Professor Richard Woodfield

University of Glasgow

Art History and the Diaspora: Ernst Gombrich and the problem of being a Viennese art historian in London

5-6:15 pm Friday 13th August

Ernst Gombrich

Although Ernst Gombrich attained great eminence through his publications The Story of Art (1950) and Art and Illusion (1960), the precise nature of his work as a commentator on the academic practice of art history never really found a home in British art history. Unlike Erwin Panofsky, who adjusted to the American scene by dropping his commitment to abstract theory, Gombrich’s theoretical commitments were always at the front of his mind. Two of the great English art historians, Lord Clark and Francis Haskell, admitted that they never properly understood him. Norman Bryson, Gombrich’s arch-critic, failed even to recognise his involvement with semiotics decades before it became fashionable. Gombrich’s approach to art history was deeply Viennese, as were his theoretical commitments, but as an outsider he was probably more sympathetic to the distinctive qualities of British art than the Brits themselves. As a student and collaborator of Freud’s disciple Ernst Kris he pursued masterly work on the topic of caricature and as a student of Julius von Schlosser he was a critic of British insularism and emphasised the need to look at the development of English art within a European context. Thus although he worked as a Viennese ‘provincial’ in a major international capital city, which was also one of the most advanced scientific centres in the world, he demonstrated that it remained parochial in its attitudes to both its own art and its own study of its history.

Richard Woodfield – After retiring from his role as Research Professor in the School of Art and Design at Nottingham Trent University, Professor Woodfield was appointed Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Art History at the University of Glasgow. With Glasgow’s support he created the online Open Access Journal of Art Historiography, and will also publish a book series, Glasgow Monographs in Art Historiography. Since first working with Professor Gombrich in 1970 as a research student, he maintained his involvement with him to produce Gombrich’s Reflections on the History of Art in 1986, The Essential Gombrich in 1996 and create the online Gombrich Archive. He has also produced many other books and articles related to art historiography and the theory of the image and has played a prominent role in the international development of aesthetics.

Time: Friday 13th August,5-6:15pm

Venue: Elisabeth Murdoch Lecture Theatre, The University of Melbourne (Parkville).