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The Visual Representation of Misery in the 19th Century

Linda Nochlin


In her final book, the culmination of a lifetime at the cutting edge of thinking about the visual arts, Linda Nochlin charts the highly charged phenomenon of misery as it was depicted in the popular and fine arts of the 19th century

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The arrival of the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century witnessed unprecedented changes in society: rapid economic progress went hand-in-hand with appalling working conditions, displacement, squalor and destitution for those at the bottom of the social scale. These new circumstances presented a challenge to contemporary image-makers, who wished to capture the effects of hunger, poverty and alienation in Britain, Ireland and France in the era before documentary photography.

In this groundbreaking book, the eminent art historian Linda Nochlin examines the styles and expressive strategies that were used by artists and illustrators to capture this misère, roughly characterized as poverty that afflicts both body and soul. She investigates images of the Irish Famine in the period 1846–51; the gendered representation of misery, particularly of poor women and prostitutes; and the work of three very different artists: Théodore Géricault, Gustave Courbet and the less well-known Fernand Pelez. The artists’ desire to depict the poor and the outcast accurately and convincingly is still a pertinent issue, though now, as Nochlin observes, the question has a moral and ethical dimension – does the documentary style belittle its subjects and degrade their condition?

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'Nochlin’s influence on critical writing and teaching is legendary, and this engrossing analysis of the visual representation of misery in the 19th century is a must-read for anyone hoping to address our troubling times'
Cindy Sherman

'A fascinating coda to a great career'
Frances Spalding, Guardian

'Brilliant and important … Nochlin was a trailblazer to the end'

'This slim, erudite, enlightened volume is a heartfelt coda to [Linda Nochlin’s] oeuvre'
Financial Times

'Nochlin speaks clearly and simply to the ongoing question of whether art can or should be form of activism'
Art Review

'A fresh perspective to the emotive and controversial subject of depicting the poor … insightful art criticism meets social history'
The Lady

'What endures in this final book is a fixation with the past as a portal to present misères, whether persistent gender inequalities or economic disparities as extreme as those of the industrial age'
Scotland on Sunday

'It is to Linda Nochlin’s credit that she found the words to match the images that form the heart of this beautifully produced book'

'Lively and fascinating … a valuable publication'
Irish Arts Review

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 176 pp

Illustrations: 128

Publication date: 12 April 2018

ISBN: 9780500239698

Contents List

Misère: An Introduction • 1. Misère: The Irish Paradigm • 2. The Gender of Misery • 3. Géricault, Goya and the Representation of Misery • 4. Representing Misery: Courbet’s Beggar Woman • 5. Fernand Pelez: Master of Miserable Old Men • Conclusion

About the Author

Linda Nochlin (1931–2017) was Lila Acheson Wallace Professor Emerita of Modern Art at the New York University Institute of Fine Arts. She wrote extensively on issues of gender in art history and on 19th-century Realism. Her numerous publications include Women, Art and Power, Representing Women and Courbet, as well as the pioneering essay from 1971: ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’