goto Appendx main menu "So much is there . . .
and so much . . .
is lacking" : Eric Rosenberg
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  1. Much recent art-historical debate has been defined as part of the growth of a "new" art history. Examples include a volume of critical essays edited by A. L. Rees and Frances Borzello entitled The New Art History (Atlantic Highlands, NJ, 1988), and texts published by Cambridge University Press in the series "Cambridge New Art History and Criticism," Norman Bryson, ed.
  2. See Aram Veeser, ed., The New Histoncism (New York, 1989) and Geoffrey Bennington, ed., Post Structuralism and the Question of History (Cambridge, 1987).
  3. See Mark Taylor, Deconstruction in Context, Literature and Philosophy (Chicago and London, 1986).
  4. I base this lineage in part on the chapter divisions offered in Taylor, Deconstruction in Context.
  5. M. G. van Rensselaer, "Wanted: A History of Architecture," The Art Review, November 1886, pp. 16-18. M.G. van Rensselaer was Mrs. Mariana Griswold van Rensselaer, also known as Mrs. Schuyler van Rensselaer. It is unclear whether it was her choice to sign her piece "M.G." She does declare her gender at the article's conclusion, and makes the declaration fundamental to the perceived failure of the field to produce an adequate history of architecture. If she did choose "M.G.", it may have been to blur the lines and perhaps secure a bit of what she decries as her lack. To be fair, however, bylines for many American critics, male and female, often varied from article to article at this time.
  6. Van Rensselaer was a significant presence in American literary and historical circles in the 1880s and 1890s. Among her publications were Memorial Exhibition of the Works of George Fuller, introduction by M. G. van Rensselaer (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1884); "American Etchers," reprinted from The Century Magazine, February 1883, with a brief additional chapter reprinted in part from the New York Star. To which is added an account of Meryon and his work, New York, 1886; Catalogue of the Work of the Women Etchers of America, on exhibition April 12-21, New York, 1888, introduction by Mrs. Schuyler van Rensselaer; Henry Hobson Richardson (New York, 1888); The Art of the Low Countries: Studies by Wilhelm R. Valentiner, translated by Mrs. Schuyler van Rensselaer (Garden City, NY, 1914).
  7. Van Rensselaer (1851-1934) was born of a prominent New York City family and married into another one in 1873. Her husband, Schuyler van Rensselaer, was a Harvard-trained engineer who died in 1884. At this time, Mariana moved from New Jersey to Manhattan to live with her mother at 9 West 10th Street, her home for the rest of her life. While it must be assumed that her level of comfort and privilege was significant, the limitations cited in the article must represent self-perceptions derived from her status as a widow. And although she may well have been affluent, I would suggest that her notion of being "rich" is connected to the idea of being male—that when held by a woman, wealth did not add up to being "rich" in that all sorts of limitations to mobility and acceptance remained in place, and thus at least metaphorically render the subject "poor" in status. See James Early, "Mariana Alley Griswold van Rensselaer," in Notable American Women, 1607-1950, Vol. 3 (Cambridge, MA, 1971), pp. 511-512.
  8. See "Art," Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 39, April 1877, pp. 510-511:
    1. We feel convinced that what originally suggested the picture was a sunset seen by the artist. . . it was not on the Atlantic. . . for Turner was never on the open ocean. The "typhoon coming on," like the "throwing overboard," we have no doubt was an afterthought; the former invented, perhaps at the last moment to explain the latter. It is diffiult to conceive why the artist should have disfigured his picture by this story of "man's inhumanity to man"—marring one of the most glorious aspects of nature by the introduc tion of one of the most hideous of crimes. The only excuse to be offered him is the morbid imagination which. . . made him regard the color scarlet, so largely used in the clouds of  this picture, as the type of death. To this may be added in further extenuation, the bourgeois taste of the British public—a taste fully shared by Turner himself—which demand that every picture shall have a story and a title, the more striking and sensational the better. . .The details introduced to give color to the title are as badly executed as they are horribly conceived. They violate all truth and all probability. Their ludicrous even more than their horrible character is entirely out of keeping with the time and place. It is only by resolutely shutting our eyes to them, by striving to forget them, that we can obtain from the picture any legitimate and satisfactory impression. [my emphasis]

  9. See Eric Rosenberg, Writing Ryder: Critical Discourse and American Colorist Painting, 1873-1908 (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming), for a discussion of iteration and cooking as terms fundamental to the reception of colorist painting. The extent to which the recognition of ideological considerations guided the practice of criticism was of concern to van Rensselaer and she recognized its unavoidability, its particular slipperiness and shifting character, how it might give force to criticism and historical analysis, and how it might in turn qualify that force. All of this added up to a recognition of the difficulty entailed in parsing the distance between fact and forecast, and between one vantage point and another. Concerning the paintings of George Fuller, van Rensselaer put it like this in 1884:
    1. When we cease discussing what ought to be in art, and begin to discuss what is, with regard to any special artist, a certain latitude must be allowed for the exercise of personal tastes and sympathies. That is to say, we must acknowledge the right of every man to judge for himself. But this by no means presupposes the equal rightness of all such different judgments. There are laws which control criticism even when it comes down to the special examination of work in which feeling and sentiment play so large a part as they do in Mr. Fuller's. Only, unfortunately, they are laws which cannot be demonstrated in words,�laws which can only be absorbed by much practice in critical thinking, much acquaintance with the work of all lands and times. I believe most fully in the rightness of my own feeling with regard to Mr. Fuller's work. If I did not, I should not dare to speak at all. Nor should I care to speak at all, for I should implicitly acknowledge that all art criticism is a matter of whim and fancy, and mere casual "taste," without solid basis, and therefore without interest for a rational mind. Nevertheless, I cannot attempt to prove myself right. I can only leave it to the pictures on the wall to bear me out in what I say.

