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Playing with Pictures

The exhibition was organized by The Art Institute of Chicago.

The exhibition in New York is made possible by The Hite Foundation in memory of Sybil E. Hite.

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Society Cut-ups: Victorians and the Art of Photocollage

Program information

Sixty years before the embrace of collage techniques by avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century, aristocratic Victorian women were already experimenting with photocollage. The compositions they made with photographs and watercolors are whimsical and fantastical, combining human heads and animal bodies, placing people into imaginary landscapes, and morphing faces into common household objects. Such images, on view in Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage, reveal the educated minds as well as the accomplished hands of their makers. With sharp wit and dramatic shifts of scale akin to those Alice experienced in Wonderland, these images stand the rather serious conventions of early photography on their heads.

Curator Elizabeth Siegel discusses the way Victorian women used photocollage to toy with their society and its conventions­­. These women, aristocratic amateurs showing off their wit and accomplishment for family and friends, unwittingly anticipated the twentieth-century avant-garde. The surreality of their compositions flouted the restrictions of female life in middle-class Victorian society, revealed their sense of contemporary intellectual culture, and allowed them to play with the assumptions surrounding photographic meaning. The collage was a means by which to give the middle-brow photo albums of commercial, infinitely reproducible cartes-de-visite into a unique, artistic, and intellectual volume.

Elizabeth Siegel, Associate Curator of Photography, The Art Institute of Chicago; introduced by Malcolm Daniel, Curator in Charge, Department of Photographs, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Learn more about the exhibition Playing with Pictures:
http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2010/victorian-photocollage

Learn more about Victorian art on the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History:
http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hi/hi_victorian.htm

Playing with Pictures

The Art of Victorian Photocollage

February 2–May 9, 2010

Accompanied by a catalogue

Sixty years before the embrace of collage techniques by avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century, aristocratic Victorian women were already experimenting with photocollage. The compositions they made with photographs and watercolors are whimsical and fantastical, combining human heads and animal bodies, placing people into imaginary landscapes, and morphing faces into common household objects. Such images, often made for albums, reveal the educated minds as well as the accomplished hands of their makers. With sharp wit and dramatic shifts of scale akin to those Alice experienced in Wonderland, these images stand the rather serious conventions of early photography on their heads. The exhibition features forty-eight works from the 1860s and 1870s, from public and private collections.