Please upgrade your browser

For the best experience, you should upgrade your browser. Visit our accessibility page to view a list of supported browsers along with links to download the latest version.

Professor Gemma Blackshaw


  • Professor Gemma Blackshaw
  • Area

    School of Arts & Humanities


    Senior Tutor (Research)

  • Professor Gemma Blackshaw is an art historian, curator and Senior Tutor within the Directorate of Research and Innovation at the Royal College of Art. Gemma is the Critical & Historical Studies (CHS) Senior Liaison Tutor for the School of Arts & Humanities (SoAH), overseeing the delivery of CHS for the School including: coordination of Visiting Lecturers; supervision of dissertations; liaison with the rest of the CHS team and with staff within SoAH. As Senior Research Tutor in SoAH, Blackshaw contributes to the supervision and examination of MPhil and PhD students and co-convenes the research group Correspondence.

  • Biography

  • Professor Blackshaw is an art historian who specialises in the art and visual culture of ‘Vienna 1900’. Committed to the principles of feminist, revisionist scholarship, her work challenges accepted histories of this time and place in its presentation of new discoveries of archival evidence which give rise to new readings of the value-laden formulation of sexed and gendered bodies, identities, and subjectivities. Her work on Egon Schiele’s sexually explicit drawings of young women, which offered original material from civic archives on the prosecution of ‘pornographers’ in Austria-Hungary, has been characterised as ‘densely documented, rigorously argued and delightfully astute’. Internationally-renowned for her work on this artist, her most recent research was commissioned by the Courtauld Gallery for the catalogue accompanying the exhibition Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude (2014), and by TASCHEN for its expansive XXL-format book, published in three languages in 2017, which surveys the complete catalogue of Schiele’s paintings. Current research includes a study of Schiele’s images of pregnant patients and gynaecologists, drawn on the wards of the Second Women’s Clinic within the University of Vienna’s General Hospital in 1910, which is supported by new material from the city’s medical archives.

    Blackshaw has published widely on Viennese modernist portraiture and figuration, with a particular focus on its intersections with modern medicine’s visual, spatial, institutional and therapeutic regimes. She contributed to the major research project Madness and Modernity: Art, Architecture and Mental Illness in Vienna and the Habsburg Empire 1890-1914, graded A+ by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, ‘to be funded as a matter of priority’. The project challenged the centrality of Freudian psychoanalysis to the historicising of ‘Vienna 1900’ as the birthplace of modernism through new research on the city’s clinical psychiatry. It culminated in the exhibition Madness & Modernity: Mental Illness and the Visual Arts in Vienna 1900 at the Wellcome Collection, London (2009). Though not intended to travel, the critical reception of the exhibition was such that it was recommissioned in an expanded form by the Wien Museum, Vienna (2010). Blackshaw co-curated the exhibitions, and co-edited the accompanying catalogues. Committed to developing creative methods for approaching the study of modern art within a contemporary context, she went on to develop the documentary film Altenberg: the Little Pocket Mirror (2011) with David Bickerstaff, which went in search of the ‘mad’ writer Peter Altenberg through archives, Alpine hotels, former asylums and sanatoria.

    Blackshaw’s current research includes a single-authored book project Clinical Modernism: Art, Medicine, and Experience in Vienna 1900, an examination of how Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka and Koloman Moser transformed the pursuit of clinical knowledge into the search for artistic ‘truth’, producing the radical representations of the body that have come to signify Viennese modernism in the visual arts. This is connected to the work she is engaged in as a contributor to the major international research project Edvard Munch, Modernism, and Medicine, funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council, Canada, which offers ‘new scholarly perspectives, both disciplinary and interdisciplinary, on Munch’s art, on modernism, and on the modern medicalisation of life’. She is particularly interested in what Art History as a discipline might offer to the emerging field of the Critical Medical Humanities.

