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Reviews Heather McPherson, The Modern Portraitin Nineteenth-Century France (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 286 + xiv, 6 colorplates, 101 halftones, $85.00. Recent interest in issues of identity and "self-fashioning" has put portraiture in the forefront of art history, yet it remains very difficult to discuss intelligendy. Often trapped in simplistic dualities (mimetic versus expressive function, realism versus symbolic content, surface versus interior) the study of portraiture often fails to move beyond a discussion of the personality of the subject. Heather McPherson has admirably tackled a difficult subject: the strategies artists used to rejuvenate portraiture in France after the development of photography. The new medium posed a serious challenge to portrait painters, but McPherson righdy situates the changes in portraiture within a larger social field. While the realistic capacity of the photograph may have been the most obvious precipitator of change, McPherson points out that other factors — such as the changes in social structure, the art market, and society's attitude towards the autonomy of the individual — all affected the discourse of portraiture. Necessarily, much of her argument considers the ongoing relation between painted and photographic portraits, although she also assesses sculptural portraits and emerging mass cultural images such as advertising posters. In freestanding chapters, or case studies, McPherson closely examines six moments in nineteenth-century portraiture. She begins with the mid-century emergence of the photographic portrait and the concurrent development of Realism, focusing on the painter Gustave Courbet's 1848-9 PortraitofBaudelaire. McPherson situates the painting in relation to other portraits by Courbet, portraits of Baudelaire by 80volume 28 number 1 Reviews the unparalleled photographer Nadar, as well as Baudelaire's own caricatures. She concludes that Courbet's aesthetic has parallels to the art of the caricature, and that his portraits "effectively demonstrate the paradoxical nature of realism, a complex pictorial enterprise too often simplistically equated with 'truth' and photographic objectivity" (35). An interesting chapter on the well-known Second Empire beauty, the Comtesse de Castiglione, shifts the focus to the role of the camera in allowing women to construct their own identities, within cultural limits that McPherson briefly considers. In the 1860s, Castiglione obsessively documented her much reputed beauty in elaborate costumes that she designed, in more unusual cropped images of particular body parts, and in images seemingly made for our postmodern era in which she deconstructs the gaze and the fetishizing tendency of the camera by peering through an empty frame, which isolates her own eye and the act of looking. Some 30 years later, the Comtesse re-staged many of these same images, recording the decline of her beauty in her on-going collaboration with the official photographer to Napoléon Ill's court, Louis Pierson. McPherson considers the cultural uses of photographic portraits by comparing Castiglione's obsessive self-fashioning with the well-known images of hysterics at the Salpêtrière hospital by the doctorJean-Martin Charcot. While the parallel is difficult to sustain in any concrete way, both sets of photographic portraits indicate a transformation in the role of the portrait made possible by photography, and reveal the circumscribed gender roles of women subjects. McPherson does not, however, devote much consideration to die significant (and signifying ) differences between hospitalized hysterics and self-fashioning upper class women in the Second Empire court of Napoléon III, which would have enriched die comparison. Castiglione bridges die gap between die 1860s and 1890s, and die rest of the book concentrates on the end of die century, allowing McPherson to skip decades dominated by die Impressionists, who were generally unattracted to the genre. McPherson turns to examine the uses of portraiture in an emerging late-century phenomenon: Victorian Review81 Reviews the mass consumption of actresses as stars in the paradigmatic case of Sarah Bernhardt Continuing the theme of the limits of selfpresentation , McPherson unfortunately does not follow up the many interesting links made possible by the preceding consideration of Castiglione . Because of the case study format, this kind of limitation runs throughout the text, and is compounded by an epilogue that skims over twentieth-century portraiture in lieu of a conclusion that might have drawn inferences together. With reference to both Castiglione and Bernhardt...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 80-83
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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