Dr Claudia Tobin, Jesus



Biographical Information

I am a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow in English and a Senior Research Associate at the Intellectual Forum, Jesus College. Before coming to Cambridge I held a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art in London and worked on editorial and curatorial projects at arts institutions including the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Gallery, and the Royal Drawing School. 

Research Interests

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

My research centres broadly on the relationship between literature and the visual arts in the first half of the twentieth century. My first book Modernism and Still Life: Artists, Writers, Dancers (forthcoming with Edinburgh University Press, early 2020), explores the genre of ‘still life’ across different media, in prose, poetry, painting, dance, and sculpture of the early- to mid-twentieth century. As part of my ongoing collaboration with the Royal Drawing School I co-edited Ways of Drawing: Artists' Perspectives and Practices, with Julian Bell and Julia Balchin (Thames & Hudson, 2019). The book brings together a range of reflections on markmaking by practising artists, teachers and writers. It 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. 

My current research project, for which I have been awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship, investigates representations of chromatic experience at the intersection between modern art and literature. As part of this project I am writing a book about colour and the imagination and have published essays on the eloquence of colour in Vanessa Bell’s abstract painting, and on colourist painters for exhibitions including Ivon Hitchens: Space through Colour at Pallant House Gallery (Sussex), and In Colour at Charleston (the former Bloomsbury Group farmhouse). Last year, I contributed to a BBC Free Thinking discussion on Virginia Woolf, colour and the 'insect eye'. My research on modernist colour and gardens has led me to engage with the emerging field of the Plant Humanities and I am currently developing a project on the sensory life of plants, which will involve collaboration with the Fitzwilliam Museum and research on its rich botanical art collections. 

My interdisciplinary research is energised by collaborations with museums and galleries. During 2013-14 I assisted Prof Frances Spalding on the National Portrait Gallery exhibition, Virginia Woolf: Art, Life, and Vision. More recently I contributed to Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by her Writings, which travelled from Tate St Ives to Pallant House to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Other collaborative projects have included working with the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art and Grace Brockington to co-curate 'London's Little Theatres', as part of the virtual exhibition, Theatres of War: 1914-1918. The exhibition explores the material traces of experimental performance and pacifist politics in London during the First World War. I enjoy working with contemporary artists and regularly consult and write for international modern and contemporary art galleries. A recent project involved working on an exhibition and film relating to the collaboration between contemporary visual artist William Tillyer and poet Alice Oswald. 

I have convened numerous symposia and events relating to the conversation between artists and writers as part of the research network ‘Art Writing, Writing Art’, which I co-founded in 2013 at the University of Bristol. I currently curate the Royal Drawing School’s 'Lecture and In-Conversation Series', which features contemporary artists, writers, and film-makers; and the Artists on Film series in collaboration with the Artists on Film Trust.  In 2016 I organised the symposium ‘Animals in Art’ as part of the international conference, ‘Animals Under Capitalism: Art and Politics’ at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Bristol.

Selected Publications


Modernism and Still Life (forthcoming early 2020 with Edinburgh University Press)

Ways of Drawing, ed. with Julian Bell (Thames & Hudson, forthcoming 2019)

Selected Articles and Essays

‘British Literature and Visual Culture in Transition, 1900-1920’, chapter in British Literature in Transition, 1900-1920, ed. by James Purdon (Cambridge University Press) [forthcoming 2020]

‘London’s Little Theatres’, co-author with Grace Brockington, Theatres of War: 1914-1918, British Art Studies, Issue 11 (March 2019): https://www.britishartstudies.ac.uk/issues/issue-index/issue-11/little-theatres

‘Bloomsbury’s Conversation in Colour’, Charleston Press, No.2, commissioned for ‘In Colour’ exhibition, Charleston, Sussex (March 2019)

‘The light gets in’, commissioned exhibition catalogue essay, Catherine Goodman: The Light Gets In, Marlborough Fine Art, New York (March 2019)

‘ “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 University Press, 2018)

‘Virginia Woolf, Still Life, and Transformation’, in Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by her Writings (London: Tate, 2018)

“Women of Letters”, catalogue entries in ‘The Famous Women Dinner Service: A Critical Introduction and Catalogue’, ed. Hana Leaper, British Art Studies, Issue 7, <http://britishartstudies.ac.uk/issues/issue-index/issue-7/famous-women>.

‘ “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 and Isabelle Brasme (Montpellier: Presses Universitaires de la Méditerranée, 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, http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/in-focus/abstract-painting-vanessa-bell/test-for-chrome-yellow

'Decoration, Abstraction and the Influence of Middle Eastern 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

Catherine Goodman: The Last House in the World, exhibition catalogue, Marlborough Fine Art, London (November 2016) 

Walter Nessler: Post-War Optimist, monograph on twentieth-century German exile artist (J & C Marshall-Purves, 2012)