just outside the royal capital of Naples, erupted “with obliging frequency” in the late eighteenth century (as Roy Porter memorably put it). Vesuvius loomed over Europe, inspiring research in natural history and antiquities, a whole genre of painting and other new techniques of illustration, a rich allegorical language for political upheaval, and a booming tourist trade. Emma Hart’s enraptured account reveals her as a new kind of stakeholder in both the pioneering volcanology and the Grand Tourism associated with her soon-to-be-husband, Sir William Hamilton, the “...
Exhibit Created by: Noah Heringman, Matt Hendrickson
Merlin's Cave: Romantic Automata
Though automata have existed since antiquity, the proliferation, sophistication, and spectacle of eighteenth and nineteenth-century automata have been of particular interest for writers, scientists, philosophers, historians, and literary critics both during the Romantic period and today. The Romantic fascination with automata has been investigated using numerous theoretical and historical lenses: Freud’s essay on the uncanny; Marx’s theories of the impact of automated industry on labor in Das Kapital; and contemporary studies that link automata to the Gothic, to gender studies, to visual spectacle, and to the history of artificial life. This gallery puts “real” automata in conversation with a wide array of other machines, spectacles, and contemporary representations in order to recontextualize automata within and at the borders of the Romantic era. Consequently, this gallery seeks to show that the proliferation of automata in the eighteenth...