- Graphic Culture: Illustration and Artistic Enterprise in Paris, 1830-1848 by Jillian Lerner
Jillian Lerner's Graphic Culture is a remarkable example of interdisciplinary scholarship that brings to vivid life the burgeoning publishing world of July [End Page 243] Monarchy France through careful analysis of its players, products, and practices. Working across the disciplines of art history, social history, and cultural studies, and centred on the graphic culture and artists of the 1830s and 1840s, Lerner has produced a stunning account of what must have been an exciting two decades to be a graphic artist in Paris. In crisp prose she chronicles the invention of modernity in art and visual culture and shows how the interplay of word, image, and taste harnessed the social anxiety that characterized the period to forge a visual language that would shape contemporaries' understanding of a society in flux. These prints, Lerner contends, are marked by their creators' acute awareness of the moment, and, slipping as they do between authority and uncertainty, they serve as compelling archival evidence for the study of an unstable culture. The book traces this reflexive thread through the work of the most important illustrators of the July Monarchy—Daumier, Devéria, Gavarni, Grandville, among others, alongside their publishers—bringing these figures from margins to centre and demonstrating the innovation of their contributions and their power as cultural influencers.
Lerner bookends her chapters with an introduction that cogently explains the key questions, terms, methodology, and structure of the book and a brief conclusion that looks ahead to our own contemporary visual culture, further crystallizing the significance of these understudied images and figures. Arguing that the July Monarchy was the crucible of French modernity, the author breaks new ground in art history by challenging the "anti-commercial bias" that has left the vast majority of illustrations of this period, apart from political caricature, unexplored (p. 10). Her stated goal is "to understand how sketches of fashions and manners were consciously positioned within old and new systems of visual representation and actively embedded in social and economic history" (p. 4). Methodologically, she proposes to read "graphic culture" writ large, that is, through a wide variety of prints, panoramic literature, press articles, biographies, and other historical accounts, to produce a heterogeneous corpus of analysis. By "researching both historical factors and representations of those historical factors" she balances her discussion of the visual with historical analysis and suggests that images themselves exerted influence over manners even as they purportedly represented them (p. 16). Lerner's choices are judicious, allowing her to showcase her considerable skill as a reader of visual culture even as she excavates the social history surrounding the different objects she examines.
Chapter 1, "The Illustrator of Modern Life," identifies the illustrator, who often came from the lower classes, as a broad, ill-defined category and explores the growing cultural impact of visual representations on daily life. Lerner focuses on both the plethora of contemporary descriptions of the social type of "the illustrator," who was becoming increasingly visible, and the historical conditions of his vocation, which often began in fine arts training and expanded to include more immediately lucrative pursuits. She also offers a lucid description of the lithography process as well as an overview of the types of illustrations produced by each artist, thereby providing a rich resource for scholars and students of illustration and graphic artists. Engaging productively with multiple theorists of visual culture (Crary, Marcus, Schwartz, Siegfried) and surveying the key scholars [End Page 244] of print and illustration (Bann, Hahn, Higonnet, Kaenel, Mainardi) she makes the important claim that the "quotidian prints" considered in her book "should be central to any account of how the discourses of modernity and the modern artist developed in nineteenth-century France" (p. 42). It is in this sense that Lerner's book fills a gap in art historical accounts and opens up an interdisciplinary space of exploration for scholars from a variety of fields.
Subsequent chapters (2-5) treat topics that pertain more specifically to individual figures working...