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Title: Reading the gallery : portraits and texts in the mid- to late nineteenth century
Author: Hook, Sarah
ISNI:       0000 0004 6501 0242
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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The Victorians saw more portraits than any generation before them. While the eighteenth century has been named 'the age of portraiture', portraits pervaded nineteenth-century society like never before. With the invention of photography, coupled with technological advancements in low-cost printing methods, the medium in which faces could be recorded was revolutionised, the classes of society that could afford to be immortalised expanded, and the spaces in which portraits were seen proliferated. These spaces included the public gallery, photography studio shop windows, and personal photograph albums. They also included the art periodical, biography, fiction, and poetry as the experience of portraiture became distinctly textual as well as visual. This thesis draws upon art history alongside literary, museum, and material studies to explore the creative exchange that developed between portrait viewership and reading practices in the mid- to late nineteenth century. Taking the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery in 1856 as its starting point, the thesis tracks the changing idea of the portrait gallery through its literary reception. It takes the portrait gallery to mean the physical space in which portraits were exhibited, and the conceptual idea of collecting, arranging, and interacting with portraits that permeated into the literary world. By focussing on the work of Edmund Gosse, Walter Pater, Thomas Hardy, and Vernon Lee, the thesis forms a 'gallery' of nineteenth-century tastemakers, each of whom looked to the democratic art of portraiture to reflect upon their literary art. How did portraits and texts interact in the mid- to late nineteenth century? In what ways did writers adapt the conventions of portraiture and the portrait gallery for the written text? This thesis seeks to answer these questions and provide new narratives about the complex relationship between the visual and the verbal in nineteenth-century culture. It observes the Victorian 'culture of art' with a more focussed eye to illuminate how the conditions of viewing, circulating, and collecting portraits specific to the period allowed the portrait gallery to serve as a particularly compelling arena for the literary imagination. Gosse, Pater, Hardy, and Lee tested the inherent limitations of portraiture as an art of imitation to realise its imaginative capacity for communicating with close and distant, contemporary and historic figures. They recognised that writing offered a valuable way of constructing the affective conversations that could be had with - and the stories that could be told about - portraits and portrait collections. With the proliferation of portraits came the problem and the opportunity of organising them.
Supervisor: West, Shearer ; Mendelssohn, Michèle Sponsor: Wolfson Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Visual Culture ; Victorian ; Nineteenth Century ; English literature ; History of Art ; Edmund Gosse ; Collecting ; Walter Pater ; National Portrait Gallery ; Decadent ; Vernon Lee ; Thomas Hardy ; Portraiture ; Photography ; Museum ; Gallery