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School of History, Philosophy and Culture
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences
After her first degree in Modern History at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, Christiana went on to the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, where she gained an MA and a PhD in History of Art. From 2003 until 2006 she served as Honorary Secretary of the Association of Art Historians. She is a Trustee of the Marc Fitch Fund.
Her research interests are in nineteenth-century British landscape and genre painting, with a particular emphasis on the representation of the poor, the relationship of art to its social and political context, and the representation of landscape features, notably the sea, the coast, and trees. She has curated exhibitions at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, the Djanogly Art Gallery, University of Nottingham, Penlee House Gallery and Museum, Penzance, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham, the Fine Art Society, London, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, and the Higgins Bedford. With Juliet McMaster, she was co-curator of a new display at Tate Britain, James Clarke Hook and Painters of the Sea (2006 – 2008).
Christiana is currently guest curator of an exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite drawings and watercolours, which is due to open at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in February 2021. She is writing a book on the representation of trees in American painting and literature, c. 1820-1860.
Oxford has a special place in the history of Pre-Raphaelitism. Thomas Combe (superintendent of the Clarendon Press) encouraged John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt at a crucial early stage of their careers, and his collection became the nucleus of the Ashmolean collection of works by the Brotherhood and their associates. Two young undergraduates, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, saw the Combe collection and became enthusiastic converts to the movement. With Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in 1857 they undertook the decoration of the debating chamber (now the Old Library) of the Oxford Union. The group’s champion John Ruskin also studied in Oxford, where he oversaw the design of the University Museum of Natural History and established the Ruskin School of Drawing. Jane Burden, future wife of Morris and muse (probably also lover) of Rossetti, was a local girl, first spotted at the theatre in Oxford.
Oxford’s key role in the movement has made it a magnet for important bequests and acquisitions, most recently of Burne-Jones’s illustrated letters and paintbrushes. The collection of watercolours and drawings includes a wide variety of appealing works, from Hunt’s first drawing on the back of a tiny envelope for The Light of the World (Keble College), to large, elaborate chalk drawings of Jane Morris by Rossetti. It is especially rich in portraits, which throw an intimate light on the friendships and love affairs of the artists, and in landscapes which reflect Ruskin’s advice to ‘go to nature’.
More than just an exhibition catalogue, this book is a showcase of the Ashmolean's incredible collection, and demonstrates the enormous range of Pre-Raphaelite drawing techniques and media, including pencil, pen and ink, chalk, watercolour, bodycolour and metallic paints. It will include designs for stained glass and furniture, as well as preparatory drawings for some of the well-known paintings in the collection.
Fire! traces the representation of fire in British art across the last four centuries. In turns destructive and creative, fearsome and fascinating, it’s a subject loaded with symbolism, ritual and emotion. Unsurprisingly, the subject of fire has drawn in artists throughout the ages. It features in the work of major British artists such as J.M.W. Turner, John Martin, J.M. Whistler, Joseph Wright of Derby and William Blake, who are presented here alongside contemporary work by artists such as Cornelia Parker, David Nash, Mark Wallinger and Douglas Gordon.
The book looks at the many facets of fire; its ability to express concepts on a human scale, such as warmth, anger and passion; as a storyteller fundamental to religion and mythology; its effects on our language – we talk of burning desires and blazing rows; as a driving force behind the progress of civilisation through science, industry and technology; as a political tool sending visceral message with shocking finality; its contribution to advances in cooking, pottery, metal and glass; as a signifier of absence, the soul, loss and transcendence. Three newly commissioned essays on the subject explore fire in the process of making and how artists’ approaches to fire have changed over time, recording historical, religious, domestic or natural events as well as exploring fire as a material phenomenon informed by contemporary themes and issues, combining art and science. This book seeks to address the dual nature of fire showing that fire continues to be welcomed and feared in equal measure.
Accompanies the exhibition held at the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, 15 June-1 September 2019.
Drawing on a wealth of unpublished sketchbooks, journals, and writings, this essential guide to John Brett (1831-1902) investigates the painter who was seen as the leader of the Pre-Raphaelite landscape school. In addition to exploring the familiar early works, including The Val d'Aosta and Stonebreaker, it provides rich information on his later, less-known coastal and marine paintings. Brett's turbulent friendship with John Ruskin is discussed, as are his relations with his beloved sister, Rosa, and his partner Mary, with whom he had seven children. His fervent interest in astronomy, his love of the sea, and his lifelong pursuit of wealth and recognition are all examined in this reassessment, which concludes with a catalogue raisonne of his works, prepared by his descendent Charles Brett.
From the direct gaze of his early self-portraits in the 1850s to the photographs he took of himself in 1889 as the head of a large family, John Brett was clearly concerned to present himself as a ‘manly’ painter. Eschewing the Bohemian masculinity of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Brett’s later writings, both public and private, show his allegiance to militaristic and imperialistic constructions of masculinity. These are at their purest in his role as ‘captain’ of his yacht, the appropriately named Viking, in the early to mid-1880s, a few years after he painted Britannia’s Realm (1880).
The book weaves its way through British art including early experiments with air and studies of clouds, to representations of breath (blowing glass, balloons) and wind instruments to flying creatures (real and imaginary) and wartime skies, before considering the physical possibilities of flight which shifted our perceptions of the landscape, as aerial photography made the view of the earth from above available to wider audiences. Contemporary work introduces new environmental issues to the narrative, making reference to climate change and air-borne disease, as well as considering air as an integral component in the process of making art, to demonstrate how air is everywhere.The beautifully illustrated book includes a number of insightful essays which expand on the exhibition’s interweaving themes looking at the life of breath from a philosophical position; an exploration of our enduring fascination with the pursuit of ‘ballooning’ from the first intrepid flights in the eighteenth century from co-curator Christiana Payne, and a nebulous account of clouds throughout British art from Gemma Brace, attempting to visualise the invisible in words.
All these paintings focus on beaches, that is, flattish areas of sand or pebbles adjacent to the sea. In the nineteenth century the word ‘beach’ began to take on its modern connotation as a site for holiday-making and leisure. In tourist resorts such as Ramsgate and Pegwell Bay in Kent, the beach was a social space where people prepared to bathe, read novels and newspapers, flirted, rode donkeys, watched entertainers, collected natural history specimens or simply sat out in the open air. In fishing villages, however, the flat beach had a more utilitarian function as the place where boats were pulled up onto the sand, where their catch was unloaded and sometimes where the fish were sold to merchants and the general public. In these locations, such as Cullercoats on the north-east coast near Newcastle, the beach was a different kind of social space, one in which the relationships within a close-knit community were cemented and tested. Here, and on unfrequented rocky beaches in more remote locations such as Cornwall, images of the beach might remind viewers not of holidays but of the symbolism of the seacoast as a metaphor for the fragility of human life and the hope of immortality.