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July 11, 2012

Dickens and the Visual Imagination @ University of Surrey 9th–10th July 2012 (day 2)

Follow-up to Dickens and the Visual Imagination @ University of Surrey 9th–10th July 2012 (day 1) from Charlotte's Research blog

Day 2 of Dickens and the Visual Imagination took us to the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Artin London. The wonderful cavern of an underground library provided the perfect setting for a day of papers that focused more specifically on art and film historians' perspectives on Dickens.

The day began with Lynda Nead's keynote "'To let in the sunlight': Dickens, Lean and the Chiaroscuro of Postwar Britain", a fascinating analysis of David Lean's 1946 Great Expectations. Nead started with some stimulating questions that pushed at the wider frameworks of the conference: what do we mean by "the visual imagination"? What is our "visual imagination" of Dickens: what do we imagine when we think of Dickens, and why? Nead began by thinking about how we read the relationship between text and film, arguing for a reciprocal relationship in which neither text nor film is privileged but rather seeing adaptation as a process of creative transformation evolving new forms and opportunities - this, she suggested, might offer one way in which to understand the concept of a visual imagination. With this in mind Nead moved on to read Lean's Great Expectations in the context of postwar Britain, providing a detailed analysis of a selection of stills from the film which focused on the complexity of Lean's use of black and white.

great expectations

The use of chiaroscuro - the interplay between light and shadow- constructs a subtle "language of shadow" which achieves a rich depth to images, and constructs an aesthetic of decay and ruin which was highly resonant with the postwar Britain in which the film was produced. Nead seemed to be suggesting that the aesthetic language of the film is not "Dickensian" as such, but rather creates a visual language of its own that very much belonged to the moment in which the film was made.

The next panel on Perception and Perspective began with Andrew Mangham's paper (read by Greg Tate) on Dickens, Hogarth and Perspective, an interesting analysis that took Dickens's references to Hogarth in the preface to Oliver Twist as a starting-point for identifying a Hogarthian sense of visual perspective in Dickens's realism. Janice Carlisle followed with an exploration of Great Expectations and JMW Turner's painting; this worked towards centring Estella in the novel's visual economy, particularly in terms of how Estella constructs Pip as artist. Aleza Tadri-Friedman presented on "Art Appreciation and Visual Perception in Dombey and Son", considering the recurrence of art throughout the novel with a particular focus on how the transgressive Edith Granger is positioned within wider debates about art and perception in the nineteenth century; in another indicative text-illustration reading, Tadri-Friedman looked at the interplay between the narrative construction of Edith through Dombey and Carker, and the illustration that accompanies one key scene in this narrative.

Dombey and Son

Panel 2 explored Dickens and Painting, beginning with Dehn Gilmore's "Reading the Dickensian Gallery" which suggested ways in which art and artistic vocabulary in Dickens might offer a new way of understanding Dickens's relationship to his early reviewers. Pat Hardy's Dickens and Portraits looked at the ways in which Dickens employs the language of portrait painting, focusing on Bleak House which represents a key moment in engaging with ideas around portraiture, exploring key ideas about physiognomy and using this not only as a way in which to read individuals, but also with an interest in how people see one another. Vincent Alessi finished with a paper on the influence of Dickens on Vincent van Gogh, offering a complex examination of van Gogh's development as a painter and analysing particular paintings of or influenced by Dickens.

The day concluded with a final keynote presentation by Kate Flint on the subject of "Pavement Art". Flint began with a short story by Dickens, "His Brown Paper Parcel" ("Somebody's Luggage"; All the Year Round, 1862 Christmas edition), in which the narrator is a pavement artist: why, Flint asked, would such a figure be so interesting to Dickens? In what followed, Flint offered a wonderfully rich exploration of pavement artists in the nineteenth century and explored the questions raised through this unique form of visual culture. Pavement art occupies an interesting, often contradictory, space: it is emphemeral yet immobile/immoveable; outside of institutions and the marketplace, yet necessarily public and invites the viewer to participate in a form of artistic patronage; often produces a copied image but never produces a definitive replica and depends upon being constantly reproduced; creates delight amongst its audience through the process of its creation more than in existing as a finished product. Pavement art troubles and challenges the definition of art and artist, and in turn raises complex questions about the relationship between author and art work, raising issues of ownership and authorship, creation and performance, and the position of art in the public sphere- all especially important to Dickens at a time when he was touring the country performing extracts of his own work in his final years. Ideas were raised here too about the mobility of the artist and the circulation of art, resonating with the rise in print circulation throughout the nineteenth century and Flint picked up on this relationship, as well as questions around the legitimacy of wandering and loitering.

