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Consummate Too Too”: On the Logic of Iconotexts Satirizing the “Aesthetic Movement”

Anne-Florence Gillard-Estrada

Résumés

On examine ici une série d’« iconotextes » (Alain Montandon), qui offrent une réception satirique du Mouvement Esthétique: dessins, cartes de vœux, publicités et caricatures publiées dans des périodiques. On étudie ces iconotextes par le biais du dialogue que l’image et le texte entretiennent entre eux, mais surtout de celui que chaque médium établit avec la peinture et les écrits associés à l’Esthétisme, mouvement qui s’inscrit dans la civilisation du journal et du commerce (Regenia Gagnier). Si la relation formelle entre texte et image est parfois envisagée en termes de relation entre le masculin et le féminin, on verra qu’ici cette question concerne davantage le discours sur la catégorie visée: les « Esthètes ». Enfin, on s’attache à étudier la poétique à l’œuvre dans ces iconotextes à travers l’étude des refrains qui reviennent et condensent de manière comique mais créative l’esthétique et la formule de vie des tenants du Mouvement Esthétique.

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  • 1 I borrow Alain Montandon’s use of the word “iconotext”: a production that unites writing and a plas (...)
  • 2 This was the case in the exhibition “The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde 1860–1900” conjo (...)

1Between the mid-1860s and the 1890s, what has commonly been referred to as the “Aesthetic Movement” was a general movement which affected literature, the fine arts, the crafts and decorative arts, and which is quite difficult to demarcate (see Lionel Lambourne). It was met with a proliferation of satirical iconotexts1 — illustrations, cartoons, caricatures, cards, music sheet covers, etc. — which provide a particular reception of it and which, for that reason, now feature in catalogues or exhibitions on that movement.2 Many iconotexts of various kinds —from periodicals, billboards to all kinds of ephemera — were produced and circulated in the context of 19th-century “marketplace” culture (Regenia Gagnier’s expression), and among them these minor forms of art, which have aesthetic, didactic, humorous, and/or commercial ambitions. They raise questions of intermediality and intertextuality, and they point to the interaction between “higher” and “lower” art forms. These iconotexts require a double reading whereby image and text interact, but they also have to be analysed in relation to their context and respective medium. As such, each of these forms — illustrated books, music sheet covers or commercial artefacts — entails its particular mode of consumption, mostly a non-linear and intermittent reading practice in which the image plays an important part. The visual dimension of these products is indeed prominent: one first sees the image when one browses an illustrated book or a magazine, and this also applies to cards or covers. Still, it is the association of image and word which brings about the elucidation of the meaning: the humour of the nonverbal forms can only be fully understood thanks to language.

  • 3 The word between quotation marks refers to the category constructed in such documents.

2In an iconotext, two semiological systems are juxtaposed inseparably — each, however, enjoying its separate status and logic. The relation between text and image intrinsically determines their effects. But what is at stake in iconotexts providing a reception of Aestheticism is that the image/text/recipient relation presupposes a mobilisation of images and texts precisely derived from it. Text and image establish a distinctive relationship with “high-Art” precedents in their respective medium — text echoing preceding texts and image repeating previous images — in order to mock the perceived category of “Aesthetic” people.3 It is therefore the purpose of this article to study the logic at work in a corpus of such iconotexts and to show how their unity, their meaning and their effectiveness depend on a dynamics which is not only internal but also external, with minor forms of culture and commercial productions recycling higher forms of art.

A Corpus of Iconotexts

  • 4 See Brake and Demoor for a theoretical approach to illustrations in 19th-century periodicals as wel (...)
  • 5 Artist unknown, sheet music cover for “The High Art Maiden: humorous song for voice and piano” (188 (...)

3A similar logic is at work in various music sheet covers, adverts, greeting cards or press cartoons: 4 word and image are combined to poke fun at the “Aesthetes”. As far as the visual is concerned, one way of exploiting the comical possibilities of the image was to resort to a graphic vocabulary of faces, poses and attitudes directly derived from “high-art” productions — mostly, the paintings associated to the “Aesthetic Movement”. This is exemplified by the sheet cover for The High Art Modern, a musical piece composed in 1881.5 The anonymous illustrator banked on the striking aura of the feminine icons depicted by artists like Rossetti. There is unmistakably a direct visual link between the maiden’s three-quarter profile and paintings or photographs representing Jane Morris in the pose: one notes the same curved neck, brooding face, strong nose, and wavy hair; the woman also evokes D.G. Rossetti’s variations on women leaning sideways or holding white lilies, often surrounded with blue and white china — like the representations of The Blessed Damozel, whose name is evoked by the word “maiden”.

