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The Studio and the Craftsman as Artist: A Study in Periodical Poetics (1893–1900)

Catherine Delyfer
p. 437-452


The unprecedented boom in the art periodical press of the late nineteenth century contributed to shape and redefine the role of the artist in the eyes of the public. This paper examines the visual and discursive constructions and reconfigurations of the persona of the decorative artist in the influential fin de siècle magazine for the fine and applied arts The Studio. Founded in 1893 by Charles Holme and edited by Gleeson White, this periodical was created to proclaim the achievements of the Arts and Crafts designers. As any periodical, however, The Studio was a commercial venture too. Both a financial and an artistic success, it managed skillfully to combine serious articles by expert critics, popular New Journalism features, and beautiful illustrations. Analyzing the successive magazine covers, the visual matrix of the magazine, the rubric dedicated to artists’ interviews and the “Lay Figure” editorial pages, this study examines the poetics of the magazine to show how this periodical successfully promoted the craftsman (traditionally viewed as a practitioner of low arts) as the ideal liberal artist (high art). In The Studio, the craftsman became the new artistic paradigm, thus leading to major changes in the readers’ perception of the artist, the nature of art and their relation to industry and commerce.

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1In 1978, Bryan Holme asserted “In retrospect The Studio represent[s] one of the most complete documents on the history of ideas of late nineteenth century art” (Holme 8). In effect, The Studio is an art magazine that sheds light on the tensions and the forces of change and of inertia at work in the late-nineteenth-century British artistic field. It makes one reflect on the role of the State, the artistic institutions and the press in the elaboration and dissemination of artistic judgments and of new definitions of art, and in the construction of the role and identity of artists at the fin de siècle.

  • 1 A good example is the rubric entitled “The Lay Figure Speaks,” in which various fictitious represen (...)

2Yet as Margaret Beetham and Brian Maidment have noted, the periodical should not be read as an objective document. Indeed, it can hardly be considered as a primary source for historic research for it is not an unbiased window onto the past. Every article, every issue is dependent on a complex selective process in which are involved writers, artists, editors, publishers and readers who are attempting to elucidate the meaning they are trying to impart to their society and to their own participation in this society. Essentially the periodical is a quarrel over meaning, a means through which significations and values are negotiated. This semiological struggle is a ruthless one, for the different groups which compose a society often have diverging or rival interests which lead them to react differently to the world around them. In this struggle, certain people are more powerful than others at imposing their interpretation of the world. This power is ideological because it is the result of what Terry Eagleton calls “the conjuncture of discourse and power.” Eagleton adds “Ideological power / is not just a matter of meaning, but of making meaning stick” (Eagleton 195). Clearly, in this respect the individuals involved in the production of The Studio had more power than most. Their struggle for social power and authority through language is perceptible even today in the adversarial tone of the various articles and rubrics which make up The Studio.1

  • 2 On the founding of The Studio, see D. J. Gordon, “Dilemmas: The Studio in 1893–4,” Studio Internati (...)
  • 3 On Charles Holme’s life, see Clive Ashwin, “Gleeson White: Aesthete and Editor” and Ann Brothers, T (...)
  • 4 They formed a firm known as Dresser & Holme (1879–1882), wholesale importers of Oriental goods, and (...)
  • 5 The career of Gleeson White is described in detail by Clive Ashwin in “Gleeson White: Aesthete and (...)
  • 6 I am referring to Gleeson White’s English Illustration: The Sixties: 1855–1870. Today White is cons (...)

3The type of art promoted in The Studio and the myths created to shape and solidify the cultural identity of the artist in this magazine are intricately linked to the backgrounds and interests of its founding fathers.2 While the idea for The Studio was Charles Lewis Hind’s, the then sub-editor of The Art Journal, the main influences came from its owner and its editor. The proprietor, and later editor of the magazine, was acute Bradford businessman Charles Holme,3 who had previously been involved in the textile trade and set up a partnership with industrial designer Christopher Dresser.4 The second major influence was that of Joseph Gleeson White, The Studio’s editor from 1893–1895 and a regular contributor until his death in 1898, who had previously been involved in the publication of the popular American magazine The Art Amateur in 1891.5 Among his many talents, White remains famous today for his book on English illustration published in 1897.6 In his biography of Aubrey Beardsley, Haldane Macfall remembers that

of the men who made the artistic and literary life of London at this time, Gleeson White was one of the largest of vision, the soundest of taste and the most generous in encouragement. A strangely modest man, he invented much of the wit of the nineties credited to other tongues... Well known in the Arts and Crafts movement of the day that hinged on Morris, [White] leaped with joy at Holme’s offer to make him editor of a magazine that was to voice and to proclaim the achievements of the Arts and Crafts men. (Macfall 35)

4Thus, under the leadership of Holme and White, the admittedly polyphonic discourse on art and artists in The Studio unanimously emphasized the notion of the true artist as being a craftsman—and vice versa, the true craftsman as being an artist. The applied artist became the new artistic paradigm. The present paper’s aim is to examine this particular construction of the figure of the new ideal artist by looking at the magazine’s covers, its artist’s interview section, and its editorials from 1893 to 1900.

