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Defining Beauty at the British Museum

I am definitely a late-comer to the current exhibition at the British Museum, Defining Beauty: the body in ancient Greek artbut I made time to go yesterday. The display draws heavily on the British Museum’s own (fantastic) collections, but the way the sculptures are displayed and the thematic organisation of the exhibition mean it’s definitely worth a visit. I was particularly impressed with the way the sculptures were lit. The walls of the Sainsbury Galleries were black, but careful spot-lighting meant you could really see the different surface textures, carved or modelled details and variations of colour in the marble and bronze statues. Seeing the Belvedere Torso, usually in the Vatican, having a face off (can you have a face off if you don’t have a head?) with Dionysus from the Parthenon makes for a pretty spectacular finish to the show. Shamefully, I have never been to Rome, so seeing the Belvedere Torso in the flesh and in three dimensions for the first time really enabled me to understand why sculptors such as Michelangelo and Rodin found the work so striking.

The Belvedere Torso, 1st Century B.C., marble. Museo Vatican. Saliko / Creative Commons / Public Domain

Being a drapery nerd, however, what really stood out for me was a display of Tanagra figures. These are tiny statues, usually depicting the female form and modelled in terracotta, but often painted too.

Terracotta ‘Tanagra’ figure of a woman wearing a sunhat. Greek, 3rd Century BC. The British Museum / Public Domain

Tanagra figures are named after the site in Boetia, in Greece, where they were discovered in large numbers in the 1870s. What appealed to me, but also to archaeologists, classicists and artists in the nineteenth century, is the way that Tanagra figures show variations of ancient Greek dress. In the image above we can see the female figure depicted wearing a thin chiton, underneath the thicker outer garment, the himation and also a sunhat to protect her complexion. The clothing would originally have been painted in bright colours, but even though the pigment has worn away it is still possible to study the patterns of the draped, twisted and folded fabric.

Many Tanagra figures were found in or near grave sites, but in the nineteenth century they became popular collector’s items and were displayed as decorative objects in the home. Heir to a Greek shipping company and friend to many of the Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic movement artists, Alecco Ionides assembled and displayed his own collection of Tanagra figures at 1 Holland Park, the house he inherited from his father Constantine Ionides.

Alexander (Alecco) Ionides’ home, 1 Holland Park Image:

The Tanagra figures and their role in the decorative interior schemes of fashionable Victorian homes have piqued my interest and I’d love to do some more research on links between these miniature statues and the study of history of dress in the nineteenth century. But in the meantime, Defining Beauty is open until 5th of July at the British Museum, so you have some time to see them and a host of other amazing Greek sculptures for yourself.

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On the subway and on the street

On Friday I had the pleasure of taking part in a ‘brown bag’ event organised by Dr. Rebecca Arnold at The Courtauld Institute of Art. This series of events focus on discussing one image related to the history of dress in detail, but until the meeting opened the chosen image was a complete surprise.

It turned out to be a photograph of the artist Editta Sherman by the New York photographer Bill Cunningham:

Editta Sherman on the Subway Bill Cunningham ca. 1972 Silver Gelatin Print New York Historical Society

The discussion that followed ranged from performance art to tagging to Laura Ashley and it was a really refreshing way to encounter an image. You can find out more about the next event here.

Bill Cunningham is possibly best known for his work as a photographer with the New York times and a documentary was made about his work in 2010 (I’ve downloaded the film and am eagerly looking forward to watching it!)

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Sculptures, spies and decadence

A selection of links loosely connected to fashion, sculpture or the nineteenth century:

Still from From Russia with Love, 1963, dir. Terence Young.

From Russia with Love, 1963, dir. Terence Young.

1) Books offer the best life advice in my opinion, so why not fashion advice too? Shortlist have compiled a list of 25 fashion tips from literature. My favourite is from that best-loved secret agent James Bond. 

“Bond mistrusted anyone who tied his tie with a Windsor knot. It showed too much vanity. It was often the mark of a cad.”

Ian Fleming, From Russia With Love (1957).

