Decorative Initial In the battle for the minds of the Victorian audience, newspaper and magazine reviews played a major part. There were many other kinds of art writing published in Victorian England, including histories of technique by Sir Charles Eastlake, president of the Royal Academy; studies of iconography, such as those by Anna Jameson, Lord Lindsay, and Ruskin himself; treatises on aesthetic and critical theory, such as those by Ruskin and his followers; and studies of individual artists, both ancient and modern.

But the magazines and newspapers reached a wider general audience — the Art-Journal claiming a monthly circulation of 25,000 in 1851: "Since the commencement of the Art-Journal, the circulation has gradually increased" from 700 (to which it was limited during the year 1839) to nearly 25, 000, to which it has reached in the year 1851" (13 [1851], 30l). The editor had claimed a monthly circulation of 8, 000 in 1850 and 15, 000 the year before. As this conservative organ asserted in 1861, "The power of the British Press has been as great as that of the Royal Academy, and it has been much more abused" ("Exhibition of the Royal Academy," Art-Journal, 23 [1861]: 161). It directly linked this abuse by the British press to the presence of a new, uninformed audience, for "writing upon a subject the alphabet of which was unknown to general readers, an unintelligible jargon was substituted for knowledge, and the amount of technical slang was taken as the standard of critical acumen" (161). During the course of the century art criticism had changed," but empty phrases still characterized its method. "Formerly critics shook" their heads at pictures — some critics can do nothing else so vigourously — and pronounced the 'carnations diluted,' or the 'empasto destitute of force'; that the handling wanted breadth, or that the chiaroscuro was imperfect," and people were expected to wonder at such knowledge and such skill. Now critics tell us, the Art-Journal complained, that "the 'pose' is 'too pronounced,' or 'not pronounced' enough; the colour is not 'articulated'" (161). In other words, critics had exchanged the catchwords of the aristocratic connoisseur for a pretended knowledge that was to impress the new middle-class audience.

One knows of the journal's long continued hostility to Ruskin, and since these descriptions sound so like Blackwood's many attacks on him, it is surprising to come upon its admission that "thanks to the labour of a few, some change for the better is perceptible; and although blind admiration of Ruskin is no part of our creed, he has been a vigorous pioneer in that improvement" (161). Admitting that Ruskin's "dogmatism is oftener right than wrong," this old foe went on to grant that his "knowledge has crushed polyglots of words thrown at him by sentence-making opponents," some of whom, one must point out, were employed by the Art-Journal itself.

Last modified 30 April 2024