- Illustrated Periodicals of the 1860s: Contexts and Collaborations
Simon Cooke is no stranger to the world of Victorian art, as his previous work on the era's painters and illustrators attests. This book-length study showcases Cooke's expertise—both as a scholar and as a collector of nineteenth-century periodicals—while exploring the collaborations among artists, publishers, authors, and others that fueled "one of the most productive epochs in the history of British illustration" (17).
In the opening chapter, Cooke summarizes current criticism of 1860s illustrations, then offers a brief historical overview of the decade's rapid shifts in aesthetics and publishing technology. After noting in his initial remarks that many critics tend to focus upon the artists' individual contributions, Cooke instead announces his intent to study the relationships [End Page 402] that produced 1860s illustrations, turning his eye to the complex web of professional associations and creative tensions that surrounded each commissioned image. To anyone who has worked in the commercial publishing industry, this approach makes sense: after all, no visual or literary work is the unmediated product of a single creator. Rather, published images only reach their mass audience after passing through multiple, unseen editorial filters—some heavy-handed, others offering more nuanced guidance. Even the workers involved in the technical process of transferring ink to page are far from the neutral agents we often assume them to be. And, as Cooke's study reminds us, this was as true in late nineteenth-century England as it is in our own era.
In the subsequent chapters, Cooke's attention to the economic and cultural dimensions of these partnerships will likely appeal to those who are inclined to view the nineteenth century through the lens of Marxist theory (or other similar frameworks), as well as to rhetoric scholars. His linkage of common Victorian pictorial tropes (orientalism, rusticity, pious poverty) to specific audiences in Chapter 2 is a particularly helpful bit of rhetorical analysis, and enables further critical examination of illustration as a visual form of popular discourse. What's more, his treatment of the illustrated periodical as a distinct form lends itself well to broader discussions of genre, and of the forces that shape their development and use.
All that said, Cooke's close explorations of the interpersonal dynamics between specific illustrators and their collaborators are where this book truly shines. Rather than criticizing "mismatches" of image and text, as some earlier critics have done, Cooke encourages deeper contemplation of these moments, as well as the systems of power and creative exchange that complicate them. His reconsideration of the relationship between George Eliot and Frederic Leighton, for example, leads to an intriguing reassessment of Leighton's previously ballyhooed illustrations for Romola. Elsewhere, Illustrated Periodicals illuminates the multiple pressures John Everett Millais faced when illustrating for a publication like the Cornhill Magazine, whose publisher exercised strict editorial control in order to project a "genteel" aesthetic to his intended bourgeois audience. In these and many other cases, Cooke suggests, the frictions between strong personalities often manifested in a range of professional interactions, from sharing and discussion to disagreement and "downright defiance" (205).
At $75, the book's price will likely discourage its use as a classroom text, although it would make a fine addition to graduate-level courses and reading lists, particularly those focusing on nineteenth-century visual culture or the periodical press. Compared with other scholarly titles, its pages are marked by an abundance of full-page illustrations and examples—more than 120 visual reproductions in all—and researchers amassing their [End Page 403] own libraries of Victorian-era magazines will doubtlessly appreciate the notes and reflections in Appendix 1 on collecting 1860s periodicals. For those who are slightly less acquainted with the time period, Appendix 2 offers convenient lists of key artists, magazines, and publishers. (The introductory paragraph also directs readers to two other, more comprehensive resources, if they are interested in browsing a fuller listing).
By the book's closing paragraphs, Cooke has deftly reconstructed a historical...