2) The Institute of English Studies in Senate House London sent out an intriguing Call for Papers this week:

Aestheticism and Decadence in the Age of Modernism: 1895 to 1945

This interdisciplinary conference intends to open discussions about the meaning and significance of Aestheticism and Decadence as these movements evolved between 1895 and the mid-twentieth century. Aestheticism and Decadence were not vanquished with Wilde’s imprisonment but, rather, continued as vital and diverse forms in twentieth century aesthetics and culture. Their influence was in some cases openly acknowledged by the authors in question, but often it was oblique and obscured as many later writers, most famously the High Modernists, eschewed any admissions of such a debt.

I’m currently mulling on a paper about Ford Madox Ford and Pre-Raphaelitism and Arts and Crafts – so hopefully this conference will spur me on to actually write it (AKA give me another excuse to watch Parade’s End).

3) I took my students around the Warwick University Sculpture trail today in some glorious afternoon sunshine. It is a really impressive collection and the Mead Gallery at the Warwick Arts Centre have the Jeremy Deller, ‘All that Solid Melts into Air’ opening on the 2nd of May, so it is well worth a visit. There are maps and an audio guide you can download here

Bernard Schottlander’s 3B Series I (1968), behind the Rootes Building, University of Warwick.


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Widening Participation and why I think it’s important

You can find out more about the The Courtauld Summer University and how to apply here.

After studying at the The Courtauld for both my MA and PhD, and now working as part of the academic staff, I have had many chances to absorb and observe the very special opportunities given to students at The Courtauld. Whether it is learning from world-experts carrying out cutting edge research, having a renowned art collection at your disposal, taking part in many of the great student-led initiatives like the EastWing exhibition or being able to attend lectures from international artists and academics, The Courtauld student experience is entirely unique. When I consider how I have benefited from what The Courtauld has to offer I often can’t believe my luck, but at the same time I am very aware that these chances are out of reach to many young people. The privileges I have gained have made me want to share my skills, knowledge and passion with the widest audience possible.

Supported by the team in the Public Programmes department, I have gradually built up experience delivering public talks, leading schools’ workshops and delivering out-reach sessions, ‘Art History in the Classroom’, in state schools around London. All of this stood me in good stead for the task of co-ordinating the Widening Participation Courtauld Summer University this July, with Stephanie Hesz, who was then Oak Foundation Young People’s Programme Coordinator. The Summer University – a four-day taster course of life as an undergraduate at The Courtauld –  was aimed at state school students, from non-traditional higher education backgrounds (in other words, in many cases these young people would be the first in their family to go to university) or from economically deprived neighbourhoods. Traditionally,  History of Art departments have struggled to attract a diverse student body. This problem is now more acute following the rises in fees and the rhetoric of some politicians and certain sections of the media, which suggest that a humanities degree is an indulgent way to spend £27,000. While this is a widely acknowledged issue that universities are working to address, in practice it can be a real challenge to reach out to young people who may not even know that our discipline exists, let alone those who may not think it is the subject for them. But as Stephanie, Henrietta and I read through the application forms, we were struck by the enthusiasm, commitment and intelligence of all our applicants, who were keen to come and see what The Courtauld offers.

As the Summer University approached, we were thrilled at the willingness of the academic and gallery staff and postgraduate and undergraduate students to volunteer their time. The Summer University students attended stimulating and challenging seminars on a wide range of topics, from medieval images of heaven, to the portraits we carry in our pockets. We also took the students to see the newly unveiled rehang at Tate Britain and a show of Cornelia Parker’s work at the Frith Street Gallery. It was satisfying to see how the students gained in confidence as they discussed works of art in galleries, seminars and in their brilliant and witty picture essays, which they presented to us at the end of the week.