  • 6 Albert Moore (1841-1893), Azaleas (1867), oil on canvas, 198.1 x 100.3, Dublin City Gallery, The Hu (...)
  • 7 Many critics for example condemned the decorative status of the women represented by Albert Moore o (...)

4The backdrop recalls one of Albert Joseph Moore’s Aesthetic pictures, Azaleas, in which a damsel contemplates flowers and an Oriental vase6. The composition is based on the verticals of the objects and on the horizontal lines of the dado, on which Japanese fans are rhythmically placed. In this case, the humour of the visual medium depends on the appropriation of an already-existing iconic face, and such works in turn create a new iconic face which recurs in many iconotexts. The female models and the spatial arrangement found in Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic paintings visibly provided the caricaturists with a perfect visual lexicon. The purpose of such iconotexts, then, is to accentuate the “decorative” quality of Aesthetic canvases which was often censured in the periodicals of the time.7

  • 8 For the Wilde “epidemic” see Wicke.

5This imagery spread to North America in the wake of Oscar Wilde’s lectures on Aesthetic Decoration.8 Josephine Pollard’s book The Decorative Sisters (1882), illustrated by Walter Satterlee, features two young ladies who are so obsessed with aesthetic decoration that they turn into “decorating plants” themselves.

Josephine Pollard, The Decorative Sisters: A Modern Ballad, illustrated by Walter Satterlee, New York, A.D.F. Randolph & co, 1881.

Josephine Pollard, The Decorative Sisters: A Modern Ballad, illustrated by Walter Satterlee, New York, A.D.F. Randolph & co, 1881.

6The two figures are visual echoes of Albert Joseph Moore’s female forms: they become patterns on a wall — pure geometrical shapes among other decorative motifs. Incidentally, the painter who initiates the girls to the “Decorative Art” (XI) and to the “Aesthetic craze” (XIV) has the same features and clothes as James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s. The girls, then, become “intense” and desert a healthy life in the country.

XVI.
They would gaze upon a lily so ‘unutterably utter,’
With eyes distended wide as if the blossom they’d devour;
’Twas easy to believe they had relinquished bread and butter,
And really lived on nothing more substantial than a flower.

7This illustrated book, therefore, ridicules the girls’ vain and ludicrous attachments to non-human objects — flowers, china teapots, etc.—, thus contributing to the wave of satires of “Aesthetic” people.

  • 9 The 1882 and 1883 photographs of Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony are available online on John Cooper (...)

8It was easy to find a male counterpart to the maiden: Oscar Wilde’s highly advertised and much-debated promotional lecture tour of North America was followed by a proliferation of illustrations and photographs that provided both advertisers and caricaturists with an opportune visual stock. For example, the firm Straiton and Storms humorously used one of Napoléon Sarony’s picture9 to advertise cigars:

  • 10 Trade card, New Cigars, Straiton and Storms, New York, after 1882.

9In that photogrpah, Oscar Wilde is depicted with the same pose and outfit, wearing analogous trousers and gaiters, his legs in the same affected position.10 Sunflowers, which had acquired an amazing visual potential as the arch-Aesthetic flower, feature in the ad, and the caption (“Aesthetic Sunflower / Too Too / Capadura Patience”) is a reference to Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operetta Patience (1881), a hugely popular satire of Aesthetic artists and poets.

  • 11 Albert II Ludovici (1852-1932), four greeting cards (1882), colour lithograph, ink on card, printed (...)

10Jane Morris’s striking face, Oscar Wilde’s mannered posturing and unusual choice of wardrobe constitute two key visual scenes which, adapted and caricatured, circulate in numerous iconotexts. Many of these adopt the same visual grammar of faces, poses, compositions, spatial dispositions, props, and motifs. The figures are placed in an unmistakably “Aesthetic” room and are almost always transfixed by a vase, a flower, or a teapot — like the melancholy people who, in the “decorative” painting of the mid-1860s and 1870s, contemplate and are themselves beautiful objects. In a set of four greeting cards of 1882,11 the men too are described as floral decorations. The retreat into the private realm of individual sensations and self-fulfilment played an important role in the writings and artworks associated to the Aesthetic Movement, and this was perceived as a subversive rejection of the proper standard of female behaviour or of the male ethos of public action. Moreover, Oscar Wilde’s lectures on Aestheticism were based on the premise that interior decoration and personal dress were forms of individual expression and tokens of self-completion. The authors of these satires were keen to push all these ideas to an extreme, while many contemporaries warned against the danger posed by the contemporary “Aesthetic” craze. They thought this would incite women to forget all maternal or motherly duties and would make men effeminate or amoral. Consequently, both women and men are comically relocated within the domestic, feminine sphere in many of these satirical iconotexts.

