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Response to Review of The Inspirational Genius of Germany: British Art and Germanism, 1850-1939

I would like to thank Dr Richard Scully for providing a thought-provoking review of The Inspirational Genius of Germany: British art and Germanism, 1850–1938. This is pleasing as it was my conscious intention to engage with a ‘broad church’ of historians interested in the intersection of cultural histories with political, social and intellectual contexts. As an interdisciplinary topic of study the history of art attracts individuals who received their undergraduate training in a multitude of fields. Having undertaken my undergraduate studies in the field of Modern History, I believe this disciplinary coding informs the way I address the history of art – looking to contextual historical factors to explain the reception of artefacts at specific moments.

There is a sense in which the approaches of Scully and myself to my book and how it relates to the writing of the history of Germanism (the study of German culture) differ and I think it is worthwhile considering the reasons for our varying positions. I hope that I am not polarising our views excessively by suggesting that Scully advocates the virtues of a more substantial review of Germanism and its cultural history while I am concerned to address with my monograph the specific area of British artistic reception. That Germanist studies seem to be enjoying something of a renaissance recently is very welcome. Scully’s review does well to highlight the wealth and scope of new scholarship in the history of Germanism that has been produced in the last decade or so. In addition to the texts he refers to, other notable examples of excellent research include the sustained scholarship of individuals like Christiane Eisenberg, Panikos Panayi and Rudolf Muhs, working on issues of sporting, religious, economic and migration histories.(1) In his review Scully refers to Dr Jan Rüger’s digest of 23 books published since 2000 on aspects of Anglo-German relations (some of which are specifically on Germanist topics). Rüger’s 40-page article is an admirable assimilation of a variety of contrasting approaches and subject specialities. It also serves to demonstrate the logistical difficulties facing any historian attempting to take stock of the general field of the history of Germanism; within the context of providing a literary review in a monograph containing new research these difficulties are further compounded. As an aside, it is also noticeable that while art may gain brief mention in the works Rüger reviewed, the matter of artistic transfer was not a central topic for any of these books.(2) While broader and more encyclopaedic accounts of Germanism touching on such areas are welcome and represent an admirable objective, such ambitions are surely better served through the medium of edited collections and there have been worthy examples of such.(3)

Much of the latest available material, as Scully acknowledges, has appeared too recently for inclusion within The Inspirational Genius of Germany but I would like to support his suggestions for such reading. Nevertheless without dismissing the excellent value of this scholarship I had what I believe to be valid reasons for limiting my engagement with such material in my book; ‘awareness’ of scholarship and editorial selectivity are distinct factors. In order to have a chance of tracing developments over a crucial period of 90 years and to describe patterns emerging in the artistic realms of Germanist study it was necessary to rigorously restrict the parameters of the book to areas where the history of art connected most pertinently with political, social and other cultural fields. As all scholars will recognise, composing a monographic study of any kind is ultimately a matter of selection or as Mark Twain put it more pithily: ‘A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it’.(4) I am not the person to judge the overall success of my book but I do think that the choice to exclude a fuller account of the state of the field of Germanist studies in history per se was logically justified. It offered a singular strategic advantage in securing crucial space that could be profitably employed in engaging thoroughly with my new research on the British artistic reception of German culture, a topic never before given substantive treatment for the period between 1850 and 1939.

In my book I chose to draw attention to this distinct focus from the start, for as I state in my introduction:

This book provides a history of the reception of German ideas on art and culture by British artists and critics who moved in closely allied social and professional circles: it is not primarily a study of German ideas or art in themselves, but rather an account of the historical mediation of these works through their treatment, translation and transformation by English-speaking commentators as manifest in their own art forms, letters, diary entries and public discourse (p. 1).

