History of Art


Dr Nicholas Robbins

Dr Nicholas Robbins

Nicholas Robbins

Nicholas Robbins is Lecturer in British Art, c.1700–1900. His research and teaching address the history of art and visual culture in the Atlantic world during the long nineteenth century, with particular attention to the scientific and environmental significance of art. He is currently working on a book about the emergence of climate as a central subject of scientific observation and artistic experiment in the nineteenth century. 

Contact details

Office: G04, 21 Gordon Square
Office hours: Tuesday 1:30-2:30pm and Thursday 10:00-11:00am. Please register for a slot here
Phone: tbc
Email: n.robbins@ucl.ac.uk


Lecturer in History of Art
Dept of History of Art
Faculty of S&HS

Research Themes

Art and visual culture in Britain, the former British empire, and North America, c. 1700–1900; landscape representation; the history of photography; visual and material cultures of science; art and ecology; histories of racial formation; exhibition and display

Research summary

Nicholas Robbins’s research concerns art’s active role in the formation and mediation of scientific and environmental knowledge in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His work investigates the ways that different objects—whether landscape paintings, scientific diagrams, architectural drawings, or photographic substrates—function as material negotiations of experience, observation, and analysis. 

His current book project explores the aesthetic, scientific, and cultural history of climate in nineteenth-century Britain and the former British empire. It investigates how the attempts of artists and scientists to construct stable representations of climate were traversed by episodes of dissonance, resistance, and failure. Forthcoming articles address the political and environmental valences of elemental materials—such the rocks that litter the canvases of the painter Fitz Henry Lane or the urban atmospheres that the panoramic apparatus tried, and failed, to regulate. Other current research questions concern the history of self-registering instruments and graphic automatism; extractive landscapes and economic history in North America and Australasia; art’s means of articulating resistance to state and imperial violence; and ekphrastic encounters with objects and images in the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop.

He has worked on a number of collaborative curatorial projects about the history of British and North American art. In 2018, he co-curated the exhibition Picturesque and Sublime: Thomas Cole’s Trans-Atlantic Inheritance at the Thomas Cole National Historical Site in Catskill, New York and co-authored the accompanying catalogue. He also worked as a research assistant on the exhibition Bill Brandt | Henry Moore, which will be presented at the Yale Center for British Art, the Hepworth Wakefield, and the Sainsbury Centre at UEA in 2020–21. 

Selected publications

‘Rock-Bound: Fitz Henry Lane in 1862’, forthcoming in Oxford Art Journal 44, no. 1 (March 2021).

‘Ruskin, Whistler, and the Climate of Art in 1884’, forthcoming in Ruskin’s Ecologies, eds. Kelly Freeman and Thomas Hughes (London: Courtauld Books Online, 2021).

‘Exhibiting Art in Wartime’, in Bill Brandt | Henry Moore, eds. Martina Droth and Paul Messier (New Haven: Yale Center for British Art, 2020), pp. 98–101.

Picturesque and Sublime: Thomas Cole’s Trans-Atlantic Inheritance, with Tim Barringer, Gillian Forrester, Sophie Lynford, and Jennifer Raab (Catskill, NY: Thomas Cole National Historical Site; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018).

‘The Road’, in Hopper Drawing, ed. Carter E. Foster (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2013), pp. 172–203.

Teaching and Supervision

His teaching takes a transnational and interdisciplinary approach to the history of art in Britain and the Atlantic world. In 2020/21, he is offering a second-year course, ‘Art and Science in Britain, 1750–1900’, as well as a third-year special subject course, ‘Changes in the Landscape: Empire, Industry, Environment’. He will also be co-teaching the second-year ‘Methodologies’ module with Richard Taws. 

He would be very glad to hear from students interested in proposing postgraduate projects on the history of art in Britain and North America, on the history of nineteenth-century photography, or on topics concerning the scientific and ecological dimensions of art.

Nicholas Robbins completed his PhD in History of Art at Yale University in 2020. He has worked as a curatorial assistant at the Whitney Museum of American Art, a research assistant at the Yale Center for British Art, and a guest curator at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. His research has been supported by grants from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, the Peter Palmquist Memorial Fund for Photographic Research, and the MacMillan Center at Yale.