Satire

  • 12 The caption goes, “Wishing you an utterly charming time / With yearnings for your intense joy / Ver (...)
  • 13 In 1880, Harry Quilter wrote a censorious article against what he called the “Gospel of Intensity” (...)

11The image plays a particularly important part in the creation of humour, yet so does the text. In these caricatures, the texts are often brief: short sentences, a few words, concise dialogues. In fact the texts contribute to create an easily recognizable situation. Particularly striking is the repetition of words such as “utter”, “utterly”, “intense”, “consummate”, or “precious”, as in Ludovici’s greeting cards mentioned above.12 This is actually a recuperation of another kind. What may be termed as the language of intensity13 associated to Aestheticism is reutilized and distorted so as to deride the “Aesthetes”.

12First of all, a vast stock of idiosyncratic words, resounding sentences and memorable phrases circulated among and were absorbed by writers, critics, or artists related to the Aesthetic Movement. These were in turn appropriated by authors of satires and sometimes even by advertisers. The fortune of highly recurrent words, like “consummate” or “intense”, has to be considered in that light. To Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, or others, such words encapsulate both aesthetic principles and a sensualist credo of life. They denote perfection and achievement as well as linguistic refinement. As such, these adjectives aptly express the rhetoric of intensity. Such rhetoric has erotic overtones. Indeed, Walter Pater, through his refined and highly elaborate language, collapses aesthetic and sexual discourses, eroticizing the quest for sensations and the consumption of art. This he turns into a passive retreat within the private sphere that involves the active seizing and recording of pulsations. He theorizes the place and function of homoerotic desire in modern culture, and his metaphor of the “hard, gem-like flame” (Pater 189) sums up a hedonistic consuming of beautiful moments that seemed suspicious to many contemporaries.

  • 14 George Du Maurier (1834-1896), “The Six-Mark Teapot”, Punch, vols. 78-79, October 30, 1880, 194.

13Oscar Wilde actively contributes to the dissemination and distorting of that rhetoric of intensity, to which he adds his personal admixture of wit, fascination for and irony towards his sources. He takes up Pater’s formulations in his own lectures or critical articles on art, and he adopts the characteristically superlative mode of many authors of the movement, which he then turns into commercial catchphrases. In so doing, he plays a particular role in Aestheticism, which probably explains why he features so prominently in many caricatures of it. The most famous one is George du Maurier’s “The Six-Mark Teapot” (1880), the first of a series that appeared in Punch in the early 1880s.14

George du Maurier, “The Six-Mark Teapot” @Courtesy of Punch

George du Maurier, “The Six-Mark Teapot” @Courtesy of Punch
  • 15 James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks (1864 (...)
  • 16 Walter Hamilton transcribes this sentence as “Oh, would that I could live up to my blue china!” in (...)
  • 17 See the definition provided by Jan Walsh Hokenson after Champfleury: “witless abuses of japonisme p (...)

14An “Aesthetic Bridegroom” and an “Intense Bride” are placed in a typical “Aesthetic” home. First, the recuperation is visual, since George Du Maurier, who had an artistic training, drew on iconographical precedents: the man is a distorted image of Oscar Wilde, the female type is modelled on D.G. Rossetti’s representations of Jane Morris, the pose of the woman holding the vases is based on the figure in J. A. M. Whistler’s painting Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks (1864)15, the fans and screens are reminiscent of the objects found in Albert Moore’s or Whistler’s canvases. But the recuperation is also textual. The dialogue reads: “It is quite consummate, is it not?” / “It is, indeed! Oh, Algernon, let us live up to it!” The name Algernon is an obvious reference to another “Aesthetic” poet, Swinburne, and the words evoke Oscar Wilde’s remark, “I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china”, which was hugely popular.16 Oscar Wilde’s humorous sentence both echoes Walter Pater’s exhortation to seize all pleasurable pulsations and reflects the Aesthetic taste for japoniaiseries.17 In turn, George Du Maurier plays on Oscar Wilde’s witty saying: because of its semantic and etymological fullness, the adjective “consummate” (a favourite of Walter Pater’s) alludes to the rhetoric of intensity and excellence while also evoking illicit types of consumption and consummation; it is associated to the themes of exhaustion and of the maladies of the mind and body.

  • 18 Alfred Concanen, sheet-music cover for “My Aesthetic Love or Utterly Utter, Consummate Too Too” (18 (...)

