Victorian Science and Aesthetic Movement Art - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Victorian Science and Aesthetic Movement Art

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MA History of Art Special Option

Victorian Science and Aesthetic Movement Art

'A Vertical Section of Skin' , Edinburgh Medical Journal, 1878-9, detail (Wellcome Library, London)


Professor Caroline Arscott

This is a course on the fine art production of artists associated with the Aesthetic Movement: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Simeon Solomon, Albert Moore, J. A. M. Whistler, Edward Burne-Jones, George Frederic Watts, Evelyn de Morgan and others.  The suggestions of sensory overload in the images made by these artists, the approach to space and motion in the compositions and the bold physicality of the figures they depict are discussed in terms of developments in Victorian science.  The main focus of the course is the 1870s.  We will consider the impact of thermodynamic theory, cell theory, conceptions of morphology in Darwinist biology and physiological psychology.  The course involves readings from Victorian science publications as well as work on the aesthetic theory important for Aestheticism (for instance writing by Ruskin and Pater).  We will study the work of certain artists in detail, attending to personal factors, institutional factors such as exhibition, dealer and collector networks and  , the art criticism of the day and broader cultural frameworks.  The course will involve close scrutiny of Victorian works in collections such as Tate Britain, Guildhall Art Gallery, Leighton House, Victoria & Albert Museum as well as important non-metropolitan collections.

Courtauld Course Lecturer

About the lecturer

Caroline Arscott has lectured at The Courtauld since 1988: extending her study of the Victorian art world from an initial focus on modern life painting in the 1840s and 1850s into work on the pre-Victorian period (in relation to urban topography) and on the late Victorian period (in relation to the Aesthetic Movement). Her publications include articles on a wide range of Victorian artists including William Holman Hunt, Gibson, Millais, Leighton, Poynter, Whistler, Sickert, Tissot, Fildes, Scharf and Frith. She collaborated with Katie Scott in the publication of essays on art and sexuality, Manifestations of Venus(Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2000). In 2008 she publishedWilliam Morris and Edward Burne-Jones: Interlacings, (Yale University Press, New Haven and London). This book addresses technical features of body building, the armaments industry, horticulture, angling and Victorian tattooing in its discussion of the work of Morris and Burne-Jones. She has an interest in scientific thought and technologies of the nineteenth century and is currently involved in a research collaboration between The Courtauld and University of California, Caltech on art and scientific modelling (Modeling Modelling) and another project with King’s College, London on art, literature and communications technologies of the Victorian period (Scrambled Messages).

She was a member of the Editorial Board of the Oxford Art Journal from 1998-2008 and continues to serve as Advisory Editor. Caroline was also local UK editor for RIHA (2009-2014).  She was a member of the Council of the Paul Mellon Centre Advisory Council (2009-2013).  From 2009 until 2014 she was Head of Research at The Courtauld with responsibility for the Research Forum programme of activities and for The Courtauld’s research strategy and Research Excellence Framework (REF) submission.  She was Senior Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre for the Study of British Art in 2014-15, preparing a book on art and science in the 1870s.

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