Birmingham Museum of Art will celebrate a new book by University of Alabama at Birmingham Professor Heather McPherson, Ph.D., “Art and Celebrity in the Age of Reynolds and Siddons” (Penn State University Press, 2017).The
McPherson is an art history professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Art and Art History. For the BMA’s event, “Art & Celebrity” on Wednesday, May 17, McPherson will give a special lecture at 6 p.m. in the Museum’s Steiner Auditorium, followed by a book signing and reception. The museum is located at 2000 Rev. Abraham Woods Jr. Blvd.
The book transports readers to late 18th-century London, where modern celebrity culture emerged, from artists’ studios to the Royal Academy exhibitions and the stages of Drury Lane and Covent Garden.
Craig Ashley Hanson, author of “The English Virtuoso: Art, Medicine, and Antiquarianism in the Age of Empiricism,” calls it a “smart, satisfying book. Heather McPherson eloquently demonstrates why the cross-pollination of the visual arts and theater resonates far beyond narrow conceptions of the stage or visual histories of particular performers, opening up, instead, valuable avenues for a richer understanding of Georgian exhibition culture as fueled by an ever-shifting, developing public.”
The book’s review text says McPherson considers the increasing interest in theatrical and artistic celebrities and explores the ways in which aesthetics, cultural politics and consumption combined during this period to form a media-driven celebrity culture that is surprisingly similar to celebrity obsessions in the world today. This richly researched study draws on a wide variety of period sources, from newspaper reviews and satirical pamphlets to caricatures and paintings by Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Lawrence as well as Thomas Gainsborough, George Romney and Angelica Kauffman. These transport the reader to 18th-century London and the dynamic venues where art and celebrity converged with culture and commerce. Interweaving art history, history of performance and cultural studies, “Art and Celebrity in the Age of Reynolds and Siddons” offers important insights into the intersecting worlds of artist and actor, studio and stage, high art and popular visual culture.