Past Events

The Victorian Book I Never Wrote, or Why I Never Became a Specialist on British Art

Lecture – Griselda Pollock

  • 12 February 2020
  • 6:00 – 8:00 pm
  • 50th Anniversary Lecture
  • Paul Mellon Centre

Van Gogh – my thesis topic – was, I suggest, a Victorian artist (at heart), and deeply influenced by the philosophy of Thomas Carlyle. Then I taught at Manchester University and I studied the city’s Pre-Raphaelites collection through a feminist and Marxist lens, even when these works were dismissed by my modernist colleagues as aesthetically vacuous, and, at best, a sociological curiosity. My first PhD student, Caroline Arscott, now a leading scholar in British nineteenth-century art, and I initiated a research programme in 1980 into the curious absence of visual representations of the industrial city in British art. As an outcome of these early initiatives, and influenced by Foucault’s work on disciplinary society, surveillance and bourgeois sexuality, in early 1990 I almost completed a book on class, labour, the city and the body in the nineteenth century, drawing together street photography (John Thomson), high-end illustration (Doré’s London: A Pilgrimage), Munby’s photographs of working women, and painting from Frith to Herkomer. Lost on now unreadable hard disks, preserved on crumpled computer printer outs, this ‘book’, which a casual peer-reviewer stymied at birth, returns to me now as a historical artefact of a moment in my history of art history that made such a book possible then and now impossible to resurrect. My question, focussing on my lost studies of British art, concerns the theoretical resources and paradigms that shaped such possibilities for critical thinking with, rather than conventional histories of, the image where class, gender, labour, sexuality and representation were such rich and urgent issues because they concerned the case of British urban and industrial modernity.

Event timings

18.00–19.00 Lecture

19.00–19.30 Q&A

19.30–20.00 Drinks reception

About the speaker

  • Headshot of Griselda Pollock

    Griselda Pollock is Professor Emerita of Social and Critical Histories of Art at the University of Leeds. For her fifty-year career as a feminist art historian and cultural analyst, Griselda Pollock was awarded Holberg Prize in 2020 and the CAA Life-time Achievement Award for Writing on Art in 2023. Recent publications include Charlotte Salomon in the Theatre of Memory (Yale University Press 2018), Mary Cassatt (Thames & Hudson, new edition, 2022) and Killing Men & Dying Women: Imagining Difference in 1950s New York Painting (Manchester University Press, 2022) and Woman in Art: Helen Rosenau’s ‘Little Book’ of 1944 (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2023). Co-authored with the late Rozsika Parker, a fourth edition of Old Mistresses: Women, Art & Ideology (1981/1996/2013) appeared in the Revelations series (Bloomsbury, 2022) and forthcoming is Griselda Pollock: On Gauguin (Thames & Hudson).