To have augmented or extended my frame or depth of analysis of Germanist historiography into the realms of British business, education, literature, politics, sports, etc., would have only been admissible where these touched upon empirical facts of Anglo-German artistic relations. For example, the portrait of the managers of Krupps that Hubert Herkomer was commissioned to produce (pp. 162–3) relies not upon Anglo-German business connections or affinities but the artist’s personal links with and general reputation within his birth land in the early 20th century. I am pleased that Scully notes that my own work displays ‘critical appreciation of the historiography’ relevant to its discussion and its conclusions parallel the findings evident in complementary fields.

I set out the general principles that informed my approach in chapter one – providing the orientation for the work in terms of its historiographical engagement, theoretical positioning, and the kind of material that would receive priority. Within this the history of Germanism (again a sub-section of more general histories of Anglo-German relations) necessarily lies alongside other key ingredients which included: the reasons for art historical neglect of German influences on Britain after the Second World War; the definition of particular features of Germanism within artistic and aesthetic parameters; the recognition that, whilst Germanism was largely an elitist concern, there were popular avenues for it in the artistic affairs of Britons; and the observation of key patterns in artistic Germanism in Britain for the 90-year period under survey. It is gratifying to read that Scully believes, regardless of some misgivings over my personal representation of the historiography of Germanism, that my book succeeds in sounding ‘various keynotes of Anglo-German intellectual history’.

The necessity of covering the key texts for Germanism for an art historical audience requires discretion: it still seems sensible to me to have highlighted the key foundational texts produced in the academic studies of the last quarter of the 20th century not just in art history, such as William Vaughan’s German Romanticism and English Art, but also those in allied fields of cultural history, such as Rosemary Ashton’s The German Idea: Four English Writers and the Reception of German Thought, 1800–1860 and Little Germany: Exile and Asylum in Victorian England, as well as the broader historical engagement of D. Blackbourn and G. Eley, editors of The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Society and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Germany.(5) These are necessary citations as seminal works – informing the parameters of subsequent scholarship on Germanist history – and references to these were intended to be seen as ‘foundational’ rather than as ‘authoritative’.

Scully’s systematic and thoughtful summaries of the chapters in the book are appreciated. There are only a few points that might require clarification: it seems that there are no hard or fast rules for the usage of varieties of Ford Madox Brown’s name – despite the modern fashion to refer to the artist as simply Brown, my use of ‘Madox Brown’ was both in deference to common Victorian nomenclature (6) and furthermore in order to differentiate the artist from the philosophical writer Thomas Brown (p. 8) and the art historian Gerard Baldwin Brown (although the latter was ultimately cut from the manuscript for reasons of space); the rhetorical gambit regarding Leighton being potentially ‘made in Germany’ is G. D. Leslie’s 1914 invention not mine (p. 93); and unfortunately the formatting of the images was a question of design – in order to ensure that the majority of the images could be made available to the best visual scrutiny these often had to be given whole pages to themselves and thus removed from an intimate relationship with the text. Mindful of these challenges I am grateful to the production team at Manchester who did an excellent job in producing a handsome design for the book for which I take no credit.

Scully comments on the absence of a conclusion but this is another area that I feel is dependent on personal preference. I wished to avoid the pitfall of over-speculation that often accompanies short concluding chapters that make excursions into what happened next, why and what potential significance there was to these phenomena. Holding back from such conjecture may perhaps be academically mean-spirited, denying as it does valuable grist to the academic mill, but once again space-saving arguments were ultimately decisive. Additionally the outbreak of the Second World War represented to me a natural bookend to the material I had covered without the need of a conclusion because 1939 did not represent a climax of energies and activities but rather the opposite with its abrupt negation of these dynamic forces. I had also used chapter one as the forum for synoptic analysis of patterns and themes to be addressed and did not wish to revisit these.