Last year’s Summer University and the other widening participation programmes that took place in 2012-2013 have already produced some heartening results, with a number of students choosing to apply to and then achieving places on the undergraduate degree course starting this September. For me though, the wider aims of the programme – raising aspirations, inspiring confidence and awakening enthusiasm for our subject – go beyond fulfilling our obligation to HEFCE and OFFA. The Courtauld prides itself on educating the art historians and curators of tomorrow, therefore we need to ensure that our student body welcomes the widest range of voices if we want to continue to enjoy History of Art as a vibrant, global and evolving subject.

This article was originally published in The Courtauld News in 2013.

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Widening Participation and The Courtauld Youth Programme

One of the reasons it has been a little bit quiet on the blog lately is that I’ve been working hard on the widening participation programme for The Courtauld Institute of Art. Later in the week I’ll be publishing some of my reflections on the programme and working with the lovely and smart young people who attend our events and courses, but first I thought I would let the students speak for themselves.

You can read a blog post from Harrison, who attended the Courtauld Summer University two years ago here.

And see a video some student ambassadors made about the Summer University below:

Finally, if you are are in year 12 and are interested in finding out more about studying history of art at university, or you know someone who is, there’s still time to apply to the Summer University 2014. You can find the details here.

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Links to start the week:


  1. Two great conferences: Victorian Body Parts – Not a horror film, but a fantastic conference at Barts Pathology Museum in September, now open for registration. And a new call for papers from the Edwardian Culture Network: Edwardian Premonitions and Echoes.
  2. I am so fascinated in how you negotiate a three-dimensional dress into a flat-paper pattern and then back onto a real-life squishy person. You can see how the wonderful people at Collette Patterns start to work this out.
  3.  A new exhibition looking at the New Sculpture movement opens this week at the Leeds Art Gallery – The Age of Innocence. It looks great, so you should check it out if you are in the area.
  4. Owen Hatherley’s interesting take on revivalism in The Guardian. Should we rebuild the Crystal Palace?
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Research Inspiration: Sophia Kokosalaki

EuphrosyneIt is no secret that I am a fan of both sculpture and fashion. Sophia Kokosalaki’s designs, then, are doubly interesting to me. Not only are they beautiful garments that I dream of wearing, but they are also elegant and sophisticated modern takes on classical drapery.

Kokosalaki was born in Athens in 1972 and has degrees in Greek and English as well as an MA in womenswear from Central Saint Martins. She designed the official costumes for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and has designed costumes for Irene Papas’s Antigone in 2005.

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Sculpture Season at the Grant Museum of Zoology


Sculpture Season at the Grant Museum of Zoology, Wed 5 June – Sat 31 August. 

To my shame I never went to the Grant Museum of Zoology while I was a student at UCL. The only museum of zoology in London, its is the place to go if you want to see a Quagga skeleton or a jar of moles. The Grant Museum  moved into UCL’s Rockerfeller Building in 2010, designed by Paul Waterhouse (1861-1924), son of Alfred Waterhouse, to house the UCL Medical Schools.  You can definitely see the influence of the Gothic Revival in the red brick and portland stone facade and the wrought iron interiors of the Gower Street building, which was completed in 1907. The rooms now housing the zoological collection originally functioned as the medical school library, but is now full, from floor to ceiling, with glass cases of skeletons, stuffed animals and microscope slides.

My visit was prompted by finding out about Sculpture Season at the Grant Museum. Students from the Slade School of Art, studying sculpture, had been invited to make interventions into and around the museum collections, in collaboration with the museum’s curators. Read More

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Reviewing Dickens, Morris and Collins.

Recently it’s been my pleasure to review some great books on nineteenth-century culture, especially the brilliant Thinking without Thinking by Vanessa Ryan. So I thought I would share some excerpts from my reviews. I can recommend all of these books and I’d love to hear about your own recent Victorian reads – please do leave a comment if you have a new favourite. For full reviews follow please follow the links below. All of these books are now available and can be purchased directly from the publishers or via amazon.


Linda Parry, William Morris Textiles (V&A Publishing, 2013) 304 pp., £35 (HB), ISBN 9781851777327

‘Linda Parry’s revised edition of William Morris Textiles is the culmination of over thirty years of careful research and hands-on experience with the works of Morris & Co. in Parry’s former position of Deputy Keeper of the Department of Furniture, Textiles and Fashion at the V&A. The resulting work is as detailed and as satisfying as one of Morris’s designs.

