Cover image for Art for Animals: Visual Culture and Animal Advocacy, 1870–1914 By J. Keri Cronin

Art for Animals

Visual Culture and Animal Advocacy, 1870–1914

J. Keri Cronin


$94.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-08009-3
Coming in April

264 pages
6" × 9"
53 b&w illustrations

Animalibus: Of Animals and Cultures

Art for Animals

Visual Culture and Animal Advocacy, 1870–1914

J. Keri Cronin

“Cronin’s innovative and compelling study offers powerful insights about cultural production and the evolution of animal advocacy on both sides of the Atlantic. Art for Animals is a welcome contribution to the literature on animal studies and will appeal to students of visual culture, art history, and social movements as well.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
Animal rights activists today regularly use visual imagery in their efforts to shape the public’s understanding of what it means to be “kind,” “cruel,” and “inhumane” toward animals. Art for Animals explores the early history of this form of advocacy through the images and the people who harnessed their power.

Following in the footsteps of earlier-formed organizations like the RSPCA and ASPCA, animal advocacy groups such as the Victoria Street Society for the Protection of Animals from Vivisection made significant use of visual art in literature and campaign materials. But, enabled by new and improved technologies and techniques, they took the imagery much further than their predecessors did, turning toward vivid, pointed, and at times graphic depictions of human-animal interactions. Keri Cronin explains why the activist community embraced this approach, details how the use of such tools played a critical role in educational and reform movements in the United States, Canada, and England, and traces their impact in public and private spaces. Far from being peripheral illustrations of points articulated in written texts or argued in impassioned speeches, these photographs, prints, paintings, exhibitions, “magic lantern” slides, and films were key components of animal advocacy at the time, both educating the general public and creating a sense of shared identity among the reformers.

Uniquely focused on imagery from the early days of the animal rights movement and filled with striking visuals, Art for Animals sheds new light on the history and development of modern animal advocacy.

“Cronin’s innovative and compelling study offers powerful insights about cultural production and the evolution of animal advocacy on both sides of the Atlantic. Art for Animals is a welcome contribution to the literature on animal studies and will appeal to students of visual culture, art history, and social movements as well.”
“A welcome and much-needed addition to the growing literature on animals and art. In particular, Cronin’s book, which is focused on the historical period when the first wave of the animal protection movement emerged, demonstrates the role that visual media played in the development of that movement. But the book is far more than a historical snapshot. Activists’ use of representations of animals—and animal suffering—is just as important (if not more so) in the modern animal rights movement of today. Art for Animals will appeal to anyone with an interest in how people have worked to combat animal abuse in the past, and how they do so today.”
“Cronin skillfully weaves together a history of animal advocacy with fascinating primary source images that show the imaginative range of advocacy groups in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, along with the social resistance that sometimes accompanied these efforts at public education. Humane societies today struggle with showing animal abuse when approaching supporters; Art for Animals provides a timely occasion for further thinking about these visual challenges for both animal studies scholars and advocates.”
“In this important and unique contribution to the animal advocacy movement, Cronin provides a wealth of images drawn from extensive research in support of her claim that animal advocacy is, and has always been, informed by visual culture. Art for Animals belongs on the shelf of not only anyone with an abiding concern for the role of art and visual culture in the study of human-animal relationships, but anyone who also advocates on behalf of nonhuman animals themselves. I highly recommend this well-researched and compelling book!”
“How do images represent an injustice or gesture toward an ideal? Keri Cronin brilliantly answers this question by identifying the key role images play in shaping—and resisting—dominant ideas about animals. Her profound scholarship equips us to recognize the irreplaceable and unique role of visual culture in animal activism. Thanks to Art for Animals, we are better able to understand past activisms and envision future ones.”

J. Keri Cronin is Associate Professor of Visual Arts at Brock University. She is the author of Manufacturing National Park Nature: Photography, Ecology, and the Wilderness Industry of Jasper.


