Art history has long privileged close reading; attention to the individual work of art is shared by diverse methodological approaches, including connoisseurship and social-historical analysis. The development of new tools and techniques for research made possible by emerging technologies has, in other disciplines, given rise to the practice of ‘far reading’, referring to examinations conducted across a large data set. What might far reading look like in art history? We do not, as yet, have a strong set of responses to this provocative question.
This paper proposes one possible response by examining the flow of goods in the art market in the modern period, focusing on networks formed by the Goupil firm. Goupil was originally founded in France in 1829 as a print publishing firm and in the late 1840s added original works of art to its repertoire of reproductive prints. Shortly thereafter it began an explicit program of international growth by establishing branches in other major urban centers, including New York, the Hague, and London. Much of the firm’s business (although not all) was tracked via stockbooks (c. 1860s-1900), which have been preserved and now digitized by the Getty Research Institute.
This unique set of data provides an opportunity to develop a model project for the study of the flow of art objects across time and space. This data set is particularly well configured for a network model as these goods circulated within the system of international branches created by Goupil before passing into the hands of individual buyers. Network analysis of the art market not only offers the opportunity to develop new research methodologies based on emergent technologies but also contributes to the reconfiguration of art history outside the out-moded paradigms of national schools by revealing the dynamic flow of art works.
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