    Approaching the practice of history as a continuing dialogue between the present and the past, activated for the political purpose of changing women’s lives, Blackshaw’s work is distinguished by her collaboration with female artists who are similarly preoccupied with the modernist tradition. Her research on the Edvard Munch, Modernism, and Medicine project is informed by her visits to studios of artists who are working with the modernist legacy, and with medicalisation. Her publications on Egon Schiele were extended in the work of artist Nicola Tyson, who performed her ‘Letter to Egon Schiele’ at the opening of the exhibition Blackshaw co-curated at Drawing Room, London (The Nakeds, 2014), which considered the contemporary transformation of modernist figuration. Tyson’s letter, which evolved through correspondence with Blackshaw, engaged with the aesthetics and politics of Schiele’s sexually explicit drawings. Blackshaw also works with artist Chantal Joffe. Collaborations include an exploration of the experience of posing as a life-model whilst pregnant, and of the sexual politics of the modernist nude more broadly (2017-18); and an emerging project on portraits of female Jewish migrants across the 20th and 21st centuries, including Anna Freud, which is being developed in conversation with the Freud Museum, London (since 2018), and which grew out of the major exhibition Blackshaw curated for the National Gallery, London, Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 (2013-14).

    Before joining the RCA in 2019, Blackshaw was Professor of Art History at the University of Plymouth, where she coordinated research for Art History (2013-18); led the MRes Art History (2013-15) and the BA Art History programmes (2005-08; 2011-13); and co-led the BA Joint-Honours Fine Art & Art History programme (2005-08, 2011-13). Blackshaw joined the University of Plymouth in 2002 as Lecturer in Art History. She was promoted to Reader in 2011, and to Professor in 2015, in recognition of her achievement in the study and curation of modern Austrian art, and her importance to the University’s Art & Design submission to REF 2014, which included an impact case study built entirely around her own research. Prior to this, she worked as an Associate Lecturer from The Barber Institute at the University of Birmingham, where she completed her PhD (2005), MPhil in Critical Approaches to Art History (2000), and BA Joint Honours in English Literature and the History of Art (1998).

    Show more
  • External collaborations

  • External Affiliations:

    (2018–2020) Honorary Professor of Art History, University of Plymouth 

    (2014–2018) External Examiner, MA Art History and Theory; MA Gallery Studies and Critical Curating; MA Curating Contemporary Art, University of Essex

    (2009–2013) External Examiner, MA Art History, Birkbeck, University of London 

    External Contracts:

    (2020) Guest Curator, Leopold Museum, Vienna

    (2014) Guest Curator, Drawing Room, London 

    (2014) Guest Curator, National Gallery, London 

    (2010) Guest Curator, Wien Museum, Vienna 

    (2009) Guest Curator, Wellcome Collection, London

    Advisory Positions:

    (2019) Member of the Yale University Press Focus Group to consider the current priorities in art history publishing 

    Research Group Memberships:

    Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Canada, 2017–2021
    Research Project Collaborator (International): Edvard Munch, Modernism, and Medicine 

    Arts and Humanities Research Council, United Kingdom, 2004–2008
    Research Project Collaborator (National): Madness and Modernity: Art, Architecture and Mental Illness in Vienna and the Habsburg Empire 1890-1914 


    Peer Review:

    Art History

    H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences Online)

    Journal of the History of Collections

    Nineteenth-Century Contexts


    Modern Jewish Studies

    Oxford Art Journal

    Wellcome Trust

    Carnegie Trust


    Invited Speaker:

    The Art Fund

    Austrian Cultural Forum

    Courtauld Institute of Art

    Drawing Room

    Freud Museum

    JW3, Centre for Jewish Cultural Life

    Neue Galerie, Museum for Austrian and German Art, New York

    Royal Academy Schools

    Zabludowicz Collection


    Academic Event Management:

    (2006) Session Chair, Modernism and Medicine, College Art Association, Washington DC

    (2007) Conference Organiser, Journeys into Madness: Representing Mental Illness in the Arts and Sciences, 1850-1930, Wellcome Collection, London