  • 7 The adjective “fit” is repeatedly used in The Studio to describe artwork deemed worthy of withstand (...)

5In the closing years of the century, The Studio depicted the artist as a creative labourer or a skilled worker, whose expertise involved technical mastery and technological knowledge. Furthermore in The Studio the artist was not presented as a Romantic, isolated, solitary figure, but as a powerful social, moral and economic agent, who was part of a larger network of sociabilities comprising other artists worldwide, societies, guilds, workshops, firms, manufactures, art schools, studios, museums, prestigious artistic institutions, national and international exhibition organizers, patrons, customers etc. The Studio moreover portrayed the artist as the practitioner of a highly respectable trade, a creative and innovative producer of commodities, thus attempting to reconcile aesthetic and economic necessities, art and commerce. Finally, the artist after the heart of The Studio was determined and competitive: for the fin de siècle art world captured by The Studio was described in Darwinian terms; it was a crowded world, an overpopulated market in which artists struggled and only the “fittest” survived.7

A Visual Manifesto

  • 8 The Art Workers Guild was founded in January 1884 at the Charing Cross Hotel. It was the result of (...)

6In a conversation reported by Walter Shaw Sparrow, Holme declared, “My magazine exists to support arts and crafts, British and foreign. It isn’t a magazine merely for easel-painters and their supporters” (Sparrow 232). Created nine years after the foundation of the Art Workers Guild (1884),8 The Studio similarly denied the distinction between fine and applied arts and promoted the idea that all arts were equal. This ideal was diffused both visually and textually, in a constantly interactive relationship between iconographic and verbal discourses.

7Veritable visual manifestos, the magazine’s covers proclaimed equal status between the arts graphically. Drawn three years after the publication of William Morris’s News from Nowhere, the simple, almost naïve magazine cover designed by Charles F. A. Voysey (1893–1894) imagined an idyllic sisterhood between the crafts and high art. It depicted two stylized twin figures, two angelically sexless, robed figures kissing chastely, with one holding a compass and a plummet—attributes of the mason or the stone cutter—and the other one holding a lily—which suggested the Aesthetic Movement and art for art’s sake ideals. Behind them, the motto somewhat redundantly explained the allegory with the words “Use and Beauty.” The stylized floral background evoked an idealized, pastoral society. Voysey envisioned a pre-lapsarian state before the rift between the fine and the applied arts, or perhaps a utopian society of the future akin to William Morris’s Nowhere where this divorce has been overcome. Against the perfect oval of the overarching tree, the circling doves have descended on the two figures to bless their union, which promises to be very fruitful given the fertility of the natural setting around them.

8The succeeding cover by Robert Anning Bell (Figure 1) which was used from 1895 until 1929, foregrounded the same philosophy, through a slightly more aggressive and complex icon.9 Anning Bell chose more modern and gendered allegories for the applied and the fine arts. While the facial features of the two figures look alike in their androgynous depiction, their dress identifies them as male and female. On the left is an interesting composite image of a young male artisan upholding his tool, suggesting skill but also power and rule. His rolled up sleeve conveys masculine labour, as in other artworks displayed in The Studio such as George Clausen’s The Mowers10 for example —the rolled up sleeves being, in the words of Tim Barringer, “the most enduring trope of celebratory mid-Victorian representations of masculine labour” (Barringer 213). The masculine figure’s apron and hammer suggest a carpenter, a steelworker, a blacksmith or a stone-cutter, possibly a sculptor. Behind the figure, the tree suggests the countryside, placing labour in a natural setting and thus precluding us from seeing him as a factory worker. As in Voysey’s image, the figure on the left symbolizes the applied arts and it is idealized in the sense that his precise field of work is not clearly identifiable; it is, however, a more polysemic figure than Voysey’s, since it conflates contradictory visual codes. Although he is a distinctly modern figure, the figure’s head covering and grace could suggest medieval ideals à la Robin Hood and Merrie England. The soft brimless hat, the tights, the soft shoes and the hair reinforce his androgynous characteristics and soften the image of the man with upheld implement. Furthermore, they contradict the notion that this figure represents a labourer and instead conjure up early Renaissance paintings such as Portrait of a Youth (1485) by Filippino Lippi or Portrait of a Man (1476) by Antonello da Messina. The male figure’s clothes thus served as motifs which created links with a former prestigious tradition of fine art painting, a tradition which was claimed as equally relevant to the practice of the applied arts. Moreover the apron, which at first could be construed as a blacksmith’s apron, appears to be re-semanticized as an aesthetic, possibly even academic, object, as it is tucked up and gathered into folds to form a drapery of sorts. It also serves as an eroticizing element, exposing the outline of the thighs, like a medieval or Renaissance doublet. Additionally the dainty pose of the male figure partakes of the representation of the dandy or the aesthete, with his “feminine” protruding hip reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley’s Siegfried11 for example, or characteristic also, more surprisingly perhaps, of Constantin Meunier’s sculpture of a Dock Labourer.12 Anning Bell’s iconic image thus offers a visual summary of the conflicting constructions of the artist in The Studio: aesthetic and noble but practical and hard working, graceful, sensitive and creative yet virile and powerful.

