Gemma is an art historian, writer and curator with an international reputation for research on modernist portraiture and figuration, and its intersection with contemporary art.
Gemma is Senior Liaison Tutor within Critical & Historical Studies, liaising on behalf of the School of Arts & Humanities (SoAH). She is also Senior Research Tutor within SoAH, contributing to the supervision and examination of MPhil/PhD students, and to the convening of research groups, organised around key words, including ‘Care’ (2020–21) and ‘Correspondence’ (2019–20). Before joining the RCA in 2019, Gemma 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 (2005–8; 2011–13); and co-led the BA Joint-Honours Fine Art & Art History programme (2005–08, 2011–13).
Research interests, approaches and methods include:
- Art and visual culture in ‘Vienna 1900’
- Gender, modernism and the archive
- Intersections of modernist portraiture and figuration (painting, drawing, photography) with clinical medicine
- Contemporary art and writings which engage with sickness
- Critical approaches to the medical humanities
- Feminist art histories; reparative art histories
- Care (of histories, people, objects, personal effects)
- Correspondence and creative writing (expanded art histories)
- Crip, Queer and Auto theory
Gemma'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 Gemma is engaged in as a contributor to the major international research project Edvard Munch, Modernism, and Medicine, 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.
Gemma has curated high-profile, international-loan exhibitions on modern and contemporary portraiture and figuration in the UK and in Austria. Institutions she has worked for include: National Gallery, London; Courtauld Gallery, London; Wien Museum, Vienna; Leopold Museum, Vienna.
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, Gemma's work is distinguished by her collaboration with artists who are similarly preoccupied with the modernist tradition. 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 Gemma 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 Gemma, engaged with the aesthetics and politics of Schiele’s sexually explicit drawings.
Gemma also works with artist Chantal Joffe. Collaborative projects 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 Gemma curated for the National Gallery, London, Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 (2013-14).
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.
Current and recent projects
The Body Electric
Exhibition of recently-discovered drawings by Viennese modernist Erwin dom Osen, of patients from a military hospital in the city, for the Leopold Museum, Vienna (2021).
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).
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).
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).
Publications, exhibitions, other outcomes
(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). ‘In time the likeness will become apparent’: Rebecca Fortnum’s Feminist Copies. In: R. Fortnum and A. Hunt, eds., Rebecca Fortnum: 'A Mind Weighted with Unpublished Matter'. London: Slimvolume, pp. 4-21.
Blackshaw, G. (2020). Everything Painted Blue: A Letter to Bessie Bruce (1886-1921). Prova, Vol. 5, pp. 198-199.
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.
Blackshaw, G. (2017). Egon Schiele’s Passion: Spirituality and Sexuality, 1912-15 in T. Natter, ed., Egon Schiele: The Complete Paintings. Munich: Taschen, pp. 196-297.
Blackshaw, G. (2016). Confessional Painting: Recent Work by Chantal Joffe in Chantal Joffe. London: Victoria Miro.
Blackshaw, G. (2014). Dead Men and their Naked Truths in M. Doyle and K. Macfarlane, eds., The Nakeds. Manchester: Cornerhouse, pp. 12-29.
Blackshaw, G. (2014). Good Timing, Drawing Room Online Resources. Available at: https://drawingroom.org.uk/resources/good-timing-by-gemma-blackshaw
Blackshaw, G. (2014). The Modernist Offence: Schiele and the Naked Female Body in B. Wright and P. Vergo, eds., Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude. London: Paul Holberton Publishing in association with The Courtauld Gallery, pp. 30-49.
Blackshaw, G. (2013). On Stage: The New Viennese in G. Blackshaw, ed., Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900. London: National Gallery Company in association with Yale University Press, pp. 13-33.
Blackshaw, G. (2013). Past Times and Present Anxieties at the Galerie Miethke in Facing the Modern, pp. 35-61.
Blackshaw, G. (2013). The Appeal of the Artist: Self Portraits by Klimt, Schiele and Schoenberg in Facing the Modern, pp. 111-131.
Blackshaw, G. and Wieber, S. (2012). Introduction in G. Blackshaw and S. Wieber, eds., Journeys into Madness: Mapping Mental Illness in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. New York: Berghahn, pp. 1-9.
Blackshaw, G. (2012). Peter Altenberg: Authoring Madness in Vienna 1900 in Journeys into Madness, pp. 109-129.
Blackshaw, G. and Topp, L. (2009). Scrutinised Bodies and Lunatic Utopias: Mental Illness, Psychiatry and the Visual Arts in Vienna, 1898-1914 in G. Blackshaw and L. Topp, eds., Madness and Modernity: Mental Illness and the Visual Arts in Vienna 1900. London: Lund Humphries, pp. 14-37.
Blackshaw, G. (2009). Mad Modernists: Imaging Mental Illness in Viennese Portraits in Madness and Modernity, pp. 46-65.
Blackshaw, G. (2009). Gustav Jagerspacher: Portrait of Peter Altenberg in Madness and Modernity, pp. 66-75.
Blackshaw, G. (2008). Rediscovering Anton Romako in ‘From Ausgleich to Jahrhundertwende: Literature and Culture 1867-1890’, Austrian Studies, 16, pp. 105-122.
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
- (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
- (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
- (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
- 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
- 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
- Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
- Member of the Association of Art Historians
- Member of the College Art Association