15In the numerous satirical iconotexts of the early 1880s, the word “consummate” often refers to consumption in the sense of consuming, enjoying and spending, or of being dangerously consumed or burnt up. What is more, there is a process whereby the language of intensity found in the works of many authors like Walter Pater — a language that was carefully wrought-out so as to best express their Aesthetic formula of life — seems to have been replaced by the mere juxtapositions of tautological adjectives and adverbs. The highly elaborate literary or critical discourses have dwindled to what may be called the “too-too” or “utterly utter” mode. This is exemplified by two of Concanen’s sheet music covers18, which offer a visual and textual satire of Aestheticism and, in particular, of its perceived effeminacy (again, both maidens and young men are entranced by blue china vases or sunflowers and lilies): the comical repetition of adjectives, often associated with redundant adverbial derivatives (“My Aesthetic Love or Utterly Utter, Consummate Too Too” / “Quite too Utterly Utter”) is a central device of the humour. The idiom of perfection has depleted to a comical catchphrase, as is made clear in the progression from the long and recherché adjective “consummate” to the poor and almost meaningless monosyllable “too”.

Poetics at Work

16Aestheticism comes to collide with commercial jargons and journalistic practices, as is shown by these iconotexts. Common to all is the idea of autonomy: the autonomy of the piece, of the fragment, of the unique moment. Among the aesthetic principles displayed by the “high-art” productions of Aestheticism, one finds a concern for fragmentation, eclectic juxtapositions, hybridity, and intermediality — which is also to be found in the “low-art” iconotexts that reacted to the movement. Walter Pater, for instance, correlates his art-criticism to a real formula of life: to him, identity is bombarded by and thus responds to myriads of sensations and pulsations. Living an intense life means the consumption of as many disparate “consummate” moments of beauty and pleasure as life and art can offer. Aesthetic painting too was noted — sometimes negatively — for its use of eclectic and even anachronic motifs. Aestheticism, in fact, purports an aesthetic of the extract that fits contemporary marketplace culture.

17Kate Campbell has pointed to the links between 19th-century journalistic discourses and the construction of knowledge: in a context in which “higher and lower cultural practices were […] in important respects related”, the writing form of journalism gave prominence to “the moment and ephemera, and related contingent phenomena — the partial and emotional, desire, daily matters, an immediate audience” (Campbell 40). When examining Charles Dickens’s journalistic writings, she refers to Bagehot’s remarkable phrase — “graphic scraps”. Fragments and uselessness actually acquire a particular value — which, of course, is also relevant when applied to Aestheticism and its caricatures. As Kate Campbell puts it, “[t]hese words of disposal and negation in journalistic contexts tell of a world in which fragmentation is becoming ontological and waste is not entirely worthless” (Campbell 41). In these iconotexts, fragments of images and scraps of texts circulate, still retaining something of their original visual and textual sources.

18The parody of Aestheticism functions on such circulation. Besides, another point of convergence between Aesthetic works and commercial or journalistic productions characterizes these iconotexts — the exhortative mode. The “I-wish-you” mode of the Ludovici cards and the persuasive calls in the Punch caricatures (“Let us live up to it”) evoke the imperative tone of Walter Pater’s Conclusion, “Only be sure it is passion, that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness” (Pater 190). Frederic Leighton too uses a Paterian rhetoric when exhorting his Royal Academy students to “have faith that the stirrings which [they] feel within [themselves] are not the last spent waves of a retreating tide, but the pulses of a living force” (Leighton 32); and Oscar Wilde ironically puts such words into Lord Henry’s mouth when he addresses Dorian Gray: “[l]ive! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations” (Wilde 22). But to their satirists, the short step that separates consumption, consummation, exhaustion, or waste was easily taken.

  • 19 See Denisoff for a discussion of parody as a combative strategy by which sexually marginalized grou (...)

19The reading public as well as the authorial or editorial voices of these journalistic or commercial productions were far from constituting a unity. What unity there is, is in the derision that is produced by their combination of textual and visual fragments extracted from previous “high-art” productions. What they have in common is the discourse poked at people perceived as “Aesthetic”—the comical females transfixed by flowers and, most of all, the deviant males evincing a feminine behaviour. Masculinity is definitely a central concern of these documents. To Laurel Brake, it plays a primordial role in late-Victorian journalism, for “[a]lthough an assumed masculinity remained the default position for most kinds of writing and reading, ‘male’ itself was a fissured category throughout the period, divided not only along the lines of class and education but also in terms of degrees of masculinity, ranging from the ‘manly’ and ‘muscular’, to the ‘effeminate’, ‘Greek’, and ‘invert’” (Brake 2001, 6). In that troubled context, these iconotexts were quite univocal when they constructed the male “Aesthetes” in order to ridicule them, and Punch was prominent in ascertaining a normative notion of male identity.19