  • 13 General Index to the First Twenty One Volumes of The Studio (London, 1901), 8.

9It is notable that the gendering characteristic of Pre-Raphaelitism or Art Nouveau even in its socially advanced forms is present, as the woman represents beauty but it is not as apparent that she engages in any form of labour. She reminds the viewer of the listless Rossetti models but also contrasts with Burne-Jones’s conservative view of a medieval society in “When Adam delved and Eve span” (1892), in which the worker is a farmer and his wife weaves. Burne-Jones’s composition is of course widely different, opposing male and female spaces and activities in a way which Anning Bell’s picture refuses. As in the first cover by Voysey, Anning Bell’s two figures are holding hands and of nearly equal height, suggesting partnership. Voysey’s figure holding the lily has been replaced by a lady dressed in Aesthetic fashion, a syncretic female representation combining the styles of Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Beardsley. She is holding paintbrushes and has laid down her palette. Significantly the fine artist is embodied by a woman: indeed the articles of The Studio make it abundantly clear that the magazine’s preference goes to more “masculine,” “manly,” “virile” artists, workers who are opposed to “the limp Pre-Raphaelites and neurotic artists of all kind.” In fact, after the Oscar Wilde trials in 1895, the magazine began more openly to criticize the school of “sickly and emasculated aestheticism” (The Studio XII, 55 [October 1897]: 7) and “the effeminate languor by which [...] so many literary and artistic productions are now characterized,” with one journalist lamenting that “the female is becoming much too aggressive in the English [genius]” (The Studio XI, 52 [July 1897]: 85–6). “The present day,” argues one critic, “is quite unsuited to dandies and fops in the practice of art [...]. [It has no need for] the unbraced refinement of aesthetic lotus-eaters dallying in an isle of dreams.”13

10No motto was inscribed behind Anning Bell’s figures (as was the case in Voysey’s). But there was a visual equivalent: the intricately intertwined branches in the background signified the inextricable association of use and beauty via the image of the fruit-bearing, lemon tree on the left and the flowering tree on the right, again a visual encoding of what was useful—the applied arts—and what was aesthetically pleasing—the fine arts. Finally, the intricate tracery of the tree branches called up the idea of a stained glass window, an art form particularly popular with the Arts and Crafts Movement and with continental Art Nouveau, which The Studio diffused in Britain. Of interest is the fact that the beautiful original cover by Aubrey Beardsley, a censored version of which was used for the very first number of The Studio,14 was subsequently dismissed, no doubt because it did not advertise the objectives of the magazine legibly enough. Incidentally, the art of the commercial poster was one of Gleeson White’s passions and in their choice of cover for the magazine Holme and White showed much awareness of the visual efficacy and propaganda effect of Anning Bell’s picture compared to the more neutral final cover by Beardsley.

Discursive Constructions of the Artistic Persona

11Congruently with these visual constructions, the claim for the equality between the arts and the crafts was also reinforced textually. In the opening article of its first issue, the magazine boldly started by presenting the President of the Royal Academy, of all people, as an artisan. In The Studio, painters—often Royal Academicians or Associate Royal Academicians—were generally discussed next to decorative artists and commercial designers. The magazine usually focused on an aspect of their art or their technique, which likened them to artisans: Frederick Leighton’s use of clay modelling, G. H. Boughton’s book illustrations, William Morris’s tapestry weaving, Albert Moore’s “decorative” paintings (The Studio III, 13 [April 1894]: 6), etc. In the July issue of 1894, the article on “The Poetic in Paint” written by a landscape painter was flanked by an article on the revival of tapestry weaving and another article on “Woodcut Printing in Water Colours after the Japanese Manner.” In yet another issue an article devoted to Arthur Silver’s studio of commercial design was followed by one which dealt with Sir Frederick Leighton’s latest speech on the relation of architecture and the sister arts. Similarly, the August 1895 issue offered an article on the painters of the Newlyn School between those on the “Home Arts and Industries at the Albert Hall” and “Stencilled Fabrics for Decorative Wall Hangings.” Clearly the non-hierarchical organization of each magazine issue confirmed to the readers that the applied and the fine arts were equally worthy of attention.

