Dr Oliver O’Donnell

Associate Lecturer

C. Oliver O’Donnell is a historian of modern art and intellectual history with a particular focus on US-American traditions of modernity. In addition to teaching at the Courtauld, he is an Associate Fellow at the Warburg Institute, University of London, where he has been based since 2018. He completed his doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2016, and, prior to coming to London, was a postdoctoral fellow at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut.

Oliver’s research focuses on issues of transmission and exchange between art history and intellectual history broadly construed. His first book, developed from his PhD thesis, exemplifies this interest and was awarded the 2019 Willibald Sauerländler Prize from the Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte in Munich. The book charts how the art historian Meyer Schapiro, who was close friends with many of the leading abstract expressionists, worked from the nexus of artistic and intellectual practice to confront some of the 20th century’s most abiding questions.

Building on this research, Oliver’s current work concerns the Ashcan school of painting, specifically in relation to the growing geo-political power of the United States between 1898 and the First World War.  He is also a Research Notes Editor of Panorama: the Journal of the Association of Historians of American Art.


  • BA1 – Possibilities of Portraiture, 2023-24
  • BA2 – Ways of Seeing, 2023-24
  • BA2 – Art and Cold War Politics, 2023
  • MA – Beyond Abstract Expressionism, 2020-22.
  • BA2 – Constellations course, “Cold War Cultures”, 2019-20.


  • PhD, University of California, Berkeley

Research interests

  • US-American modernity
  • issues of transmission and exchange between art history and intellectual history.

Recent publications (selection)


  • Meyer Schapiro’s Critical Debates: Art Through a Modern American Mind, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2019.

Edited Volumes

  • Art History Before English: Negotiating a European Lingua Franca from Vasari to the Present, edited by Robert Brennan, C. Oliver O’Donnell, Marco Mascolo, and Alessandro Nova (Officina Libraria, Milan, 2022)


  • ‘Peirce, Bierstadt, and the Topographic Imagination in 19th-century America’, The Art Bulletin (June 2021).
  • ‘Two Modes of Mid-Century Iconology’, History of Humanities vol.3, no.1, Spring 2018.
  • ‘Revisiting David Summers’s Real Spaces: a neo-pragmatist interpretation’, World Art vol.8, no.1, January 2018.
  • ‘Berensonian Formalism and Pragmatist Perception’, Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft vol.62, no.2, 2017.
  • ‘Depicting Berkeleyan Idealism: a study of two portraits by John Smibert’, Word & Image vol.33, no.1, March 2017.
  • ‘Reading Allan Marquand’s “On Scientific Method in the Study of Art”’, European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy vol.8, no.2, December 2016.
  • ‘Meyer Schapiro, Abstract Expressionism, and the Paradox of Freedom in Art Historical Description’, Tate Papers no.26 (Autumn 2016).

Book Chapters

  • ‘Meyer Schapiro and Claude Lévi-Strauss: Structuralist Arguments Among Abstract Paintings’, in Art History Before English, edited by Robert Brennan, Alessandro Nova, Marco Mascolo, and C. Oliver O’Donnell, Officina Libraria, 2022.
  • ‘Erwin Panofsky’s neo-Kantian Humanism and the purported relation between Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism’, in Postwar Scholarship and the Study of the Middle Ages, edited by B. Salzman and R. D. Perry, Cambridge University Press, 2022.
  • ‘An Englishness for English Art in the 21st Century’, in Itinerant Knowledge: Fritz Saxl, Rudolf Wittkower, and a British Art History, edited by Johannes von Müller, Joanne Anderson, and Mick Finch, Klinger Verlag, 2019.