HBA Book Awards

Annually, HBA awards three prizes for books on British art in the following categories: pre-1800, post-1800, and multi-authored book.

To nominate a publication, please contact the committee chair, Douglas Fordham, at Fordham@virginia.edu. Publishers should email Dr. Fordham about nominating books for consideration and about sending books to members of the reading committee. HBA members interested in serving on the reading committee are also invited to contact Douglas.

2015 Awards
for books published in 2014 and announced in February 2016

The Historians of British Art is pleased to announce Book Award winners for publications from 2014. The winners were chosen from a nominating list of over eighty books from more than twenty different presses. Awards are granted in three different categories, and this year two books share the award for single-author books dealing with a subject before 1800. Paul Binski’s Gothic Wonders: Art, Artifice, and the Decorated Style, 1290–1350 sets a major and understudied episode in medieval art in conversation with its Continental neighbors, dramatically enlivening both in the process. Mark Hallett’s Reynolds: Portraiture in Action breathes new life into one of Britain’s most thoroughly studied portraitists by tracing his work from studio conception to exhibition and beyond. John Potvin is the winner of the post-1800 single-author category for Bachelors of a Different Sort: Queer Aesthetics, Material Culture and the Modern Interior in Britain, a book that expands the scope of interior design and the insights that it can yield for British modern culture. Finally, British Art in the Nuclear Age, edited by Catherine Jolivette, is the winner of the multi-author category. Drawing on a wide array of artists and materials, this volume offers a subtle and surprising take on Britain’s cultural position during, and in relation to, the Cold War.

HBA would like to offer congratulations to the winning authors and the publishing teams at the Paul Mellon Centre for British Studies and Yale Press, Manchester University Press, and Ashgate Publishing.

HBA Book Award for Exemplary Scholarship on the Period before 1800

Paul Binski, Gothic Wonder: Art, Artifice, and the Decorated Style, 1290–1350, (London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2014), 452 pages, ISBN: 978-0300204001, $75 / £40.

9780300204001In this wide-ranging, eloquent book, Paul Binski sheds new light on one of the greatest periods of English art and architecture, offering ground-breaking arguments about the role of invention and the powers of Gothic art. His richly documented study locates what became known as the Decorated Style within patterns of commissioning, designing, and imagining whose origins lay in pre-Gothic art. By examining notions of what was extraordinary, re-evaluating medieval ideas of authorship, and restoring economic considerations to the debate, Binski sets English visual art of the early 14th century in a broad European context and also within the aesthetic discourses of the medieval period. The author, stressing the continuum between art and architecture, challenges understandings about agency, modernity, hierarchy, and marginality. His book makes a powerful case for the restoration of the category of the aesthetic to the understanding of medieval art. Generously illustrated with hundreds of images, Gothic Wonder traces the impact of English art in Continental Europe, ending with the Black Death and the literary uses of the architectural in works by Geoffrey Chaucer and other writers.

Mark Hallett, Reynolds: Portraiture in Action (London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2014), 488 pages, ISBN: 978-0300196979, $75 / £50.

9780300196979A deeply researched and elegantly written study on Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792)—Georgian England’s most celebrated portraitist and the first president of the British Royal Academy of Arts—this lavishly illustrated volume explores all aspects of Reynolds’s portraiture. Mark Hallett provides detailed, compelling readings of Reynolds’s most celebrated and striking works, investigating the ways in which they were appreciated and understood in his own lifetime. Recovering the artist’s dynamic interaction with his sitters and patrons, and revealing the dramatic impact of his portraits within the burgeoning exhibition culture of late-18th-century London, Hallett also unearths the intimate relationship between Reynolds’s paintings and graphic art. Reynolds: Portraiture in Action offers a new understanding of the artist’s career within the extremely competitive London art world and takes readers into the engrossing debates and controversies that captivated the city and its artists.

HBA Book Award for Exemplary Scholarship on the Period after 1800

John Potvin, Bachelors of a Different Sort: Queer Aesthetics, Material Culture and the Modern interior in Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014), 336 pages, ISBN: 978-0719084997, $110 / £75.

9780719084997The bachelor has long held an ambivalent, uncomfortable and even at times unfriendly position in society. This book considers the complicated relationships between the modern queer bachelor and interior design, material culture and aesthetics in Britain between 1885 and 1957. The seven deadly sins of the modern bachelor (queerness, idolatry, askesis, decadence, decoration, glamour and artifice) comprise a contested site and reveal in their respective ways the distinctly queer twinning of shame and resistance. It pays close attention to the interiors of Lord Ronald Gower, Alfred Taylor, Oscar Wilde, Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts, Edward Perry Warren and John Marshall, Sir Cedric Morris and Arthur Lett-Haines, Noël Coward and Cecil Beaton. Richly illustrated and written in a lively manner, Bachelors of a Different Sort is at once theoretically ambitious and rich in its use of archival and historical sources.

HBA Book Award for an Exemplary Multi-authored Book

Catherine Jolivette, ed., British Art in the Nuclear Age (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2014), 306 pages, ISBN: 978-1472412768, $120.

