History of Art


Dr Nicholas Robbins


Dr Nicholas Robbins

Nicholas Robbins

Nicholas Robbins is Lecturer in British Art, 1700-1900. His research and teaching address the history of art and visual culture in the Atlantic world during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with particular attention to the scientific and environmental significance of art.

He is currently on leave during the 2023-24 academic year, working on a book about climate as a subject of artistic experimentation and scientific representation in nineteenth-century Britain.

Contact details

Office: 307, 21 Gordon Square
Office hours: N/A
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

Nick’s research centres on the art and visual cultures of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Atlantic world, with a particular focus on art’s active role in the formation and mediation of scientific and environmental knowledge. He is working on a book, currently titled The Late Weather, about the emergence of climate as a central subject of scientific representation and artistic experiment in the nineteenth century. Working with a broad range of objects—landscape paintings, scientific diagrams, architectural drawings, and photographic substrates—the project examines new modes of apprehending environmental wholeness that were shaped by ideologies of standardisation, imperial homogeneity, and racial difference. These questions are also at centre of a related study, Acclimatising Photography, which considers how the photographic medium was materially and discursively adapted to its varying environmental surrounds. A recent article related to these projects, on the aesthetics of climate in the work of John Constable and Luke Howard, received the 2022 Emerging Scholar Award from the Nineteenth-Century Studies Association. 

Other recent essays have addressed the political and environmental valences of elemental materials—such the rocks that litter the canvases of Fitz Henry Lane and the unruly atmospheres of the panorama. Some ongoing research projects include questions of individuation and incarceration in the drawings of George Romney; exhibition cultures and the spatialised articulation of racial difference in the early nineteenth century; elemental mediums and the deposition of history in the work of artists and thinkers like Charles Babbage, Winslow Homer, and Elizabeth Bishop; and a longer-term project on art’s means of articulating resistance to state and imperial violence. 

Selected publications

Articles and Chapters

‘John Constable, Luke Howard, and the Aesthetics of Climate’, The Art Bulletin 103, no. 2 (June 2021): 50–76.

‘Rock-Bound: Fitz Henry Lane in 1862’, Oxford Art Journal 44, no. 1 (March 2021): 105–23.

‘Atmospheric Regulation in the Panorama’, Grey Room 83 (Spring 2021): 56–81.

‘Ruskin, Whistler, and the Climate of Art in 1884’, in Ruskin’s Ecologies, eds. Kelly Freeman and Thomas Hughes (London: Courtauld Books Online, 2021), 203–223.

Catalogue Essays 

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

‘Working Papers: Thomas Cole’s Early Drawings and Notebooks’, in Picturesque and Sublime: Thomas Cole’s Trans-Atlantic Inheritance (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).

Co-authored/edited Volumes

“The Aerial Image,” co-edited with Emily Doucet and Matthew C. Hunter, Grey Room 83 (Spring 2021).

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).

Teaching and Supervision

Nick’s teaching takes a transnational and interdisciplinary approach to the history of art in Britain and the Atlantic world. His undergraduate courses include ‘Art and Science in Britain, 1750–1900’ and ‘Landscape: Empire, Industry, Environment’, as well as the co-taught course ‘Methodologies of Art History’. In the department’s MA programme, he offers the special subject ‘Histories of Environmental Form’. He would look forward to hearing from prospective doctoral students interested in trans-Atlantic art and visual cultures in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, as well as students interested in art’s intersections with histories of science and the environment.

Nicholas Robbins received his BA and PhD from Yale University, where his dissertation received the Frances Blanshard Prize. He has also 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. He joined the UCL History of Art department in 2020.