Past Events

Fleeting Encounters: British Art and the Connoisseurial Gaze

Display – Hans C. Hönes

  • 20 September 2022 to 6 January 2023
  • Drawing Room, Paul Mellon Centre, Free Entry

Fleeting Encounters: British Art and the Connoisseurial Gaze is the first Drawing Room Display to be curated by an Archive & Library Fellow. This Display is a result of Hans C. Hönes's year-long research project focused on the PMC’s archive collections.

This Display focuses on the material traces of encounters had between art historians and the artworks they study, and on the myriad of ways with which art historians have attempted to document their first impressions. Many art writers have eulogised about the moment of immersion into a work of art and have identified the ability to look attentively as key to the skill set of the art historian. Analysing, attributing and appraising an artwork relies on this skill of close observation and careful investigation of the visual evidence. But many art historians were up against the clock: in museum stores, country houses and on salesroom floors, they had only limited time to make a judgment about their objects of study. The brevity of these encounters is shown in notepads, filled with scribbled aesthetic observations and comments on technical facts; in postage stamp-sized drawings, capturing key characteristics of the work in question; or by means of photographs of works seen or unseen, and annotated with whatever struck the eye.

The materials assembled in this display are mainly drawn from the PMC’s Collected Archives, spotlighting items from the archives of W.G. Constable, Paul Oppé, Ellis Waterhouse and Oliver Millar, and the PMC’s Photo Archive and Library collections. Much of the material stems from the formational phase in British art history, before the subject’s academic expansion in the 1960s. The work of the scholars discussed in this display also documents the professionalisation of the field, and the increasing attempts to find ways for systematically documenting the history of British art.

About the speaker

  • Hans Hones head and shoulders portrait wearing blue suit jacket

    Hans C. Hönes is Senior 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 (Tangled Paths. A Life of Aby Warburg) will be published by Reaktion Books in spring 2024. His research in the history of art history in Britain was supported by a Research Collections Fellowship 2021/22 by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.