Musings on the Romantic Illustration Network: The Story So Far

This year, facilitating the Romantic Illustration Network has taught me three things: be ready shift furniture and sweep floors at 9am in your best conference jacket; never underestimate the importance of the well-timed tea break; and the most important work is often done in the pub after the symposium, so always choose a good watering-hole and book a large table. It’s been a great pleasure developing the Network and getting to know the regulars and the new faces who attend each event. I’ve become familiar with the inside workings of the British Academy, the Tate, and the House of Illustration, and I now have a really good sense of the goals and constraints of what are often loosely termed ‘heritage organisations’. It’s exciting to see, particularly after our recent event on Saturday June 6th, how our convivial gatherings, individual research papers, and gallery tours are actually building towards an understanding of shared interests and emerging research questions. Intellectually the awareness of a shared agenda and new theoretical approaches is growing, and alongside this, there is now a real sense of the Network as a collaborative international team of scholars. I hope we can continue to build on this. The great strength of the network is, I think, that relationships have been built both in person and virtually. The website and blog goes from strength to strength, with more than 6700 views in over 25 countries. We are currently developing a digitised gallery of 18th century prints of scenes from Shakespeare, courtesy of a generous donation from Frederick Burwick at UCLA. These beautiful high-definition images will be ready for the Shakespeare 2016 commemorations. I’ve enjoyed keeping in touch with network members via the blog: I post news of CFPs and events, but also useful resources and members’ research: ‘Image of the Month’ is a popular series of posts. RIN members are a collegiate bunch. The Network events have shaped my own research in unexpected ways: I never imagined I’d write a scholarly article about Dickens’s chair, for example. Most importantly, they have been great fun: as someone said to me at the recent symposium, ‘Why don’t we do this every week?’. Why don’t we, indeed.

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REGISTRATION OPEN: The Arts And Feeling in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture, Birkbeck, University of London, 16-18 July 2015

The Arts And Feeling in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture
Birkbeck, University of London, 16-18 July 2015

Keynote Speakers: Caroline Arscott, Tim Barringer, Meaghan Clarke, Kate Flint, Hilary Fraser, Michael Hatt, Lynda Nead, Jonah Siegel, Alison Smith

This conference will explore the ways in which nineteenth-century authors, artists, sculptors and musicians imagined and represented emotion and how writers and critics conceptualised the emotional aspects of aesthetic response. It aims to map the state of the field in this growing area of interest for nineteenth-century scholars by locating recent interdisciplinary work on sentimentality and art and writing and the senses within wider debates about the relationship between psychology and aesthetics in the long-nineteenth century.

Speakers will investigate the physiology and psychology of aesthetic perception and the mind/body interactions at play in the experience of a wide range of arts. Key questions include: How did Victorian artists represent feeling and how were these feelings aestheticised? What rhetorical strategies did Victorian writers use to figure aesthetic response? What expressive codes and conventions were familiar to the Victorians? Which nineteenth-century scientific developments affected artistic production and what impact did these have on affective reactions?

Registration is now open for the main conference. To register, please visit: https://www2.bbk.ac.uk/artsandfeeling/

For more information, please visit the conference website: http://www.artsandfeeling.com/

Event Report: ‘The Art of Quotation and the Miniaturised Gallery’, RIN 4, Saturday 6 June 2015

The fourth Romantic Illustration Network symposium took place at the House of Illustration on Saturday the 6th of June. Once again the event was well-attended with a friendly mix of regulars and new faces, local and international.house-of-illustration-logo-kids-in-the-halls-column-arts-agency

We had two inter-related themes for the symposium:

1.Miniaturization: Drawing on Peter Otto’s work on virtual culture in the Romantic period, is the illustration a form of virtual gallery? How does visual meaning change when an image is resized?
2.The Art of Quotation: How were literary quotations used to conceptualise visual images? How important are framing devices to the meaning of an image?

However, speakers were free to interpret the terms ‘quotation’ and ‘miniaturised gallery’ in any way they saw fit, and to raise any other questions they chose.

We kicked off with David Worrall (Roehampton/Nottingham Trent) who presented us with his concept of ‘locations of curation’. After crediting William St Clair in RIN 3 for inspiring his quest for a new theory of illustration, Worrall explored what he described as two currently disconnected narratives – Romanticism and eighteenth-century theatre – to consider the changing moments when images interact with other objects, such as the people who view them. He used the example of theatrical portraits to demonstrate how images moved from stage, to page, to prints, to household objects.

Susan Matthews’s (Roehampton) paper interrogated questions of scale, domesticity, and artistic encounter, the idea of ‘meeting’ an artist though their illustrations. She pointed out that the name ‘House of Illustration’ (as opposed to ‘Gallery of Illustration’) is significant: we often seem to want to give illustration a ‘home’. She focused on Fuseli’s illustrations to an edition of Cowper’s popular poem The Task (1785), and revealed the awkward tensions between Fuseli’s depictions of domestic scenes and Cowper’s lines, whilst also showing that Fuseli could produce powerful images on a small scale when he really wanted to. Matthews drew parallels between Fuseli’s techniques and the recent exhibition of Paula Rego’s work at House of Illustration.

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Plate 17, The Book of Urizen William Blake Archive

From here we zoomed in still further, with Peter Otto’s (Melbourne) paper on plate 17 of Blake’s The Book of Urizen (1794). Otto gave a detailed and original reading of the plate which encompassed The Terror and images of decapitation by guillotine, the story of Adam and Eve, Perseus and the Gorgon, and the Narcissus myth to show how the plate connects primal history with events unfolding in the present through an art of visual and textual quotation. He argued that the plate illustrated a turning point in society, represented as a decapitation, and that Blake was constructing an imagined reality through quotation which in turn tries to shape or frame what reality is.

From royal executions to royal collections, Kate Heard (Royal Collection) showed us how George III and George IV both engaged with the reproductive print market, albeit in very different ways, as prints enabled middle-class consumers to gain access to items in the Royal Collection. We saw how Royal Collection items circulated as prints, so much so that satirical caricaturists could imitate them, and she argued that the print market played a crucial role in the public sense of the King. We also saw what a fantastic resource the Collection is for scholars.

Taking us through to the Victorian period, Bethan Stevens (Sussex) spoke about her work on the albums of proofs put together by the dominant mid-century London wood-engraving firm, the Dalziel family. The firm of Dalziel produced the illustrations to a vast range of literary and non-literary texts, including such classics as the Alice books and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Stephens showed how, in the albums, the exclusion of words affects the status, form and narrative of illustration, and provokes a new attention to illustrations as images which enables all kinds of subversive and intriguing readings.

Three Bibliographical Society Studentships were awarded: Anne Musset (Warwick/Paris-Diderot), Tessa Kilgariff (National Portrait Gallery/Bristol), and Naomi Billingsley (Manchester). We ended the day, as usual, with a period of open discussion about the broader themes of the event and the future of the network (upcoming ventures include the panel at BARS 2015 in Cardiff and the digitised Shakespeare Gallery, currently under construction). After that we adjourned to the pub, to round off a successful and fun day with a friendly drink.

Details of the BARS panel will be appearing on the blog and website soon: we hope to see you there!

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