Meaghan Clarke, ‘An “imagined cosmopolis” in print? The art press at the fin de siècle’

Benedict Anderson theorizes that print media constructed a sense of national coherence, wherein ‘fellow-readers, to whom they were connected through print,’ formed ‘the embryo of the nationally imagined community’. However, the print media of the fin-de-siècle offers a particularly compelling site for adapting Anderson’s theories to consider an ‘imagined cosmopolis’.

The art press at the turn of the century was undergoing dramatic change with the demise of the great Victorian journals, the Art Journal and the Magazine of Art, and the rise of the new periodicals such as the Studio Magazine. Art writing during the Victorian period was often pre-occupied with identifying a national style or school of art and art journals and critics were identified with particular artistic schools. However, the art press also contributed to a growing internationalisation of exhibitions and the market and an increased awareness of artistic exchange and external influences. Art correspondents from a diversity of international locations evidence a more international outlook as well as regular reviews of European exhibitions. Art writers were increasingly travelling to Europe and North America to review exhibitions and acting as ‘foreign correspondents’ for presses at home and abroad. The reception of art during this period reveals a more fluid reality of transnational exchange.

An ‘imagined cosmopolis’ was evoked by writers on art. Art writers were increasingly concerned with a growing cosmopolitanism; they identified themselves and their readers as ‘cosmopolitan individuals’. This was in part linked to the fashionability of a more wordly identity: as ‘cosmopolitans’, and consumers of international objects, as well as the popularity of artistic styles such as Aestheticism, Art Nouveau and Japonisme. Women writers were particularly vocal in articulating fashionable taste, and this paper will explore their contributions to an ’imagined cosmopolis’ in the Magazine of Art, Art Journal and
Studio to argue that it was their ‘cosmopolitanism’ as ‘individuals’ that helped them to effect authority in the London art world.

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