Pavement Artist

Illustration of a pavement artist from The Graphic, September 1874

Flint's talk provided a stimulating end to the day, and in its analysis of a different form of culture also spoke to some of the issues that Lynda Nead had raised in questioning the idea of the visual imagination: there was here an idea about how we might define the visual imagination as being, like pavement art, something transient, ephemeral and almost impossible to truly grasp, something forged and re-forged in different contexts and places, resisting (or defeated by) the permanence of the art forms that it tries to get a hold of, and always part of a process of creative transformation that evolves, adapts, and opens up new possibilites for interpretation.


Dickens and the Visual Imagination @ University of Surrey 9th–10th July 2012 (day 1)

Writing about web page http://www.ias.surrey.ac.uk/workshops/dickens/

Dickens

Dickens's Dream, Robert William Buss (1875)

This two-day conference at the University of Surrey and the Paul Mellon Centre in London gave a fascinating array of responses to the idea of Dickens and the visual imagination, from Dickens's engagement with visual material, the interplay between text and image in his writing, and the lasting influence of Dickens in visual culture.

The conference began with Andrew Sanders's keynote on "Dickens's Rooms". Sanders covered a myriad of rooms - prison cells, grand rooms, poor rooms, ship berths, empty rooms, and many more - often drawing on both written description and accompanying illustrations, the latter often playing against or revealing more about the text, particulary in the inclusion of objects, portraits, and the interplay of light and shadow within rooms. Sanders's discussion focused particularly on class and characterisation, offering some suggestive insights about the wider textual resonances of small details of rooms.

David Copperfield

Illustration "I am hospitably received by Mr Peggotty" from David Copperfield

The first panel I attended took London as its theme. Christine Corton presented on "London Fog: from the Verbal to the Visual", exploring the particular visual resonances of the fog metaphors that Dickens frequently employs in his writing on London - such as the variety of different colours that the fog takes (the "pea-souper" of Bleak House, for example). This gave a greater complexity to the use of fog as a metaphor for ambivalence, and revealed the changing nature of fog throughout Dickens's writings. The murkiness of London was also present in Ursula Kluwick's paper on "The Dickensian Thames in Word and Image" which looked at the interplay between visual and verbal representations of the River Thames in Dickens's writing. The river frequently features as dirty and unhygenic, echoing contemporary concern over the condition of the river by those calling for sanitary reform; it is also used as a metaphor for the moral corruption of London, although takes on a contradictory, more pleasant appearance in rural scenes. However, Kluwick noted that in accompanying illustrations the river is often less prominent, obscuring these issues to suggest ambivalence at facing up to the state of London.

Old Curiosity Shop

Illustration of Quilp's death from The Old Curiosity Shop

A final paper in this panel by Estelle Murail took us above the city to look at the influence of sketches and panoramas on Dickens's cityscapes. Sketches and panoramas are different forms of urban representation, the former a detailed close-up of particular sites whilst the latter provides a sweeping vision of the city recreated in an all-encompassing visual experience. A panorama by Rudolph Ackermann challenges this, as Ackermann incorporated detailed sketches into his construction of the panorama, and Murail used this as a basis to explore how Dickens's writing also challenges the distinction between the two modes of viewing the city, moving between panoramic perspective and the detail of a sketch. Murail finished with some indicative ideas about the function of technologies of vision in the new landscape of modernity, drawing on Wolfgang Schivelbusch's ideas about the urban panorama teaching a particular mode of vision that served as preparatory for the panoramic perspectives of the railway journey.

The next panel focused on architecture and interiors, starting with a paper by Emma Gray on Victorian domestic interiors in Dickens's writing. Emma spoke last year at my conference on Rural Geographies of Gender and Space 1840-1920, and it was interesting to hear her discussion of country houses such as Tyntesfield and Hughenden Manor in the context of Dickens's writing. Gray suggested that Dickens's depictions of domestic interiors often resonate with the work of distinguished decorators JG Crace & Son, and she analysed scenes such as the redecoration of Dombey's house in Dombey and Son and the handling of the Veneerings in Our Mutual Friend through contemporary fashions in home decoration. Clare Pettitt considered Dickens's response to visual material during his time in Italy in the mid-1840s, suggesting that his viewing of Baroque art and architecture effected a profound stylistic change in his work of the period, opening up a new understanding of historical time and mode through which to understand the present through reference to the past. Dominic James finished the panel with a paper that considered the depiction of gothic art and architecture in The Old Curiosity Shop, in which the contemporary ambivalence to the gothic revival is revealed in complex and contradictory ways.

