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Department of History of Art



A historian of Russian and European art from the 18th to the early 20th century, Rosalind Polly Blakesley (née Gray) was educated at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Moscow, and is now Professor of Russian and European Art at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. She is also the co-founder of the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre (, a leading research centre dedicated to Russian and Soviet art, through which she has run a number of collaborative projects with museums, galleries and universities abroad.

Blakesley is a Syndic of the Fitzwilliam Museum, and has curated and contributed to the catalogues of exhibitions in London, Cambridge, Moscow, Darmstadt and Washington DC. She has also served on the boards of the Hamilton Kerr Institute and Kettle’s Yard and as a Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery, London, where she curated the exhibition Russia and the Arts and advised on its partner exhibition at the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow in 2016. For this collaboration, together with her prize-winning book The Russian Canvas, Blakesley was awarded the Pushkin Medal of the Russian Federation in recognition of her services to Anglo-Russian relations and the study of Russian art. 

Blakesley has received research funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, British Academy, Leverhulme Trust, In Artibus Foundation and Association of Art Historians, among others, and was a Likhachev Foundation Cultural Fellow in St Petersburg in 2014. Media work includes Front Row and World at One on BBC Radio 4 as well as interviews for BBC Radio 3, Sky News, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Russian national television channels, Voice of Russia and the Russian Service of the BBC. 

Teaching and Graduate Supervision

Blakesley’s teaching encompasses European art and theory from the 18th to the first half of the 20th century, as well as specialist courses in Russian art and the Arts and Crafts Movement. She has supervised a range of MPhil and PhD students working on aspects of art or architectural history in Britain, Scandinavia, the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, including countries such as Georgia and Finland.  

Recent or current topics of her graduate students include printmaking and the imagery of St Petersburg; artists in emigration; cross-generational relations; defaced images in Soviet Russia; Finnish and Norwegian painting and architecture; women artists; the visual legacy of Evelyn Waugh; and many aspects of cross-cultural exchange.  

These projects have been funded by, among others, AHRC studentships, including an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Gates Cambridge; Cambridge International Scholarships; the Centre for East European Language-Based Area Studies (CEELBAS); and the Leverhulme Trust.

Blakesley is unable to accept MPhil students until the 2022-23 academic year due to her Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship from 2020-22, but she is currently accepting PhD students. Potential candidates are encouraged to get in touch by following the advice at this link:


Blakesley specialises in artistic dialogue and differentiation in eastern and northern Europe, with particular interests in portraiture; the history of artistic education and professionalization; women artists; and ways in which questions of nationhood and artistic identity intersect with broader cross-cultural concerns. Collectively, her various research projects have been concerned with establishing international frameworks for ambitious but often marginalised artistic endeavour; instantiating the art of Russia and the Baltic region within the European mainstream; and uncovering the transnational formation of supposedly national schools.

Blakesley’s current research project, ‘Russia, Empire and the Baltic Imagination’ (funded by a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship from 2020-2022), examines Russia’s artistic engagement in the Baltic region throughout the imperial period, and the role of the Baltic Sea as a unique membrane for transcultural exchange. Focusing on paintings, prints and drawings, together with the key sites for their production, circulation and cross-fertilisation, it considers alternative centres of gravity and models of modernity in which a rich nexus of artistic practice still consigned to the peripheries of Europe takes centre stage. 

Blakesley is also developing a monograph and exhibition on Emily Shanks, a British artist resident in Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first woman to be elected a member of Russia’s epochal Association of Travelling Art Exhibitions (the Peredvizhniki), Shanks’s work confounds the realist/impressionist divide, and highlights the porosity of artistic categorisations in the twilight of imperial rule. 



Key publications: 

Previous Research Projects, Exhibitions and Monographs Include:

1. The Russian Canvas: Painting in Imperial Russia, 1757-1881 (Yale University Press, 2016), 365 pp., funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship.

Winner of the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize

Winner of the Art Newspaper Russia Best Book Award

Honorable Mention, the Heldt Prize Committee for Best Book by a Woman in Slavic/Eastern European/Eurasian Studies.


2. Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky (exhibition catalogue: National Portrait Gallery, London, 2016), 176 pp.

Leading a five-year collaboration between the National Portrait Gallery and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, Blakesley curated the exhibition Russia and the Arts at the National Portrait Gallery and advised on its counterpart, Elizabeth to Victoria: British Portraits from the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery at the Tretyakov.


3. The Arts and Crafts Movement (Phaidon Press, 2006), 272 pp.: paperback 2009.

Blakesley’s work on the Arts and Crafts Movement challenged Anglocentric narratives to uncover practices which thrived independently of British influence, as much as those inspired by it. With extensive research in Russia and Scandinavia as well as western Europe and the USA, the resulting monograph revealed a transformative design movement extending across the western world.

As part of this project, Blakesley advised on and contributed to the catalogues of the exhibitions A Style of Life, a Style of Art: National Romantic Movements in European Art (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, 1999); and International Arts and Crafts (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2005).


4. An Imperial Collection: Women Artists from the State Hermitage Museum (exhibition catalogue: National Museum of Women in the Arts, Merrell Publishers, 2003), 224 pp.

For this collaboration with the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC, Blakesley co-curated an exhibition of women artists represented in the collections of the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, and co-edited the accompanying catalogue. 

Further work on women artists and patrons in Russia has led to chapters and articles in Europa Orientalis (2019); A Russian Fairy Tale: The Art and Craft of Elena Polenova (exhibition catalogue: Watts Gallery, Guildford, 2014); Women in Nineteenth-Century Russia: Lives and Culture (Open Book Publishers, 2011); Slavic Review (2008); and Women and Material Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).


