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Imagined Cosmopolis

Internationalism and Cultural Exchange, 1870s–1920s


Edited By Charlotte Ashby, Grace Brockington, Daniel Laqua and Sarah Victoria Turner

The period from the 1870s to the 1920s was marked by an interplay between nationalisms and internationalisms, culminating in the First World War, on the one hand, and the creation of the League of Nations, on the other. The arts were central to this debate, contributing both to the creation of national traditions and to the emergence of ideas, objects and networks that forged connections between nations or that enabled internationalists to imagine a different world order altogether. The essays presented here explore the ways in which the arts operated internationally during this crucial period of nation-making, and how they helped to challenge national conceptions of citizenship, society, homeland and native tongue. The collection arises from the AHRC-funded research network Internationalism and Cultural Exchange, 1870–1920 (ICE; 2009–2014) and its enquiry into the histories of cultural internationalism and their historiographical implications.

This collection has been edited by members of the ICE network convened by Grace Brockington and Sarah Victoria Turner.

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20. ‘Acquiring a Foreign Accent’: Painting as Cosmopolitan Language in Edwardian Art Writing (Sophie Hatchwell)


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20   ‘Acquiring a Foreign Accent’: Painting as Cosmopolitan Language in Edwardian Art Writing

The notion of a ‘language of art’ was prevalent in Edwardian art writing. In 1908, the artist and critic Walter Sickert asserted in an article entitled ‘A New Life of Whistler’ that ‘the language of painting is just like any other language’.1 Sickert had recently returned to London from a prolonged sojourn in France, and throughout his essay wrote in praise of French art. Shortly after, his article was critiqued by Robert Baldwin Ross, critic of The Morning Post, who fixed upon the ambiguity of the artist’s assertion. Reacting against Sickert’s enthusiasm for the French, Ross rejoined: ‘“The language of painting is just like any other language”. Is it? Why then go abroad in order to acquire a foreign accent, especially if there is no such thing as racial painting according to the Whistler doctrine.’2 Here, Ross drew attention to the international and cosmopolitan connotations of the notion of a ‘language of painting’. ← 449 | 450 → Introducing the idea of a ‘foreign accent’, he focused on the most problematic aspect of the phrase: the possibility for art to be seen as a means of communication across national boundaries. This essay seeks to evaluate that idea, probing the limitations of art as cosmopolitan language as it appears in the art writing of Sickert and other contemporary critics and artists such as Ross and D. S. McColl in the first...

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