20The modes of representation as well as the aims of these iconotexts are in fact largely determined by issues of gender. However, their very logic and their internal relation take them away from the theoretical pattern which Lorraine Janzen Kooistra discerns in her seminal work on fin-de-siècle illustrated books (1995). To her, these illustrated texts are “bi-textual products” that posit a gendered, “bi-textual relationship” (to take up her expressions) between the female-coded image and the male-coded word. The image sometimes occupies a secondary and supportive position and is subservient to the significance of the written word. Although only a minority of the iconotexts examined here belong to the category of illustrated books, Lorraine Janzen Kooistra raises fundamental questions which may apply to them as well. The pattern of subservience does not operate here, and the image/text relationship is rather one of mutual dependence and complementarity. What prevails is the dialogue with precedents in the same medium. Most of all, whatever gendered dimension exists, it does not so much reside in the formal relation between text and image but rather in the mode of representation of the characters depicted and ridiculed. What is gendered is the discourse on “Aestheticism” — which image and text collaboratively construct — rather than the interplay between the media.

  • 20 “Yr Aesthetic young geniuses; Yr Gorgeous Young swells. Part III”, Punch, vols. 74-75, September 21 (...)

21The iconotexts discussed here reveal anxieties about female and male identity in a context of their deconstruction, to which the Aesthetic Movement participated. Not only were the postures of the aesthetes ridiculed, but also their poetics of desire. As already mentioned, many of them subverted visual icons of Aesthetic feminine beauty by playing on the decorative dimension of such figures —who, however, often remain represented as “feminine”. But when it came to men, the satire was crueller. Punch was a key periodical in the creation of a correlation between the physical appearance of the male “Aesthetes” and their moral values. Such stereotyped representations aimed at reasserting heteronormative values. This is exemplified by an illustrated serial entitled “The Rise and Fall of the Jack Spratt — A Tale of Modern Art and Fashion” (1878), a satire of a group of aesthetic-minded artists and people modelled on members of Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic circles, who excluded themselves from the world so as to engage more fully with beauty. A character, Jack Spratt, is infatuated with a working-class girl who strongly resembles Jane Morris, and his painting turns her into a goddess of beauty. Unfortunately, she falls for the “Gorgeous Young swells” and consequently rejects the “Aesthetic young geniuses”. Two illustrations 20 visually reinforce the textual comparisons. In the first image, the male Aesthetes are depicted as devirilized and exhausted men, which humorously contrasts with descriptions of their search for intensity in the text. These “Aesthetes” look like pathetic visual avatars of the “too too” mode: their emaciated faces, the wrinkles and bags under their eyes, their enervated bodies and saggy clothes denote a kind of consummation that has led to jadedness, indulgence, and enfeeblement. In the second illustration, George Du Maurier wittily plays on the depiction of the square-shouldered, able-bodied and well dressed “Swells” to create a contrast between the two types of men.

22Male “Aesthetes” are distinctive targets for these satirical iconotexts. Male aestheticism is clearly relocated within the feminine. One also finds depictions of male artists and authors who promote a homoerotic aesthetics. What is ignored in such iconotexts is the fact that there are various types of masculine subjectivity — homoerotic or not — in Aestheticism. Besides, the investment — straightforward or repressed — in male erotic objects of those authors and artists who were homosexuals is quite diverse: it ranges from the voluptuous and feminine androgyne, to the sculptural and lithe ephebe, as well as the virile and athletic soldier — who are either compliant or responsive objects to male-male desire. But in these caricatured representations, the male subject is almost always depicted as effeminate, pallid and exhausted; and when he harbours a homoerotic interest for a male other, this object is often only alluded to. If he appears at all, it is in the shape of a naïve young gentleman whose appropriate representation safely excludes any possibility for a homoerotic attraction on the part of the recipient.

  • 21 Linley Sambourne, “Punch’s Fancy Portraits no. 37: ‘O. W.’”, Punch vols. 80-81, 25 June 1881, 298.

23In 1881, Linley Sambourne designed a cartoon for Punch that was simply entitled “Fancy Portraits no. 37: ‘O. W.’”.21

Fancy Portraits no 37: ‘O. W.’” @Courtesy of Punch

“Fancy Portraits no 37: ‘O. W.’” @Courtesy of Punch

24The image, once again, recalls the compositional choices found in Aesthetic visual productions: it is very close to Albert Moore’s disposition of the female figure watching flowers in Azaleas, except that it is a male character who features here. What’s more, Oscar Wilde no longer watches a flower but he actually becomes one. The text is reduced to a unique and yet meaningful word — “waste”; and his name is reduced to its initials. Both these and the image allow an immediate recognition of the butt of satire. In addition, uselessness does not acquire the positive value which Aesthetic-minded artists and writers otherwise ascribed to it: it is clearly a synonym of futility, vanity, and nonsense.

