JF Ptak Science Books (Expanding Post 667 from June 2009)
Looking at old prints sometimes reveals more than just their own history, simple or not: there are, from time to time, subtle bits of otherness that creeps into the image, if you allow yourself the time to see it.
And sometimes looking at images of the past reveal a little of the future, or the possibility of the future, as we can see here in these examples in the book by the art-anatomist William Rimmer (1816-1879). His work is superior, and spot-on, and has Leonardo-flourishes all throughout his work--he reaches deeply into the past to the great anatomical standards, and also employs newly established work too (as with Charles Darwin1). There is also--to me anyway--a certain quality of his work that predates modern art movements, like the Surrealists, and Dadaists, that melt into his work, giving it a very post-modern sympathy. The drawings sometimes have a great "unexpected" sense to them, which I think is not often found in anatomical artwork, given the nature of the exercise and all, giving Rimmer a sense of surprise and somewhat-removed fantasy.
(In another example of this idea of pre-dating a modern movement, I wrote a little about the odd art/color textbooks of the pre-Kandinskian Emily Vanderpoel , about whose color theory I still understand not at all, though the images that she produced as illustrations to these bizarre theories are stunning, pre-modernist, and unintentional creations.)
The images being discussed here are found in Rimmer’s Art Anatomy (1877 is the first edition and very rare for its process and for being destroyed in a printing house fire, and subsequent printings, this one being the subsequent 1884 printing). He was a very accomplished artist, and was also a physician and a fine anatomist, with a long career of having varied careers in the arts. He was very concerned and interested in what happens to the skin, forced into action by all of the stuff underneath it. He pursued the movement of muscle, and bone, and the interplay of the two, and produced a wonderful exponent of artistic anatomy.
Even the design of the book and the placement of drawings and text on the page--page after page--is both antique and pre-modernist, the images surrounded by the author’s notes and explanations, sometimes the very spacing and placement on the page is an evocative mystery.
Perhaps some of this "mystery" may be easily solved given the way in which the book came into being. According to Amy Beth Werbel in her Thomas Eakins: Art, Medicine, and Sexuality in Nineteenth-century Philadelphia (Yale University Press, page 61, here) Rimmer constructed most of the work while on vacation, using no models, and seemingly working without reference. That would be an extraordinary accomplishment, and might explain some of the "surprising" parts that I just spoke of, but it really doesn't necessarily address that dreamy quality of looking not-so-quietly into the future of art. (There are other odd and, well, bizarre, bits that Rimmer writes about that seem unrelated to this anatomy task, but I'll just have to chalk that up to "personality" at the present time.)
(I'll expand this quite a bit as I've got 50 or so of these lithographs that I'll be selling.)
1. Elliott Davis writes a very interesting article on Darwin and Rimmer and about the influence of the former on our artist. For example, Davis writes that Rimmer's work "represents the most comprehensive anatomy book issued in the United States at the time and provides new insight into the influence of Darwin's evolutionary theory on artistic practice." See: ”Life Drawing from Ape to Human: Charles Darwin's Theories of Evolution and William Rimmer's Art Anatomy” by Elliott Bostwick Davis, on the Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide blog http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org, here. Also from Davis' article is this good footnote on two further sources of information for Rimmer: "Marzio, 1976, p. 1. For information on Rimmer, see Truman H. Bartlett, The Art Life of William Rimmer: Sculptor, Painter, Physician. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1890. [And] Jeffrey Weidman, Neil Harris, and Philip Cash, William Rimmer. A Yankee Michelangelo, Exh. Cat. Brockton, Brockton Art Museum/Fuller Memorial (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1985).