List of Illustrations



1 Educate Them Artistically

2 Bearing Witness

3 Imaginative Leaps

4 In the Public Eye

5 Advocacy at Home

Conclusion: What Might Be




From the Introduction

On a cold, blustery autumn day, a small group of activists gather on a cement island in the middle of a busy road in Toronto, Ontario. Some hold illustrated placards and banners, while others hand out leaflets to motorists stopped at traffic lights. All are aware of the enormity of their task; they are here to bear witness, to watch transport trucks carrying pigs arriving at Quality Meat Packers, a slaughterhouse in downtown Toronto. This is a landscape that has, in many ways, been shaped by the slaughter of pigs. Toronto’s nickname, “Hogtown,” reflects the long-standing history of this industry—from the nineteenth century onward, companies like the William Davis Company “processed” thousands upon thousands of pigs to satisfy the growing demand for pork in North America. On this day, just like most other days in the history of this industry in Toronto, the pigs are packed tightly inside the trucks, their fear, panic, and confusion clearly visible to anyone who looks inside. Very few do look inside, and this is why the members of Toronto Pig Save, a grassroots activist organization, repeatedly make the trek to this location. The members of Toronto Pig Save are here to bear witness, to hold vigils for the animals inside these trucks who are on their way to their death, to insist that these animals be seen and not forgotten. This scene was regularly repeated in this location until Quality Meat Packers closed its doors in the spring of 2014.

Often, photographs were taken at these vigils, perhaps a close-up shot of a pig peering through one of the oval holes in the metal sides of the transport truck (fig. 1). In the instant of taking the photograph, an exchange took place and eye contact was made. The photograph asks viewers to take a second look, to realize that this animal is not a commodity but a living being on the way to her death. She has been seen, and her photograph has been taken. By the time her photo was circulated online on the Toronto Pig Save website and Facebook page, she was no longer alive. This image stands as a testament to the material reality of a once-living being. Who will see her now?

This use of visual techniques to call attention to the plight of the animals being transported to the slaughterhouse echoes actions taken by those who lobbied on behalf of animals in previous eras. There are countless examples in the history of animal advocacy, though most are forgotten now. For instance, in the spring of 1916 a group of concerned citizens in Cincinnati placed signs bearing the message “Be Kind to Animals” on the sides of railcars carrying cattle to slaughter. What was the reaction of those who witnessed these animals in these particular railcars? Did the addition of this poster give passersby occasion to pause and reflect on the treatment of nonhuman animals in modern society? The sight of cattle loaded in railcars was so common in this part of the United States at the time that few people probably even noticed it. Did the addition of this sign cause those accustomed to this sight to look anew at the scene unfolding in front of them? As one reformer noted, “if this motto could be placed on every car, especially those loaded with cattle, on every day in the year, no one could estimate the suffering that would be spared these poor animals before they are cruelly slaughtered. In other words, it was hoped that the visual association between the words on the sign and the beings inside the railcar would be difficult to overlook.

As with the Toronto Pig Save vigils, the specific location of this action was significant. Cincinnati was home to one of the largest slaughterhouse systems in North America in the nineteenth century, earning it the nickname “Porkopolis.” Descriptions of the city regularly noted how this industry shaped the landscape. In her 1832 account of her experiences in Cincinnati, Mrs. Frances Trollope noted that the streams were red with the blood of slaughtered pigs and that the air held an unpleasant odor, “which I heartily hope my readers cannot imagine; our feet that on leaving the city had expected to press the flowery sod, literally got entangled in pigs’ tails and jawbones; and thus the prettiest walk in the neighborhood was interdicted forever.” While Chicago eventually surpassed Cincinnati in sheer production, the Cincinnati market still “processed” “livestock” at a competitive rate: between 1875 and 1925, 60 million animals, including 10 million cattle, were “processed” in Cincinnati slaughterhouses. Cincinnatians thus had many opportunities to visually encounter animals who were part of this system. The placement of “Be Kind to Animals” posters on the cattle cars asked people to see these animals in a new light, as animals, rather than as objects processed in this industrial-scale system. This process was entirely dependent upon using a visual strategy to interrupt established patterns of seeing animals. The presence of these specific posters in this specific location was an attempt to counter the sense of cultural invisibility that characterized the ways in which these specific animals existed in this landscape.

In 1883, Frances Power Cobbe, the founder of the London-based Victoria Street Society for the Protection of Animals from Vivisection, published an illustrated leaflet called Light in Dark Places (fig. 2). This thirty-one-page booklet reproduced scientific images showing both animal bodies being experimented upon and the “tools of the trade” used by those engaged in vivisection. By using photomechanical reproduction of the various engravings and woodcuts commonly used in physiology textbooks, Cobbe attempted to “convey, in the briefest and simplest form, ocular illustration of the meaning of the much disputed word Vivisection.” In 1888, Cobbe helped the Philadelphia-based American Anti-Vivisection Society publish a similar illustrated pamphlet, this one intended to inspire the American public to join the fight against experimentation on animal bodies in the name of science. “Do Not Refuse to Look at These Pictures!” proclaims the pamphlet, indicating the central role of visual imagery in both the publication and the broader aims of the group. Once again, the leaflet contained illustrations of animals bound and being experimented on in laboratory settings. In each of these publications, the images presented a close-up view of vivisection that few had a chance to witness firsthand.