5. Russian Genre Painting in the Nineteenth Century (Oxford Historical Monographs: Clarendon Press, 2000), 216 pp., funded by the British Academy.


Co-edited Volumes

In collaborative international projects, Blakesley has brought together Russian, European and American scholars to rethink Russian modernism, and to consider the international contexts and contacts for Russian and Soviet art. 

From Realism to the Silver Age: New Studies in Russian Artistic Culture (co-edited with Margaret Samu, Northern Illinois University Press, 2014), 226 pp.

Russian Art and the West: a Century of Dialogue in Painting, Architecture, and the Decorative Arts (co-edited with Susan E. Reid, Northern Illinois University Press, 2007), 246 pp.


Articles, chapters and exhibition catalogue essays include:

‘The First Woman Peredvizhnik: Emily Shanks and the Blurred Realist/Impressionist Divide,’ in ‘Translations and Dialogues: The Reception of Russian Art Abroad,’ ed. Silvia Burini, special issue, Europa Orientalis, 31 (2019), 81-89. 

‘Russia, Rome and the Tricky Business of Disaster Painting,’ The Burlington Magazine, 160 (December 2018), 996-1005.

‘Performing Russian Success? The 1770 Exhibition at the Imperial Academy of Arts,’ in J. Buckler, J. A. Cassiday and B. Wolfson (eds), Russian Performances: Word, Action, Object (University of Wisconsin Press, 2018), 64-73.

‘An Unexpected Role Reversal: Pavel Tretiakov and the International Exhibition of 1862,’ Experiment: A Journal of Russian Culture, 23 (2017), 93-103.

(in Russian and English) ‘Distinguished Visitors: A Russian Cultural Pantheon in London,’ The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine, 2:51 (2016): 36-53.

‘Ladies-in-Waiting in Waiting: Picturing Adolescence in Dmitry Levitsky’s Smolny Portraits, 1772-1776,’ Art History, 37:1 (February 2014), 10-37. (available online at

 ‘Cultural Leadership and International Dialogue between the London and St Petersburg Academies of Art, 1757-1805,’ The Slavonic and East European Review, 92:1 (January 2014), 1-24. (available online at

‘Polenovo, the Polenovs, and a Modern Art World’ in N. Murray (ed.), A Russian Fairy Tale: The Art and Craft of Elena Polenova (exhibition catalogue: Watts Gallery, Guildford, 2014), 17-33.

‘Women and the Visual Arts’ in W. Rosslyn and A. Tosi (eds), Women in Nineteenth-Century Russia: Lives and Culture (Open Book Publishers, 2011), 91-117. (available online at

‘Pride and the Politics of Nationality in Russia’s Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, 1757-1807,’ Art History, 33:5 (December 2010), 800-835. (available online at

‘“The Venerable Artist’s Fiery Speeches Ringing in my Soul”: The Artistic Impact of William Morris and his Circle in Nineteenth-Century Russia’ in G. Brockington (ed.), Internationalism and the Arts (Peter Lang Publishers, 2009), 79-105.

‘Emile Zola’s Art Criticism in Russia’ in C. Adlam and J. Simpson (eds), Critical Exchange: Art Criticism of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries in Russia and Western Europe (Peter Lang Publishers, 2009), 263-284.

‘Art, Nationhood, and Display: Zinaida Volkonskaia and Russia’s Quest for a National Museum of Art,’ Slavic Review, 67:4 (Winter 2008), 912-933. (available online at

 ‘“There is something there […]”: the Peredvizhniki and Western European Art,’ in ‘Russian Realist Painting. The Peredvizhniki: An Anthology,’ ed. Elizabeth Kridl Valkenier and Wendy Salmond, special issue, Experiment: A Journal of Russian Culture, 14 (2008), 18-56. 

‘Introduction’ to Magnificence of the Tsars: Men’s Dress at the Imperial Russian Court, 1727-1903 (exhibition catalogue: V&A Publications, 2008), 9-13.

‘Internationalität und Eklektizismum: Diaghilews Zeitschrift und Kunstbewegung “Mir Iskusstwa”/“Welt der Kunst”‘ in R. Beil (ed.), Russland 1900: Kunst und Kultur im Reich des Letzten Zaren (exhibition catalogue: Museum Künstlerkolonie, Darmstadt, 2008), 243-251.

‘Sculpting in Tiaras: Grand Duchess Maria Fedorovna as a Producer and Consumer of the Arts’ in J. Batchelor and C. Kaplan (eds), Women and Material Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 71-85.

‘Slavs, Brits and the Question of National Identity in Art: Russian Responses to British Painting in the Mid-Nineteenth Century’ in C. Payne and W. Vaughan (eds), English Accents: Interactions with British Art c. 1776-1855 (Ashgate/Scolar Press, 2004), 203-223.

‘“Help me to eclipse the celebrated Hogarth”: the Reception of Hogarth in Russia,’ Apollo, CLIII/471 (2001), 23-30. 

‘The Homo-erotic Paintings of Aleksandr Ivanov’ in P. Barta (ed.), Gender and Sexuality in Russian Civilisation (Routledge, 2001), 163-80.

‘Questions of Identity at Abramtsevo’ in L. Morowitz and W. Vaughan (eds), Artistic Brotherhoods in the Nineteenth Century (Ashgate/Scolar Press, 2000), 105-121.


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Professor of Russian and European Art
Fellow of Pembroke College
Director of Studies in History of Art, Pembroke and St Catharine's Colleges
Professor Rosalind Polly Blakesley

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