'Writing Art History' was the theme for a series of events starting in the academic year 2007-08 and culminating in 2009-10.

Two scholars working in 1937.
Library, Courtauld Institute of Art, 20 Portman Square, January 1937 Nora Hardwicke and Robert van Eyck Courtesy the Conway Library, Courtauld Institute of Art

'Writing Art History' addressed the changing role of the art historian, critic and writer. How have art historians influenced our impressions of certain eras and artworks, which art histories have been celebrated, and which have been ignored or revised? In the twenty-first century, the role of the art historian has multiplied, and is often overlaid with those of critic, curator, artist, creative writer and archivist. From performative texts to the many revisions of the canon offered by postmodernist perspectives, art history writing is never straightforward.

This series aimed to address the problem of writing art history across historical periods, from the classical to the contemporary. How has the figure of the art historian, or the writer on art, varied in different times? How does art history incorporate the range of writers on art, from the novelist to the critic to the philosopher?
On 30th May 2007, Professor Griselda Pollock gave the inaugural lecture entitled “Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Museum”. Professor Pollock addressed numerous issues concerning the ways in which art history is written, starting with the deceptively simple question “What do art historians look like?”. From this, Professor Pollock proposed that histories of art be situated in their cultural and political contexts, and advocated a ‘Warburgian’ approach that combines different art historical periods, styles and mediums. The Writing Art History series was continued in the 2007 Autumn Term with the Frank Davis Lecture series. Speakers included Professor Alex Potts, Professor Amelia Jones, Professor Paul Crossley and Dr Jas Elsner.


The 2008 Frank Davis Memorial Lecture Series (sponsored by F M Kirby Foundation) continued the Research Forum's examination of  'Writing Art History,' exploring various ways of constructing art historical narratives, and the changing roles of art historians, critics and writers.

The theme for this autumn's lectures was 'Off the Page', and the series featured an exciting range of speakers who have themselves made art history through performance, exhibitions, the internet, and television, including:

  • Dr Charlie Gere (Reader in New Media Research and Director of the Institute for Cultural Research, Lancaster University)
  • Andrea Fraser (Associate Professor, Department of Art, UCLA; and faculty, Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program)
  • Professor Mark Hallett (Department of History of Art, University of York)
  • Dr Alixe Bovey (School of History, University of Kent)

Writing Art History: Sound Recordings

In the 2008 Spring Term, a series of round table discussions entitled “Courtauld Generations” was held between staff and students who have attended the Courtauld across the last three decades, providing a fascinating insight into the ways in which the Institute has developed a range of approaches to art history. As part of the “Writing Art History” series, these round tables showed the ways in which teaching art history has changed, from working in the Courtauld Gallery in front of artworks, to the shift from black and white photographs to colour slides, to the importance of discussion beyond the classroom. Together, these discussions covered the chronological period from the sixties to the present, and explored the Institute's position within, and contribution to, the discipline and professional field of art history, as well as putting together elements of an oral history of student experience since 1960. This series was supported by the Friends of The Courtauld Institute of Art.

Download and listen to these discussions.


The Writing Art History seminar group


As part of the Writing Art History project, scholars of all levels have been selected to join a seminar group which meets once a term at the Courtauld Institute to discuss various topics under the 'Writing Art History' theme. The group consists of 20 members, ranging from current graduate students to established scholars, who will meet up during the academic years 2007-08 and 2008-09. The aim of the group is to provide a research community in which scholars can develop their individual projects about writing art history, while engaging with the process of writing. The two-year project will conclude with a two-day conference on 13 and 14 November showcasing the work of the seminar group, and a collection of essays which will be published in April 2011 as a special issue of Art History under the title Creative Writing and Art History, edited by Catherine Grant and Patricia Rubin.

Seminar Participants

Lucy Bradnock (University of Essex):
Legacy studies and the formation of postmodernism

Nicholas Chare (Department of History of Art and Architecture, University of Reading):

Writing Art’s Prehistory

Linda Goddard (Courtauld Institute of Art):
The Artist as Author: Gauguin’s Literary Strategies

Catherine Grant (Courtauld Institute of Art and The Slade School of Fine Art):
Fans of Feminism: re-writing histories of second-wave feminism in contemporary art

Steffen Haug (Humboldt University, Berlin):
Walter Benjamin’s research on 19th century image culture in the Arcades Project.

Olivia Horsfall Turner (University College London):
Reading History and Writing Architectural History

Philippa Kaina (History of Art, UCL):
Fantasmatic encounters: Edgar Degas' formative drawing practice

Charlotte de Mille (Courtauld Institute of Art):
Henri Bergson: Looking at Experimental Writing in the First Two Decades of the Twentieth Century

Jeremy Melius (University of California, Berkeley):
Art History and the Invention of Botticelli

Maria Mileeva (Courtauld Institute of Art):
Historiography of Modern Art: Dialogues between East and West

Charles Miller (Courtauld Institute of Art):
The Picasso Myth

Scott Nethersole (Courtauld Institute of Art):
Broadcasting Art History

Gavin Parkinson (Courtauld Institute of Art):
Metafictional Historiography of Art

Barbara Penner (Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL):
Writing Anonymous Architectural History

Stephanie Porras (Courtauld Institute of Art):
Writing Bruegel: at the intersection of Ethnography and Art History

Elisabeth Reissner (Courtauld Institute of Art):
A critical look at the relevance of the physical object to art historical writing, with a focus on writings concerning Cézanne’s materials and methods

Marion Richards (Courtauld Institute of Art):
Creative Writing in Art Criticism

Per Rumberg (Courtauld Institute of Art):
‘Menschenrechte des Auges’: Aby Warburg and his Picture Atlas Mnemosyne

Pepper Stetler (Department of Art History, University of Delaware):
A Photographic History of Art: the Archives of the Art History Seminar of the University of Marburg

Francesco Ventrella (University of Leeds):
Writing Art History as Maintenance of the Archives





The Writing Art History seminar group is coordinated by Dr Catherine Grant and Lucy Bradnock