Past Events

Art History in Britain: A Scottish Innovation

Research Lunch – Hans C. Hönes

  • 7 October 2022
  • 1:00 – 2:00 pm
  • This event is part of the Autumn Research Lunch Series
  • Paul Mellon Centre

It is widely assumed that art history made a somewhat belated entry into British academia. The foundation of the Courtauld Institute (1932) and the arrival of the exiled Warburg Institute (1933) have played a pioneering role in the establishment of degree-level teaching of the subject. While such statements are not wrong, they are certainly not the whole story. This paper discusses a range of initiatives to introduce academic art history teaching between ca. 1860–1930, focusing in particular on developments at Scottish Universities – Edinburgh, Aberdeen, St Andrews and Glasgow. At Edinburgh and Aberdeen, the history of art was offered at degree-level as part of the Master of Arts (“Ordinary”) degree; in the 1920s, Aberdeen even offered a Diploma in “Fine Art”. At St Andrews, art historical lectures formed part of the curriculum of disciplines such as classics.

I will argue that art history in Britain first gained an institutional footing north of the border, and that this was facilitated by the specificities of Scottish Higher Education. By analysing developments in Scottish higher education I hope to redress a geographical imbalance that permeates much art historiographical writing – the result of a certain southern bias.

Listing image caption: Douglas Strachan, John Harrower, 1914, oil on canvas, 160 x 108cm. Digital image courtesy of University of Aberdeen.

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.