12Moreover, The Studio suggested that artistic achievement resided in the labouring process more than in the finished product. As a result, many articles dealt with works in progress, such as studies or preparatory drawings: “It is apparent,” noted the Lay Figure “that a vast number of artists in all the arts are willing to expend much forethought and labour in fashioning impromptus—sketches, the result of weeks of serious study [...]” (The Studio I, 3 [June 1893]: 126). Numerous articles also focused on specific techniques, with detailed explanations on gesso, pâte sur pâte, leather embossing, pottery glazing, various kinds of photography, embroidery, techniques in metal work, in woodcut printing or dry point etching, the colouring of sculpture, stencilling, illustration, the art of the poster, taxidermy, urban and domestic decoration, the art of gardening, etc. The sometimes incongruous but equalizing effect of these juxtapositions was reinforced by the exclusive use of photomechanical reproduction methods to visualize this large range of artistic practice. By the early 1890s, most magazines were using a mix of reproduction methods, including wood engravings and photographic halftones. As Gerry Beegan has shown, The Studio’s choice to switch entirely to this new photographic method served therefore as a statement about the status of design. Photomechanical reproduction, Beegan argues,

operated in an egalitarian and inclusive manner since the fine and applied arts, both high and low, were reproduced in an identical way. In other art magazines, status was inscribed within the printed image by the reproduction method that was used. The more important the artwork, the more elaborate the reproduction techniques which were employed to produce a printable matrix. The Studio, on the other hand, treated all forms of art in the same way: a sculpture, a painting, a chair, a tapestry, a photograph, or a bungalow would be shown in an identical manner. (Beegan 47)

13All this prepared the reader for the actual contents of the articles, in which the journalists argued that the alleged difference between high art and low art was thoroughly unfounded. One such journalist remarked, “So far as it concerns the general public, it is curious to note how the mere accident of his material determines the popular recognition of an artist” (The Studio I, 6 [September 1893]: 231, my emphasis). In order to rectify this popular misconception, The Studio resorted to a promotional strategy borrowed from New Journalism—and usually reserved for celebrity painters in the art press of the time—, the interview, which was meant to bring about recognition of craftsmen and designers by the wide public.

14The discourse on art in general is always a justification of its frontiers. It is a discourse which explains why certain works or certain artists are accepted or excluded, recognized or disqualified. Discourse on art, in The Studio as elsewhere, is always imbued with a political dimension. For Keith Moxey, the discourse on art is therefore a form of political intervention, and beyond historical interpretations and underlying theoretical arguments, it functions like a “narrative” which serves to either reinforce and legitimize the status quo, or challenge it (Moxey 17-27). The Studio’s interviews with artistic craftsmen can indeed be studied as narratives which were instrumental in the creation of myths around the personality of the art worker. In fact, such interviews were very much staged. They were conscious mises en scène, orchestrated to convey the personality (real or imagined) of designers, illustrators and other artists. The repetitive use of certain tropes—both in the interviews and in other rubrics—, signals the ideological nature of the personality traits selected for the attention of readers. In The Studio the typical art worker was modest, disciplined, had a strong work ethic, led an ascetic lifestyle, and was endowed with much cultural capital and originality, all of which qualities suggested the artist would succeed in a competitive market and overcome the difficulties he met with. Such interviews were amply retouched, with journalists artificially piecing together various bits of information and impressions. This was openly admitted by one interviewer who confessed: “To be quite fair to a very patient host, it must be explained that the following interview, although mainly the artist’s replies to my leading questions, includes quotations from a paper read to a meeting of art-workers” (The Studio I, 6 [September 1893]: 232). Along the same lines, in the rubric “The Lay Figure Speaks,” one character explained that papers were “daily facts about fiction and fiction founded on facts” (The Studio XVII, 77 [August 1899]: 212). Arguably, such a definition of journalistic practice applied to The Studio itself. Fictionalizing clearly played a large part in the stories told about artists and craftsmen in these interviews.

