Vernon Square Kings Cross, London, WC1X 9EP (during The Courtauld Connects project)
Full-time: 3 years, part-time: 6 years
University of London
15 - 20 students per year
Since 1932, The Courtauld has been among the world’s leading institutions for research in Art History and Conservation. Our internationally-renowned PhD programme is one of the largest in the United Kingdom, hosting over 100 doctoral students at any one time on their paths towards a PhD. At The Courtauld, you will join a cohort of the most ambitious and gifted students in your field as you pursue your research goals.
Our diverse cohort of students come from across the United Kingdom, and around the world, to explore an equally wide range of research topics. Our students’ excellence is reflected in the large number of AHRC-funded awards gained over the last decade, one of a number of routes available for supporting your studies. Recent and current doctoral projects include mosaics in Constantinople, Buddhist wall paintings in Bhutan, Cubism in Japan, and post-war Korean avant-gardes, among many others.
A Courtauld Research degree includes scheduled skills and methodology seminars, along with the main element: one-to-one supervision on your chosen project. Your supervisory team will guide your research, help plan, develop and shape your thesis, and support your scholarly and professional development in diverse ways.
A research-intensive institution, The Courtauld consistently achieves outstanding results in the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF) audit. Courtauld teachers publish on a host of topics, with recent important books and articles on Persian Kingship and architecture, Spanish Renaissance sculpture, Netherlandish artists and migration, gardens and empire in China, Victorian art and science, American fashion photography, and many others. Faculty members have extensive experience curating major exhibitions of historic and contemporary art, editing and contributing to academic journals, winning competitive research grants, speaking publicly in a great variety of institutions and events, and working in archives and collections worldwide. All this and more contributes to our mentoring of students as they undertake their doctoral careers at The Courtauld.
The Research Forum is central to The Courtauld’s intellectual community and to doctoral life here. Presenting a programme of leading professors, curators, conservation scientists, and artists from around the world, the Research Forum invites you to explore a wide range of art historical thinking and consider your research from new perspectives. Research programmes are further supported by a variety of thematic clusters. Groups such as the Sculptural Process Study Group and Painting Pairs: Art History and Technical Study, highlight the Institute’s foundation in object-based research; Connecting Cultures, 1200–1850, Sacred Traditions and the Arts, and the Digital Art History Research Group underline the interdisciplinary nature of our teaching and research. The Courtauld is also home to several major research centres, including the Centre for American Art and the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre.
These groups bring together postgraduates, faculty and visiting scholars for seminars, study days, site visits, and symposia, all supported by our professional Research Events team. From all this, doctoral students enjoy unique opportunities to suggest speakers, devise and convene events, chair sessions, and draw together research in published form. Courtauld Research students edit and produce immediations, The Courtauld’s annual, peer-reviewed journal of art history, and have opportunities to contribute curatorially in our gallery and print room. Our doctoral students can also gain valuable teaching experience through our Public Programmes, and at BA and MA level.
Academic Requirements: PhD applicants are expected to have achieved a Master’s degree in a subject relevant to their proposed research. Those with Masters awarded in the UK normally are expected to have received at least 65% overall, with at least 70% in the dissertation or thesis.
English Language Requirements: If your first language is not English, we require proof of English language proficiency. Please see the English Language Requirements page.
Supervisor: Before starting the application process, applicants must identify a potential supervisor at the Institute who is an expert in the relevant field. A list of current Courtauld staff can be found on our Faculty pages.
Pre-application: Applicants should complete a pre-application in order to register their interest in studying with a potential supervisor and to confirm the suitability of the research topic.
The pre-application enables important consultation with your prospective supervisor before proceeding to the full application, and also confirms the availability of the supervisor, as there are strict limits on how many PhD students any one supervisor may take in a given year.
Before you can submit a full PhD programme application, you must send a pre-application to firstname.lastname@example.org, alongside:
- Research Proposal Title
- Research Proposal Summary – 300 words (including which member of faculty you wish to ask to be your supervisor and why)
We will assess your pre-application and discuss your proposal with your preferred supervisor before providing feedback. Your pre-application will provide the foundation for further discussions with your preferred supervisor or, should that individual be unavailable for supervision or deemed not an ideal fit, for introduction to other potential supervisors.
Once you are invited to submit a full programme application, you will be provided with a link to the main programme application portal.
