Madeleine Harrison - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Madeleine Harrison

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Madeleine Harrison

PhD student

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9 Oct

Supervised by Professor David Peters Corbett

Prospective thesis title: Aaron Douglas’ ‘Art Era,’ 1925-37

Funded by the Consortium for the Humanities and the Arts in South-East England (2018-2020)

This thesis is a chronological examination of the work Aaron Douglas made during the twelve years in which he was based in Harlem, and an analysis of the emergence of his mature style. It argues that Douglas was searching for a style that could inaugurate and command a new ‘art era’ that was by, and for, African Americans. This phrase comes from a letter Douglas sent to Langston Hughes, which called for the pair to agitate for a cultural revolution that foregrounded complex and varied African American experiences, histories and productions. The development of Douglas’ mature style was so careful and deliberate that it lends itself to such a reading: the multiple shifts and ultimate settling of Douglas’ idiom during the twelve years that this thesis studies encourage us to envision an artist with distinct and relatively consistent intentions.

The thesis divides the twelve years of study into four parts, and each of the four chapters examines one or two key works that Douglas made in each part. These works have been chosen for their visual articulation of a moment of experimentation or reconciliation in Douglas’ idiom, and their facilitation of analysis of that experimentation or reconciliation. Each chapter therefore demonstrates Douglas’ gradual progression towards a style that could convey the experiences, histories and productions that he was trying to invoke. My assessment of the ways in which these were invoked is set against a fully-realised contextual backdrop, incorporating political, historical and cultural phenomena to interrogate Douglas’ attempt to render the aesthetic epochal. My chapters demonstrate that Douglas repeatedly engaged with the social, scientific and imagistic phenomena that constituted race in America: the gradual shifts in his visual language happened as he worked to accommodate commentary on these issues. This thesis thus reflects the potency of visual culture in affecting social change and shows that Douglas viewed his works as active contributions to American racial discourse and the civil rights struggle.


MA History of Art, with special option ‘New York-London-Paris 1880-1940,’ The Courtauld Institute of Art, 2016-17

BA (Hons) History of Art, University of Bristol, 2012-15

Awards, grants and fellowships

CHASE; Doctoral Studentship, 2018-20

Terra Foundation for American Art; Immersion Semesters Fellowship at Harvard University, Spring 2019

Terra Foundation for American Art; Research Travel Grant to the United States, 2018-19





‘The Harlem Renaissance,’ MA seminar (New York-London-Paris 1880-1940), 2017-20

Foundations, BA discussion classes, Autumn 2019

Conferences and workshops

‘FIRE!! Magazine and the Visualisation of Cultural Conflict’ – ‘New Voices 2018: Art and Conflict,’ Association for Art History, University of Edinburgh, November 9 2018.

‘Isabel Bishop, Experience and Fantasy’ – ‘Experience and American Art,’ The Courtauld Institute of Art, organised by Professor David Peters Corbett and Professor Alexander Nemerov (Stanford University), March 23-24 2018.

‘Aaron Douglas and Frantz Fanon’ – CHASE School of American Visual Arts and Texts PhD Workshop, Eccles Centre, British Library, February 26 2018.

”The People who are Trivial Outside:’ Isabel Bishop, Homosocial Fantasy and Class Spectatorship, 1930-1940′ – ‘Chasing America,’ CHASE School of American Visual Arts and Texts, Courtauld Institute of Art, December 9 2017.

Research interests

Aaron Douglas

Inter-war North American painting and photography

National self-fashioning in North American art

The canon

The politics of public display

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