  • 22 George Du Maurier, “Maudle on the Choice of a Profession”, Punch, vols. 80-81, February 12, 1881, 6 (...)

25In another series for Punch, George Du Maurier modelled an aesthetic poet, Jellaby Postlethwaite, on Oscar Wilde again. He represents him as languid, effeminized and wan, writing “Latter-Day Sapphics” to his naïve admirer, Mrs Cimabue Brown — again modelled on Jane Morris — and often accompanied by a gaunt painter, Maudle. Some of the cartoonists seem to have perceived the objectification of human erotic subjects which is at work in some Aesthetic paintings or texts, for George Du Maurier definitely played on that idea. In one cartoon, “Maudle on the Choice of a Profession” (1881),22 Maudle, who now is plumper than before and looks like Oscar Wilde, tells a distrustful woman “[h]ow consummately lovely [her] son is”. He explains to her that he wants him to “remain for ever content to ‘exist beautifully’ ”. The objectification of the boy is an apt and ironical commentary on the reification of the beautiful male body that recurs in Walter Pater’s and Oscar Wilde’s writings, among others. Also at stake in Aestheticism is a certain notion that beauty may be found equally in life and art: the individual is encouraged to contemplate and admire everything that conveys pleasure, and this equivalently in nature, beautiful people, intellectual works, or artistic productions. The caricaturist here subverts this idea by depicting the “Aesthete” as an individual who is prone to reifying human figures and to ascribing a superior aura to objects.

26In such iconotexts, the combination of image and text is more effective than the numerous textual vituperations against Aestheticism then produced, some of which have been forgotten now. Punch teems with articles that deliver scathing attacks on “Aestheticism”. In 1882, for example, an anonymous author explained in his article that “[t]he word ‘Aestheticism’ […] has come in a slang sort of way to stand for an effeminate, invertebrated, sensuous, sentimentally-Christian, but thoroughly Pagan taste in literature and art” (Punch 1882). Such rhetoric is quite common, and it is often couched in a mock-Aesthetic style, full of archaisms, literary turns of phrases, and flowery expressions which contrasts with the characteristic conciseness of the iconotexts here studied. Punch later published a long mock-interview of Oscar Wilde which imitates the rhetoric of intensity and comically associates it with feebleness, seasickness, and a sexual ambiguity:

I have wrestled with the glaucous-haired Poseidon and feared his ravishment. Quite: I have been too ill, too utterly ill. Exactly — seasick, in fact […]. I fear the clean beauty of my strong limb is somewhat waned. I am scarcely myself — my nerves are thrilling like throbbing violins, in exquisite pulsation. (Punch 1882, 14; repr. Hamilton 112-113).

27This pastiche of a text by Oscar Wilde fittingly combines a play on sounds, the use of synaesthesia and lyrical allusions to Antiquity — humorously interspersed with the now familiar words “utterly” and “too”. Such texts, however, are less memorable than the iconotexts which satirized male aesthetes, most of all Oscar Wilde. The visual dimension is important in that the image has to allow an immediate recognition of the feminization, exhaustion and depletion of the male category thus constructed and targeted. The most enduring satirical constructions of de-masculinized and preposterous “Aesthetic” males are the ones which combine text and image.

Conclusion

28As this paper has aimed to show, text and image unite here to mock the aesthetics and thematics of a contemporary movement. These iconotexts contribute to limn acceptable social behaviours in opposition to laughable fads but also to suspicious erotic leanings — and this always in a tongue-in-cheek tone. Referentiality, therefore, is not only produced by the interaction between picture and word but also, and especially, by the humorous uses of previous images and texts. This, then, presupposes a shared culture and a shared community — mostly of middle-class or upper-middle-class readers, female and male — in order for the humour to be understood. The productive dialogue in which text and image interact thus parallels the dialogue between illustrator and recipients which engages in a larger cultural dialogue. But while it is quite easy to recover the stock of images alluded to in these iconotexts, only a close reading of texts associated to Aestheticism enables us to recover their textual sources — and this partially. The images were widely accessible to contemporary recipients, yet it may be assumed that some of the texts that expressed the “consummate” rhetoric were probably lost to them.