A second keynote by Sambudha Sen concluded the day. In a paper titled "City Sketches, Panoramas and the Dickensian Aesthetic", Sen explored how Dickens constructed an urban aesthetic heavily influenced by visal technologies such as sketches and panoramas. Discussion focused on Bleak House which Sen argued demonstrates an impulse to grasp visual modes of representing London, constructing a spatial aesthetic that contrast with Thackeray's Vanity Fair in which time provides depth and organisation to social experience. This provided a rich and detailed reading with which to finish the first day of the conference, and I'll be thinking more on Sen's reading as I come to revise work on Bleak House this week.

The first day also provided two opportunities to enjoy visual material associated with Dickens. At the University of Surrey we viewed "Dickens Illustrated", an exhibition of illustrations from and inspired by Dickens's works - a nice opportunity to see a huge range of editions of Dickens's works, from the earliest editions illustrated by Phiz to more recent childrens' books and comics inspired by his writing. After the conference, we headed to a reception at the Watts Gallery in Compton, where an exhibition on Dickens and the Artists is currently on display, exploring the influence of Dickens on artists of the 19th century such as the image of the conference, Buss's "Dickens's Dream". This was an excellent end to the day, and apt preparation for the art history focus of day 2, on which more in my next post.

watts.png

"The Watts Gallery is a place where the past meets the future,

where myth joins reality,

where the principle of beauty embraces the facts of truth"

(Andrew Motion)


August 18, 2011

"What connection can there be?": the Great Exhibition of 1851

All the World Going to the Great Exhibition

I took a short research trip to the British Library last weekend, doing some work on the Great Exhibition of 1851 as context for current writing on Dickens's Bleak House, and while I was there I took the time to look at the originals of these pictures which I've come across in a couple of articles on the subject. They're illustrations from Henry Mayhew's comic novel 1851: or, The Adventures of Mr and Mrs Sandboys and Family, who came up to London to "enjoy themselves" and to see the Great Exhibition. I haven't yet read 1851 (the title doesn't exactly leave much to the imagination, but I do know that the Sandboys never actually make it to the Exhibition...) but these images are wonderful depictions of the anxieties surrounding the Exhibition. The opening image, above, shows "All the World going to see the Great Exhibition of 1851"; with the Crystal Palace standing on top of the world as the triumphant, celebrated achievement of the modern era, people of all nations encroach in to see it. Cultures are identified through stereotypical tropes typical of the period, but whilst people are visibly different in the bottom half of the picture - there's a clear sense of a scale of "civilization" operating across this globe - closer to the Palace the crowd becomes a homogenous, undistinguishable mass of people. This visibly depicts Prince Albert's words that the Exhibition signalled “that great end, to which, indeed, all history points – the realisation of the unity of mankind". It's notable, too, that this is a boundariless and borderless world; people are different, but the space in which they move is one.dispersion

The final image of the book, titled "The Dispersion of the Works of All Nations from the Great Exhibition of 1851”, is suggestive of the uncertainty of such unity: the objects of the Exhibition burst out from the Crystal Palace, dispersing into random confusion. Whilst the Exhibition attempted to impose neat systems of categorisation and re-asserted national borders by arranging objects by country, this image shows the complete disruption of organising systems; bringing all the world together does not result in a harmonious unity, but rather a descent into chaos that resists all containment. Notably, it's only objects that are dispersing, not the people of the previous image; things overrun the globe, highlighting the move into global capitalism that the Exhibition space stands as representative of. The Palace itself is in the centre of the picture, obscured by flying objects, yet in tact and unharmed - I can't decide, looking at it now, if it's suggesting a spontaneous explosion of objects out of the building that can't contain all this chaos, or rather an active expulsion of things away from British shores (as implied in the title "dispersion"). Both readings work, I think, and stand to assert the problems inherent in the Exhibition's global project and the counter-response of national introspection that we find in a novel like Bleak House.

Finally, these two images bring to mind one of the central questions of Bleak House: “what connexion can there be […] What connexion can there have been between many people in the innumerable histories of this world, who, from opposite sides of great gulfs, have, nonetheless, been very curiously brought together!” (256). We might easily substitute "things" in place of "people" and read the Exhibition as an attempt to form the connections between the diverse places and cultures of the world but which, as Cruikshank's second image suggests, simultaneously signalled the impossibility of such understanding. The question lingers through Dickens's text as another element of the novel's anti-Exhibition project, never giving us the totalizing view but rather revealing the impossibility of knowing the whole in a world in which everything is "moving on and moving on".