Pre-application Deadline: 07 November 2022.
Following the submission of your application, Admissions will contact you to schedule an interview with members of Faculty, including your proposed supervisor.
Please note that students requiring a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK are not permitted to study part-time.
The PhD programme is structured to help you attain the required skills you need to undertake your research and to write your thesis, allowing you to maintain and build momentum in your writing and to complete your PhD thesis within the three, or at maximum four-year time span allotted.
Year One: You will take part in the skills course, a series of sessions that provide guidance on aspects of the PhD course and training with skills such as referencing programmes, image management and photography, using social media in your research, presenting at conferences, teaching, publishing, and archival research. During the first year you may also take language classes, either at the Courtauld or through neighbouring institutions, including LSE, SOAS, Kings, and the Geothe Institute.
There are also important courses held within the University of London for historical skills and archives, palaeography, public speaking, oral histories etc. Sessions held by ReSkIN, an organisation of the visual arts community across the University of London, is another important component of the first year programme. These sessions provide an opportunity to meet local scholars working on topics in the visual arts, and to attend sessions about writing and research on the visual arts.
Alongside these various training and skills events, you will attend the first year seminars. Over the course of Autumn and Spring terms, your cohort will come together on a weekly basis to explore theoretical and practical methods and approaches to research through readings, presentations, and discussions.
In the third term of the first year you will submit your first year monitoring paper. This consists of a chapter of your research, an outline of your thesis, and plan for the next two years of work; it will be read by your supervisory team and discussed at a formal meeting with them in early June. You have to pass this monitoring exercise to proceed to the following year. It is an important milestone in your PhD research, and the focus for your research and writing in the first year.
Year Two: During the second year of the program, students often take extended research or field work trips abroad. Training in languages or other skills may continue, and students may also be involved with working as teaching assistants and other opportunities for building professional experience. You will continue to meet regularly with your supervisory team. There is a further monitoring event during the second year that may take a variety of forms, but most often involves some sort of presentation of your research to faculty and research students.
Year Three: In your third year, you will be focusing on completing and revising your chapters: this can be the most intense year for writing. You will meet with your supervisory team regularly and will also be required to take part in the Third Year Postgraduate Symposium, attended by MA and PhD students and faculty from across the Institute.
Fees and funding
Fees are subject to change each academic year. Fee information, including definitions of Home, EU, and overseas fee eligibility, can be found here.
Financial support for your studies
Courtauld Institute of Art Scholarships: Scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit combined with financial need. The average PhD scholarship awarded is £5,000 – £10,000. Applications are welcomed from Home, EU and Overseas applicants and students. Find out more.
Consortium for the Humanities and Arts South-East England (CHASE): The Courtauld is one of nine leading institutions of higher education that form the CHASE Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). CHASE awards are available to all students on a competitive basis. CHASE Scholarship holders receive tuition, research training, and a maintenance allowance for three years. For further information, visit the CHASE website.
Further information about grants, and bursaries to support you during your studies at The Courtauld can be found here.
Please note students on this programme are not eligible to apply for Doctoral Loan provided by the UK Government.
Collaborative Doctoral Awards
We are delighted to be able to occasionally offer exciting Collaborative Doctoral Awards. These are specific, one-off projects proposed by a Courtauld-based academic to work in collaboration with an organisation outside of higher education.
We typically offer one Collaborative Doctoral Award each year – details will normally be published in April/May. Please check periodically for new award announcements.
Previous awards have included:
Careers and employment
Many doctoral students aspire to advanced careers in the arts or academia, including roles in universities, museums, galleries, and non-profit organisations. Your supervisor and advisor will play an important role in counselling you around professionalisation and preparation for your future career. The PhD programme hosts a variety of other forums for career planning, discussions that begin in the first-year skills and methods seminar and continue throughout your time at The Courtauld.
Should you decide to pursue a career in a field outside those traditionally targeted by PhDs, you will find you degree has equipped you with superior skills in research, analysis, project design and management, and writing, among others.
The Courtauld Careers Service offers bespoke, one-on-one advice and support for exploring career options, enhancing employability, understanding and navigating the jobs and self-employment market, and making successful applications. This service is available for all graduates for up to two years after graduation.
To support you during your degree, we offer:
Wellbeing: We have a dedicated Wellbeing team, including counsellors and advisors, available to provide you support in your health and wellbeing.