  10. See van Rensselaer, "William Merritt Chase, First Article," The American Art Review, No. 15, Vol. II. 3, January 1881, pp. 91-98, and Mrs. M. G. van Rensselaer, "William Merritt Chase, Second and Concluding Article," The American Art Review, No. 16, Vol. II. 4, February 1881, pp. 135-142. Van Rensselaer's assessment of context, in reference here to William Merritt Chase, takes other factors into consideration as well:
    1. We must consider what men had gone just before him, and what were working by his side. Only thus can we understand his art in its entirety; only thus can we gauge the importance of it to his contemporaries, only thus decide what has been his by right of exceptional endowment, and what by right of mere inheritance shared in common with all the artistic portion of his generation.... When an artist has come in a period of transition, such a comparative method of criticism is especially demanded. To a period of transition, Mr. Chase belongs, having indeed greatly helped to inaugurate it. It will therefore be well for us, when considering his art, to assist direct criticism by a constant under-current of memory, which shall bring into comparison the kind and quality of the work to which we had been most accustomed before he and his associates came among us.
    The object of study is defined as much by what he is not as by what he is. This type of interest in absences speaks directly to the dialectical nature of van Rensselaer's project and the extent to which, invoking memory, it emerges as much from the author as producer as the subject/object—Chase for instance—as text unto itself. Van Rensselaer's notion of context is relative and as a result occasionally prone to a type of formalism that we might identify with the charges of ahistoricism and author evisceration more recently leveled at deconstruction. About George Fuller she writes: "It is not always necessary, perhaps, before speaking of an artist's art, to make any reference to his life. But it is necessary that so much of Mr. Fuller's life as was concerned with his artistic development should be briefly noted—for the story is peculiar, and its lessons both interesting and explanatory." Here biographical narrative emerges from form and its peculiarities. Without the artist's life, the artist's art must be some kind of text unto itself; it encourages and facilitates the production of criticism like van Rensselaer's, after all, and in turn might offer another version of the life, sewn into the text that is the fabric of representation. See Memorial Exhibition of the Works of George Fuller.

  11. See T. J. Clark, Image of the People (New York, 1973). For a critique of the assumptions accompanying many of the claims for contextualization, see Ralph Cohen, ed., Studies in Historical Change (Charlottesville, 1992).
  12. I am working here within the boundaries of a discussion of lack and its other offered by Kaja Silverman as a critique and synopsis of Lacan. See The Subject of Semiotics (Oxford, 1983).
  13. Edward Augustus Freeman lived between 1823 and 1892. He was for many years a professor of modern history at Oxford and published a number of essays and books on architectural history and on other historical issues, including An Essay on the Origin and Development of Window Tracery in England (London, 1851); Remarks on the Architecture of Llandaff Cathedral (London, 1850); History of the Cathedral Church of Wells as Illustrating the History of the Cathedral Churches of the Old Foundation (London, 1870); Historical and Architectural Sketches, Chiefly Italian (London, 1876); Sketches from the Subject and Neighbour Lands of Venice (London, 1881); The Historical Geography of Europe (London, 1882).
  14. Van Rensselaer explains more fully:
    1. A most singular book it is; from many points of view to my mind the best of similar histories in existence, yet such in an embryonic state, such in suggestion and indication rather than in full and right accomplishment. And no wonder—for it was written many years ago, while he was still a very young man (I have been told, though I do not know how truly, while he was still an undergraduate); when he had never been out of England; when photography was able to give very little, if any, help; and when the mass of printed data which now exits to aid the historian had but just begun to be collected. (Van Rensselaer, "Wanted: A History of Architecture," 18)

  15. Upon his return to London, he published Lectures to American Audiences (Philadelphia and London, 1882). Freeman had visited the United States in 1881 and 1882 and in the following year published Some Impressions of the United States (London, 1883). There he maintained:
    1. This great land of which I am speaking is essentially an English land, it is no small witness to the toughness of fibre in the English folk wherever it settles that it is so: a land must be reckoned as English where the English kernel is so strong as to draw to itself every foreign element, where the foreign settler is adopted into the English home of an English people, where he or his children exchange the speech of their elder dwellings for the English speech of the land. Men of various nationalities are on American ground easily changed into good Americans, and the good American must be, in every sense that is not strictly geographical, a good Englishman. . . Truly we may rejoice that with so much to draw them in other ways, this great people still remains in all essential points an English people, more English very often than they themselves know, more English it may be sometimes than the kinsfolk whom they left behind in their older home.
    Freeman creates an extraordinary palimpsest, wherein all others become American by dint of association, by emigration, and Americans in turn maintain their ultimate English character regardless, a microcosmic exposition of the nineteenth-century penchant for imperial subjugation. America is truly the new England. And if Freeman appears to van Rensselaer as a prototype for her imagined architectural historian, and he in turn maintains the English character of her own land, then some project of reclamation must be at hand or deemed necessary. This is the very project van Rensselaer seems to outline for an American historian and critic, but feels unable to fulfill because of the restrictive expectations of the practice.

  16. "Is it not a work which might well be taken as his life's work by some one of those who are now devoting themselves to the service of this greatest of the arts?" [my emphasis]

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