History of Art


History of Art PhD Student awarded Caird Research Fellowship

12 February 2020

Ben Pollitt, a PhD candidate at UCL History of Art, has landed a Caird Research Fellowship at the National Maritime Museum, London

Harry Edgell

The Caird Research Fellowship is part of the Royal Museums Greenwich's well-established fellowship programme, which supports research that can provide pioneering perspectives on its collections. The Caird Research Fellowships are awarded to researchers whose work focuses on an aspect, or aspects, of maritime life and related ideas – these can range from migration and identity to heritage science and public engagement around the history of sea exploration.

Ben Pollitt is a PhD candidate at History of Art who is shortly due to submit his thesis, which focuses on the work of John Webber (1751-1793), the artist who accompanied Captain James Cook on his third voyage (1776-1780). For his nine-month Caird Research Fellowship, he will turn his attention to the subject of 'Colour as Weather: Art and Meteorology 1750-1900', drawing on the National Maritime Museum’s extensive collection of visual resources and considering the role of colour in eighteenth and nineteenth-century British maritime art and how this shaped the emergent idea of a global climate.

As well as ensuring that accurate meteorological information was recorded in the ship’s logs, the commanding officer of HMS Chesapeake, Harry Edmund Edgell (1809–1876), also produced watercolour drawings, including the above image of two dhows sailing at sunset in the Gulf of Aden. Looking at a range of such images, investigating their physical make up and the manner and conditions of their production and display, Ben’s research seeks to explore how colour sense informs the history of the collection and presentation of weather data in Britain during this period.

Like heat sense, colour animates us, actualizing affective bonds between self and other identities; as such, colour, like weather itself, disrupts the view of the body as a discrete unit in the world, alerting us to the fact that we are nowhere if not in the midst of it. Alternatively, derived from the Latin celare, to conceal, colour is fundamentally deceitful, promising substance, but providing only surface. Ben’s research will consider colour, therefore, as both a phenomenon of sacred importance, reconciling the individual to the global, and as a nomadic chimera, a cause for scepticism.

Image: Harry Edmund Edgell, coastal view with sailing vessels inscribed ‘The watering place opposite Aden Coast of Arabia HMS Chesapeake Abyssinea,’ (1855-60), watercolour, 77 x 249mm, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London