Academic skills: In addition to the PhD skills and methods seminar offered to all doctoral students in their first year, the academic skills tutor offers group and one-to-one help further develop your research skills. We also have two Royal Literary Fund fellows who will help you with your writing skills, concentrating on how to structure your writing and improve your written expression.
Supervisor and Advisor: Your supervision team consists of both your primary supervisor and an advisor selected in consultation with your supervisor to provide complementary advice and support on research and writing. Structured and ad-hoc supervision sessions provide you with ongoing feedback and support as you develop your research.
Meet our students and alumni
Meet our students
Ambra, Translating Collectivity: Surrealism of the Levant
The Courtauld PhD Programme has given me generous means to develop my professional and personal life. The full programme of Skills and Methodology seminars in Year 1 prepared me for the different stages of PhD life and allowed me to discuss in a collective manner the key theoretical frameworks and objects of my thesis, helping me make important strides in my research. The method is rigorously theoretical, as well as encouraging of an object-based approach through active and critical close looking. Through these seminars I formed meaningful connections with my peers. The PhD Study Room at The Courtauld also allows for a dedicated study space where PhD students can work, discuss ideas or kick back after a long day.
Outside of The Courtauld, the potential for independent study and research within the city is large, and students can choose where to spend their time. Nevertheless, the Institute fosters a dynamic and exciting community, with which I sought to become more involved. I attended the rich programme of lectures and conferences at the Research Forum, as well as the smaller seminars and symposia that take place on a weekly basis. I organised and convened a seminar for two years, Conversations Across Time, with the intention of bringing together research students across periods to discuss and grow their research through informal feedback. I was a PhD Representative for the Student Union for two years: getting involved with the SU is a precious way to get involved with the administrative side of the Institute and engage with the student body in meaningful ways. Finally, I delivered seminars on a Teaching Assistant post; while this is not a compulsory part of the PhD programme, it is a valuable experience which enriched my professional life and my research.
Lan, Connections in the Making and Meaning of the Art of Bhutan and Tibet in the 17th and 18th Centuries: a Study of the Wall Paintings at Tango Monastery
I joined Courtauld in 2013 as an MA student of the Conservation of Wall Painting Department. The teaching staff were dedicated in their task of training us – the next generation of wall painting conservators. The outlook was fundamentally international with an emphasis on being at the cutting edge of conservation practice. The course was intense; days filled with lectures, site visits, and practical work and evenings for preparation and assignments. Teaching took advantage of the large professional networks associated with the department, allowing us to benefit from the first-hand experience of expert practitioners and researchers.
My cohort had seven women that came from different parts of the world with diverse academic backgrounds. We spent three years together in the lab, studio, and on-site, sharing accommodation during fieldwork and discussing wall paintings all the time. These shared experiences and interests naturally form the basis of friendships as well as a long-lasting network of colleagues.
One of the most precious and unique aspects of being at The Courtauld was the opportunity to do hands-on work during fieldwork campaigns every year. In fieldwork campaigns students function as full-team members rather than interns, sharing responsibility for planning and managing the programme of work. Crucially, we participate in discussion and decision-making with supervisors helping us to develop a critical approach to conservation. Each fieldwork experience was different but importantly they all involved an intimate engagement with the site and an expansion of my understanding of the roles and responsibilities of a conservator.
My primary academic interest has been always in Himalayan wall paintings. It was grateful to find a research topic that I really passionate about during my MA dissertation, and with support from professors and foundation I was able to continue the research as a PhD student. This research was structured to complement and support conservation projects within the department. Since then, I have been fortunate to dedicate my study to this subject that I love. My internal and external supervisors have kindly provided support throughout the time, as well as other senior colleagues in the broader Courtauld network. The environment here in the department was truly like a family where we learned from, and supported, each other.
Natasha, The Masculine Image in Qajar Iran (1789 – 1925)
I guess you could say I have enjoyed my time at The Courtauld, given that I’m still here nearly ten years after starting my BA! When I attended my undergraduate interview all those years ago, the student ambassador was posed with a question by a very eager parent: “what do you do after the undergraduate programme?” “Well,” came the answer, “if you’re lucky, you go on to do an MA, and if you’re even luckier you go on to do a PhD!”. Little did I know that, as luck would have it, that ended up being my trajectory as I waited nervously in a corridor. I can’t say I felt like the ‘typical’ Courtauld candidate – I was from a low income background, was state school educated and with no prior qualification in the subject apart from a love for art – even the grandiosity of the spiral staircase of the Somerset House campus alone made me think twice if this was the place for ‘people like me’, despite having fallen in love with the prospect of studying here. However, my fears were quickly allayed as, a little while later, The Courtauld became my academic home for the foreseeable future.