It goes without saying that a book devoted to Morris’s designs is beautiful, but it is also an incredibly useful resource. With biographies of the key personalities involved with Morris & Co., reproductions of Morris’s preparatory sketches and notes from his experiments with dyes, and a chronological catalogue, which notes where both samples of the textile and the original design are held, this book will be invaluable to collectors of Arts and Crafts textiles, to researchers and students of design history and even to artists and designers of today. I would recommend reading this book alongside Fiona MacCarthy’s magisterial biography to gain a rounded understanding of Morris’s full and varied life, but one can imagine him entirely approving of the work and detail that has gone into this indispensible volume.’

The full review can be found in the most recent (July/August 2013) edition of The Art Newspaper.

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I’d like to thank …


So after some months of waiting and correcting, I finally handed in hard bound copies of my PhD thesis. K.R. Faulkner PhD 2013 has been stamped in gold on some beautiful blue buckram, wrapped around two volumes of which are hopefully now making their way into the Courtauld Library. I didn’t cry and no one has sent me any diamonds from Harry Winston yet, but I am hoping this is just an oversight.

But I would like to share my gratitude for everyone who helped me along the way a bit more openly, so I thought I would publish my acknowledgements here on my blog rather than make you all go and request it from the Courtauld stacks. I think Gwyneth would approve:

I would not have been able to carry out my doctoral research without a studentship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and I am immensely grateful for this support. I am also indebted to the staff of the Henry Moore Institute for the support and assistance and also the opportunities to share my ideas that they have offered me during the course of my research. Special thanks go to Kirstie Gregory, Lisa Le Feuvre, Claire Mayoh, Elizabeth McCormick, Sophie Raikes and Jon Wood.

Thanks must also go to the staff of all the libraries and archives I have had the pleasure of visiting during my studies: The Courtauld Library; The John Ryland’s Library; The National Art Library and the Archive of Art and Design; The Royal Academy Library and Archive and the Tate Archives. Curators and staff at Eaton Hall, The Harris Museum, The Royal Academy and The Walker Art Gallery have also given their time generously

My supervisor, Caroline Arscott, has constantly challenged and enriched my thinking throughout my studies at the Courtauld. I would like to thank her for showing me the value of rigour and the rewards of imaginative enquiry. Rebecca Arnold offered guidance, encouragement and a valuable alternative perspective in the early stages of my research. My examiners, Michael Hatt and Lynda Nead made enormously helpful suggestions in their reports and in my viva exam. Greg Salter generously commented on several chapters of this thesis and it would have been poorer without his insight and common sense. I must also thank Greg and Kate Aspinall for organising the British Art Discussion group meetings and conference. Sharing my work with other doctoral students researching modern British Art has been both enlightening and pleasurable. I also have to thank those who have invited me to present my research at conferences and symposia especially Tim Barringer and Jason Rosenfeld, Jana Funke, Jennifer Grove, Grace Brockington, Sarah Turner and Michael White.

I have been very lucky to share my time at the Courtauld with a stimulating and inspiring cohort of doctoral students. I must thank in particular, Jocelyn Anderson, Amanda Delorey, Carey Gibbons, Roo Gunzi, Jack Hartnell, Sara Knelmann and Sam Rose. Keren Hammerschlag, Lucetta Johnson and Ayla Lepine have also given me the benefit of their experience and been generous with their advice. A huge thank you must go to all of my friends outside of the Courtauld for keeping me sane. Most of all, I would like to thank my family, Andrew, Dorothy and Jenny Faulkner, who could not have done more to help me.

Thanks should also go to my cheerleaders on twitter – especially @MinxMarple and @charlottefrost – who made even the toughest parts of  #acwri fun (almost) with plenty of Ryan Gosling shaped rewards.*

*Although apparently James Franco is confused about why we are not all making memes about him.