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AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership: Fully-funded PhD studentship

Modern Mistresses on the Old Masters: nineteenth-century women writers on western European art – their networks and influence

Birkbeck, University of London (School of Arts)

The National Gallery, London

Applications are invited for an AHRC-funded PhD studentship on the role of women as disseminators of knowledge about the Old Masters, focusing especially on those who induced a greater interest in the collection at Trafalgar Square. It explores the social and cultural history of the Gallery’s present-day efforts to democratize access to its collections and reach new audiences by examining the understudied critical and art-historical writings of nineteenth-century women, which typically had a more popular reach than that of their male counterparts while also speaking to specialists, then and now.

This studentship is one of a number awarded to the National Gallery, as part of the AHRC’s new Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Scheme.

The supervisors of the project have identified the following issues for research, although the student has the scope to develop both the topic and approach, in conjunction with the supervisors.

  • What contribution did Victorian women writers make to scholarship on the Old Masters in the National Gallery’s collection? Did women tend to write about particular artists and periods, and if so why? Did their work affect the canon? How was their work received, and what was its reputation? What has been the subsequent fortuna critica? How might it speak to modern audiences?
  • Through what networks were these women connected with the National Gallery? How important to their success were such networks and relationships? To what extent did these women’s writings affect acquisition and collecting behaviours at the National Gallery and in the private sphere? Were their opinions taken seriously by the institutional art world?
  • What forms did the work of women writers take, and to what audiences was it was addressed? What was the effect of their cross over between different genres and media? What was the role of the penny press in widening access to the Old Masters in the mid nineteenth century?  Were women writers interested in the role of the National Gallery and other art institutions as places of advocacy for mass education?

This project will be supervised by Professor Hilary Fraser, Geoffrey Tillotson Chair in Nineteenth-Century Studies and Dean of Arts at Birkbeck, University of London, whose recent work focuses on women writers and the emergence of art history in the nineteenth century, and Dr Susanna Avery-Quash, Senior Research Curator in the History of Collecting at the National Gallery, whose research interests encompass the history of important private and public art collections.

This studentship will provide the student with invaluable academic skills and experience of working in a major national art museum, as well as deep understanding of women and nineteenth-century approaches to the Old Masters. It will involve the student in a range of interdisciplinary research activities, drawing on archival and primary textual material, various types of art collections and the resources of the National Gallery and Birkbeck.

In addition to working directly on the PhD thesis, it is envisaged that the student will also be engaged in a range of related activities, such as the delivery of research papers, assisting with conference organization, and contributing to a Room 1/Sunley Room exhibition at the National Gallery. She or he will also be expected to play a full role in the research cultures of both institutions.


    Applicants should have a good undergraduate degree and a Master’s qualification in English, History, History of Art, History of Collections, Nineteenth-Century Studies or other relevant discipline.

    EU Applicants: Please note that eligibility for the maintenance part of the AHRC award is dependent upon satisfying AHRC academic and residency criteria: see Page 13 of the RCUK Training Grant Terms and Conditions

Value and specified use of award

    The studentship funding is subject to final confirmation by the AHRC but will be fully funded for three years full-time (or five years part-time) and will begin in October 2016.

    The award will include a full fee waiver capped at the value of the full-time Home/EU rate for M.Phil/PhD degrees (currently £4,052), in addition to an annual stipend set at Research Council rates (currently £14,057 plus £2000 London weighting, paid quarterly; pro rata in the case of a part-time award)

    In addition the AHRC provides an extra £550 per annum for Collaborative Doctoral Award students, and the student will be eligible to apply for funding from Birkbeck and the National Gallery for certain other research-related expenses.


Application procedure

    Application Deadline: 12 noon, 22nd April 2016.
    Interviews: week commencing 9 May 2016.
    Start of PhD: October 2016.

    Applicants should complete the application form, and send it to, by 12 noon on 22 April 2016.

    The application must include a CV, a writing sample of no more than 5,000 words, and a research proposal of c.2,000 words outlining their particular research interests in the field of the proposed doctorate.

    The subject line of the email should read 'Candidate Name - AHRC CDP NG'. Your research proposal should make clear your interest and qualifications for this particular project. Please include all your document in a single file or pdf.


    Please note, this form asks applicants to provide the names and contact details of two academic referees (including one connected to the applicant’s most recent qualification).

    Applicants must also ask referees to submit their references commenting on the candidate’s suitability for the award by the deadline using the subject line 'Candidate Name - AHRC CDP NG'.

Successful Applicants

    The successful applicant will then be invited to apply formally to the PhD programme in Art History or English and Humanities at Birkbeck.

    Please note that the successful candidate will have access to postgraduate training in Art History and Literature offered by the School of Arts. Acceptance to the scholarship will be conditional upon receiving a formal offer from Birkbeck, and meeting any conditions of that offer, no later than 26 May 2016.

For further information about this studentship please contact Professor Hilary Fraser at Birkbeck, University of London ( or Dr Susanna Avery-Quash at The National Gallery, London (