- 30 November to 1 December 2023
- Paul Mellon Centre and Online
In 2017, the archive and library of Paul Oppé (1887–1957) was gifted to the nation under the Acceptance-in-Lieu scheme and allocated to the Paul Mellon Centre. Oppé’s archive and library is one of the most comprehensive collections of the private and professional papers of an art historian in twentieth-century Britain. The holdings are also valuable beyond their immediate relation to Oppé’s life and work, as they document his manifold interactions with artists, historians, and other prominent figures.
Oppé is best known as an independent scholar and a leading expert on British works on paper. A trained classicist, Oppé also acted as advisor and buyer for international museums, he wrote literary criticism, published popular art books, occasionally worked for museums (e.g. as Deputy Director of the V&A) and was a notable collector of eighteenth-century prints and drawings.
The conference takes Oppé’s life and multifaceted career as a springboard to reassess British art historiography in the first half of the twentieth century.
It seeks to question the frequent assumption of British art history as a fractured pursuit with limited professional ambition. Across two days, we discuss new research on a range of actors and institutions that have not yet received much historiographic attention. While focusing primarily on the tacit protocols and practices that informed the dominant forms of scholarly work, we hope that this also allows for new ways to think about “big names” such as Kenneth Clark or the Courtauld Institute, and how they relate to the activities of their lesser-known peers.
Thursday 30 November
13.00–13.30: Coffee and registration
13.30–13.40: Welcome by Hans Hönes (University of Edinburgh)
Session 1: Art History as a Profession
13.40–14.00: Hans Hönes (University of Edinburgh), On Not Becoming an Art Historian: Paul Oppé, ca. 1905
14.00–14.20: Sarah Coviello (Warburg Institute), Being an Art Historian in Britain, 1920s–50s: “Pages” from the Collections of Kenneth Clark, Benedict Nicolson and Denis Mahon
Session 2: Oppé’s Artworlds
14.40–15.00: Helen Glaister (Victoria and Albert Museum), “Very Largely Chinese Art but Not Entirely”: Paul Oppé on Chinese Art
15.00–15.20: Martin Myrone (Paul Mellon Centre), Oppé and David Loshak
15.40–16.10: Break (refreshments provided)
Session 3: Institutions: Disciplining Art History?
16.10–16.30: Matilde Cartolari (Technische Universität Berlin), “Our pleasant aesthetic Scotland Yard”: The Witt Photo Library before the Courtauld
16.30–16.50: Richard Stephens (independent art historian), The First Half Century of The Walpole Society, 1911 to 1960
Friday 1 December
10.00–10.20: Coffee and welcome back
Session 4: A Female Profession?
10.20–10.40: Emilie Oléron Evans (University of London), The Rise of the “Picture Researcher”: Women Art Historians and Visual Literacy in Post-war Britain
10.40–11.00: Rebecca Senior (University of York), Katharine Esdaile: Art History from the Peripheries in Britain 1904–50
Session 5: Careers on the Margins
11.20–11.40: Susan Sloman (independent art historian), George Charles Williamson (1858–1942) Historian of British Art
11.40–12.00: Jeffrey Lieber (Texas State University), A Misdirected Life. On Roger Hinks’ Journals
Session 6: Tour of Drawing Room Display and Introduction to Oppé Archive and Library in the Public Study Room
13.30 – 14.30: In groups: Tour of Drawing Room Display / Introduction to Oppé Archive and Library in the Public Study Room
14.30 – 15.00: Wrap up and final discussion in Public Study Room
Please register for each day separately via Eventbrite. Tickets are free, but booking is essential.
Refreshments will be provided on both days.
Code of Conduct for Visitors
About the speakers
Hans C. Hönes is lecturer in art history at the University of Aberdeen. He has published extensively on art historiography since the eighteenth century, and has written and edited books on: Heinrich Wölfflin (Wölfflins Bild-Körper, 2011), eighteenth-century antiquarianism (Kunst am Ursprung, 2014), and art history and migration (Migrating Histories of Art, co-ed. 2019), among others. A new biography of Aby Warburg is forthcoming with Reaktion Books. This article is part of a larger project on the history of art history in Britain and was supported by a Research Collections Fellowship 2021/22 by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.
Sarah Coviello received her PhD from the Warburg Institute in London, with an AHRC-funded (LAHP) thesis on “Art Historians as Collectors in the Twentieth Century”. She investigates the intrinsic qualities of art historians' personal collections, and the ways art historians engage scholarly with the objects they own, ultimately applying the history of collecting as a new tool for investigating art historiography and reception studies. During her PhD, she investigated the collecting habits of Bernard Berenson, Roberto Longhi and Kenneth Clark, and she is currently further investigating the panorama of British art historians, also thanks to the support of the Getty Library Grant. In 2018 she was a fellow at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, researching Kenneth Clark’s role as Gulbenkian’s advisor, and she is an enthusiastic member of the Society for the History of Collecting (Steering Committee – Italian Chapter).
Helen Glaister is an art historian who specialises in Chinese ceramics and decorative arts – focusing particularly on the intersection between Chinese and European art, design and aesthetics during the modern period. Helen’s teaching and scholarship investigates the role of Chinese art objects, collecting and display in identity formation and self-fashioning in a range of spatial and historical contexts. Through detailed provenance research, Helen’s work sheds new light on the circulation of Chinese art objects in Britain, both in the public and private sphere, highlighting the agency of dealers, auction houses, agents, collectors, museums and specialist societies in shaping the historiography of Chinese art in Britain.
