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R e vi e ws Codell, Julie F. The Victorian Artist: Artists'Lifewritings in Britain, ca. 18701910 . (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), xv + 376. Julie F. Codell's book, The Victorian Artist: Artists'Lifewritings in Britain ca. 1870-1910, examines the self-presentation and social construction ofvisual artists through a series of thematically specific chapters. To this end, she frames artists as textual creations, exploring the complex and shifting web ofmotivations and results which contributed to the public figure ofthe artist in Britain during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Codell argues that, despite the enormous number and variety of biographical writings that were produced by and about artists during this period, art historians have largely failed to exploit these as a genre worth critical examination. Particularly influenced by Pierre Bourdieu's critique ofcultural production, Codell interprets the texts, which she collectively terms "lifewritings," as elements in an intertextual process which redefined the personal and societal status and function ofartists. The author's stated goal is to examine biography as a mass genre that constructed artists in a very different frame from modern notions of the avant-garde. Codell writes that "most late-Victorian biographical subjects were not agonized geniuses, but gentlemen and ladies whose material success and public appeal became representative ofEnglish cultural domination and superiority, as well as signs of national unity" (2). Throughout her book, she connects changes in the idea of the artist to broader currents and debates about British national identity. Codell sees artists' lives as sites ofdispute. In the process ofwriting these lives, different representational strategies competed and combined to forge consumable national identities. More broadly, artists' biographies participated in the acculturation of middle- and working-class peoples in the changed cultural and economic contexts ofemergent modernity. Codell develops her arguments through five linked but independent chapters. Chapter One, entitled "Biographical Functions, Mediations, and Exchanges," explores the different roles played by late Victorian biographies in the face of an ever-widening audience for artworks, reproductions and writing about art. Codell argues that art's status as a sign ofsocial distinction in the eighteenth century was largely a function of the "taste" of a limited, elite viewing public. As the audience and market for art expanded and became more heterogeneous during the Victorian period, the nature 88volume 32 number 2 Reviews ofwriting about art and artists changed and increasingly sought to provide "common ground and shared experiences" which could bind together a diverse population (21). Biographies normalized and domesticated artists as prosperous and productive members ofbourgeois society. Biographical series engaged in a process of naming; effectively, the creation ofa lineage ofcanonical artists linked through notions ofgenius and national identity. Codell details the biographical reappraisal ofproblematic figures in the history ofEnglish art such as George Moreland and William Mallord Turner, where unsettling details about the artists' moral lives became subsumed in accounts ofcreativity and genius. Another example of the normalization ofthe Victorian artist in biographical texts can be found, Codell argues, in representations ofartists' studios. Codell shows how both textual descriptions and photographic illustrations ofartists' studios took pains to portray not a dirty, impoverished and morally suspect garret, but instead a respectable site ofproduction and consumption, "animated spaces filled with the aesthetic and moral qualities ofartists and oftheir art" (45). Chapter Two, "The Victorian Typology ofArtists: from Prelapsarian to Professional," takes up and further examines questions ofcanonicity and character already raised in the previous chapter. Codell identifies a series ofdistinct types common in Victorian lifewritings. These include the autochthonous or foundational artist, the bohemian, the decadent, the professional and (a category named by Codell) the prelapsarian. Codell argues that these various typologies must be interpreted within the broader context ofthe changing social and economic role ofartists in the Victorian period. The central issue was the relationship between art as a calling and art as an economic practice. Was the ideal artist to be conceived ofas a spiritual and isolated figure, removed from the vulgar and levelling dictates of the market, as Ruskin believed? Or did the market provide a positive forum within which artists could aspire to a high level ofprofessionalism and authority and participate in society as fully mature and productive citizens? Chapter Three...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 88-92
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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