29A loss of another kind takes place when words circulate from the literary text into such iconotexts. Words written or pronounced by authors associated to Aestheticism are parodied and fetishized into slogans which disseminate endlessly. The texts that articulate the rhetoric of intensity are replete with superlative words of perfection as well as with elaborate expostulations of ecstasy. But all this condenses here into the syllabic and phonic minimality of the oft-recurring word “too”. That tag proliferates, and it evokes a loop. Tautological adverbs or adjectives, such as “utterly utter”, evoke uselessness, sterility — or, in a word, “waste”. This reinforces the poetics of exaggerated consumption which is so central to these iconotexts. Consuming means exhausting and wasting. In the late 19th-century context of mass-produced media associating word and image, a circulation occurs which incurs loss: the discourse on the “consummate” moments earnestly expressed by people like Walter Pater is artfully and ironically taken up by Oscar Wilde, who turns it into the idiom of consumerism. And this in turn inspires both caricaturists and publicists. But, in that process, the Paterian rhetoric of intensity and self-development has dwindled to the redundant chorus of “utterly utter”. His elaborate syntax has been reduced, and one is left with a refrain — “too too”.

30Such loss, however, meets a gain of sorts. Beyond the image and the text, another medium comes in — music. These iconotexts truly contain real musical choruses, and so the oral and musical quality of the captions reinforces the humour. This particularly efficient association of word, image and sound undoubtedly contributes to the proliferation and durability of such satirical iconotexts. For the satire of Aestheticism was also oral and musical, as is shown by the success of the opera Patience or Harraden’s pieces of music, among others. Aestheticism is renowned for its focus on synaesthesia and intermediality. Oscar Wilde, for his part, proposed a personal theory on the musical power of language which he put into practice in his prose. The interest for music which typifies Aestheticist productions is also present in satires of that movement: the juxtaposed text and image open up to music. The iconotexts that satirised the Aesthetic Movement recuperate, combine and reinvent previous textual and visual fragments, to which they add an inventive and humorous music of their own. It is this undeniable creativity and originality that enable them to acquire a prominent place next to “higher” works of art.

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Bibliographie

[Anon.]. “In Earnest”, Punch, or the London Charivari, vols. 82-83, January 7, 1882, 12.

[Anon.]. “Oscar Interviewed”, Punch, or the London Charivari, vols. 82-83, Jan. 14, 1882, 14.

Brake, Laurel, and Demoor, Marysa. “Introduction”, in The Lure of Illustration in the Nineteenth Century: Picture and Press. Laurel Brake and Marysa Demoor eds. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Campbell, Kate. “Journalistic Discourses and Constructions of Modern Knowledge”. Nineteenth-century Media and the Construction of Identities. Laurel Brake, Bill Bell and David Finkelstein, eds. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. 40-53.

Denisoff, Dennis. Aestheticism and Sexual Parody 1840-1940. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Gagnier, Regenia. Idylls of the Marketplace: Oscar Wilde and the Victorian Public. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1986.

Hamilton, Walter. The Aesthetic Movement in England. London: Reeves & Turner, 1882.

Hokenson, Jan Walsh. Japan, France and East-West Aesthetics—French Literature 1867-2000. Plainsboro, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2004.

Kelly, Richard. The Art of George du Maurier. Aldershot: Ashgate Scolar Press, 1996.

Kooistra, Lorraine Janzen. The Artist as Critic: Bitextuality in Fin-de-Siècle Illustrated Books. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1995.

Lambourne, Lionel. The Aesthetic Movement. Oxford: Phaidon, 1996.

Leighton, Frederic. Addresses to the Students of the Royal Academy. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1896.

Montandon, Alain ed. Iconotextes. Clermont-Ferrand: CRCD & Paris: Ophrys, 1990.

Pater, Walter. The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry [1893]. Donald Hill ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

Quilter, Harry. “The New Renaissance; or, The Gospel of Intensity”. Macmillan’s Magazine XLVII, September 1880, 391-400.

Wicke, Jennifer. Advertising Fictions: Literature, Advertisement, and Social Reading. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray [1891]. ed. Joseph Bristow. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, 2006.

The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900. Stephen Calloway and Lynn Federle Orr eds., Victoria & Albert Museum Publishing, 2011.

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Notes

1 I borrow Alain Montandon’s use of the word “iconotext”: a production that unites writing and a plastic element.

2 This was the case in the exhibition “The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde 1860–1900” conjointly organized by the Victoria & Albert Museum (London), the Musée d’Orsay (Paris), and the Fine Arts Museum (San Francisco) in 2011 and 2012.

3 The word between quotation marks refers to the category constructed in such documents.

4 See Brake and Demoor for a theoretical approach to illustrations in 19th-century periodicals as well as for case studies.

5 Artist unknown, sheet music cover for “The High Art Maiden: humorous song for voice and piano” (1881), written and composed by Herbert Harraden, London, Metzler & Co., private collection.

6 Albert Moore (1841-1893), Azaleas (1867), oil on canvas, 198.1 x 100.3, Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane. @Public domain

7 Many critics for example condemned the decorative status of the women represented by Albert Moore or Leighton.

8 For the Wilde “epidemic” see Wicke.

9 The 1882 and 1883 photographs of Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony are available online on John Cooper’s wonderful website: http://www.oscarwildeinamerica.org/sarony/sarony-photographs.html (all internet pages were accessed in May 2013).