  • 15 Small talk did serve a purpose, though. In the interview with Sir Frederick Leighton, for example, (...)
  • 16 Numerous other examples could be given. In the interview with H. H. Hay Cameron, the interviewer wa (...)

15Particularly striking to a twenty-first-century reader is that The Studio’s interviews usually included much seemingly irrelevant small talk15 and involved descriptions of the surroundings of the craftsman’s house, as well as the house itself and the craftsman’s studio. This was particularly appropriate in a magazine of decorative art in which there was a strong sense that the individual and his surroundings were one. For instance, the interviewer of Arthur Silver observed, “[t]he first thing notable in the old-fashioned little house that is situated in one of the pleasant bye-roads of St John’s Wood was that it appeared exactly the right place for the abode of a creator of beautiful patterns.” He later remarked, “the reticence of [the house’s] decoration, its furniture [bore] the unmistakable impress of the owner’s hand, showing that the creed of the artist was the creed he lived” (The Studio I, 6 [September 1893]: 232).16 Conversely, sterility of an artist’s imaginative faculty could be due to a luxurious interior and “the influence of those museum houses in which so many of our painters dwell” (The Studio II, 12 [March 1894]: 206). As for the theme of the interview, it constituted a pretext; it was the interview itself, the narrative of the encounter, which formed the event, a purely journalistic fact created for the periodical by the periodical.

  • 17 Another critic expatiated: “Oil paintings and pictures generally are signed, books and musical comp (...)

16The point of the interview, though, beyond piquing the interest or satisfying the curiosity of readers, was to manifest that, as one journalist explained, “to those technically concerned with the arts, the personality and opinions of a designer should be at least as interesting as those of a picture painter” (The Studio I, 6 [September 1893]: 232). The interview brought the decorative artist out of his traditional anonymous status, for as The Studio repeatedly complained, “not a single design [was usually] accredited to its artist unless he happened to be a man of note in other fields” (The Studio XIII, 60 [March 1898]: 140).17 By using the form of the interview, The Studio singled out the designer as a uniquely creative individual, an “inventor” (The Studio I, 6 [September 1893]: 234), conferring upon him prestige and mass media celebrity.

  • 18 One interviewer explained: “it was a matter of doubt whether he would permit himself to be intervie (...)
  • 19 Of course this was only an appearance. It is a fact that The Studio helped to promote Arthur Silver (...)

17The art worker, however, typically showed much reluctance during the interview. “My mission is to do, and not to talk,” exclaimed artistic photographer Frederick Hollyer(The Studio I, 5 [August 1893]: 196). In effect, as I suggested earlier, one of the qualities highlighted by journalists was the craftsman’s salutary modesty, his genuine desire to be judged on his merit and his work, not his personality, his name or his fame. This quality distinguished him from artistic lions such as Academicians or other seekers of prizes and honours.18 The ideal artistic craftsman for The Studio thus appeared completely unpretentious and disinterested,19 one who was entirely devoted to his art, absent of any consideration of his own fame, financial success or social advancement, and characterized by his incredible work ethic. In an interview with William Morris, Aymer Vallance exaggeratingly insisted:

The truth is Mr Morris is before all things a worker, and a very hard worker too. And, unlike many persons who have but little enough grounds for self-estimation, he does not care to talk much of himself or of his own achievements. When you call you will find him absorbed in work, most probably in the act of designing one of those exquisite borders or initials for the Kelmscott press; and during the conversation he scarcely stops working, so that one feels, in spite of his extreme good nature and his willingness to oblige, quite ashamed at having to disturb him. (The Studio III, 16 [July 1894]: 99, my emphasis)

  • 20 As Tim Barringer explains in the conclusion of Men at Work, the trial questioned the centrality of (...)
  • 21 The Studio repeatedly pointed out that artistic work was serious and difficult work: see for exampl (...)
  • 22 “I am convinced,” argued the photographer, “that two photographers, equally skilled in the mere mec (...)

