From the archives of the Boston Public Library’s Louis Prang & Company Chromolithographs collection, all scanned in lovingly, Rodney’s-friendly high resolution. L. Prang & Co.’s cards and prints were popular in the late 19th and early 20th Century; Prang is credited with popularizing the Christmas card in America. The total digitized collection contains over 1400 images.
Strip the striving out of Romanticism, the fear out of Symbolism, and this is what you get. Endless Joans of Arc, Opheliae, Venuses. Putti, cupids and angels. Nudes. Sentimentalism.
Note the awkward, static poses of Academic art. Any pretext for nudity. There’s a reason this movement fell out of favor. (But are Schiele‘s sneering portraits of his own corrupted harem any more pure as art for having their beauty removed?)
Note Bouguereau’s almost paternal use of the same models sometimes for decades: the same faces appearing on children, youths, mothers, lending his work a hint of something deeper than critic-pleasing cheesecake.
How hard do you come down on Orientalism? No matter how bubbled the glass, it remains a looking outward, a fascination with Otherness. Darkly will be glimpsed our dreams–sweet, cruel, lascivious, and all three–but we look only to be looked back upon. Gleyre’s Persian girl still fixes us in the gaze of an undeniable humanity.
Is there an opposite to Orientalism? Peasant fascination in Academic Art tends to represent only the dream of Arcadia, not any deeper social conscience. (But then there’s Makovsky’s gypsy.)
You know Arcadia. It’s there behind the bluetooth headphones Starbucks paperboard the stab of parking car headlights 69 megapascals of compressive force darkened glass bad music discount raincoat soap as an offensive perfume and cologne as an offensive weapon some girl life moving around you where are you going why have you been that person you should text her you should text her blue asshole lights in the rain darkness glistening like surgical instruments and the dream of Arcadia.
Imagine Peel’s juvenile shepherdess as a photograph leaked onto the internet. Is it any wonder that the soft simplicity of the dream still speaks to us?