10 Trade card, New Cigars, Straiton and Storms, New York, after 1882.

11 Albert II Ludovici (1852-1932), four greeting cards (1882), colour lithograph, ink on card, printed and published by Hildesheimer & Faulkner, Victoria and Albert Museum.

12 The caption goes, “Wishing you an utterly charming time / With yearnings for your intense joy / Very precious wishes for you / May you have a quite too happy time”.

13 In 1880, Harry Quilter wrote a censorious article against what he called the “Gospel of Intensity” preached by many “Aesthetic” authors and artists.

14 George Du Maurier (1834-1896), “The Six-Mark Teapot”, Punch, vols. 78-79, October 30, 1880, 194.

15 James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks (1864), oil on canvas, 93.3 x 61.3 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

16 Walter Hamilton transcribes this sentence as “Oh, would that I could live up to my blue china!” in the chapter he devotes to Wilde in The Aesthetic Movement in England (1882), which first identified and defined that movement (Hamilton, 99-100).

17 See the definition provided by Jan Walsh Hokenson after Champfleury: “witless abuses of japonisme produce contemptible deformations, instances of the popular and artistically grotesque hybrids that Champfleury had mocked as japoniaiserie. » (Hokenson 211)

18 Alfred Concanen, sheet-music cover for “My Aesthetic Love or Utterly Utter, Consummate Too Too” (1881), written by T. S. Lonsdale, composed by W. T. Eaton, sung by “The Great Vance”, printed by Stannard and Son, colour lithograph; Alfred Concanen, sheet-music cover for “Quite too Utterly Utter” (ca. 1881), “New Aesthetical Roundelay” written and composed by Robert Coote, published by Hopwood & Crew, printed by Stannard & Sons, London, colour lithograph, copyright Victoria and Albert Museum.

19 See Denisoff for a discussion of parody as a combative strategy by which sexually marginalized groups challenge the status quo.

20 “Yr Aesthetic young geniuses; Yr Gorgeous Young swells. Part III”, Punch, vols. 74-75, September 21, 1878, 122.

21 Linley Sambourne, “Punch’s Fancy Portraits no. 37: ‘O. W.’”, Punch vols. 80-81, 25 June 1881, 298.

22 George Du Maurier, “Maudle on the Choice of a Profession”, Punch, vols. 80-81, February 12, 1881, 62.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Josephine Pollard, The Decorative Sisters: A Modern Ballad, illustrated by Walter Satterlee, New York, A.D.F. Randolph & co, 1881.
URL http://sillagescritiques.revues.org/docannexe/image/5041/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 644k
URL http://sillagescritiques.revues.org/docannexe/image/5041/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 520k
Titre George du Maurier, “The Six-Mark Teapot” @Courtesy of Punch
URL http://sillagescritiques.revues.org/docannexe/image/5041/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 140k
Titre “Fancy Portraits no 37: ‘O. W.’” @Courtesy of Punch
URL http://sillagescritiques.revues.org/docannexe/image/5041/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 102k
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Référence électronique

Anne-Florence Gillard-Estrada, « Consummate Too Too”: On the Logic of Iconotexts Satirizing the “Aesthetic Movement” », Sillages critiques [En ligne], 21 | 2016, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2016, consulté le 23 juillet 2017. URL : http://sillagescritiques.revues.org/5041

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Auteur

Anne-Florence Gillard-Estrada

Anne-Florence Gillard-Estrada is a lecturer at Rouen University. Her research and teaching interests include British literature, art criticism and painting of the 1860s-1890s. She has published a number of articles on Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde as well as on “classical” and “Aesthetic” painting. She is currently writing a book on the subject of “Greece” and the body in British paintings of Antiquity (1860-1900) that draws on close readings of the images as well as on the reception of these works in Victorian art criticism and periodicals.
Anne-Florence Gillard-Estrada, Maître de Conférences à l’Université de Rouen, s’intéresse à la littérature, l’esthétique, la critique d’art et la peinture britanniques de la seconde moitié du XIXe siècle. Elle a publié une série d’articles sur l’Hellénisme et la Grèce dans l’oeuvre de Walter Pater et d’Oscar Wilde, et sur la représentation de l’Antiquité dans la peinture « classique et  Esthétique ». Elle prépare actuellement un ouvrage sur la représentation du corps grec dans la peinture anglaise entre 1860 et 1900 qui s’attache à la lecture de ces images et à leur réception dans la critique d’art et les périodiques de l’époque.

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