Painting by Numbers presents a groundbreaking blend of art historical and social scientific methods to chart, for the first time, the sheer scale of nineteenth-century artistic production. With new quantitative evidence for more than five hundred thousand works of art, Diana Seave Greenwald provides fresh insights into the nineteenth century, and the extent to which art historians have focused on a limited—and potentially biased—sample of artwork from that time. She addresses long-standing questions about the effects of industrialization, gender, and empire on the art world, and she models more expansive approaches for studying art history in the age of the digital humanities.
Examining art in France, the United States, and the United Kingdom, Greenwald features datasets created from indices and exhibition catalogs that—to date—have been used primarily as finding aids. From this body of information, she reveals the importance of access to the countryside for painters showing images of nature at the Paris Salon, the ways in which time-consuming domestic responsibilities pushed women artists in the United States to work in lower-prestige genres, and how images of empire were largely absent from the walls of London’s Royal Academy at the height of British imperial power. Ultimately, Greenwald considers how many works may have been excluded from art historical inquiry and shows how data can help reintegrate them into the history of art, even after such pieces have disappeared or faded into obscurity.
Upending traditional perspectives on the art historical canon, Painting by Numbers offers an innovative look at the nineteenth-century art world and its legacy.
Awards and Recognition
- Winner of a Millard Meiss Publication Fund Grant, College Art Association
Diana Seave Greenwald is assistant curator of the collection at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
"Painting by Numbers beautifully deploys economic history and quantitative analysis to gain new insight into nineteenth-century art. Greenwald’s groundbreaking, generous book shows the power of data to expand art history’s interpretive possibilities."—Steven Nelson, dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art
"This groundbreaking, thought-provoking book employs datasets and socioeconomic analytical tools to tell superbly documented and compelling stories about the artists, artworks, patrons, and markets that drove artistic production and consumption in England, France, and the United States during the long nineteenth century. The ease with which Greenwald deploys her statistics should encourage broader use of these investigative techniques."—Eleanor Jones Harvey, author of Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture
"Paintings are motionless, but Painting by Numbers shows that nineteenth-century art was shaped by the dynamics of distance and time. Domestic duties constrained women’s art in the United States, cheap railway travel influenced bucolic painting in France, and the British Empire was depicted as picturesque, sometimes by artists who had never even been there. All of this and more is measured quite precisely in this innovative and engaging book."—Avner Offer, coauthor of The Nobel Factor: The Prize in Economics, Social Democracy, and the Market Turn
"Painting by Numbers brings together digital research and econometric tools to identify patterns that have not been previously visible in the exhibition of nineteenth-century artworks. Greenwald’s data is fascinating and her argument, which reconsiders peasant painting, women artists, and imperialism, is an important one."—Wendy Katz, author of Humbug!: The Politics of Art Criticism in New York City’s Penny Press
"Satisfying and eminently readable, Painting by Numbers offers new insights on the broad contours of U.S., French, and British nineteenth-century art history and new possibilities for digital humanities in art history more generally. Greenwald’s book is a provocative shake-up of the canon and successfully makes the case that both the quantitative and qualitative are fundamental to a truly critical social history of art."—Paul B. Jaskot, director of Duke University’s Wired! Lab for Digital Art History and Visual Culture
In Painting by Numbers, Diana Seave Greenwald accepts the challenge posed by theorist Griselda Pollock to investigate “the process of exclusion and neglect” by which “tradition cultivates its own inevitability,” drawing on economic and statistical data to illuminate art historical questions, some of which appeared settled and some of which had barely been asked. . . . [The book] draw[s] on economic and statistical data to illuminate art historical questions…Greenwald’s book covers a narrow topic and is intended for a specialized audience, but it poses questions of interest to the general reader. –Adrian Nathan West, Washington Examiner