March 04, 2011

Mapping the city?

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/feb/24/sohei-nishino-diorama-maps#

Just a quick post after this caught my eye in the Guardian last week - the "maps" of photographer Sohei Nishino, who collates thousands of photos of cities into a diorama. The effect is a fascinatingly detailed and intricate vision of the city, and I particularly love how the final image seems to play with its own un/reality; both suggesting "reality" in using close-up photographs that attempt to capture every miniature truth of the city, yet constantly revealing its own artifice in the patch-work effect that results from collaging each individual photo, creating a jarring from the joins between multiple fragments. The visual appeal, I think, is one of fascination from the continual visual readjustment that the image demands; from a distance, the strangely familiar yet oddly fragmented image draws one in for a closer look at the individual pieces, yet in looking closer I almost immediately want to move back out again, realising that the detail is made meaningful only in contemplation of the whole. And so on.

All this, however, is only from the computer screen - I'll hopefully visit the Museum of London's exhibition of London Street Photography to view this, and what sounds like a wonderful collection of other street photographs on display there.

(and as an afterthought, which was going to be my starting-point before I realised I didn't have a response, yet: how, and in what ways, is this a "map"?)


September 06, 2010

Magnificent Maps: Power, Propoganda, and Art

Writing about web page http://www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/magnificentmaps/index.html

BL mapsJust a quick entry on the exhibition currently on at the British Library, Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art. This fascinating exhibition draws together a range of maps from c.1400s through to the present day; many of these were featured on the recent BBC series Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession which I noted back in April, so it was great to be able to see many of these maps up close.

The arrangement of the exhibition was such that the maps organised according to the contexts in which they were originally displayed: from palace galleries to the streets, schoolroom, bedchamber, reception hall, curiosity cabinet, merchant's house, and government office. In theory, I thought this was a good idea in opening up questions about how spatial context impacts upon interpretation, meaning and function of an object, and it was particularly appropriate for certain contexts: the street section, for example, grouped together maps used for propaganda purposes which gained from being placed next to other similar maps. Meanwhile, the gallery area displayed elaborate maps that leaned more on the side of art than of global knowledge, whilst the bedchamber opened up interesting questions about public/private spaces, the intimacy of the most private of spaces infiltrated with depictions of expansive other spaces.

Ultimately, though, I think the organisation of the maps in this way didn't add much to the display and, in some cases, detrated from it; whilst some of the maps were quite obviously suited to the room they were in, or the context might open up meaningful interpretations of certain maps, many of the types of maps displayed in each room were in fact quite similar. By going back to the "original context" you're dependent on what individuals decided looked best in their gallery vs. the entrance hall, the cabinet of curiosities vs the merchants house, and in many cases the maps displayed in differernt rooms didn't bear any special relationship to that room, only supported a general theme that maps work in different contexts to convey different degrees of power, wealth, and possession- which ultimately are often so entangled that it wouldn't have made much difference to swap many of the maps around. Whilst this wasn't a problem as such, it did mean the exhibits become a little repetetive between rooms and in some instances it would've worked much better to be able to see similar maps from different rooms placed next to one or near one another so that they could gain from comparative viewing, or that one could think about the similar themes or representational differences, and so on. In many instances I could also think of far more pertinent examples that related to the relevant room, such as the maps used in the school room, and a little more variety in the types of maps might have made for more interesting discussion (it was great to see Stephen Walter's The Islandbut some more contemporary examples would've been good); but I'm sure much of this was determined by what was in the collection and therefore perhaps an unreasonable complaint.

These are, however, small quibbles with what was nonetheless an enjoyable stroll around some fascinating exhibits, and some highlights included the fabulous Sheldon tapestry of the south east, the digitally enhanced version of the Hereford mappa mundi, wonderful globes, a tiny atlas made for Queen Mary's doll house, and many other beautiful maps. Well worth a look in if you're around that part of London or working in the British Library in the next couple of weeks (on until 19th September, and it's free).


