My research is focused on nineteenth-century French and British sculpture. I am interested more broadly in intersections between the arts, notably between sculpture and the decorative arts; discourses of materials and of making; the hierarchy of the arts; reproduction and its histories; histories of display; and artistic engagements with histories of art.
Sculpture and the Decorative
A central concern of my research is the intersection of sculpture and the decorative. The history of sculpture has largely been written with an emphasis on free-standing, monumental, figurative works created by named sculptors. Decorative arts scholarship has been predominantly concerned with works created by named manufacturers, and with production and style. Yet cross-fertilisations between sculpture and the decorative have played a vital role in the formal practices and aesthetics of art production, bringing sculptors into contact with diverse makers, materials, techniques, forms, colours, styles, patrons, audiences and subject matter.
My monograph Sculptors and Design Reform in France, 1848 to 1895: Sculpture and the Decorative Arts (Ashgate, 2014, PBK 2018) challenges distinctions between fine and decorative art. It begins with a critique of the Rodin scholarship, to establish how the selective study of his oeuvre has limited our understanding of French nineteenth-century sculpture. Its central argument is that we need to include the decorative in the study of sculpture, in order to present a more accurate and comprehensive account of the practice and profession of sculpture in this period. Detailed readings are offered of sculptors who operated within and outside the Salon, including Sévin, Chéret, Carrier-Belleuse and Rodin; and of diverse objects and materials, from Sèvres vases, to pewter plates by Desbois, and furniture by Barbedienne and Carabin. By contesting the false separation of art from industry, my study restores the importance of the sculptor-manufacturer relationship, and of the decorative, to the history of sculpture.
My research interest in this area was developed further in a cross-disciplinary collaboration on sculpture and the decorative with Dr Imogen Hart, culminating in an edited collection, Sculpture and the Decorative in Britain and Europe, Seventeenth Century to Contemporary (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020), with contributions from Katie Faulkner, Anna Ferrari, Laura Gray, Imogen Hart, Michael Hatt, Nina Lübbren, Bridget O'Gorman, Melanie Polledri, Marjan Sterckx, Margit Thøfner, Lisa Wainwright. By foregrounding the overlaps between sculpture and the decorative, this volume of essays offers a model for a more integrated form of art history writing. Through distinct case studies, from a seventeenth-century Danish altarpiece to contemporary British ceramics, it brings to centre stage makers, objects, concepts and spaces that have been marginalized by the enforcement of boundaries within art and design discourse. These essays challenge the classed, raced and gendered categories that have structured the histories and languages of art and its making.
My research also focuses on exhibitions as sites of enquiry in shaping, redefining and contesting the creative, political, economic, and social role of art. Recent publications in this area include two special issues on Exhibiting Craft: Histories, Contexts, Practices for the Journal of Modern Craft, the leading international journal in craft studies. I am a Guest Editor on both issues alongside PhD student Inês Jorge, and Imogen Hart. The two Special Issues build on mine and Inês’s session ‘Exhibiting Craft: Histories, Contexts and Practices’ at the Association for Art History’s 2021 Annual Conference. Issue 1, Exhibiting Making: Gesture, Skill and Process (August 2022) explores how gesture, skill and process can be visualized and made material in the exhibition space. Issue 2, Disrupting Boundaries: The Politics of Craft Exhibitions (January 2023) explores how the display of craft can shape, support and contest a variety of political positions. While the first issue centered on exhibitions in Europe, with case studies drawn from England, France and Portugal, the second issue expands the geographical scope to include the Philippines, Italy, Cuba, the United States, and Paraguay. Our aim is to demonstrate the conceptual and methodological potential of exhibition history as a framework for the study of craft, and vice versa.
I am currently completing a monograph on Victorian sculpture, Experiments in Nineteenth-Century British Sculpture (Manchester University Press). This is the first book-length study since Benedict Read’s seminal Victorian Sculpture (1982) to examine sculpture in Britain across the nineteenth century. I identify and examine four key innovations in this critical period: collaboration, church sculpture, sentimentality and the portrait statue.
I welcome proposals for PhD research on nineteenth-century French and British sculpture, the decorative arts, craft, hierarchies of art, and the history of galleries, museums and exhibitions.