A Courtauld education, be it undergraduate or postgraduate study, is an exercise in saturation – be prepared to live and breathe art and investigate every foreseeable corner of the discipline. A rigorous and pioneering global approach to is given to both theoretical and material study; something which is highlighted by the component of methodology discussion seminars with the cohort during the first year as part of the PhD programme, which are taken alongside your own independent area of research. As a result, what can often be a lonely road of doctorate study can often result in a close-knit student body. World class supervision is also complimented by regular opportunities to present and publish your research, such as seminar groups for each subject area, yearly conferences and the Immediations journal. My own research was also supported by the ARHC CHASE consortium for the humanities, which as well as providing essential financial support also encouraged inter-disciplinary interaction with peers within other disciplines at participating institutions.
Meet our alumni
Adele Tan (MA 2003, PhD 2009), Senior Curator, National Gallery Singapore
After studying English Literature at the National University of Singapore, Adele completed both her MA and PhD at The Courtauld.
As a curator, Adele’s research focuses on contemporary Southeast Asian and Chinese art, with a special interest in performative practices, photography, and new media. Some of her major exhibitions include Yayoi Kusama: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow (2017) and Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s-1990s.
Before joining the National Gallery Singapore, she was assistant editor at the British Journal Third Text and her articles have appeared in numerous other scholarly publications, exhibition catalogues and journals such as PAJ, Broadsheet, Yishu and Eyeline. Adele was part of the curatorial panel for the 4th Singapore International Photography Festival and is a member of the International Association of Art Critics.
In addition to her curatorial role, Adele also lectures at the National University of Singapore.
Jack Hartnell (BA 2008, MA 2009, PhD 2014), Art History Lecturer, University of East Anglia, Norwich
Jack received his PhD in 2014, after which he held fellowships at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Columbia University in New York and the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschite in Berlin, as well as a position as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at The Courtauld. He joined the UEA faculty in 2017.
Jack’s research and teaching focuses on the visual culture of late medieval and early renaissance medicine, cartography, and mathematics. His most recent book, Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages, was the Sunday Times History Book of the Year in 2018.
Jack was also heavily involved in launching Courtauld Books Online – an important academic resource where users can find high-quality, peer-reviewed art history monographs, available to read online for free.
Nancy Ireson (PhD 2005), Deputy Director for Collections and Exhibitions, Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia
Nancy Ireson completed her BA, MA and PhD at The Courtauld, finishing her PhD in 2005 with a thesis on Making Images: The Work and Early Critical Reception of Henri Rousseau. After her time at The Courtauld she took up positions at some of the world’s leading art institutions, including Tate Modern, The National Gallery, The Courtauld, the Leverhulme Trust and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, as well as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.
At Tate Modern, where Nancy was Curator of International Art between 2015 and 2018, she curated several blockbuster exhibitions, including the world-famous Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy exhibition (2018) and the memorable Modigliani exhibition (2017-2018).
Nicholas Cullinan (BA 2002, MA 2003, PhD 2010), Director, National Portrait Gallery, London
Nicholas Cullinan is an art historian, curator and current Director of the National Portrait Gallery, London. He completed his BA, MA and PhD at The Courtauld and his PhD thesis, The Archeology of Knowledge: Excavating Arte Povera, was supervised by Professor Sarah Wilson. During his student days Nicholas worked as a visitor services assistant at the National Portrait Gallery, little knowing that he would later become its director, aged just 37. Nicholas has been responsible for leading a £35.5m transformation of the gallery, with the aim of making it “more relevant, more open and more accessible.”
Prior to taking the helm at the National Portrait Gallery, Nicholas worked in some of the most prestigious museums and galleries in the world, including the Guggenheim museums in Bilbao, New York and Venice, and curatorial roles at Tate Modern and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
During the course of his career Nicholas has curated highly acclaimed exhibitions, including Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern, which was one of the most successful exhibitions in the gallery’s history.