December 14, 2009

2010 British Women Writers Conference

I'm very pleased to have had my paper proposal accepted for next year's 18th-19th Century British Women Writers Conference, taking place at Texas A&M University from the 8th to 11th April 2010. This will be my first time speaking at a conference abroad, and I'm especially pleased to be able to go as the conference theme is "Journeys" so in addition to this being a good opportunity to present my own research, it will be very interesting to find out more about the kind of work that is being carried out in this field in the US academic community. My paper is provisionally titled "'Wandering out into the World': Women Walking in the mid-Victorian Novel" and will explore accounts of women walking alone in selected novels by Charlotte Bronte and George Eliot. Taking the framework of the gendered associations of travel spaces as a starting point, I argue that Bronte and Eliot contend with these assumptions by positioning women walking alone in the streets, and explore spatial gendering through the embodied experience of travellers by demonstrating how gendered codes act to alter the ways in which bodies and spaces interact. Furthermore, these narratives go beyond gendered codes to explore the process of travel as a material, embodied practice and thus offer illuminating perspectives on the subject-space relationship that have implications for the critical understanding of literary geographies. The paper will demonstrate how focusing on the movement of characters through space – particularly in the process of walking – enables the development of a more fluid, mobile theorisation of spatiality that is attentive to the transitory nature of the embodied subject-space relationship.


December 11, 2009

The Railways in Art

I've spent the term writing about representations of railways in Victorian literature, out of which have emerged some interesting and unexpected themes and ideas. So far the chapter falls around two main themes: the carriage as a disruptive force that severs the body from connection with the surounding journey-space; and the new spatial context that the carriage produces within itself. In both, images of the body of the travelling subject provide a locus for understanding the new and disrupted spatial contexts that the railway produces.

Often, literary representations are characterised by absence: many journeys aren't described in great detail, travelling bodies often disappear from view. This makes the fleeting glances of travellers all the more interesting- often, the merest appearance of a hand here, or a railway rug there, provide rich sites for analysis within the context of spatiality. For instance, Dickens' description of Dombey's journey notes how objects appear "close at hand and almost in the grasp, ever flying from the travellers, and a deceitful distance ever moving slowly with him” (p.311); that slight reference to Dombey’s hand is so crucial in articulating the loss of embodied contact with journey-space that the railway journey enforces, capturing how spatial perception is thrown into confusion not only due to the velocity of the train but also because the body has lost its relational sense of spatial understanding in this new mode of travel in which space can only be perceived, not experienced in an embodied sense, through the barrier of the window.

Much of this analysis depends on constructing theoretical frameworks for understanding the significance of these passages, and artistic representations of the railways are useful here in supporting and developing a sense of how the carriage-space was perceived and understood. The exhibition Art in the Age of Steam that I went to last year has been extremely useful in this respect, thanks to the wonderful exhibition catalogue that I was lucky enough to be given. I've been looking in particular at images of railway carriage interiors, which aren't often detailed in the texts I'm looking at, and paintings therefore provide a useful supplement for thinking about how this new spatial context was conceptualised. Augustus Egg's "The Travelling Companions" (1862) is especially indicative, full of suggestions that resonate with the ideas I've been working on.

"Travelling Companions"

The painting emphasises the enclosure and privacy of the railway carriage: the framing of the visual field is such that the compartment is seemingly little bigger than that of a horse-drawn carriage, and everything is close, pushed in upon itself. The mirroring of the two girls exaggerates this sense of enclosure, drawing the carriage space in upon itself, and also creates this as an intensely private scene, locking the girls (presumably sisters) into a self-contained unit. This private bond between them places the domestic as central to the image, and everything about the interior operates to suggest that they are within a domestic interior; there's a complete denial of this as public, open space and the doubling furthers this by acting to exclude the possibility of anything else entering into this frame of vision.

The possibility of anything else entering the carriage is further prevented by the voluminous dresses that take up almost half of the picture - this provides an interesting resonance with literary depictions in which we so frequently see characters bundelled or parcelled up in numerous coats, rugs, blankets etc. Here, this "parcelling up" asserts their class status, surrounding the women in wealth and luxury which offers layers of protection from the industrialised mode of transport - there is not the merest suggestion of the railway as machine ensemble here. The dresses also act on gendered terms - that these women can travel alone in the carriage reflects the new travel possibilities that railways provided women with; but questions and concerns of the propriety of women travelling alone were subject of much discussion in the early years of railway travel and in literature women risk being villified for doing so (in the texts I've read, women often travel alone only in desperate or extraordinary circumstances). The enclosure of the carriage entailed potential connotations as a sexualised space (although that goes back to horse-drawn carriages too- think of Madame Bovary): but here, there's safety suggested as the "travelling companions" ensure propriety is upheld; and the layers of their dresses conceal their bodies from the possibility of sexual contact or the intrusion of a gazing male - there's literally no space for a male intruder with all those layers of silk!