18Perhaps a sign of the legacy of the traumatic 1878 Whistler vs. Ruskin trial,20 The Studio laboured under the notion that good art needed to be linked to intense work, and took great pains to demonstrate to the reader that the artists and craftsmen discussed worked hard, even when they seemed to work with ease and speed.21 Furthermore, the occasional, sometimes inevitable, involvement of the craftsman with technology had to be carefully justified as well, if The Studio were to claim him as a liberal artist, by drawing attention to the amount both of industry and of creativity that went into the making of the artwork despite the reliance on mechanical tools or technology. For artisans could easily become suspected of practicing a mechanical art: they often relied on technology, which made their achievements seem bereft of originality to most Victorians. However this was a misconception, The Studio argued. A typical illustration of the magazine’s vindication of the use of reproductive technology in the arts was a series of articles on photography. In the interview of photographer Frederick Hollyer, which constituted the third piece of the series, the journalist focused the reader’s attention on the creative work of the photographer as “distinct from his reproductive work with the camera.” He pointed out the difficulty of the photographer’s task, “the technical and artistic difficulties which would to the ordinary man have seemed insuperable.” Furthermore, the article explained in detail how the wielder of the camera worked through careful selection and observation, just like the fine artist, leaving no room for accident, the whole process being the expression of a deliberate intention on the part of the artist. The result, original and unique, demonstrated the artistic photographer’s complete independence from and control over the technology.22 Finally yet importantly, in addition to insisting on the creative aspect of the decorative arts, The Studio was keen to legitimize the designer as a liberal artist by having the cultural capital of designers and craftsmen acknowledged. In several interviews, journalists therefore drew attention to the books they read and the intellectual environment of the designers, and pointed out that “the material a designer accumulated around him was as typical as that gathered together by a pictorial artist. Photographs after Botticelli and other masters, panels of lustrous enamels and gesso-work, scraps of fine fabrics, and books of Japanese drawings [...]” (The Studio III, 16 [July 1894]: 117).

An Aesthetics of Reversal

19The Studio challenged artistic hierarchies and popular late-Victorian ideas about art and artists. Nowhere was it more apparent that in the editorial of the magazine entitled “The Lay Figure Speaks,” a witty one-page piece in which lay figures were made to engage in fictitious dialogues over the state of the art world in the absence of their owners. At the end of the nineteenth century, these lay figures were usually life-sized jointed dolls, made of padded canvas over a wood or metal frame, used to establish a composition or to model draperies, dresses or attitudes of figures in paintings, as Edgar Degas’s Portrait of Henry Michel Lévy (1878) testifies. The lay figure was one of the props of the fine arts tradition. It had been used from the fifteenth century onwards by artists such as Fra Bartolommeo, Jacopo Tintoretto, Nicolas Poussin, Michelangelo, Correggio, Rembrandt, Thomas Gainsborough, or more recently, J.E. Millais or Walter Sickert, and it had been used in the teachings of the Royal Academy since the eighteenth century. Associated as it was with the Academy and history painting, the lay figure was a powerful synecdoche for the world of painting and the fine arts. However, in the first issue of The Studio, the leading Lay Figure contemptuously exclaimed: “If only outsiders could but realize what [the lay figure] has to listen to, the hours of talks on “tones,” and “values,” theories and fads, they would stand aghast” (The Studio I, 1 [April 1893]: 40). The Studio’s fictitious character of the Lay Figure was everything but a compliant painter’s doll. Together with its friends, the Man with a Clay Pipe, the Journalist, the Up-to-Date Illustrator, the Man with a Liberty Tie and a few other lay figures, it embodied the ambition of the magazine to go against commonly accepted notions of artistic hierarchies. A puppet show of sorts, they formed a kind of textual equivalent of a Punch caricature, upsetting artistic conventions. They voiced decorative artists’ imagined or real opinions and promoted an aesthetics of reversal, for example typically proposing that the posters in London’s underground areas should be sent to the provinces for a grand exhibition, while the pictures of the National Gallery be exhibited in underground stations (Ibid.).

20The idea of animating a lay figure and orchestrating dialogues between the main lay figure and the archetypal representatives of various trends in the contemporary art world was in keeping with The Studio’s attempt at giving voice to those decorative artists, craftsmen, designers, and industrial artists who were rarely heard and usually neglected as representatives of “low art.” The magazine covers, the interviews and the “Lay Figure” pages thus created a dialogic dimension within the periodical, casting doubt on any unitary definition of art, and stressing to the readers the necessity of broadening their definitions of art in order to embrace modernity. The great success and incredible longevity of the magazine, which continued to be published until the 1980s, bear testimony to its ability to steer a middle course between innovation and tradition and are a testament to the efficacy of its poetics.

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Ashwin Clive, “Gleeson White: Aesthete and Editor.” Apollo CVIII (October 1978): 254–261.

Ashwin Clive, “Graphic Imagery: a Victorian Revolution.” Art History, 1.1 (September 1978): 360–70.

Ashwin Clive, “The Early Studio and its Illustrations.” Studio International, vol. 196, issue 1003 (1983): 22–29.

Barringer Tim, Men at Work: Art and Labour in Victorian Britain. Yale UP, 2005.

Beegan Gerry, “The Studio: Photomechanical Reproduction and the Changing Status of Design.” Design Issues, vol. 23 number 4 (Autumn 2007): 46–61.

