While at CRASSH I shall be developing my research project The Starving Artist: The romance and reality of suffering for art in the long, hard nineteenth century. This combines the history of art with social and cultural history to illuminate the lives of the lower ranks of British nineteenth-century artists. Analysis of this often-impoverished sector of society rebalances the art history of the period, looking beyond a preoccupation with artistic elites to consider the social, economic, artistic, medical and mythologised histories of Britain’s poorest artists, exploring the complex economic and social causality of artistic failure. Comparing artists’ actual experiences with the trope of the starving artist through a cultural survey of art, music and literature, from the sophisticated to the sensationalist, will investigate how new theories about madness, genius and creativity shaped the public perception of the artist, revealing both the myth and the reality of suffering for art in nineteenth-century Britain. The phase of research covered by the fellowship will principally be concerned with identifying starving artists and their surviving works, delivering outcomes that will contribute to an exhibition and a larger research project.


Sally Woodcock is an easel paintings conservator with a longstanding research interest in the trade in artists’ materials in nineteenth-century London. After qualifying as a conservator at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London in 1992, followed by internships in Dublin, Prague and Amsterdam, she spent three years at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge as a Leverhulme Research Associate, working on the papers of the Victorian artists’ colourman Charles Roberson. In the following years she worked as a museum and freelance conservator, edited the International Institute for Conservation’s publication Reviews in Conservation and taught History of Art with Material Studies at University College London, before returning to the University of Cambridge to undertake doctoral research. She was awarded a PhD by the Faculty of History in 2019 and is currently preparing her thesis, Charles Roberson, London colourman, and the trade in artists’ materials 1820─1939, for publication.


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