Project «The literary and illustrative material of the book 'The Jew at Home' by Joseph Pennell: new contexts and revision of interpretations».
Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) is considered a key figure for the history of American graphic art at the turn of the XX-th century. For over three decades he worked in Europe as an illustrator, studied under James Whistler, then upon returning to the US he became one of the first artists to establish the new poetics of grandeur in the American industrial scenery. Among his contemporaries Pennell was also known as a popular writer. The most controversial of his texts is the book “The Jew at Home” published in London and New York in 1892 with original illustrations by the author.
This essay is a travelogue — a description of Pennell’s impressions during his trip around Eastern Europe (Hungarian Transcarpathia, Austrian Galicia and Russian Western Krai), places he regards as the Jewish “natural habitat”. According to art historians, the book’s illustrative material should be viewed as the first instance of the Jewish theme being brought up in American art.
These illustrations, however, have never become the subject of a dedicated study, and the book in general has mostly been evaluated as a compendium of anti-Semitic stereotypes. At the same time, this text contains astute ethnographic observations, which opened the way to further representation of Eastern European Jews in graphics and photography. The aim of the study will be to revise superficial interpretations of Pennell’s illustrations through recontextualization. These images will be examined through the optics of the “Jewish question” in the USA at the end of the XIX-th century, the touristic travelogue tradition, American art at the time, and the fairly understudied artistic contacts between Russia and the USA during this period.
Author of the project - Nikita Agranovskiy, European University (St.-Petersburg).
Image source: University of California Libraries