History of Art


Tribute to History of Art alumna Dr Harriet O’Neill

7 June 2023

It is with great sadness that we announce the death, after a short illness, of Dr Harriet O’Neill who was a one-time Master’s student at UCL History of Art and went on to study and receive her doctorate in the Department in 2015.

A white woman with shoulder length brown hair and a black and white top smiles at the camera

Harriet’s doctoral thesis, entitled Re-framing the Italian Renaissance at the National Gallery, was supported by an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award and co-supervised between UCL History of Art (Alison Wright) and the National Gallery London (Susanna Avery-Quash). Her work encompassed historical and theoretical approaches to the frame in the museum context and involved fresh archival and object-based research over the period from the earlier nineteenth century to the present. Her thesis showed how the framing, reframing and placement of paintings entering the burgeoning National Gallery collection served to give them a new art historical identity and to construct the notion of the ‘Italian Renaissance’ as this developed in the space of a national institution. The research shed light on key players and moments, as well as the central aesthetic and museological debates and international developments within which changing framing policies were developed.

While studying for the PhD, Harriet taught ‘Art in London’ courses with great success but her second MA was in Museum Studies and she was always committed to curatorial and museum education work. After UCL she began her career in the position of Vivmar Curatorial Assistant at the National Gallery where she co-curated the exhibition Frames in Focus: The Sansovino Frame and assisted with Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art. From there she was appointed as College Curator at Royal Holloway, University of London, which has its own historic Picture Gallery. As curator, she was involved in the development of the new exhibition space, programming exhibitions and engagement activities. 

In 2018 Harriet moved to Rome to take up a new position as Assistant Director for the Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the British School, remaining until the 2020 pandemic which brought her back to London and her beloved National Gallery, now as Courses and Events programmer. Only recently Harriet had taken up the position of Curator at English Heritage. 
Friends and staff members in our Department and beyond remember the kind, funny, self-deprecating and immensely able Dr Harriet O’Neill with great affection.