In closing, I still believe that to attempt a history of the reception of German art and artistic ideas over the 1850–1939 period in Britain is a sufficiently ambitious remit for a book. I hope I was able to not only chart Germanist activities in the British art world but also correct previous suggestions that post-1850 Anglo-German artistic relations dwindled against the backdrop of German Unification and the mounting geopolitical tensions presented by the Kaiserreich. My intention was to demonstrate that Germanism in the British art world in fact continued to thrive and its exact configuration was transformed as the decades and contexts changed so that the historical narrative is one of continuity and change over this age. Scully’s positive comments that my case studies ‘fit so well together’ and kind reference to the ‘breadth of scholarship’ in my ‘vibrant and engrossing work’ give me hope that I have had at least some success in communicating these ideas.


(1) Parliamentary cultures: British and German perspectives / Parlamentskulturen: britische und deutsche Perspektiven, ed. Christiane Eisenberg, ed. (Trier, 2001); Cultural industries in Britain and Germany: sport, music and entertainment from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, ed. Christiane Eisenberg and Andreas Gestrich (Augsburg, 2012); Football History: International Perspectives / Fußball-Geschichte: Internationale Perspektiven, ed. Christiane Eisenberg and Pierre Lanfranchi (Köln, 2006); Panikos Panayi, German immigrants in Britain during the nineteenth century, 1815–1914 (Oxford, 1995); Exilanten und andere Deutsche in Fontanes London, ed. Peter Alter und Rudolf Muhs (Stuttgart, 1996).

(2) Although debates about German imperialism and art do benefit from such scholarship: see the use of Susanne Zantop, Colonial Fantasies: Conquest, Family, and Nation in Precolonial Germany (Durham, NC, 1997) in Matthew Potter, ‘Orientalism and its visual regimes: Lovis Corinth and imperialism in the art of the Kaiserreich’, in A History of Visual Culture: Western Civilization from the 18th to the 21st Century, ed. Jane Kromm and Susan Benforado Bakewell (New York, NY, 2010), pp. 243–6.

(3) Wilhelmine Germany and Edwardian Britain: Essays on Cultural Affinity, ed. Dominik Geppert and Robert Gerwarth (Oxford, 2008); Migration and transfer from Germany to Britain 1860–1914, ed. Stefan Manz, Margrit Schulte Beerbühl and John R. Davis (München, 2007).

(4) ‘S. L. Clemens to H. H. Rogers, 26–28 April 1897’, in Mark Twain’s Correspondence with Henry Huttleston Rogers, 1893–1909, ed. Lewis Leary (Berkeley, CA, 1969), p. 274.

(5) William Vaughan, German Romanticism and English Art (New Haven, CT and London, 1979); Rosemary Ashton, The German Idea: Four English Writers and the Reception of German Thought, 1800–1860 (Cambridge, 1980); Rosemary Ashton, Little Germany: Exile and Asylum in Victorian England (Oxford, 1986); The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Society and Politics in Nineteenth-Century Germany, ed. D. Blackbourn and G. Eley (Oxford, 1984).

(6) Although ‘Brown’ is preferred in Julian Treuherz, et al, Ford Madox Brown: Pre-Raphaelite pioneer (London and New York, 2011) the artist is referred to as both ‘Brown’ and ‘Madox Brown’ in Theresa Newman and Ray Watkinson, Ford Madox Brown and the Pre-Raphaelite Circle (London, 1991), e.g. pp. 164–7, 172–3. In the Victorian and Edwardian periods there was a similarly divided practice. William Michael Rossetti employed ‘Madox Brown’ to differentiate the patriarch from other members of his family although Dante Gabriel Rossetti used ‘Brown’ in his correspondence (William Michael Rossetti, Rossetti papers, 1862–1870 (London, 1903), pp. 100, 132, 450). Others were more consistent in using ‘Madox Brown’. These include the artist’s grandson and biographer (Ford Madox Hueffer, Ford Madox Brown: a record of his life and work (London, 1896), see p. 1 and throughout), William Bell Scott, (Autobiographical Notes of the Life of William Bell Scott (2 vols., New York, NY, 1892), vol. 1, pp. 288, 295), and William Holman Hunt (Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (2 vols., New York, NY and London, 1904), vol. 1, p. 107).