Dr Claudia Tobin, Jesus




Biographical Information

My research and teaching focuses broadly on literature and visual cultures of the ninteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I held a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship in the English Faculty at Cambridge (2017-19), and am currently a Senior Research Associate at the Intellectual Forum, Jesus College. I was recently a Fellow at the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies (Villa I Tatti) in Florence and I have previously held fellowships at the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art in London, UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, LARCA Paris Diderot, and the Huntington Library in California.

I teach on the MPhil in Modern and Contemporary Literature and run a seminar on ‘Art Writing Writing Art: Conversations in Word and Image’. At undergraduate level I teach on Part I Paper 7A/7B and Part IA Practical Criticism: Critical Practice and supervise dissertations on nineteenth and twentieth century literature and visual cultures. I also contribute to teaching in the History of Art Department.

Research Interests

Nineteenth- , twentieth- and twenty-first century literature, modernism; visual cultures; ekphrasis and art writing; modern dance and experimental theatre; colour and chromatic technologies; vibrational aesthetics; early twentieth century spirituality; plant lives, plant humanities and gardens

My first book Modernism and Still Life: Artists, Writers, Dancers (2020), explores the genre of ‘still life’ and the potential for movement and transformation in the idea of stillness and the ordinary across different media (in prose, poetry, painting, dance, and sculpture). It investigates constellations of writers, visual artists and dancers including Cézanne, D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, David Jones, Winifred Nicholson, Wallace Stevens, and lesser-known figures including Charles Mauron and Margaret Morris. I am co-editor of Ways of Drawing: Artists' Perspectives and Practices (Thames & Hudson, 2019), a book which positions drawing as among the most direct ways of engaging with the world; a way not just of seeing, but of understanding what you see. 

Current projects include a book on colour and the imagination in modern literature and art, and a collaborative project on garden sanctuaries and the sensory lives of plants with the Garden Museum in London and two garden-based charities. The project explores the relationship between people and plants specifically in periods of crisis, from the late ninteenth century to the contemporary pandemic and climate emergency. I am interested in the intersections between environmental activism and art. I recently set up a ‘Green Drawing’ programme for the Royal Drawing School and worked with Cambridge Zero, Think Lab and NHS England on a sustainability project developing creative solutions to support the delivery of net zero for the NHS.

My interdisciplinary research is energised by collaborations with museums and galleries. I have worked on two major exhibitions on Virginia Woolf, including Virginia Woolf: Art, Life, and Vision at the National Portrait Gallery (2014) and Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by her Writings (Tate St Ives and touring). I enjoy working with contemporary artists and recent projects have involved working on an exhibition and film collaboration between contemporary visual artist William Tillyer and poet Alice Oswald (2018); and curating an exhibition in Cambridge on the Palestinian artist Kamal Boullata (2020).

Areas of Graduate Supervision

I would be glad to hear from students wishing to work on any of my research interests outlined above.

Selected Publications


  • ‘Oh, to be a painter!’: Virginia Woolf and the visual arts. Editor of the first publication bringing together a collection of Woolf’s essays on the visual arts. Part of the Ekphrasis series, David Zwirner Books (forthcoming autumn 2021)
  • Modernism and Still Life: Writers, Artists, Dancers (Edinburgh University Press, 2020)
  • Co-editor, Ways of Drawing: Artists’ Perspectives and Practices, with Julian Bell and Julia Balchin (Thames & Hudson, 2019)

Articles and Essays

  • ‘Botanical Colour: Garden Writing, Victorian to Modern’, chapter for The Cambridge Handbook of Literature and Plants, ed. by Bonnie Lander Johnson (in preparation for CUP, 2022)
  • ‘Inhaling Colour: Vernon Lee and the Chromatic Body’, Studies in Walter Pater and Aestheticism, no 6 (Autumn 2021)
  • ‘British Literature and Visual Culture in Transition’, chapter in British Literature in Transition 1900-20,  ed. by James Purdon (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2021)
  • ‘ “An Operator of Colours”: Conversations in Word and Image’, in Jerusalem in Exile: Artist’s Books by Kamal Boullata, ed. by Elizabeth Key Fowden (Beirut: Dongola Limited Editions, 2020)
  • Co-author with Grace Brockington, ‘London’s Little Theatres’, in Theatres of War: Experimental Performance in London, 1914–1918 and Beyond
    , British Art Studies, 11 (March 2019). Special issue with virtual exhibition, interactive map and film
  • ‘ “The active and the contemplative”: Charles Mauron, Virginia Woolf, and Roger Fry’, in Virginia Woolf and the World of Books, ed. by Nicola Wilson and Claire Battershill (Clemson: Clemson University Press, 2018)
  • ‘ “The humbleness of all his objects”: Modern Writers, Cézanne, and Still Life’, in The Humble in 19th- to 21st- Century British Literature and Arts,  ed. by Jean-Michel Ganteau, Christine Reynier, Isabelle Brasme (Montpellier: Presses Universitaires de la Méditerranée, September 2017)
  • ‘Test for Chrome Yellow: the eloquence of colour’, in Grace Brockington (ed.), In Focus: Abstract Painting c. 1914 by Vanessa Bell, Tate Research Publication, 2017
  • ‘Decoration, Abstraction and the Influence of Islamic Textiles’, in Grace Brockington (ed.), In Focus: Abstract Painting c. 1914 by Vanessa Bell, Tate Research Publication, 2017, http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/in-focus/abstract-painting-vanessa-bell/decoration-abstraction


Exhibition Catalogue Essays:

  • ‘The Light Gets In’, commissioned exhibition catalogue essay, Catherine Goodman: The Light Gets In, Marlborough Fine Art, New York (March 2019)
  • ‘Bloomsbury’s Conversation in Colour’, Charleston Press, No.2, essay commissioned for ‘In Colour’ exhibition, Charleston, Sussex (March 2019)
  • ‘Doing a mixed bunch in a natural way’: Flower painting and still life’, Ivon Hitchens: Space Through Colour (Pallant House Gallery, 2019)
  • ‘Virginia Woolf, Still Life, and Transformation’, in Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by her Writings, ed. Laura Smith (London: Tate, 2018)
  • “Landscape is Weather”: William Tillyer Painting the Elements, cat. (London: Bernard Jacobson Gallery, 2018)
  • ‘The Last House in the World’exhibition catalogue essay, in Catherine Goodman: The Last House in the World, Marlborough Fine Art, London (November 2016),
  • Fixing Memory: Paul de Monchaux, Sculpture 1986-2013, exhibition catalogue, The Piper Gallery, London (2013)
  • Walter Nessler: Post-War Optimist (J & C Marshall-Purves, 2012)