British photographic history

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Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage

Event Details

Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage

Time: February 2, 2010 to May 9, 2010
Location: The Howard Gilman Gallery, Metropolitan Museum
Street: 1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
City/Town: New York 10028-0198
Website or Map: http://www.metmuseum.org/spec…
Phone: New York 212-570-3828
Event Type: exhibition
Organized By: The Art Institute of Chicago & Metropolitan Museum
Latest Activity: Feb 19, 2010

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Event Description

Playing with Pictures is the first exhibition to comprehensively examine the little-known phenomenon that long before the embrace of collage techniques by avant-garde artists of the early 20th century, aristocratic Victorian women were experimenting with photocollage. Whimsical and fantastical Victorian photocollages, created using a combination of watercolour drawings and cut-and-pasted photographs, reveal the educated minds as well as accomplished hands of their makers. Featuring approximately 50 works from public and private collections—including many that have rarely or never been exhibited before—Playing with Pictures will provide a fascinating window into the creative possibilities of photography in the 19th century.

In the 1860s and 1870s, long before the embrace of collage techniques by avant-garde artists of the early 20th century, aristocratic Victorian women were experimenting with photocollage. Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage, on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art February 2 - May 9, 2010, is the first exhibition to comprehensively examine this little-known phenomenon. With subjects as varied as new theories of evolution, the changing role of photography, and the strict conventions of aristocratic society, the photocollages frequently debunked stuffy Victorian clichés with surreal, subversive, and funny images.

In England in the 1850s and 1860s, photography became remarkably popular and accessible as people posed for studio portraits and exchanged these pictures on a vast scale. The craze for cartes de visite—photographic portraits the size of a visiting card—led to the widespread hobby of collecting small photographs of family, friends, acquaintances, and celebrities in scrapbooks. Rather than simply gathering such portraits in the standard albums manufactured to hold cartes de visite, the amateur women artists who made the photocollages displayed in Playing with Pictures cut up these photographic portraits and placed them in elaborate watercolor designs in their personal albums.

With sharp wit and dramatic shifts of scale akin to those Alice experienced in Wonderland, Victorian photocollages stand the rather serious conventions of early photography on their heads. Often, the combination of photographs with painted settings inspired dreamlike and even bizarre results: placing human heads on animal bodies; situating people in imaginary landscapes; and morphing faces into common household objects and fashionable accessories. Such albums advertised the artistic accomplishments of the aristocratic women who made them, while also serving as a form of parlor entertainment and an opportunity for conversation and flirtation with the opposite sex.

Playing with Pictures showcases the best Victorian photocollage albums and loose pages of the 1860s and 1870s, on loan from collections across the United States, Europe, and Australia, including the Princess Alexandra Album lent by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Forty album pages will be shown in frames on the wall and 13 separate albums will be displayed in cases. These works will be accompanied by “virtual albums” on computer monitors that allow visitors to see the full contents of the albums displayed nearby, which are open to a single page.

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