    Professional Memberships:

    Fellow of the Higher Education Academy

    Member of the Association of Art Historians

    Member of the College Art Association

    Show more
  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Exhibitions:

    (2021) The Body Electric: Erwin Osen and Egon Schiele, Leopold Museum Vienna

    (2015) The Nakeds, De la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea 

    (2014) The Nakeds, Drawing Room, London 

    (2014) Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900,  National Gallery, London 

    (2010) Madness & Modernity: Kunst und Wahn in Wien um 1900, Wien Museum, Vienna 

    (2009) Madness & Modernity: Mental Illness and the Visual Arts in Vienna 1900, Wellcome Collection, London 


    Blackshaw, G. (2020). Rediscovered Drawings by Erwin Dominik Osen, The Burlington Magazine, Issue 162, March, pp. 224-227.

    Blackshaw, G. (2018). Mother Figure: Gemma Blackshaw on Chantal Joffe, Elephant.

    Blackshaw, G. (2018). “Crazier than I am, or crazier than I look?” Self-Portraits by Egon Schiele, Tate Etc. Issue 43, 9 May, pp. 2-9.

    Selected Conference Papers & Invited Papers:

    (2019) Egon Schiele’s Clinical Modernism, Egon Schiele Annual Research Symposium, Leopold Museum, Vienna.

    (2019) Sick-Woman Bessie Bruce, Keynote Address, Sick Girls in European Visual Art, Literature, Medical Science and Popular Culture in the 19th Century, Aarhus University 

    (2019) Egon Schiele’s Clinical Modernism, ‘Artistry in the Spaces of Medicine’ panel, Association of Art Historians, Annual Conference, University of Sussex
    Show more
  • Awards and Grants

  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Canada) Insight Grant for Edvard Munch, Modernism, and Medicine, led by Principal Investigator Dr Allison Morehead (Queen’s University, Canada), 2017-2021.

    Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship for a single-authored book on portraiture in ‘Vienna 1900’; the book became the exhibition and catalogue Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 (National Gallery, London, 2013-14), 2010-11.

    Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) Major Research Project Grant for Madness and Modernity: Art, Architecture and Mental Illness in Vienna and the Habsburg Empire 1890-1914, led by Principal Investigator Dr Leslie Topp (Birkbeck, University of London), 2004-08.

Selected work


Research interests

•      Austrian art of the 19th and early 20th centuries

•      Viennese modernism and its dialogue with European modernism

•      Contemporary portraiture/figuration and its dialogue with modernism

•      Intersections between art and medicine

•      Critical approaches to the Medical Humanities

•      History and theory of collecting and exhibiting practices

•      Modernist patronage, networks and art criticism

•      Ethnicity and modernism

•      Gender and modernism

•      Gender and the archive

•      Historiography

Current and recent research

Clinical Modernism
Research monograph on the connections between art, medicine, and experience in ‘Vienna 1900’ (in process).

Pelvic-Gazing at the Frauenklinik
Archival research on Egon Schiele’s experience of drawing female patients at the University of Vienna’s General Hospital in 1910, presented at the Association of Art Historians (AAH) Annual Conference (March 2019), and Freud Museum, London (January 2019).

Chantal Joffe: Personal Feeling is the Main Thing
Collaboration with artist Chantal Joffe on the production of a series of portraits and figurative studies during Blackshaw’s pregnancy for an exhibition which considered Joffe’s dialogue with modernist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, at The Lowry, Salford (2018).

Edvard Munch, Modernism and Medicine
Contribution to a major international, collaborative research project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2017-2021).

Modernisms and Medicines
Co-authored publication on the contribution art historians might make to the emerging field of the critical medical humanities (in process).

Migrant Family
Collaboration with artist Chantal Joffe on Jewish family photographs including those of Anna Freud held in the Freud Museum, which reflects upon North London’s history of immigration, acculturation and assimilation in the 20th and 21st centuries (in process).

Research students