Victorian ladies did collage art

The ˝Playing With Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage˝ exhibit over at the Art Institute is showing for only a couple more days. This particular exhibit features collages in photo albums created by the wealthiest Victorian women. The art of photography was brand new back then, and only the most well to do families had access to a camera. The fact that these women were able to cut up these photographs spoke of their wealth. The majority of books are too old and fragile to allow you to flip through them, so the exhibit curators scanned the artwork onto a number of moniters for easy access. The Playing With Pictures exhibit is small, but very well put together. collage art victorian

Why you should see this exhibit:

The short answer? Because this is the first documented instance of mixing different mediums in art.

The long answer? (more like rant)

Collage art is said to have begun at the beginning of modernism, or the  ˝post modern era˝, an era that brought forth the notion that there is no such thing as original thought, and everthing is borrowed, or copied or inspired from something else. The collage movement is attributed to male artists alone, when Picasso first thought to include some cloth in his work. Hardly original?  The wikipedia entry on collage art mentions the use of collage in memorabilia, but doesnt place any merit in these activities.  Apparently female Victorian house pets, who have been trained in various art forms to entertain their male counterparts, can’t be making a statement with their photo album art, even if they were the first ones to cut up photographs and paint around them, hereby creating art by mixing mediums long before said Picasso.

If you look at the collage art on display at the Art Institute, you can clearly see that these women had a message they were eager to convey, even if it was only to themselves and their friends. Compositions are absurd, most likely on purpose (because remember, all these wives had to learn to paint in order to be good little house pets), and while the colors have faded over time, the color schemes are clearly intentional. People are seen in pickle jars, or in the center of a bulls eye among others. Even seemingly harmless use of the photographs as postage stamps have a hidden meaning if you think about one of the chief roles of the wife back then: letter writing and correspondance. (And then there’s the notion that each stamp has a different value). All in all, the works are quite cheeky. The pieces are also interesting if you take into context the recently published Origin of Species and Alice in Wonderland, and you can see these Victorian ladies reacting to these new works in their own artwork.

Why you should care about collage art (if you don’t already):

In today’s internet age, collage art is never going away. Everyone mashes art together, whether it’s music, fine art or now video art. I can wax and wane over how no one really paints or does fine art any more but then I would be a hypocrite because I too love doing collage art, mostly because i don’t know how to paint or draw. I spoke recently to Bill Guerriero, a photographer and collage artist, about the state of modern collage art. (Full Disclosure: I found Guerriero on Windy Citizen because I liked his photography and then found his collage art, and enjoyed it almost as much as I did his photography).

cigarette box by Guerriero

cigarette box by Guerriero

Guerriero agrees with me that collage art is a bit of a lazy art form, but does require some skill and time.  Guerriero likes pasting pictures and other pretty things he finds onto everyday ordinary objects, like cigarrette cases, but has recently been collaging old 45 records. He spends any where from 20 to 40 hours on his collage art, and isn’t really trying to communicate an idea with his graphics.It’s more about color, and pictures, wrappers, etc that he find beautiful.

There is no narrative, but maybe your mind makes a connection.

says Guerriero

No conversation about modern collage art would be complete without mentioning Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick. Guerriero explained that after seeing Fitzpatrick’s work in person he was ˝blown away˝ and became more excited about his own collage art. Guerriero really enjoys how Fitzpatrick mythologizes Chicago, and says he tries to do the same with his own artwork. Guerriero recalled something Fitzpatrick said to him about how all of his work is handmade and that when people use a PC to make art ˝it’s too perfect, you can’t see the human element˝. It’s too easy now with technology to make art like how it used to be made, says Guerriero.

Either way, go see Playing with Pictures to see where collage art began, before the exhibit goes to the MET and then on to the rest of the US. That’s right. I just made the claim that Victorian ladies started the collage movement.

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3 Comments on “Victorian ladies did collage art”

  1. Caitlin Kelly says:

    Love Fitzpatrick’s work; thanks for sharing.

    I love collage because it’s so interdisciplinary. I draw, paint, collect paper and ephemera and take photos but have never combined it all. Maybe it’s time.

    No surprise if women did it first and men ignored it. Typical.

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  3. […] Walter wrote an interesting post today on&nbsp Here’s a quick excerpt &nbspThe ˝Playing With Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage˝ exhibit over at the Art Institute is showing for only a couple more days. This particular exhibit features collages in photo albums created by the wealthiest Victorian women … […]


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