2 Jun 2021 12:30pm - 2:00pm Online


The seminars provided a supportive, intellectually stimulating environment in which to share work and receive feedback from people in various disciplines.
– Chana Morgenstern (Early Career Fellow in Michaelmas 2018)

Part of the CRASSH Fellows Work-in-Progress Seminar Series. All welcome but please email fellowships@crassh.cam.ac.uk to book your place and to request readings. 

Dr Sally Woodcock

The virtuoso Victorian painter with his fashionable address and record prices had a less confident counterpart at the other end of the ladder of success, among artists for whom the walls of the workhouse could be more familiar than the walls of the Royal Academy. During a period when British painters experienced unprecedented prosperity, the gulf between the successful and unsuccessful artist widened, leaving many to face illness, insanity, suicide, poverty or the bleak prospect of Victorian charity at the end of their lives. While at CRASSH I shall be developing a research project, The Starving Artist: The romance and reality of suffering for art in the long, hard nineteenth century, to identify what caused these artists to fail in an era of such unparalleled opportunity and to assess the influence of artistic failure on the art market, public collections and the art history of the period.

Combining the history of art with social and cultural history to illuminate the lives of the lower ranks of British nineteenth-century artists will help to rebalance 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. While obscure artists can be difficult to trace in a field where significance has been filtered by fashion and physical survival, my doctoral research identified large numbers of impoverished customers, often barely able to pay for their paint, amongst the clientele of London’s artists’ colourmen, confirming commercial records as key access points for this cohort. The seminar will discuss the project’s initial stage of identifying starving artists and their surviving works and would welcome discussion of the scope and content of the exhibition that will be developed from this research.


Dr Sally Woodcock is a Paul Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and will be at CRASSH throughout 2021.

Dr 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 Conservationand 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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