Beetham Margaret, “Towards a Theory of the Periodical as a Publishing Genre.” Laurel Brake, Aled Jones, Lionel Madden eds, Investigating Victorian Journalism (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1990), 19–32.

Bourdieu Pierre, La Distinction: critique sociale du jugement. Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1979.

Bourdieu Pierre, Ce que parler veut dire: l’économie des échanges linguistiques. Paris: Fayard, 1982.

Bourdieu Pierre, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Harvard UP: 1985.

Brothers Ann, The Studio Portrait: the Marketing of Art and Taste, 18931918. Parkville, Vic.: University of Melbourne history research series, no. 4, 1993.

Eagleton Terry, Ideology. London: Verso 1991, 195.

Gordon D. J., “Dilemmas: The Studio in 1893–4.” Studio International, vol. CLXXV, issue 899 (May 1968): 175–183.

Holme Charles (ed.), The Studio: An Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Arts (London). Vol. I–XXI, 1893–1900.

Holme Bryan, The Studio: a Bibliography of the First 50 Years 18931943. London: Simms & Reed, 1978.

Houfe Simon, Fin de Siecle, The Illustrators of the Nineties. London: Barnie and Jenkins, 1992.

Macfall Haldane, Aubrey Beardsley, The Man and his Work. London: John Lane 1928.

Maidment Brian E., “Victorian Periodicals and Academic Discourse.” Laurel Brake, Aled Jones, Lionel Madden eds, Investigating Victorian Journalism (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1990), 143–154.

Moxey Keith, The Practice of Theory: Poststructuralism, Cultural Politics, and Art History. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Shaw Sparrow Walter, Memories of Art and Life Through Sixty Years. London: John Lane, 1925.

White Gleeson, English Illustration: “The Sixties”: 18551870. Bath: Kingsmead Reprints, 1970, 1897.

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1 A good example is the rubric entitled “The Lay Figure Speaks,” in which various fictitious representatives of the art world “squabble,” as they call it, over the meaning and value of art and artists.

2 On the founding of The Studio, see D. J. Gordon, “Dilemmas: The Studio in 1893–4,” Studio International, vol. CLXXV, issue 899 (May 1968): 175–183.

3 On Charles Holme’s life, see Clive Ashwin, “Gleeson White: Aesthete and Editor” and Ann Brothers, The Studio Portrait: the Marketing of Art and Taste, 1893–1918, 1–6.

4 They formed a firm known as Dresser & Holme (1879–1882), wholesale importers of Oriental goods, and owned a warehouse in Farringdon Road, London.

5 The career of Gleeson White is described in detail by Clive Ashwin in “Gleeson White: Aesthete and Editor”. On the importance of White’s American experience, see also Clive Ashwin, “Graphic Imagery: a Victorian Revolution,” and “The Early Studio and its Illustrations.”

6 I am referring to Gleeson White’s English Illustration: The Sixties: 1855–1870. Today White is considered “the most perceptive art critic of the Nineties” (Houfe 13).

7 The adjective “fit” is repeatedly used in The Studio to describe artwork deemed worthy of withstanding the test of time and likely to inspire future generations of artists.

8 The Art Workers Guild was founded in January 1884 at the Charing Cross Hotel. It was the result of the coming together of two existing discussion groups, The Fifteen, composed of designers such as Walter Crane and Lewis F. Day, and the St George’s Art Society, composed of six architects, many of whom had been the pupils of Richard Norman Shaw. The Guild reflected a desire to create social contact between members of different artistic professions, for whom there was no existing institutional meeting place. They were contemptuous of the hierarchical divisions of the Royal Academy, where painting was elevated above the other arts, and of the increasing emphasis on “professionalism” at the Royal Institute of British Architects, which they believed went against the demands of artistic quality.

9 The author wishes to express thanks to Florence and William Boos for their helpful suggestions on Anning Bell’s picture.

10 The painting dates from 1885 but was reproduced in the April 1895 issue of The Studio.

11 In the first April 1893 issue of The Studio.

12 Meunier’s Dock Labourer was presented in the July 1897 issue of The Studio. The proud figure of the labourer is endowed with the gracefulness of an ephebe and his pose is somewhat feminized because of the angle chosen by the photographer which accentuates the protruding hip.

