Art in Bourgeois Society: 1790-1850

Article excerpt

Art in Bourgeois Society: 1790-1850 Hemingway, A., & Vaughan, W. (Eds.). (1998). Cambridge: University Press. 372 pages. (ISBN:0521-55182-X) Reviewed by Kin-Keifer-Boyd, Texas Tech University Most would concur that class division and struggle affect our sense of self and conception of historical development, but what exactly is that effect? How do we participate in the creation of class distinctions? Whose struggle will ignite future historical shifts? What directions are possible? "According to Marxism, class struggle is the motor of historical change" (Hemingway, 1998, p. 10). Art in Bourgeois Society is an analytical gem for those interested in an historical perspective on such issues. The scholarship is thorough and the writing straightforward.

In the book's introduction, Hemingway (1998) argues that "Soviet societies were only a parody of socialism, and Soviet Marxism but a travesty of Marxist theory" (p. 1) and demonstrates how neo-Marxist critique has redefined Marxism after the fall of Communism. Marxism is a social theory aimed at elucidating causal structures for social change. While classical Marxism, derived from the writings of Marx and Engels, concerned the essential nature of class relations, this text presents contemporary or analytical Marxism, and posits that multiple class variables (i.e., economic capital, educational capital, social capital, and cultural capital) all affect each other. From an analytical Marxist perspective, one might investigate-as the authors of this book do-how art activities are constrained or shaped by economic, institutional, and educational capital.

The book involves contemporary Marxist analyses of art patronage, art representing class identity, and art as a signifier of national identity. It explores how art embodied institutionalized notions of nature and society within the Modernist epoch of 1790-1850 in Britain (chapters 1-5), France (chapters 6-8), Germany (chapters 9-12) and the United States (chapters 13-15). While there is diversity within contemporary Marxist theory, the common bond in these 15 chapters is that the analyses are "anti-positivist, multi-causal, and eschew any simple progressivism" (p. 3). Researchers who inquire into different exploitative relationships between artists, curators, collectors, art critics, and historians will find the book helpful in developing methodology framed in Marxist theory. The 10-page index is useful for locating theorists, artists, artworks, concepts and interpretative strategies discussed within the book for those engaged in such research. Highlights of the four sections follow. Hemingway provides historical and contextual information in his introductions to the four sections. In the introduction to section one on Britain, he reminds us that Britain and France engaged in nearly 20 years of continuous warfare between 1793 and 1815 (p. 22). British bourgeois "feminized" the popular notion of France, thus degrading the country's art as overly passionate and flaunting narcissism.

Ann Pullan's discussion, in chapter one, of the foundation of Britain's National Gallery in 1824 makes it clear that those who owned property decided the cultural collections of the nation. Their property, of course, is what they deemed most valuable. This is an enduring pattern. When Sir Charles Angerstein's collection of 38 paintings was purchased for the nation, his family blood-lineage became the Trustees of the British Gallery (p. 29). At first the public purchase was housed in a private residence. The Trustees (i.e., Angerstein's heirs) promised those who bought engraved reproductions of the paintings that they could view the works, a strategy to collect membership dues through subscriptions. The British National Gallery at this time "resembled rooms of a private mansion, complete with crimson wall paper and velvet hangings" with twice-yearly exhibitions chosen by the Trustees [consisting of bankers and aristocracy] functioning "as visible and symbolic reminders of patrician and royal authority" (p. …


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