In each of these examples, visual techniques and technologies were used to draw attention to the suffering of nonhuman animals. While temporal and geographical differences separate them—the first is from present-day Toronto, the second from Cincinnati in the early twentieth century, and the rest from nineteenth-century London and Philadelphia—in each instance visual culture is central to the actions of those working to make the world a kinder, gentler place for nonhuman animals. While there are certainly many important historical and contextual differences between each instance of advocacy listed here, the prominence of visual tactics links them in important ways. The tension between what is seen and what remains hidden from view—what Timothy Pachirat calls the “politics of sight”—has been at the heart of everything from late nineteenth-century antivivisection protests to present-day undercover investigations of “factory farms.” Further, in almost all cases, some form of visual culture—photographs, posters, video footage, scientific drawings, works of art—extends the process of visual engagement beyond the initial encounter and allows for multiple readings of these images. Visual culture has played—and certainly continues to play—an important role in the realm of animal advocacy. As W. J. T. Mitchell reminds us, “images are active players in the game of establishing and changing values.”

How these images were created, circulated, and consumed had a tremendous impact on discourse about the “kind,” “cruel,” and “humane” treatment of nonhuman animals. As Hilda Kean points out, “whether particular aspects of animal cruelty were emphasized or not depended both on current practices toward animals and on wider political campaigns and priorities. These categories, in other words, are not fixed but are historically and culturally contingent. During the nineteenth century, as Kean notes, what was seen, and by whom, underwent some major shifts—“more than ever, what was defined as cruel very much depended on who was doing the watching and what they were looking for.” As Jeremy James notes in his discussion of the live-export trade, “who was to say what constituted cruelty, since there was no specific legal definition of the term.” Likewise, Jonathan Burt observes that “humane behavior is not simply a matter of deeds but is also a matter of being seen to behave humanely.” Our contemporary understanding of what it means to be “cruel” to animals, or what “humane treatment” actually encompasses, owes much to the visual politics of animal advocacy in previous decades.

Visual representations of nonhuman animals have been inextricably linked to the actual lived conditions of those animals, and this continues to be the case today. In other words, the patterns of visual representation and the kinds of images used in advocacy campaigns have a “real-world” impact on the lives of both human and nonhuman animals. As Virginia DeJohn Anderson points out, “how people think about animals influences how they interact with them.” When it comes to the visual culture of animal advocacy, representations play an important role in shaping dominant ideas about and attitudes toward nonhuman animals.

This book explores the ways in which art and visual culture were used in animal advocacy efforts in Britain and North American at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. Imagery was a central component of these campaigns, shaping discourses of what was “kind,” “humane,” and “cruel,” and these pictures were not peripheral illustrations of arguments articulated in written texts or impassioned speeches. Rather, visual culture played an important role in defining campaign goals, recruiting membership, raising funds, and, ultimately, sustaining and challenging dominant ideas about nonhuman animals. Ideas about animal welfare, animal rights, humane education, and (anti)vivisection were shaped largely through visual means. Although the intersection of imagery and advocacy undoubtedly had much to do with advances in visual technologies that enabled images to be shared with a wider audience, it also related to shifting understandings of visuality and how images functioned within the realm of modern life. As Kean observes, “the changes that would take place in the treatment of animals relied not merely on philosophical, religious or political stances but the way in which animals were literally and metaphorically seen.”17 Related to this is the way in which imagery has the potential to draw attention to that which is culturally invisible. What is seen, what is hidden, and what we as a society choose to look past matters a great deal when it comes to animal advocacy and other social justice issues. In the preface to his 1913 volume The Under Dog, Sidney Trist wrote that the essays in the volume “justify this effort to expose to the eyes of humanity the naked horrors which abound in their midst, and to which they are either blind or indifferent.” In much the same way, many of the sources I consider in this book used visual tactics to ask people to stop and take a second look, to rethink assumptions about the nonhuman animals all around them.

Reformers also used visual culture to counter dominant ideologies and popular sentiment when it came to the treatment of nonhuman animals. For example, as Bert Hansen has demonstrated in the context of science and medicine, imagery went a long way toward shaping popular opinion about and enthusiasm for what were hailed as medical breakthroughs. In particular, images reproduced in the popular press lauded medical victories and created excitement about science. If images could popularize medical science, much of which depended on experimentation on animal bodies, then it should come as no surprise that those attempting to stop these activities also drew upon visual culture. Antivivisection activists, it would seem, had little choice but to fight picture with picture.

(Excerpt ends here)