Reception

Reviews of<em> Artists at Home</em>: a collage

Artists at Home appeared in six installments published monthly from March through August of 1884. It was reviewed by the press in the same timeframe. Though the series was not widely covered, many reviewers wrote complimentarily of Artists at Home even if some were rather critical.

Artists at Home was admired both for the quality of the photogravures after J. P. Mayall’s photographs and for the literary merits of the accompanying biographical sketches by F. G. Stephens. Among the first and most detailed accounts was the laudatory March review in The Derby Mercury: “The portraits of the artists are admirable as likenesses, and the details of the studios themselves are admirably brought out.”[1] The same reviewer complimented the biographies “from the highly competent pen of Mr. F. G. Stephens, who supplies a variety of interesting particulars.”[2] Early praise also came from the East and South Devon Advertiser, which considered the plates to be “marvels of skill and workmanship.”[3] The next two installments were also positively reviewed. In April, The Derby Mercury wrote that the second part of Artists at Home had “all the merits which distinguished the initial issue,” that the photogravures were “very graphic and agreeable” and the biographical sketches “informing and well-written,” concluding that “the work, when completed, will be of great value, and it ought to be acquired by all who are connected with, or interested in, art.”[4] In its May review of the third installment, Cornubian and Redruth Times (Cornwall, England) echoed the words of The Derby Mercury: “It fully maintains the high standard of excellence which marked the first part.”[5] In June, the reviewers highlighted the presence of Prime Minister Gladstone’s portrait in Artists at Home,[6] while in August The Derby Mercury again described the publication as being “at once of highest literary and artistic merit and of the greatest interest to all who care for art.”[7] In the same month, The Graphic also praised the fourth installment as “fully equal both in interest and quality to its three predecessors.”[8]

Some reviews, of course, were less flattering. One reviewer, for The Illustrated London News, writes: “Considering that this is a purely artistic work, it is surprising that the artists represented have not exercised a more beneficial role over the arrangement and production of pictures.”[9] Such disparagement of the quality of the photoengravings is uncommon, but many reviewers drew attention to the portraits’ artificial composition, expressing disappointment in the posed appearance of the artists at home. The most cutting review, in The Magazine of Art, “confessed” that the publication as a whole was “singularly lifeless and dull”: “Everybody looks as though he were sitting for his portrait; the very furniture is posing.”[10] The Art Journal complained: “These plates do not show us the artists really at home; or, at least, they show them only as they are at home to the photographer. All the handsome furniture has been piled into that part of the room which is represented in the plate, while the owner of the studio has posed himself gracefully at the right point.”[11] The reviewers wrote critically of Artists at Home, possibly because the title and advertisements had led them to hope they would see artists in their less guarded moments, working in their studios, rather than occupying staged interiors, dressed up and striking a pose.

Considering the aura of excitement that surrounded the homes of Victorian artists, the superstars of nineteenth-century Britain, criticism of Artists at Home may have been inevitable: the series’ ambitious depiction of places that held such tremendous fascination for the public could not possibly satisfy all expectations. Previously, artists’ studios had appeared in the popular press in the form of journalistic narrative, dripping with sumptuous details of an artist’s dwelling-place, occasionally illustrated with engraved copies of photographs.[12] (It was not yet possible to reproduce the photographs themselves.) Such accounts strove to combine an intimate portrayal of the artist with a meticulous description of his home.[13] Journalists’ accounts of their visits to the homes of artists were considerably more personal than Mayall’s carefully arranged compositions and may have created an expectation of greater spontaneity. Stephens’s plodding biographical accounts probably added to the general impression of staginess produced by the publication. After having been promised to see an artist at home, the critics may have objected to yet another image of the artist’s public persona, hardly less artificial than a carte-de-visite.

 Ekaterina Koposova

                               

[1] “Reviews,” The Derby Mercury issue 8828 (March 26, 1884).

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Art and Literature,” East & South Devon Advertiser (March 29, 1884).

[4] “Reviews,” The Derby Mercury, issue 8831 (April 16, 1884).

[5] “Art and Literature,” Cornubian and Redruth Times (May 23, 1884).

[6] “The Premier,” Daily News, issue 11908 (June 12, 1884); “Literary and Art Gossip,” The Leeds Mercury, issue 14411 (June 16, 1884).

[7] “Reviews,” The Derby Mercury, issue 8847 (August 6, 1884).

[8] “The Reader,” The Graphic, issue 767 (August 9, 1884).

[9] The Illustrated London News (July 12, 1884):26.

[10] “Art in September,” The Magazine of Art, vol. 7 (September 1884): xlviii.

[11] “Artists at Home,” The Art Journal 46 (1884):256.

[12] Joseph Lamb, "‘The Way We Live Now’: Late Victorian Studios and the Popular Press," Visual Resources 9, no. 2 (1993):107-25.

[13] See, for example, C. Lewis Hind, “How Famous Painters Work: Peeps into their Studios,” The Windsor Magazine 3 (1896): 539–46; and Mary Eliza Haweis, Beautiful Houses; being a description of certain well-known artistic houses (London: Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, 1882).

Introduction
Reception