Past Events

Observations, Meteorology

Conference, Lecture

  • 3 November 2020
  • 12:00 – 2:00 pm
  • An event as part of the multi-part conference programme 'British Art and Natural Forces'
  • Zoom Webinar

Format: 20 mins papers x 4, plus Q&A

Chair: Julia Lum (Assistant Professor, Art History, Scripps College)

Speakers and papers:

Mark Cheetham (Professor of Art History University of Toronto), ‘Storm Clouds, Plague Clouds & Laundry Lines of the Nineteenth Century: Domestic Meteorology Aboard Arctic Voyages from Britain’

Benjamin Pollitt (Caird Research Fellow at the National Maritime Museum, London, and Associate Lecturer in the History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art), ‘Between Westall’s Chaos and Humboldt’s Cosmos: Picturing the Weather in 1848’

Sarah Gould (Lecturer at Panthéon Sorbonne University), ‘Matters of Excess in J.M.W. Turner’s Paintings’

Nicholas Robbins (Lecturer, History of Art at UCL), ‘John Constable, Luke Howard, and the Aesthetics of Climate’

British Art and Natural Forces:
A State of the Field Research Programme

In the year 2020, the Paul Mellon Centre marks its 50th anniversary as an institution dedicated to the study of British art and architecture. It is a year in which artistic practice and the practice of art history have met with the unprecedented force of a global pandemic.

This multi-part programme of research events focuses on the encounter between artistic and art-historical practice and the forces of the natural world. It places such encounters in both contemporary and historical perspectives.

In doing so, it aims not only to respond to the exigencies of the current moment, but to foreground some of the most vital activities and conversations taking place within the field of British art studies. In recent years, scholars have concentrated with new intensity on the overlaps between artistic, geophysical, biological and ecological bodies of knowledge.

The series speaks to many of the new interdisciplinary collaborations that are currently shaping art-historical practice, where scholars of the visual arts are working across different subject-fields to explore natural histories, indigenous forms of knowledge, animal studies, concepts of the post-human and revitalised theorisations of the sublime.

It foregrounds the astonishingly rich and diverse representations of natural forces found throughout the history of British art. The programme will explore such representations in the light of current debates and theoretical frameworks, and with the acknowledgement that human agency and reflexive awareness are natural forces in their own right.

Schedule and format

A series of panels and keynote lectures will address the ways in which artistic and art-historical thinking and practice – in the contexts of British art and visual culture – have shaped or been shaped by the encounter with natural forces, whether benign or cataclysmic, short- or long-term, visible or invisible.

The events in this programme will be hosted throughout the 2020 autumn term. Sequential in character, they are designed to forge and facilitate a set of expansive conversations that unfold over time.

Speaker Biographies

Mark A. Cheetham is the author of books, volumes, and articles on topics including Immanuel Kant and art history, abstract art, postmodernism, and the environmental humanities. His book Artwriting, Nation, and Cosmopolitanism in Britain: The ‘Englishness’ of English Art Theory since the 18th Century appeared in 2012. Landscape into Eco Art: Articulations of Nature since the ‘60s was published in 2018. He is a Professor of Art History at the University of Toronto.

Dr Benjamin Pollitt recently completed his PhD at UCL. His thesis ‘Sympathy Unbound: Attachment and Dissonance in John Webber’s Atlas’ explored visual cultures and material exchange in relation to James Cook’s third voyage. His research was funded by a Critical Histories of Art Studentship from UCL, as well as support made available through the Andrew Wyld Fund and the Paul Mellon Centre. He is currently a Caird Research Fellow at the National Maritime Museum, London, conducting research under the title ‘Colour as Weather: Art and Meteorology 1750–1900.’ He also works as an Associate Lecturer at the Courtauld Institute.

Sarah Gould is a Lecturer at Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne University. Her dissertation entitled ‘Making Texture Matter: The Materiality of British paintings, 1788–1914’ was completed under the supervision of Prof. Frédéric Ogée. She has written two articles on J.M.W. Turner (‘Le jaune chez Turner : Une étude matérielle’, XVII–XVIII, 75 | 2018, and ‘Penser le geste et sa mythologie chez J.M.W. Turner,’ to be published in the autumn). She is currently under contract with the French publishing house Cohen and Cohen to write a monograph on John Everett Millais. This year she is co-organizing a series of conferences entitled Humanities after Humans, Deconstructing Anthropocentrism: Humanities after Humans.

Nicholas Robbins is a specialist in the history of nineteenth-century art and visual culture in Europe and North America, with an emphasis on Britain and its former empire. His research centres upon the intersections of art, ecology, and scientific thought, particularly within histories of landscape, photography, and scientific visual culture. His current book project examines the aesthetic, scientific, and cultural history of climate in the nineteenth-century Atlantic world. In September 2020 he will join the Department of Art History at UCL as Lecturer in British Art.

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Image credit: Alexander Cumming, Barometrical Clock, 1763-5, oak case with padouk veneer and gilt bronze mounts, ivory interior columns, 243.2 x 57.8 x 45.7 cm. Royal Collection Trust (RCIN 2752). Digital image courtesy of Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020