Niccola Shearman - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Niccola Shearman

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Dr Niccola Shearman

Associate Lecturer

Thesis: Weimar in Black and White: the woodcut in the work of Ernst Barlach and Lyonel Feininger in Germany, 1918-1927

Supervised by Shulamith Behr

Short-term research grants received from:

  • DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service), 2013.
  • Houghton Library, Harvard University, 2013.

This thesis addresses the prominent attention paid to the art of woodcut during the early years of the Weimar Republic in Germany. Afforded ‘monumental’ status by critics and art historians of the era, the stark pictorial economy of this art form was hailed as the prime conduit for the prevailing spirit of the age. The study represents a comprehensive introduction to the woodcut oeuvres of Ernst Barlach (1870-1938) and Lyonel Feininger (1881-1956): both established artists who took up this uncompromising medium with equal intensity at the close of the First World War. On the basis of a comparison of diverse practices, the broader aim is to investigate why the woodcut should be perceived as uniquely suited to the artistic intentions of precarious times.

Contending that perception itself provides a key to the exaggerated response, the thesis explores the explicit visual scaffold of the artworks against a history of the psychology of vision and developments in neuroarthistory. With a particular focus on principles of visual order advanced by the Gestalt scientists operating during the same era in Berlin, it asks how and what contemporaries might have seen when laying claims to visible truths of the metaphysical kind. The purpose behind a close analysis of art works and the historiography is to attempt to bracket out persuasive associations with cultural identity and moral integrity in order to assess the perceptual conditions of an art form marked by a striking symmetry of means to expression. On this basis, the thesis argues that beneath conceptual claims to the expression of a Zeitgeist one should consider the embodied workings of a Zeitauge alert to salient contrast and decisive pictorial rhythm. Pointing to productive gains for artist and viewer alike, conclusions on the woodcut’s vital importance to the common constitution offer an interpretation that seeks to loosen a history often weighed down by its problematic discourse of spiritual authenticity.





  • 2018:   PhD, Courtauld Institute of Art, Weimar in Black and White: the Woodcut in Germany, 1918 – 1927
  • 2007:   MA in the History of Art (German art & cultural politics, 1890-1945), Courtauld Institute.
  • 1988:   PGCE in German and French, London University Institute of Education.
  • 1986:   BA Hons in Modern Languages, Oxford University.


  • BA1 Topic Course; Graphic Expressions – German and Austrian works on paper, 1880-1933.
  • Lecturer: Courtauld Summer School – Visions of Utopia in German Modernist Art. 
  • Lecturer: Showcasing Art History (Courtauld evening school & Study Days) – Modernisms in Europe and the USA – Five German Artists – Women in art at the Courtauld Gallery

Research interests

  • German and Austrian art and its reception, 1870-1945, in particular: responses to WWI; painting at the Bauhaus; German artists in Italy. 
  • Histories and cultural politics of printmaking, especially the woodcut revival in modernist arenas.
  • Image and identity in art and literature of the Weimar Republic
  • Psychology of vision (19th C. German ‘psychological aesthetics’, phenomenology, and Gestalt principles to present day)

Conference papers and lectures

  • ‘The Aftermath in Black and White: on the question of ‘visible relief’ in the German woodcut after 1918′ (Aftermath – German and Austrian Cultural Responses to the End of WWI, King’s College London, Sept 2018)
  • ‘Out of the Woods: Lyonel Feininger and the Printed Face of Glasarchitektur ‘(Fantasy in Reality – Architecture, Representation, Reproduction, Courtauld Institute, June 2017)
  • Expressionist Prints – artistic techniques and the creative process (EAM: European Association of Modernism Studies, Rennes, 2016)
  • A case for ‘good Gestalt’ in the woodcuts of Lyonel Feininger (Art History and Physiological Aesthetics – bodies, senses, historiographies – AAH, Edinburgh 2016)

  • ‘Altered Visions: on visible relief in the German woodcut post-WW1’ (After the Great War, After the Cold War – nations, identities and art histories in Central Europe, AAH, Norwich 2015) 

  • ‘Reversal of Values – the woodblock and its print in Weimar Germany’ (Spur der Arbeit conference, Technische U. Berlin, July 2014)
  • ‘The “Gothic Spirit” and the German Expressionst woodcut’ (Revivals conference, Courtauld Institute, Nov 2012)

Recent publications

  • ‘Reversal of Values: on the woodblock and its print in German modernist art’ in M. Bushart and H. Haug (eds), Sammelband zur Tagung Spur der Arbeit (Berlin: Bohlau Verlag, 2018)
  • Entry on the art of Oskar Kokoschka in Encyclopedia of Bible Reception, vol. 15 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017)
  • ‘Seeing is Everything: on the visual demands of Lyonel Feininger’s woodcuts’, immediations, the Courtauld Institute of Art Journal of Postgraduate Research, vol. 3 no. 3, 2014.
  • ‘Chasing Linear Fantasies: a study of the Gothic line in the work of Ernst Barlach’, in A. Lepine & L. Cleaver (eds), Gothic Legacies: Four Centuries of Tradition and Innovation in Art and Architecture (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012)
  • Publications for Courtauld Gallery Public Programmes (2012-14) – essay contributor and translator for Teachers’ Resources: Mantegna – Matisse, Master Drawings from the Courtauld Gallery; Journeys in Art and Ambition -Albrecht Duerer (editor); Egon Schiele and the Expressive Body.
  • ‘Putting the Passion into cultural politics: Utopian hopes for a new religious art in Germany, 1915-20’, Rebus (online journal of art history and theory, U. Essex, issue 3, 2009)

Other academic activity

  • Visiting Lecturer, University of Liverpool, German Dept., 2017-18 (BA 2 Weimar Republic module: film, literature, cultural politics 1919-33)
  • Member of CHASE Material Witness training programme 2015

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