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  • ART for Animals: Visual Culture and Animal Advocacy, 1870–1914 by J. Keri Cronin
  • Robyn Hederman (bio)
ART for Animals: Visual Culture and Animal Advocacy, 1870–1914. By J. Keri Cronin. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2018. 247 + xii pp. Hardback. $52.96. ISBN: 978-0-271-08009-3.)

In ART for Animals, J. Keri Cronin explores how visual culture was used by animal advocates "in Britain and North America at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth" (p. 6). The early animal advocacy movement used visual culture "to draw attention to the suffering of nonhuman animals" (p. 4). Imagery "played an important role in defining campaign goals, recruiting membership, raising funds, and, ultimately, sustaining and challenging dominant ideas about nonhuman animals" (p. 6).

Cronin offers a new perspective on the "intersection of art and activism" and gives voice to the artists, the photographers, the filmmakers, the animal advocates, and those they wished to influence—each of whom had a unique perspective. Well-chosen images enhance the narrative. Cronin demonstrates that "like today's animal rights advocates, early reformers sought to strike a balance between images that would appeal to people's compassion and those that would repel people and turn them away from the cause" (p. 12).

Cronin provides an overview of how the animal advocacy movement employed visual culture as a tool of education and reform (p. 23). Cronin highlights the work of Sir Edwin Landseer whose paintings The Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner, A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, and Saved demonstrate that nonhuman animals possess emotional and intellectual traits very similar to those of humans—one of the primary objectives of animal advocacy groups (p. 32). For example, the Victoria Street Society for the Protection of Animals from Vivisection (founded by Francis Power Cobbe in 1875) published these images, hoping Landseer's ability to demonstrate the emotions of nonhuman animals would underscore the cruelty involved in vivisection.

By painstakingly describing Marianne Stokes's A Parting and John McLure's Vivisection—The Last Appeal, Cronin invites the reader to experience the horror of these seemingly benign paintings. A Parting, exhibited at the Paris Salon under the French title Condamnee a Mort, focuses on the emotional bond between a child and a calf. At first glance, we see a heartwarming scene: A small girl strokes the head of a calf resting in her lap. Upon further examination, we see the calf's fate: His feet are bound together by a rope. A copy of this painting appeared in Animal World, a publication of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). According to Cronin, the RSPCA hoped that publishing a copy of Stokes's A Parting might sway viewers to reevaluate their own food choices (p. 42).

Likewise, John McLure's Vivisection—The Last Appeal, exhibited in 1897 at the Victorian Era Exhibition at Earl's Court, portrays a distinguished scientist at work in his lab. Further inspection of the painting reveals that the man is hiding a medical instrument behind his back while a small dog stands on her hind legs appearing to beg for mercy. We cannot see the man's face. Cronin points out "the scientific instruments and the dead body of a bird, the subject of the previous experiment—tell us how this scene is going to play out" (p. 48). This image, described by The Art Journal as "a most painful picture," was used by the Animal Defence and Anti-Vivisection Society and the National Canine Defence League in their 20th-century campaigns (p. 48).

In Chapter 2, Cronin tackles the topic of "bearing witness": documenting animal [End Page 89] cruelty to extend witnessing to a broader audience (p. 79). Activists and educators employed the newest technology to display images; for instance, the "magic lantern," a projector using candles or limelight as a light source. Advocates later switched to photography and motion pictures. Cronin vividly describes the campaign of Ada Cole to reveal the rampant cruelty supporting the live export trade; namely, the export of live horses for slaughter from Britain to continental Europe. Animal advocates attempted to document the fate...


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