ESNA Conference 2022

On 19 and 20 May 2022, the ESNA Conference Ways of Studying: Towards New Histories of Nineteenth-Century Art took place, organised by the European Society for Nineteenth-Century Art (ESNA) in collaboration with the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History.

Ways of Studying: Towards New Histories of Nineteenth-Century Art

In the autumn of 2020, the Van Gogh Museum, in collaboration with ESNA and the University of Amsterdam, organized a series of roundtable discussions that from various angles sought to address the question of “diversifying” the canon of nineteenth-century art and making art-historical practice more “inclusive.” The aim of these meetings, followed up in January 2021 by the annual ESNA Winter Seminar on the same topic, was to formulate concrete research strands, which, rather than simply broadening the nineteenth-century canon, would substantially change it. Ideally, these would give direction to university teaching, exhibitions, and collection building over the next five years.

It soon became clear, however, that the terms “diversification” and “inclusion” were in themselves problematic, as they imply that the current disciplinary system would remain intact. One might study art from other parts of the world or by “Other” creators, one might expand the canon, but the idea that the history of nineteenth-century art followed a certain developmental pattern, one that culminated in an avant-garde that then went on to shape Modernism, would not necessarily be affected. Instead, one might better seek to fundamentally decolonize the history of nineteenth-century art. This term, too, is not unproblematic: it has a particular historical dimension, but in recent times has come to stand more generally for a call to both recognize and challenge hierarchies in and beyond the academy and the art world, not only those resulting from concrete actions in the (colonial) past but also those linked to questions of class, gender, race, and ethnicity. Ideally, adecolonized history of nineteenth-century art would not only add new voices and objects to the existing canon but would productively mobilize the awareness of the ways in which what we study, teach, and display reflects European hegemony. Although this topic is clearly not new, even in the study of nineteenth-century art, specific recent events and debates, as well as fundamental shifts within both academia and society at large, lend it a particular sense of urgency.

ESNA Conference 2022

The annual ESNA Conference 2022, Ways of Studying: Towards New Histories of Nineteenth-Century Art, expands on this initial phase of reflection, setting it in an international context. We understand the conference as a kind of laboratory, a place for experiment and exchange. Taking a two-pronged approach, the papers will take case studies as their starting point, but also pinpoint and further explore the implications of these new discoveries for the field in general. In this way, the conference presents new information and address questions of methodology, i.e. “ways of studying”.



  • Date: 19-20 May
  • Time: 13:00-17:00
  • Online via Zoom (you will receive a link after registration)
  • Language: English

Afbeelding: Jan Toorop, Selfportrait, 1881, watercolor and chalk on paper, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (Purchased with the support of the Knecht-Drenth Fonds/Rijksmuseum Fonds and the Otto van Noppen Fonds/Rijksmuseum Fonds, in memory of Jacqueline de Raad (1961–2015))