13 General Index to the First Twenty One Volumes of The Studio (London, 1901), 8.

14 The non-censored version included a handsome satyr on the left, under the trees.

15 Small talk did serve a purpose, though. In the interview with Sir Frederick Leighton, for example, it served to establish the status of the artist as someone who was as busy as any other important productive economic agent of society: “‘You are early’ were his first words. “I have so many engagements I am compelled to keep punctually to the exact time”” (The Studio I, p. 3). In the “chat” with G. H. Boughton, small talk drew attention to the professional duties and prestigious status of the artist interviewed, which in turn served to enhance the status of the interviewer and The Studio: ““I am just back from the Academy Schools,” said Mr. Boughton. [The interviewer: ] “You must find it fatiguing to attend daily for a month; that is the time I believe each R.A. is supposed to devote to the work”” (The Studio III, p. 131). In many instances the discourse of critics, journalists and artists thus served as veiled discourse of (self-)aggrandizement, to use Pierre Bourdieu’s notion (see Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Harvard UP 1985, and Ce que parler veut dire: l’économie des échanges linguistiques, Fayard, 1982).

16 Numerous other examples could be given. In the interview with H. H. Hay Cameron, the interviewer was puzzled by the photographer’s unexpected interior but finally discovers that the decoration “was [...] genuine work of good design in almost perfect preservation, as fine as anything the old City halls could show” (The Studio II, p. 84). Another amusing example is the interview of Mr. Cobden-Sanderson and the art of book-binding which opens somewhat absurdly as follows: “To read the address, “The Doves Bindery, 15 Upper Mall, Hammersmith,” sets one’s wits to work puzzling [...] as to the connection of doves with bookbinding” (The Studio II, p 53).

17 Another critic expatiated: “Oil paintings and pictures generally are signed, books and musical compositions are also inseparably associated with their authors: but architectural works, and the whole mass of decorative designs, whether in carving, furniture, wall-papers, or the thousand and one applied arts, are entirely anonymous to the majority of people. True, a very important edifice is vaguely assigned to one architect, who is supposed to be responsible for everything connected with it; yet even such partial recognition is so limited that it only serves to emphasize the general neglect of the individual designer” (The Studio I, p. 231).

18 One interviewer explained: “it was a matter of doubt whether he would permit himself to be interviewed in popular fashion; indeed his consent was only gained by representing to him that THE STUDIO was especially anxious to raise the appreciation of design, and to that end the maker of patterns [Voysey] must sacrifice himself for the good of his art even as popular picture-makers have done for some time past” (The Studio I, p. 132).

19 Of course this was only an appearance. It is a fact that The Studio helped to promote Arthur Silver’s business in the 1890s for example and that Gleeson White and Silver were very good friends.

20 As Tim Barringer explains in the conclusion of Men at Work, the trial questioned the centrality of labour in the production of art and the assessment of artistic value.

21 The Studio repeatedly pointed out that artistic work was serious and difficult work: see for example “The Lay Figure Speaks” III, p. xl, or XIII, p. 140. Even with designers or artists who seemed to work rapidly—the Impressionists for example, who were accused of leaving their canvases “unfinished”—, The Studio emphasized the great amount of experience and care that was needed (see “The Lay Figure Speaks” I, 126).

22 “I am convinced,” argued the photographer, “that two photographers, equally skilled in the mere mechanical processes of their profession, can photograph the same subject from the same point of view with the same camera, and under exactly similar conditions, and that the finished print of one man may be a mere soulless transcript of what lay in his field of view, while that of the other may be something to which, for want of a better word, I must apply the term “artistic”” (in The Studio I, 193). In such arguments and in articles attempting to demonstrate the originality and uniqueness of designs destined to be reproduced, one recognizes an early manifestation of the dilemma identified by Walter Benjamin as the loss of aura of the artwork in the age of mechanical reproduction (see The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1937). Even the Lay Figure reflects on that subject and wonders if it is “a gain to multiply economic and simple processes for reproduction” (The Studio VI, 136).

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Catherine Delyfer, « The Studio and the Craftsman as Artist: A Study in Periodical Poetics (1893–1900) »Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens, 71 Printemps | 2010, 437-452.

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Catherine Delyfer, « The Studio and the Craftsman as Artist: A Study in Periodical Poetics (1893–1900) »Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 71 Printemps | 2010, mis en ligne le 07 octobre 2016, consulté le 26 novembre 2020. URL :; DOI:

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Catherine Delyfer

Université Montpellier III
Catherine Delyfer est agrégée d’anglais et maître de conférences au département d’études anglophones de l’université Paul-Valéry — Montpellier III. Elle a publié de nombreux articles sur la littérature, l’art et la culture britanniques de la fin du xixe siècle, en particulier sur la revue d’art The Studio, sur les artistes A. Beardsley et J. M. Whistler et sur les écrivains femmes de cette période (V. Lee, M. Corelli, V. Cross, L. Malet).

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