Upcoming Events

Feminism meets Art History 1944/2024:  Helen Rosenau’s monumental Woman in Art, then and now

Research Seminar – Griselda Pollock

  • 24 January 2024
  • 5:00 – 7:00 pm
  • A Paul Mellon Centre Research Seminar by Griselda Pollock, Professor Emerita of Social and Critical Histories of Art, University of Leeds
  • Paul Mellon Centre and Online

In 1944, shattering conventional narratives of both art history (the discipline) and feminism, a Jewish refugee, feminist social historian of art, once at the heart the Warburg-Panofsky circle in Hamburg, Helen Rosenau (1900–84) brilliantly rewrote a history of art through the lens of woman as a “symbolic form (Cassirer). Her ‘little book’ was richly illustrated with artworks by both women and men. Just six years later a Viennese refugee, Ernst Gombrich, was allowed to deliver his positivist, frauen-rein (a women-free) “story” of artists (not art). How do we make sense of this contradiction? How has such historical amnesia distorted our discipline? How do we account for art historians’ failure both to denounce Gombrich’s mendacity and to recognise Rosenau’s astonishing scholarship and philosophical depth of analysis as the most sustained product of the intellectual hotbed that was academic Hamburg in the 1920s? In framing and elaborating the theoretical depth of, and the vibrant feminist context for, Rosenau’s wartime book, Griselda Pollock rebuilds the broken chain of cultural analysis, explaining what researching and writing her texts that “frame” the Mellon eightieth-anniversary republication of Rosenau’s original in full colour has done to her own understanding of historic feminist thinking about art and culture and the current challenges of writing of art’s complex, inclusive and self-challenging histories. 

Image credit: Helen Rosenau, Woman in Art (London: Isomorph, 1944)

About the speaker

  • Headshot of Griselda Pollock

    For her fifty-year career as a feminist art historian and cultural analyst, Griselda Pollock was awarded Holberg Prize in 2020 and the CAA Life-time Achievement Award for Writing on Art in 2023. Recent publications include Charlotte Salomon in the Theatre of Memory (Yale University Press 2018), Mary Cassatt (Thames & Hudson, new edition, 2022) and Killing Men & Dying Women: Imagining Difference in 1950s New York Painting (Manchester University Press, 2022) and Woman in Art: Helen Rosenau’s ‘Little Book’ of 1944 (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2023). Co-authored with the late Rozsika Parker, a fourth edition of Old Mistresses: Women, Art & Ideology (1981/1996/2013) appeared in the Revelations series (Bloomsbury, 2022) and forthcoming is Griselda Pollock: On Gauguin (Thames & Hudson).