- Art for the Middle Classes: America's Illustrated Magazines of the 1840s
Cynthia Lee Patterson's Art for the Middle Classes provides a valuable corrective to histories of American art and print culture that have overlooked the importance of illustrated monthly magazines to the development of American art in the nineteenth century. As Patterson argues, illustrated monthlies became instrumental in the commodification and democratization of American art, particularly during the 1840s, as they delivered engravings of original American art into the hands and homes of a burgeoning middle-class audience. Heading this market revolution were the "Philadelphia Pictorials," including Godey's Lady's Book, Graham's Magazine, Miss Leslie's Magazine, Peterson's Magazine, and Sartain's Union, each of which helped situate Philadelphia as the national leader in arts and publishing for the decade of the 1840s.
Examining illustrated engravings, editorial matter, and artist-publisher correspondence, Patterson's historical study positions magazine embellishments as "one nexus in a complex web of literary sociability and exchange," arguing for the need to read them as cultural and artistic artifacts "alongside corollary sites of exchange: literary salons and societies; anthologizing; and editorial 'puffing,' among others" (87). In doing so, Patterson also provides a fascinating glimpse of the one-upmanship that defined relations between these popular monthlies, beginning with the rise of Graham's Magazine in 1841 as the first major challenger to Godey's Lady's Book, which had previously enjoyed supreme reign of the illustrated literary marketplace though the 1830s. If the circulation of unique, high-quality pullout embellishments provided a certain edge to American literary magazines competing for the lion's share of a diverse middle class market, the Philadelphia Pictorials realized unparalleled sales by [End Page 111] taking magazine embellishments to new artistic and ideological heights, all the while maintaining their status as "desirable and affordable middle-class commodities" (4). As competitive patrons, promoters, and distributors of the best American artists and engravers, the Philly monthlies came to replace expensive illustrated gift-books, annuals, and art associations, such as the American Art-Union, as the primary site for the consumption of American art during the 1840s, which had lasting impact on the size, shape, and culture of the visual arts market in the nineteenth-century U.S.
Patterson organizes the history of this impact chronologically and thematically across eight chapters, highlighting the Philadelphia Pictorials' role in building an economy of artistic production that supported American artists and engravers (chapter two); the development of innovative print and reproduction technologies (chapter three); the rise and fall of regional imitators (chapter four); generating work for novice and women writers via textual "illustrations" (chapter five); the creation and stratification of consumer cultures and taste (chapter six); and the evaluation of "American art" and its consumption as a marker of upward social mobility (chapter seven). While the monograph as a whole will interest readers of American Periodicals, the latter half provides an especially useful elaboration of the politically-charged artistic matter that illustrated magazines used to target a specific audience and boost marketability. Chapter four, for instance, discusses several regional illustrated monthlies that sought and failed to reach a market presence comparable to the Philadelphia Pictorials in the 1840s. As Patterson argues, the fate of these magazines (including the Eclectic, Ladies Companion, Columbian, and New Mirror in New York; Boston Miscellany and Ladies Repository in Boston; and Ladies Repository in Cincinnati) was sealed due to conflicting regional and national agendas, which their artistic matter directly and indirectly espoused. On the one hand, they tried to appeal to local readers by promoting sectional interests and regional art and artists; on the other hand, in direct challenge to the Philly monthlies, they tried to appeal to readers beyond their regional borders by promoting the idea of a national art and literature. While these moves brought important exposure to regional subject matter and artists, it also ensured a confused identity and relatively meager subscription rates. One interesting exception to this trend, which Patterson highlights, was Boston's Ladies...