The American painter Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825) left a legacy of vibrantly beautiful still lifes depicting objects such as fruit, vegetables, and meat. In this lively and literate study, the first book-length exploration of the artist, Alexander Nemerov presents a radical new reading of these paintings focusing on the uncanny quality of Raphaelle's still-life objects. Nemerov argues that the physical presence of these objects is not strictly their own but that of the artist's body. This imagery of embodiment, Nemerov argues, relates deeply to Raphaelle's own time.
The Body of Raphaelle Peale focuses on not just Raphaelle's paintings but also the visual and intellectual culture of early-nineteenth-century Philadelphia, to which these works intimately relate. More broadly, the book presents a reading of romanticism in the American visual arts. Above all, it is an argument about selfhood in Raphaelle's era. Raphaelle's focus—in paintings both playful and morbid—was the pleasures and horrors of being a mere body, of being less than a self.
Nemerov's primary source of evidence in this study is Raphaelle's art itself. After considering its theoretical and historical implications, he returns to the images, deftly guiding us to a fresh understanding of these remarkable paintings. Nemerov's formal analysis is infused with a sophisticated awareness of interdisciplinary issues, and he gracefully balances the formal, the theoretical, and the historical throughout his narrative. This beautifully illustrated study is sure to stimulate renewed appreciation of an exceptional American artist.
List of Illustrations
Introduction: Windows on the Object
PART ONE: Before
1. Blackberries and The Solitary Imagination
2. Blackberries and Embodiment
3. Blackberries and Focused Vision: Refusing The Long View
4. Three Kinds of Silence
PART TWO: Beneath
5. Meat and Nonidentity
6. The Anatomized Still Life
7. Dissector and Dissected: Self and Body
8. Abjection: Still Life and the Return of the Maternal Body
9. The Rhapsodic Maternal Body
11. The Deception of Venus Rising From The Sea
Alexander Nemerov is Vincent Scully Professor of the History of Art at Yale University and the author of Frederic Remington and Turn-of-the-Century America (1995).
"This book is mind-blowing. Nemerov is a groundbreaking thinker in his field."—John Wilmerding, Princeton University
"This is a book for all serious Americanists."—Jay Fliegelman, author of Declaring Independence
"Each haunting and delicately wrought canvas expands as Nemerov writes about it, so that his interpretive work both mirrors and supplements the wondrous intensity of the paintings themselves."—Ellen Handler Spitz, Museums of the Mind
"Underneath their apparent simplicity, Raphaelle Peale's still lifes glow mysteriously in the dark light of their making. Peale transformed the common items of the early-nineteenth-century kitchen and market into explorations of the American unconscious. Now, writing as coolly and lucidly as Peale painted, Alexander Nemerov has unpeeled those still lifes in a tour de force of formalistic analysis. Through close interrogation of these small, hermetic images, Nemerov's book reveals the whole world of early America, in the process bringing us as close as possible to the genius of Raphaelle Peale."—David C. Ward, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.
"This is a dazzling study, lively and imaginative, of an important body of work. Nemerov's novel arguments regarding still life in general and Raphaelle Peale in particular reveal much about the art, the man, and the times. It is a thoughtful and provocative book, certain to generate interest and debate. "—Charles C. Eldredge, Hall Distinguished Professor of American Art and Culture, University of Kansas
"A triumph of interpretation! Not since Michael Fried's groundbreaking account of Thomas Eakins has a critic so reimagined the very terms by which we see painting. Nemerov's account singlehandedly catapults a painter we had previously considered to be interesting, but minor, into the forefront of discussions about American art during the early National Period. The Body of Raphaelle Peale will no doubt spark the beginning of an exciting revival of scholarship in American Romantic painting."—Bryan J. Wolf, author of Romantic Re-Vision