National Gallery Conference: Knowing ‘as much of art as the cat’: 19th-century women writers on the Old Masters

John Ruskin infamously dismissed the art historian Anna Jameson as knowing ‘as much of art as the cat’. However, in recent years there has been an upsurge of interest in women like Jameson as influential interpreters of the visual arts and as writers of art history during the formative years of the discipline.

On Friday 10 November, the National Gallery will host a conference to capitalise and expand upon this interest, and to look afresh at the role of English-speaking women as disseminators of knowledge about Old Master paintings and historic painting techniques during the Victorian era.

Among the research questions the conference speakers will engage with are: What was the contribution of British women writers to the emerging discipline of art history, including canon formation, formal criticism and history of techniques and other genres such as exhibition guides and translations? Is there anything distinctive about women’s approach to these fields? A second set of issues we will address concerns women’s networks and relationships – between sexes, between generations, and with professional counterparts abroad  – as well as exploring women writers’ institutional affiliations. Finally, we hope to see new insights emerging at the conference about the reception of women writers’ published work in art history, not least in relation to its reach and audiences and its critical fortune.

The conference forms part of a collaboration between the National Gallery, Birkbeck, University of London, Chawton House Library, Hampshire, and the Southampton Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies, University of Southampton. It follows a one-day event held at Chawton House on 25 February 2017.

Speakers include:

  • KEYNOTE: Dr Meaghan Clarke (University of Sussex)
  • Professor Julie Sheldon (Liverpool John Moores University)
  • Dr Lene Østermark-Johansen (University of Copenhagen)
  • Professor Patricia Rubin (New York University)
  • Professor Diane Apostolos-Cappadona (Georgetown University, Reiss)
  • Dr Zahira Veliz Bomford (Houston, Museum of Fine Arts)
  • Dr Caroline Palmer
  • Professor Patricia Pulham (University of Surrey)
  • Maria Alambritis (Birkbeck, University of London; National Gallery)
  • Dr Francesco Ventrella (University of Sussex)

For more information about the day and to purchase tickets, please click here for the National Gallery webpage.