So we have here a space that seems to be drawing away from its reality as a railway-compartment and instead seeking to recreate a feminised, domestic sense of space. Even the view from the window resists the railway: although this centralised, the view beyond features as little more than a back-drop to the foreground. It's also so static: there is no suggestion that the train is moving rapidly, not only is the view perfectly framed but only the curtain tassle at the top of the window shows any sign of movement. It's typical, too, to see the girls engaged in reading and sleeping- the railway journey enables the traveller to do something other than travel; travelling is now a privatised, individual experience. But this is, of coures, only to consider the first-class carriage; a very different experience of rail travel is presented in images of third-class carriages- but I'll save that for another blog post soon.


December 06, 2009

"Through the Sash Window": History of Art Seminar @ University of Warwick, 2nd December 09

As part of the History of Art Department's Seminar Series, Dr. Steven Parrissien gave a talk on Wednesday entitled "Through the Sash Window: Space and the Home in the Early 19th Century". I found this to be a thoroughly interesting and engaging talk which gave me a fresh perspective on ideas of space in the 19th Century. The focus was on the early 19th century- just up to the 1830s- which Parrissien situated as a period in which the middle-classes were able, for the first time, to choose how to decorate their homes (the term "interior decoration" was first used in 1807): with industralisation and the subsequent growing wealth of middle classes, people were more able to devote time an money to the decoration of the home. Home design was largely about demonstrations of wealth, with the home as a venue for displaying new wealth; but Parrissien also emphasised the importance of having choice over how the home was decorated, conveying the sense of excitement and possibility in this new mode of display- pictures of interiors of homes showed the new fabrics and designs on offer; the talk also touched on the periodicals and magazines on home interior design which were being produced by the 1820s, displaying all the wonderful items that could be chosen.

Much of the talk focused on windows- a subject which has interested me since reading Isobel Armstrong's Victorian Glassworlds, and many of the themes here resonated with Armstrong's work. Parrissien detailed the revoltions in glass production that allowed for developments in the construction and design of window: glass could be produced as bigger panes, and with greater clarity (earlier, thicker types of glass offered limited visibility, with windows functioning predominantly to let in light); the window could therefore be constructed to offer a bigger, clearer viewing space. The view from the window now featured as integral to a room, almost part of its decoration: this is emphasised in paintings that position the window view as almost a painting-within-a-painting, creating a landscape in itself.

However, not only was the view out improved, but so too was the view in: the passer-by on the street could more easily see into the home. This de-stabilised the typical public/private sense of space: whilst the home might be ideally conceptualised as an enclosed, private world, the window disturbs this relation and opens up the home which is now a transparent, more vulnerable space that can be penetrated by the gaze of those outside, as well as being more aware from inside of the presence of that "beyond". Parrissien ended by positing the increased importance of spaces around the home, such as the front garden and the front door, as a form of protection and boundary from the outside world.


January 05, 2009

Past exhibition info

Follow-up to 'Mapping the Imagination' at the V&A from Charlotte's Research blog

I'm not sure how long this has been on the V&A website, but whilst preparing some material for my seminars tomorrow I came across thisarchived info about the exhibition "Mapping the Imagination" that I went to last year. The website is great as it has much better images of the maps than I managed to take, and it includes all of the exhibits, many of which I didn't photograph.


September 04, 2008

'The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting" at Tate Britain

Writing about web page http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/britishorientalistpainting/default.shtm

Arthur Melville, An Arab Interior

It's taken me a while to blog about this so I'll just say a few words about what was a thoroughly enjoyable exhibition at the Tate gallery in London. The exhibition brought together paintings by British artists of the "Orient" - eastern Mediterranean countries under the control of the Ottoman Empire- from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries, although most of the paintings were nineteenth century. A number of themes structured the exhibition: Orientalist portraits demonstrated the fashion for adopting the dress of foreign countries by travellers like T.E. Lawrence; 'genre and gender' explored the gendering of public and private spaces, although I felt this was more fully covered in the section on 'home and harem' which drew attention to female travellers who could, unlike their male counterparts, access exclusively female places like the harem. Throughout the exhibition, the informative displays and audio guides made much use of travel writing to supplement factual information- Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's writing featured particularly prominently. A section on 'mapping the orient' was useful in depicting the shifting boundaries of the Ottoman Empire throughout the period covered by the exhibition, and in detailing the changes in journeys undertaken as transport developments progressed to enable easier access to the region.


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