Journal of American Studies (1997), 31:19-42. Cambridge University Press.
Copyright © 1997 Cambridge University Press

Decorating the Dining-Room: Still-Life Chromolithographs and Domestic Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America


LORI E. ROTSKOFFa1 fn1
a1Yale University, P.O. Box 208236, New Haven, CT 06520, USA

Abstract

On several occasions during the late 1860s, the novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe exhorted readers to adorn their homes with chromolithographs, color prints which reproduced original oil-paintings or, less often, depicted images created specifically for the print medium. In her 1869 domestic advice manual, The American Woman's Home, co-authored with her sister Catharine Beecher, Stowe described chromolithographs (or "chromos," as they were commonly called) as essential components of a properly embellished home interior. In proposing a hypothetical budget devoted to parlor furnishings, the authors recommended that almost one-fourth of the total be allocated to lithographic reproductions of "really admirable pictures" by some of "America's best artists." Stowe's advocacy of chromos also appeared in the promotional publications of L. Prang & Company, one of the country's largest publishers of these images. The short-lived quarterly Prang's Chromo: A Journal of Popular Art (published in five issues from January 1868 to April 1869) printed a letter in which Stowe thanked Louis Prang for sending her several free chromolithographs. After praising the "beautiful objects," Stowe concluded her note with the kind of testimonial Prang no doubt had been seeking when he sent her the complimentary items: "Be assured I shall neglect no opportunity of proving my sympathy with your so charming and beautiful mission, and bringing it to everyone's notice, so far as I can." And, though it is impossible to know what exact role Stowe's promotions played in the overall sale of chromos, it is clear that she aligned herself with a hot commodity: from 1840 to 1900, chromolithographs in America sold by the millions.

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fn1 Lori E. Rotskoff is a doctoral student in American Studies at Yale University.