Thomas Hughes - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Thomas Hughes

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Thomas Hughes

Associate Lecturer

My thesis, ‘John Ruskin, Walter Pater, Aestheticism’, supervised by Prof. Caroline Arscott and funded by a Consortium of the Humanities and the Arts South-East England scholarship, responds to recent interest in how art history today is written and how art history set out its key terms. In Britain, I argue, art history set out some of its key terms in the art writings of John Ruskin and Walter Pater. By looking at some key terms used by Ruskin and Pater I argue that some important art-historical processes occurred within language that came to be used to describe art, such as the word ‘form’.

I consider the intense continuities between Ruskin, Pater and Aestheticism in nineteenth-century British art and culture. Ruskin’s booming polemics and Pater’s knotted prose have been avoided out of discomfort with a kind of art writing that makes judgments based on aesthetic experience. However these writings are part of the history of the actual production of art in late-nineteenth-century Britain and need to be written into it. I find Pater picks up Ruskin’s terms and transforms them, often taking them down routes opened up by Ruskin himself but which Ruskin does not want to see to the end. This way Pater uses Ruskin to describe Aestheticist painting and sculpture. 



  • PhD, History of Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art
  • MA, History of Art, Courtauld Institute of Art 2012–2013 (Distinction)
  • BA, English Language and Literature, Balliol College, University of Oxford 2009–2012 (First class honours)


  • Associate Lecturer, BA3 Lessons in Critical Interpretation, The Courtauld.
  • Teaching Assistant for BA Foundations, January 2017, The Courtauld.
  • BA3 seminar, ‘Whistler v Ruskin’, The Courtauld, November 2016.
  • Teaching Assistant for MA Methodology October, December 2015, The Courtauld.
  • Teaching Assistant for BA Foundations, February 2016, The Courtauld.

Research interests

  • John Ruskin
  • Walter Pater
  • James McNeill Whistler
  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti
  • Aestheticism
  • Art and architecture in nineteenth-century Britain
  • Art criticism
  • The writing of art history


  • June 2017, conference paper: ‘The Rose and the Worm: “Realism” in Ruskin, Pater and Nineteenth-Century Painting’, Annual Third-Year Postgraduate Symposium, The Courtauld Institute of Art.

  • June 2017, Co-organiser and chair, ‘Annual Third-Year Postgraduate Symposium’, The Courtauld Institute of Art.

  • May 2017, conference paper: ‘“An intense consciousness of the present”: Ruskin, Pater and the drawing of modern life’ at NAVSA/AVSA Supernumerary Conference at NYU Florence Villa Pa Pietra. (A significantly expanded version of this paper was given as a Research Lunch at The Paul Mellon Centre, London on 2nd June 2017).

  • March 2017, conference paper: ‘The human landscape: John Ruskin’s theory of drawing and colour’ at Art and the Environment in Britain 1700–Today, Université Rennes 2, Rennes, France. (A significantly expanded version of this paper was given as the Ruskin Research Seminar, Ruskin Library, University of Lancaster, later in the month).

  • October 2015, conference paper: ‘Gothic and Decadent Gothic: surface, depth and “form” in Ruskin and Pater’ at British Association of Victorian Studies annual conference, University of Cardiff, September 2016.

  • December 2016, co-organiser and chair, immediations 2016 symposium and Launch Party, The Courtauld Institute of Art.

  • October 2015, co-organiser and chair, ‘Writing émigré artists into the history of modern British art 1915-1955’, The Courtauld Institute of Art.


(Non-peer reviewed)

  • Book review: The Sympathy of Things: Ruskin and the Ecology of Design, Bloomsbury, London, 2016 by Lars Spuybroek, The Burlington Magazine, July 2017.

  • ‘A review of Caroline Arscott’s lecture “Whistler and Whiteness” at UCL’, The Whistler Society Journal, no. 1, spring 2017, 24–30.
  • Book review: Louisa Waterford and John Ruskin: ‘For you have not Falsely Praised’ by Caroline Ings-Chambers, The Burlington Magazine, no. 1354, vol. 158, January 2016.

Other academic activity

  • Member of the steering committee, Early Career Researcher Network, The Courtauld.

  • Co-editor-in-chief, immediations, (January 2016–December 2016)

  • Editorial board of immediations (October 2015–December 2016)



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