Recent years have witnessed an upsurge of scholarly interest in nineteenth-century academic painting. However, one genre remains unloved by art history, and that is the anecdotal genre. Works depicting humorous scenes of defiant teenagers, card-playing monks, or naughty schoolboys have not attracted much serious scholarly consideration. This paper will delve into the world of trivial anecdotes that proliferated on the walls of nineteenth-century galleries and homes and in the pages of art journals.
Employing insights from literary theory, the paper examines anecdotal paintings as a unique hybrid form that straddles the realms of grand historical narratives on the one hand, and of everyday realities on the other. It explores how these small, humble pictures serve as a bridge between written and oral narrative registers. Not only do these paintings expose the foibles of stereotypical characters to underscore a universal humanity, but they also embody a peculiar temporality. Anecdotal pictures insert a unique event into a generic scene; in other words, punctiliar time irrupts into cyclical time. The narrative quality of an anecdote takes precedence over factual accuracy, emphasizing the importance of a well-told story. This paper also reveals a surprising connection between the anecdote and the development of autonomous formalist painting, highlighting the role of unadorned style in this evolution.
The paper focuses on works by lesser-known painters, including Eugen Blaas, Mathias Schmid, Giacomo Favretto and Frederick Daniel Hardy. It challenges the prevailing perception of anecdotal art, positioning it as a rich and valuable component of nineteenth-century artistic expression.
Nina Lübbren is Associate Professor of Art History and Film at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. She is the author of Narrative Painting in Nineteenth-Century Europe and Rural Artists' Colonies in Europe, 1870-1910, and the co-editor of Painting and Narrative in France, and Visual Culture and Tourism. She is currently writing a book on women sculptors in Germany, 1910-1933.
This talk is the part of the CRVC’s research theme for 2023 to 2024 '…and painting continues'.