9781472412768Rooted in the study of objects, British Art in the Nuclear Age addresses the role of art and visual culture in discourses surrounding nuclear science and technology, atomic power, and nuclear warfare in Cold War Britain. Examining both the fears and hopes for the future that attended the advances of the nuclear age, nine original essays explore the contributions of British-born and émigré artists in the areas of sculpture, textile and applied design, painting, drawing, photo-journalism, and exhibition display. Artists discussed include: Francis Bacon, John Bratby, Lynn Chadwick, Prunella Clough, Naum Gabo, Barbara Hepworth, Peter Lanyon, Henry Moore, Eduardo Paolozzi, Peter Laszlo Peri, Isabel Rawsthorne, Alan Reynolds, Colin Self, Graham Sutherland, Feliks Topolski and John Tunnard. Also under discussion is new archival material from Picture Post magazine, and the Festival of Britain.

Far from insular in its concerns, this volume draws upon cross-cultural dialogues between British and European artists and the relationship between Britain and America to engage with an interdisciplinary art history that will also prove useful to students and researchers in a variety of fields including modern European history, political science, the history of design, anthropology, and media studies.

2014 Awards
for books published in 2013 and announced in February 2015

HBA Book Award for Exemplary Scholarship on the Period before 1800

Matthew C. Hunter, Wicked Intelligence: Visual Art and the Science of Experiment in Restoration London (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2013), 352 pages, ISBN: 978-0226017297, $55.

9780226017297In late seventeenth-century London, the most provocative images were produced not by artists, but by scientists. Magnified fly-eyes drawn with the aid of microscopes, apparitions cast on laboratory walls by projection machines, cut-paper figures revealing the “exact proportions” of sea monsters—all were created by members of the Royal Society of London, the leading institutional platform of the early Scientific Revolution. Wicked Intelligence reveals that these natural philosophers shaped Restoration London’s emergent artistic cultures by forging collaborations with court painters, penning art theory, and designing triumphs of baroque architecture such as St Paul’s Cathedral.

Matthew C. Hunter brings to life this archive of experimental-philosophical visualization and the deft cunning that was required to manage such difficult research. Offering an innovative approach to the scientific image-making of the time, he demonstrates how the Restoration project of synthesizing experimental images into scientific knowledge, as practiced by Royal Society leaders Robert Hooke and Christopher Wren, might be called “wicked intelligence.” Hunter uses episodes involving specific visual practices—for instance, concocting a lethal amalgam of wax, steel, and sulfuric acid to produce an active model of a comet—to explore how Hooke, Wren, and their colleagues devised representational modes that aided their experiments. Ultimately, Hunter argues, the craft and craftiness of experimental visual practice both promoted and menaced the artistic traditions on which they drew, turning the Royal Society projects into objects of suspicion in Enlightenment England.

The first book to use the physical evidence of Royal Society experiments to produce forensic evaluations of how scientific knowledge was generated, Wicked Intelligence rethinks the parameters of visual art, experimental philosophy, and architecture at the cusp of Britain’s imperial power and artistic efflorescence.

HBA Book Award for Exemplary Scholarship on the Period after 1800

G. A. Bremner, Imperial Gothic: Religious Architecture and High Anglican Culture in the British Empire, 1840–1870 (New Haven and London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2013), 364 pages, ISBN: 978-0300187038, $95.

9780300187038The Gothic Revival movement in architecture was intimately entwined with 18th- and 19th-century British cultural politics. By the middle of the 19th century, architects and theorists had transformed the movement into a serious scholarly endeavor, connecting it to notions of propriety and “truth,” particularly in the domain of religious architecture. Simultaneously, reform within the Church of England had worked to widen the aesthetic and liturgical appeal of ‘correct’ gothic forms. Coinciding with these developments, both architectural and religious, was the continued expansion of Britain’s empire, including a renewed urgency by the English Church to extend its mission beyond the British Isles.

In this groundbreaking new study, G. A. Bremner traces the global reach and influence of the Gothic Revival throughout Britain’s empire during these crucial decades. Focusing on religious buildings, he examines the reinvigoration of the Church of England’s colonial and missionary agenda and its relationship to the rise of Anglican ecclesiology, revealing the extraordinary nature and extent of building activity that occurred across the British world.

HBA Book Award for an Exemplary Multi-authored Book

Susan Weber, ed., William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain (New Haven: Yale University Press for the Bard Graduate Center, New York, 2013), 704 pages, ISBN: 978-0300196184, $85.

9780300196184The most versatile British designer of the 18th century, William Kent (1685–1748) created a style for a new nation and monarchy. The scope of his achievements encompasses architecture, palatial interiors, elaborate gardens, and exquisite furniture. Among his creative innovations are bold combinations of elements from Palladian, rococo, and gothic design, anticipating the intermingling of architectural styles we see today. William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain is the first comprehensive exploration of this important designer and his extraordinary creations.

An international team of the foremost experts in the field examines the entire spectrum of Kent’s oeuvre, including the interiors at Kensington Palace and Houghton Hall. Essays illuminate issues about the authorship of Kent’s furniture and metalwork, situate his contributions in relation to architectural discourse, and classify the characteristics of his designs. Copiously illustrated, including many stunning new photographs, this handsome volume celebrates the work and career of one of the most influential figures in the history of architecture and design.