The Subject in Art

Portraiture and the Birth of the Modern

The Subject in Art

Book Pages: 192 Illustrations: 51 illustrations (incl. 16 in color) Published: October 2006

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Cultural Studies, Religious Studies

Challenging prevailing theories regarding the birth of the subject, Catherine M. Soussloff argues that the modern subject did not emerge from psychoanalysis or existential philosophy but rather in the theory and practice of portraiture in early-twentieth-century Vienna. Soussloff traces the development in Vienna of an ethics of representation that emphasized subjects as socially and historically constructed selves who could only be understood—and understand themselves—in relation to others, including the portrait painters and the viewers. In this beautifully illustrated book, she demonstrates both how portrait painters began to focus on the interior lives of their subjects and how the discipline of art history developed around the genre of portraiture.

Soussloff combines a historically grounded examination of art and art historical thinking in Vienna with subsequent theories of portraiture and a careful historiography of philosophical and psychoanalytic approaches to human consciousness from Hegel to Sartre and from Freud to Lacan. She chronicles the emergence of a social theory of art among the art historians of the Vienna School, demonstrates how the Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka depicted the Jewish subject, and explores the development of pictorialist photography. Reflecting on the implications of the visualized, modern subject for textual and linguistic analyses of subjectivity, Soussloff concludes that the Viennese art historians, photographers, and painters will henceforth have to be recognized as precursors to such better-known theorists of the subject as Sartre, Foucault, and Lacan.


The Subject in Art is a challenging book, and sometimes while reading it, it seems easy to get lost in the details, but the main points are rewarding, and they present in total an important addition to the modern theory of the subject. The book is a valuable read. . . .” — Brian E. Butler, Consciousness, Literature and the Arts

“[B]y tracing the genealogy of a way of seeing and a means of comprehending art, this is a valuable contribution to both art history and the history of Judaism. For writers on art, this book re-emphasises the importance of portraiture. For those who work on Jewish life and thought, it stresses the ways in which paintings were used to express identity. Resting on real research and deep thought, The Subject in Art forces us to look again at some familiar images and to think again about the ways in which we approach them. For that, it is sincerely to be welcomed.” — William Whyte, Journal of Modern Jewish Studies

“It is immensely satisfying to read a book about portraits which attempts to treat them with the gravity warranted by the sheer volume and intensity of their production in European art practice. Soussloff’s exploration of portraits in various media—her examples are drawn from painting, caricature and photography—does help to illuminate her field and argument.” — Lara Perry, ArtBook

“Soussloff's theoretical approach is genealogical, and the scholarly task she sets for herself is both important and demanding.” — Katerina Reed-Tsocha, British Journal of Aesthetics

“Catherine M. Soussloff has managed, in her philosophical and art historical reflections on the portrait in modernity, to bring important insights to our understanding of the relation between the individual and history. The ‘individual’ is the great enigma of modernist history. In focusing on the ‘subject’ in the individual as revealed and hidden in modern portraiture, Soussloff exposes many of the open secrets of modernist historical consciousness as well.” — Hayden White, Presidential Professor of Historical Studies, Emeritus, University of California and Professor of Comparative Literature, Stanford University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Catherine M. Soussloff holds the University of California Presidential Chair in the History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of The Absolute Artist: The Historiography of a Concept and the editor of Jewish Identity in Modern Art History.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: The Subject in Art 1

1. A Genealogy of the Subject in the Portrait 5

2. The Birth of the Social History of Art 25

3. The Subject at Risk: Jewish Assimilation and Viennese Portraiture 57

4. Art Photography, Portraiture, and Modern Subjectivity 83

5. Regarding the Subject in Art History: An Epilogue 115

Notes 123

Bibliography 149

Illustration Credits 163

Index 167
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3670-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3658-7
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