A few things found at random from "Very Ill!," an online exhibit of medical caricature at the Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia.
From top: "A Cure for a Cold" anon. 1833; "Will I like it?” L. Noël ; "Headache" by George Cruikshank,1819;
John Frederick Peto [1854-1907]
Reminiscences of '65
William Michael Harnett [1848-1892]
The Letter Rack
The Faithful Colt
John Haberle [1856-1933]
A Bachelor's Drawer (and 2 details)
I just finished The Arts of Deception: Playing with Fraud in the Age of Barnum by James W. Cook. He examines the curious strain in 19th century popular culture of illusionism (the self conscious aesthetic and cultural mode that "exists on the boundary between fact and fiction") and artful deception (which employs illusionism but purports to be real). Illusionism pervaded a range of 19th century entertainment, from Barnum's "humbugs," like the Feejee Mermaid, to Paul Phillipoteaux's Gettysburg Cyclorama, through all sorts of magic lantern displays, wax figures and sleights-of-hand. I imagine Cook could include the rage for seances, mediums and spirit images as well, though he doesn't go into these. In Cook's view, the public's passion for deceptive spectacle was influenced by the new "discourse" of advertising, social hierarchies and the expansion of the middle class, and the scientific inquiries of the time. Why was it though, that in a time of exacting definitions of propriety, when morality was strictly parsed and appearances were de facto comments on pedigree, society was thrilled by the questionable, and the ambiguous?
I was particularly interested in his chapter on trompe l'oeil painting--a genre which relied on spectacle. Numerous notices of the time described audiences that gathered to argue, gape at and dispute the nature of the paintings. Many of these paintings were run-away pop-cultural hits.
Art critics of any standing, though, customarily dismissed trompe l'oeil work, likening it to the "curiosities" that garnered crowds at dime museums– vulgar and without merit. The work was easily employed in aesthetic and social judgments: if you like this stuff you are a philistine or a rube.
Harnett, Haberle, and Peto --three of the most successful trompe l'oeil painters–often used commercial packaging and other ephemera in their work (like the Dadaists would literally do 20-40 years later). But they were consummate nostalgia-peddlars (a pretty new idea at the time, the sentimental as cottage industry) who incorporated emblems of the West and cowboy life, Civil war paraphernalia, souvenir images of Lincoln, even recalling the good old days beside Grandma's Hearthstone. They played to growing anxieties in contemporary society that modernity was erasing a way of life.
The heyday of trompe l'oeil was essentially contemporaneous with Impressionism, or maybe a bit after. Most people think of latter as the aesthetic break-- edgy and avant garde while the former was populist and easily digested. An idea that intrigued me in the book was that trompe l'oeil, while not leading to Modernism, was never-the-less part of a changing visual mode. These sorts of perceptual 'experiments' lead to visual education and redefined the viewer as subjective participant. Visual doubt, essentially, was part of the lead up to modernity.
Also worth noting is the fact that yesterday's avant garde (Impressionism) is today's greeting card art, while the overlooked populist work is the stuff of art historical criticism.
Originally from France, Prevost (1820-1881) established a photography studio at 627 Broadway in New York around 1854. He worked in the calotype method which produced a waxed paper negative and allowed multiple image copies to be made– as opposed to the popular daguerreotype which created a single unique image. His studio failed rather quickly but he continued to photograph around New York City for years.
These ethereal, ghostly views of New York are, of course, misleading: The city was bustling and experiencing tremendous manufacturing expansion. The camera was fixed on the stable, unmoving buildings as people, carriages, horses and carts moved through the image, the exposure being too long to capture their presence. And now, in most cases, the buildings have moved on as well, their presence proving, essentially, momentary.
The exhibition of these images and other of Prevost's work is at the New-York Historical Society until October 19th.
Engine room at the Crystal Palace, 1854
Gurney’s Daguerrean Gallery, undated, 349 Broadway corner of Leonard Street
There were more than 100 daguerreotype saloons in New York City in the mid-nineteenth century and Jeremiah Gurney, "photographist," operated one of the most succesful ones. The Illustrated News (12 November 1853) reported that, “Mr. Gurney’s establishment consists of nine spacious rooms, devoted exclusively to his art.”
Old Herring’s Safe Factory, undated, Hudson Street between 12th and 13th Streets
Portions of the building remain today. I love the type on this building.
Ringuet-Leprince, Marcotte & Co. showroom, 1854, 343-347 Fourth Avenue
A favorite of the elite in mid-nineteenth century New York City, eminent French furniture manufacturers Ringuet-Leprince, Marcotte & Co. (1849–60), produced Louis XVI and "Renaissance Revival" style piles of walnut, satin and marquetry. [Note the signs– where did all those beautiful hand-painted wooden signs and letters go...]
Marble Working Establishment of P. Gori, undated, Broadway and 20th Street.
Lord & Taylor would move to this building in 1872.
Clothing Store of Alfred Munroe & Co., 1854, at 441 Broadway between Grand Street and Howard Street, just north of Canal Street.