Past Events

Displaying the Hero: John Singleton Copley’s The Death of Major Peirson (1784)

Public Lecture Course – Mark Hallett

  • 25 June 2020
  • This is the fifth lecture in a six-part series, titled Georgian Provocations: Six Iconic Works of Art from Eighteenth-Century Britain.

    The lecture will be available from 25 June 2020.

The first ever exhibition of contemporary British art took place in 1760. Over the decades that immediately followed, the nation’s exhibition culture expanded at a dramatic rate, and branched out in a multiplicity of directions. One of the most distinctive features of this development was the growth of the one-artist exhibition, a form pioneered by the American-born artist John Singleton Copley, who settled in London in the 1770s. In this lecture, Mark Hallett focuses in detail on a painting that he has long found fascinating, and that formed the dramatic centre-piece of one of Copley’s most successful exhibitions: The Death of Major Peirson. As well as offering a close reading of this celebrated image of martial sacrifice, which was exhibited in the immediate aftermath of Britain’s loss of its American colonies, Hallett explores the distinctive ways in which Copley advertised and displayed this work. In doing so, he recovers the entrepreneurial as well as artistic talents that underpinned the artist’s one-man shows, and reveals the ways in which pictures such as The Death of Major Peirson participated in a thriving urban realm of visual entertainment and patriotic spectacle.

Georgian Provocations: Six Iconic Works of Art from Eighteenth-Century Britain is a one-off summer Public Lecture Course, delivered online, which is designed to provide an accessible and stimulating introduction to the art of the period. In this series of six 30-minute lectures, the art-historians Mark Hallett and Martin Postle focus on seminal paintings from the Georgian era, and investigate their contents, contexts and impact. Doing so reveals many of the ideas and issues that coursed through British visual culture between the 1730s and the 1790s, and demonstrates the riches that continue to be gained from looking closely at the individual work of art.

About the speaker

  • The Director of Studies oversees all aspects of the Centre's activities, ensuring that it supports the most original, rigorous and stimulating research into the history of British art and architecture, and fosters collaboration with our sister-institution, the Yale Center for British Art. 

    Prior to taking up his position at the Centre in 2012, Mark worked in the History of Art department at the University of York. Appointed as lecturer in 1994, he became a Professor in 2006 and was Head of Department between 2007 and 2012.

    His scholarly research has focused on British art from the seventeenth century onwards. The books he has written and edited include The Spectacle of Difference: Graphic Satire in the Age of Hogarth (Yale University Press, 1999); Hogarth (Phaidon Press, 2000); Eighteenth Century York: Culture, Space and Society (edited with Jane Rendall, Borthwick Institute, 2003); Faces in a Library: Sir Joshua Reynolds's 'Streatham Worthies' (The Watson Gordon Lecture 2011, National Galleries of Scotland, 2012); Living with the Royal Academy: Artistic ideals and Experiences in England, 1769–1848 (edited with Sarah Monks and John Barrell Ashgate, 2013); Reynolds: Portraiture in Action (Yale University Press, 2014); and Court, Country, City: British Art and Architecture, 1660–1735 (edited with Nigel Llewellyn and Martin Myrone, Yale University Press, 2016). He also co-edited the major online publication, The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition: A Chronicle, 1769–2018 (Paul Mellon Centre, 2018).

    Mark has also been involved in curating numerous exhibitions. He co-curated the 2007 Tate Britain exhibition Hogarth and co-authored the accompanying catalogue with Christine Riding; he co-curated the 2011 York Art Gallery exhibition William Etty: Art and Controversy and co-edited the accompanying catalogue with Sarah Burnage and Laura Turner; he co-curated the 2015 Wallace Collection exhibition Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint and co-edited the accompanying catalogue with Lucy Davis. With his PMC colleague Sarah Victoria Turner, he curated the 2018 Royal Academy exhibition, The Great Spectacle: The Royal Academy and its Summer Exhibitions 1769–2018, and co-authored the accompanying catalogue. He curated George Shaw: A Corner of a Foreign Field, which opened at the Yale Center for British Art in October 2018, before travelling to the Holburne Museum, Bath, in February 2019. With Zuzana Flaskova and Rosie Ram, he recently co-curated the Tate Britain Spotlight Display Vital Fragments: Nigel Henderson and the Art of Collage, for which he also co-wrote a series of short films on Henderson’s collage-work Screen. He is currently carrying out research for an exhibition on John Constable and J.M.W Turner, and developing a book project on painted collage in the 1960s.  

    Mark has been the recipient of a Leverhulme Research Fellowship and a Mellon Senior Fellowship. He has been a Visiting Scholar at Pembroke College, Cambridge (2013–14) and a Visiting Professor at the Courtauld Institute of Art (2014–16).