The Art Journal (entitled the Art Union from 1839 to 1849) provided a literary forum for scholarship and discussion of the visual arts in Britain from 1839 until its final publication in 1912.

Edited by the journalist, Samuel Carter Hall, the Victorian issues frequently included outspoken opinions and criticism, and reviews of exhibitions and collections which helped expand the audience for art and promote British artists.

For those studying nineteenth-century sculpture the journal provides a valuable insight into the sculptural language of the period.

The beginning

Starting in 1847 with Antonio Canova's 'Dancing Girl Reposing', the journal regularly published high-quality, full page engravings of contemporary sculpture. The journal states that the aim of this 'gallery of sculpture' was to react against the Baroque style and provide a new model of neoclassical taste for Britain. The engravings - which were all examples of single figures, basso-reliefs and parts of monuments - were accompanied by a short introductory text describing subject matter and composition, and were intended to provide 'examples of the purity and style of the antique spirit'.

In 1852 the journal reviewed the 6th Duke of Devonshire's Sculpture Gallery at Chatsworth House. The collection, which has come to be regarded as an archetype of neoclassical collecting mania, is described in detail and accompanied by engravings of the gallery's installation and final layout.

In 1894 the art critic Edmund Gosse wrote a significant article for the journal entitled The New Sculpture. The essay gave definition to one of the most important movements in British art and was responsible for grouping sculptors interested in the principles of naturalism over neoclassicism such as G. F. Watts, Hamo Thornycroft, Frederick Leighton and Edward Onslow Ford into a distinct school.

Despite the journal's popularity amongst its readership, Hall was forced to sell the majority of his shares in 1852. After his retirement in 1880 the engravings of sculpture gradually diminished until, in 1888, the 'gallery of sculpture' had completely disappeared.

The sculpture research library

The library holds issues of the Art Union and Art Journal from 1839-1907 in its Special Collections.

The Art Union from April 1848 featured in the library display The Sculptor Prince? Victor Gleichen and the Sculpture Profession in late-Victorian Britain.