by Patricia Mainardi. Yale University Press, March 2017. 304p. ill. ISBN. 9780300219067 (h/c), $65.00; ISBN 97803002233781 (e-book), $65.00.
Reviewed July 2017
Deirdre D. Spencer, Librarian for History of Art, University of Michigan Fine Arts Library
This is a rich work, which traces the history of popular illustration in the nineteenth-century. The author, Patricia Mainardi, is a distinguished scholar of visual culture in nineteenth-century France, therefore, France and Britain are the worlds under consideration. She examines the history of illustrated images created between the late eighteenth and the early twentieth centuries, from their earliest roots in the Épinal region of France, and attempts to chart a middle ground between the high art of the salons and the published, ephemeral images of popular prints, as well as illustrations in newspapers and journals. Her main points are that art historians and scholars in related disciplines have not tried to bridge the gaps between illustration and high art. She also contends that hand illustration has maintained its viability in the face of mechanical reproductive processes such as photography and film, and this continues into the twenty-first century, as evidenced by the popularity of graphic novels, artists’ books, and film adaptations of superhero comics from previous eras.
In her chronology, Mainardi asserts that the process of engraving, notably wood engraving, is the precursor to lithography, particularly in the production of images associated with caricature, comics, illustrated books, and popular prints. Wood engraving was especially important for the illustrated press because it facilitated simultaneous juxtaposition of text and image on a printed page. Prints, playing cards, and illustrated publications addressed wide-ranging audiences with regard to class and levels of literacy.
The book’s title is a bit misleading in that it suggests to potential readers that the geographical scope of the volume is broader than just France, and by extension, England. As a scholar of race in the nineteenth-century illustrated press, it would have been helpful had this study of French and English illustrated print culture explored its most important American intersections, at least in a tangential manner. In addition, as a detailed chronology of production processes, one or two images of equipment would have been beneficial. For example, in Beyond the Lines: Pictorial Reporting, Everyday Life, and the Crisis of Gilded-Age America, by Joshua Brown (University of California Press, 2003), the author explores the journal’s relation to the London Illustrated News and provides images of the production process. To its credit, the exhaustive quality of the Mainardi book provides context regarding the nineteenth-century book trade such as colporteur (an itinerant book salesperson) and the lack of copyright legislation that led to piracy, plagiarism, and the development of international copyright legislation at the end of the nineteenth-century. This is an exhaustive study of print visual culture in France and is a good purchase for an academic library.