We two stood simply friend-like side by side,
Viewing a twilight country far and wide,
Till she at length broke silence. 'How it towers
Yonder, the ruin o'er this vale of ours!
The West's faint flare behind it so relieves
Its rugged outline--sight perhaps deceives,
Or I could almost fancy that I see
A branch wave plain--belike some wind-sown tree
Chance-rooted where a missing turret was.
What would I give for the perspective glass
At home, to make Out if 'tis really so!
Has Ruskin noticed here at Asolo
That certain weed-growths on the ravaged wall
Seem' ... something that I could not say at all,
My thought being rather--as absorbed she sent
Look onward after look from eyes distent
With longing to reach Heaven's gate left ajar--
'Oh, fancies that might be, oh, facts that are!
What of a wilding? By you stands, and may
So stand unnoticed till the Judgement Day,
One who, if once aware that your regard
Claimed what his heart holds, --woke, as from its sward
The flower, the dormant passion, so to speak--
Then what a rush of life would starting wreak
Revenge on your inapprehensive stare
While, from the ruin and the West's faint flare,
You let your eyes meet mine, touch what you term
Quietude--that's an universe in germ--
The dormant passion needing but a look
To burst into immense life!'
'No, the book
Which noticed how the wall-growths wave' said she
'Was not by Ruskin.'
I said 'Vernon Lee?'
Robert Browning, "Inapprehensiveness" (2: 886-87)
Robert Browning's poem "Inapprehensiveness" (1889) neatly exemplifies both the new interest in specularity and the observing subject in the nineteenth century, and the different, indeed competing, viewing positions of masculinity and femininity within the modern ocular field.  The poem begins with the male speaker and his female companion standing "simply friend-like side by side / Viewing a twilight country" in an apparently shared gaze, but the woman "[breaks] silence," asserting her desire to control the field of vision, wishing she had her perspective glass. Such optical devices are, as Jonathan Crary reminds us, "sites of both knowledge and power that operate directly on the body of the individual" (7),  and the perspective glass here signifies the woman's wish to define and control her position vis-a-vis not only the view but also her companion. Meanwhile the "unnoticed" man by her side, desperate for her "regard," "needing but a look," wills her to break her "inapprehensive stare," silently implo ring her, "let your eyes meet mine." But the woman continues actively to look, taking pleasure in her gaze, insisting upon her role as observer, and utterly confounding the specular status her companion wishes to confer upon her by refusing to be the willing object of his fantasizing and coercive gaze. The view reminds her of something she has read--"not," she thinks, "by Ruskin"--in response to which the male speaker ironically offers at the end of the poem the suggestion that the name she is searching for is perhaps Vernon Lee (its placement as the poem's final words gives it particular weight). The invocation of first the eminent art critic John Ruskin and then Vernon Lee, an art historian and aesthetician also of some repute in her own day, allows us to locate the poem within the larger frame of the sexual politics of spectatorship. It is with Vernon Lee that the disgruntled male speaker aligns his female companion, not Ruskin--with the woman, that is, who asserted the significance of the "real setting of place and moment, and individuality and digression" (Lee, Belcaro 7) in her aesthetic, rather than with Ruskin, whom she characterized as "this strange knight-errant of righteousness" (Belcaro 203).
Although recent scholarship in the area of "vision and difference" has problematized monolithic constructions of the female gaze, the question of feminine spectatorship, understood as encompassing a diversity of viewing positions, remains an important, if relatively unexplored, aspect of the history of vision in the nineteenth century.  The submerged history of women's discourse on art offers a particularly compelling instance of Deborah Cherry's observation that "feminine spectators have remained beneath the surface of historical discourse" (116).  My intention in this essay is to reread some examples of women's art historical writing of the last century in the light of recent research in the area of vision and visuality, following Crary's important book on vision and modernity in the nineteenth century, Techniques of the Observer (1990), and, in particular, to reflect on questions of gender that Crary fails to address. Concerned with the "historical construction" of vision (1), Crary argues that, alo ngside developments in physiological optics and optical technology "a new kind of observer took shape in Europe" in the early decades of the nineteenth century (6), one that displaced the disembodied visual experience of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, defined by the incorporeal relations of the camera obscura, with an emphatically corporeal visual subject. And yet Crary's "dominant model of what an observer was in the nineteenth century" (7) is itself oddly disembodied. As W. J. T. Mitchell has pointed out, Crary "shows no interest in the empirical history of spectatorship, in the study of visuality as a cultural practice of everyday life, or in the observer/spectator's body as marked by gender, class, or ethnicity" (20). Most important for what follows, Crary ignores the problematics of female spectatorship that have so exercised feminist theorists, particularly of film, over the past two decades.  And yet, given her status as spectacle, and the identification of the agency of the gaze with mal e subjectivity, a woman faced particular difficulties in claiming the authority of vision and interpretation in the nineteenth century (see Nord 4, 11-12).
What I wish to argue is that women art historians in the nineteenth century participated vigorously and variously in the epistemic shift identified by Crary, and, further, that their experience as observers was inflected by gender in ways that mark them out from Crary's homogeneous "dominant model." In exploring this last point, I will focus my attention on Vernon Lee, not only because, of all the writers under consideration, she most fully exemplifies Crary's figure of the modem corporeal observer, but because of her evident interest, articulated most notably in her novel Miss Brown (1884), in the gender of the look. Her art historical writing does not explicitly invoke the sexed body, but the very absence of gender in a discourse so insistently predicated on embodiment is arguably symptomatic of her ideological positioning, and of the contemporary art historical and physiological rhetoric available to her. Moreover, her critical engagement with Ruskin, against whose influential aesthetic her own visual the ory and practice are so consciously defined, invites a gendered reading. Her reinstatement of a feminine language of "empathy" can, I suggest, be read as a riposte to Ruskin's famous condemnation of a feminized "pathetic fallacy" (Ruskin 5: 201-20). Furthermore, she actively critiques masculinist conventions of visual knowing dependent on "machinery" and abstract systems that replace the experience of art with "foreign, extra-artistic, irrelevant interests" (Belcaro 12), including Ruskin's moralistic and systematizing aesthetic, proposing instead a corporeal and perspectival model of seeing that both places her in a feminine tradition and signifies her modernity. In so doing, she provides a model of the observer--as embodied, particularized, and situated--that resists specular hegemony and makes space for women to look at art.
The nineteenth century marked the first time in England's history that the fine arts became available for appreciation on a wide scale by a mass audience, thereby creating a demand for popular critical guidance. It was within such a milieu that the modern academic discipline of art history originated and began to become professionalized and institutionalized.  Despite Matthew Arnold's perception in "The Literary Influence of Academies" (1864) of the deficiency of the critical spirit in England, there was nevertheless no shortage of critical voices in the periodical press and art literature who were keen to direct and regulate public taste in art. Included in their number were many female art specialists, both historians and critics, who, as Deborah Cherry, Pamela Gerrish Nunn, and others have demonstrated, made a significant contribution to mainstream contemporary aesthetic debate, worked within women's artistic and intellectual networks, and formed distinctively female cultural discourses. Of these women , it is Anna Jameson who has received the most critical attention, and therefore it is perhaps not surprising that it is around her work that the
question of professional status has been most vigorously debated. Opinion is divided between those, like Adele M. Holcomb, who claim Jameson as "The First Professional English Art Historian," and the view, recently proposed by Laurie Kane Lew, that "Jameson's art writings anticipate the development of what has come to be known as 'middlebrow' culture" (832), in their "performed anxiety over what constitutes a cultured taste and a cultivated eye" (838), and their …