New graduates, a day trip to Eton – and ‘Mr Turner’ again….

Congratulations are in order!

The most important recent news in the History of Art department is the undergraduate graduation ceremony which took place last week, on 11th November. Many, many congratulations to all our new BA History of Art graduates – we’re very proud of you!

graduation hats

(a rather cheesy picture I know, but hard to resist a ‘graduation hats in the air’ opportunity)

Mr Turner again….

I began my last blog by telling you that one of our alumna, Dr. Jacqueline Riding, who did her MA in History of Art at Birkbeck some years ago, had acted as historical and art historical consultant on Mike Leigh’s new film, Mr. Turner. I was delighted to be promptly emailed by one of our current MA students, Sarah McBryde, informing me that she had worked as production manager on the film! Sarah has kindly written a short piece for us about the experience…

“Having worked with Mike Leigh since 2003, I’m familiar with his approach to film-making. However, the subject of JMW Turner presented some new and interesting challenges. As usual, the actors worked with Mike to develop their characters and storylines during months of intensive rehearsals prior to filming, appropriately based in the former Central School of Art on Southampton Row. The obvious difference with Mr. Turner was that most of the characters were based on real individuals, so the input of various art historians, notably Dr Jacqueline Riding, was vital to Mike’s meticulous research process. In fact, the scope of Jackie’s advice extended way beyond art history, encompassing everything from historically accurate vocabulary to 19thC stethoscopes.  We were incredibly fortunate to have assistance and advice from institutions and galleries in the UK and across the world, many of whom also generously gave their permission for us to replicate the innumerable artworks. The results can be seen in the reconstructions of the Royal Academy Exhibitions filmed at Wentworth Woodhouse, South Yorkshire. The added challenge of making a period production on a relatively small budget resulted in some imaginative solutions. For example the historic boats which feature in the Margate sequences (filmed at Kingsand, Cornwall) weren’t added in post production, as someone recently asked me. Our Art Director rowed his way around Plymouth harbour, knocking on the hull of anything suitable and asking if they wouldn’t mind mooring up off Kingsand for the price of a few bacon sandwiches. It worked perfectly, apart from the occasional Royal Navy submarine unexpectedly surfacing mid-shot!

Having already spent a year immersed in Turner and Art History, it seemed a logical step for me to continue onto the Graduate Certificate at Birkbeck and now the MA…”

Our students out and about once more

Following Fiona Candlin’s lovely picture of Museum Cultures students at the V&A, I am very pleased to be able to post another photograph of our students, out and about on a field trip. Last week, Dr. Joanne Anderson, Lecturer in Renaissance Art, and those BA History of Art students taking her option course on ‘Italian Mural Painting’ visited Eton College Chapel. Here’s Joanne’s account of the trip:

“On Monday 10 November we were warmly welcomed by Dr Nicola Pickering, Keeper of Fine and Decorative Art to Eton College Chapel. She gave a brief introduction and then the students had an opportunity to look at the fifteenth-century mural painting in the nave of the chapel before we had a group discuss about their making, meaning and afterlife. In the final 20 minutes of our allotted time, we visited the master’s chamber to see a recently rediscovered early 16th-century mural depicting the master in cathedra, holding a book and the birching rod – symbols of his authority – surrounded by his charges on forms. We were also permitted to visit the original teaching room next door, which is still in use today. We couldn’t take any photographs inside but here’s the class assembled in School Yard!

Eton 2

The chapel was founded by Henry VI but we have Bishop William Waynefleet to thank for its completion, and the commissioning of the monumental mural scheme that served College instructors and clergy, pupils, pilgrims and parishioners. His effigy is recorded on the exterior west wall, holding a model of the chapel.”Eton 4

New Peltz Exhibition

A new exhibition has just opened in the Peltz gallery in the School of Arts: ‘How We Read: A Sensory History of Books for Blind People’. The exhibition will be on for one week only, from 17-23 November 2014, and is part of the Being Human Festival, the UK’s first national festival of the humanities. How We Read explores the history of assistive technologies that have been designed to help blind people read. From raised print to talking books and optophones, a fascinating array of historic artefacts are on display from museums and other centres dedicated to preserving the heritage of blindness. Please do visit to look, touch and listen: among the star items are the first examples of raised print books published in Britain, and a mid-twentieth century optophone – a device which translated the printed page into sound (you can hear an example of an optophone in action as well). For more details of the exhibition, and related activities, workshops and live performances, do look at the website.

. . Category: Uncategorized

Lots of news – and a couple of photos…

  • You won’t have been able to miss the current media coverage of Mike Leigh’s new film: his ambitious biopic, Mr Turner. As a specialist in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century British art, I shall be heading off to the cinema as soon as I can, to see how one of the most important artists of the period has come out on screen. We’re very proud of the fact an alumna, Dr. Jacqueline Riding, who did her MA with us here at Birkbeck some years ago, acted as historical and art historical consultant on the film. Nice work if you can get it! There are numerous reviews of the film available – but I, of course, highly recommend one written by a member of the department: Professor Lynn Nead. You can find her review, and an essay on artists on film, in the current issue of Apollo (October 2014), pp.74-8.


  • It’s been a good period for awards… One of our MPhil/PhD students in the department, Thanavi Chotpradit, has just won the 2014 Anglo-Thai Society Education Awards for Excellence (Arts). These awards are intended to recognise ‘the exceptional academic achievements of Thai post-graduate scholars in the UK’ – so many congratulations Thanavi! Thanavi is currently working on her thesis, provisionally entitled ‘Revolution versus Counter-Revolution: The People’s Party and the Royalist in Visual Dialogue’, with Dr. Gabriel Koureas. Gabriel specialises in visual culture from the late nineteenth century to the present day, and he has co-organised a forthcoming event which may well be of interest to postgraduate students. This is a Masterclass for PhD and early career researchers on ‘Transmedial/Transcultural Memories: Points of Convergence’, at Birkbeck on November 29th 2014. Gabriel teaches across the programmes in the department, but he is one of the key figures on our MA in Museum Cultures. A rather convenient segue to allow me to post up a lovely photograph of those students taken by Dr Fiona Candlin, whilst she was leading them on a recent visit to the V&A!


  • I hope you’ll be able to visit the new display in the Peltz Gallery, just inside the entrance of the School of Arts building. Presented by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, it’s an exhibition of Moving Portraits of six survivors of genocide who now live in the UK. The collection draws upon the significance of memory, photographing survivors holding a belonging that is evocative for them. It’s on until 9th November – do take a look.


  • A reminder about the good news I was able to circulate earlier this week. The Art Fund have offered all History of Art students in the department a FREE student national art pass. This means that, amongst other benefits, you’ll be able to get 50% off major exhibitions and free entry into 230 charging museums and galleries across the UK over the next 12 months! Please do make sure you sign up before the DEADLINE OF 7 NOVEMBER. It’s a great opportunity – and also important that there’s good take-up of the offer, to show our appreciation.


  • And, in the tradition of amusing final news items, this is the scene I encountered last Friday, when going to discuss a serious matter with the admin team! Hard at work – but clearly only just keeping their excitement about Halloween in check!


. . Category: Uncategorized