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 climate as a subject of scientific representation and artistic experiment in the Atlantic World.

Contact details

Office: 307, 21 Gordon Square
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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

Nick’s research concerns art’s active role in the formation and mediation of scientific and environmental knowledge in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He is currently working on a book about the aesthetic, scientific, and cultural history of climate in nineteenth-century Britain and the former British empire. Gathering a broad range of objects—landscape paintings, scientific diagrams, architectural drawings, and photographic substrates—the project considers the attempts of artists and scientists to construct stable representations of climate, attempts that were traversed by episodes of dissonance, resistance, and failure. Some recent essays 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 UEA in 2020–22. 

Selected publications

Articles and Essays

‘John Constable, Luke Howard, and the Aesthetics of Climate’, The Art Bulletin (June 2021) 

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

‘Atmospheric Regulation in the Panorama’, Grey Room 83 (Spring 2021) 

‘Rock-Bound: Fitz Henry Lane in 1862’, Oxford Art Journal (March 2021).

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

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


Teaching and Supervision

Nick’s teaching takes a transnational and interdisciplinary approach to the history of art in Britain and the Atlantic world. Courses offered include ‘Art and Science in Britain, 1750–1900’ and ‘Landscape: Empire, Industry, Environment’, as well as the co-taught undergraduate ‘Methodologies of Art History’ and lectures for the first-year Foundations and Core courses. He supervises undergraduate and master’s dissertations on a range of topics in modern European and American art. 

Nicholas Robbins joined the UCL History of Art Department in 2020, after finishing his PhD at Yale University. 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.