Helen studied art history at the University of Leeds before focusing on Chinese art and archaeology at SOAS University of London where she was awarded her MA and PhD. Her thesis, titled “Collecting and Display in Public and Private: A Biography of the Ionides Collection of European Style Chinese Export Porcelain, 1920–70” formed the basis of her monograph, Chinese Art Objects, Collecting, and Interior Design in Twentieth-Century Britain (Routledge, 2023).
Helen has worked closely with the British collections of Chinese art throughout her career at the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, where she currently holds the position of Course Director of the Arts of Asia Programme. As researcher and lecturer, Helen has worked at the British Library, the Wallace Collection, Birkbeck College and SOAS, where she regularly teaches as senior teaching fellow. Curatorial projects include a recent collaboration with the National Museums, Liverpool touring exhibition to China, titled Splendour: Art in the Age of Victoria (2023–24).
Martin Myrone is Head of Grants, Fellowships and Networks at the Paul Mellon Centre. Before joining the Centre in 2020, Martin spent over twenty years in curatorial roles at Tate, London. His many exhibitions at Tate Britain have included Gothic Nightmares (2006), John Martin (2011), William Blake (2019) and Hogarth and Europe (2021). His research and publications have focused on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British art, with a special interest in artistic identity and artists’ labour, class, cultural opportunity and gender. His many published works include Bodybuilding: Reforming Masculinities in British Art 1750–1810 (2005) and Making the Modern Artist: Culture, Class and Art-Educational Opportunity in Romantic Britain (2020), both published by the Paul Mellon Centre.
Matilde Cartolari is currently research associate at the Institut für Kunstwissenschaft und Historische Urbanistik of the Technische Universität, Berlin, where she completed her PhD in 2022 as part of a cotutelle with the University of Udine.
She studied art history at Ca' Foscari University of Venice, where she participated in the PRIN project La vita delle opera: dalle fonti al digitale on the history of the collection of the Gallerie dell’Accademia (2014–17). Between 2017 and 2020, she was a research associate in the international research cluster Translocations. Historical enquiries into the displacement of cultural assets at TU Berlin. Since 2022, she has been editor and coordinator of the blog for provenance research The Lives of Pictures, developed by the TU in cooperation with the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
She was a fellow of the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes (2018–21) and occasional student at the Warburg Institute in London with a DAAD short fellowship (2019). Her research focuses on the interplay between exhibition and museum history, history of conservation and art historiography in twentieth-century Europe. Her doctoral thesis “Ambassadors of Beauty. Italian Old Masters and Fascist Cultural Diplomacy (1930–40)” has recently been awarded the Willibald-Sauerländer-Preis by the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich.
Richard Stephens is the current editor of the annual volume of The Walpole Society. He studies 17th and 18th century English drawings and the history of the art trade during the same period. His catalogue raisonné of the landscape painter Francis Towne (1739-1816) was published by the Paul Mellon Centre at http://www.francistowne.ac.uk in 2016. He is editor of a developing project to create a free online library of primary sources, ’The Art World in Britain 1660-1735’.
Émilie Oléron Evans is a cultural historian of art based at Queen Mary University of London, specialising in cultural transfers, historiography (nineteenth–twentieth century) and the interrelation of art and translation. In her first book, Nikolaus Pevsner: Arpenteur des Arts (2015), she analysed the career of German-born art historian Nikolaus Pevsner as a pivotal moment in the progressive integration of questions of art and architecture into British culture. Her research currently focuses on women art historians and on the role of translation in the evolution of art history as a discipline. Her second monograph, on the reception and legacy of feminist art historian Linda Nochlin, will be published in late 2023.
Rebecca Senior is a research impact manager based in the Humanities Research Centre at the University of York. Her work explores visual culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with a particular focus on British monumental sculpture as physical and ideological relics of empire. She has published on monuments and violence, the repurposing of commemorative spaces and allegory as a tool of imperialism and held fellowships at the Henry Moore Institute, the Huntington Library in San Marino, California and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.
Susan Sloman’s most recent publications are, Gainsborough in London (Modern Art Press, 2021) and “The ’infant’ drawings of Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830)”, British Art Journal, XXI, no. 3, Winter 2020/21, pp. 32–41. Forthcoming is a catalogue of the Thomson collection of British portrait miniatures in the Art Gallery of Ontario (title to be determined, for publication spring 2024).
Jeffrey Lieber is an art historian, author of Flintstone Modernism: or The Crisis in Postwar American Culture (MIT Press, 2018). Highlighting canonical works within the contexts of Hollywood films and philosophical, political and literary debates, his book surveys anxieties about the fate of the Classical tradition and the durability of art in the post-Second World War era. Lieber's wide-ranging interests in the field have been sponsored by the Delmas Foundation Grant for Independent Research in Venice among others. A visiting professor at Harvard University (2015–16), his articles have appeared in the New York Times and international magazines as well as peer-reviewed journals. In recent years, he has been invited to present lectures at museums and universities in Australia, England, Germany and the United States.