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Professor Rosalind Polly Blakesley MA DPhil

Professor Rosalind Polly Blakesley, MA DPhil

Head of Department

Professor in Russian and European Art

Fellow of Pembroke College

Director of Studies in History of Art, Pembroke College

Russian Art

The Arts and Crafts Movement

Office Phone: 01223 339566


Rosalind Polly Blakesley (née Gray) was educated at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and spent a year affiliated to Moscow State University while completing a doctorate on 19th-century Russian painting. She was then a junior research fellow at The Queen’s College, Oxford, an affiliated research fellow at the Russian Institute of Art History in Moscow, and held teaching posts at the universities of Newcastle and Kent before returning to Cambridge in 2002. She has been Head of the Department of History of Art at Cambridge since 2016.

Research Interests

Blakesley’s research focuses on painting, architecture and the decorative arts from the 18th to the early 20th century, with particular interests in the art and culture of imperial Russia, and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Her recent work has brought Russian art from 1750-1914 into dialogue with western European discourse and theory to develop a new paradigm for the subject, and galvanise a burgeoning international field. This has included considering important but unfamiliar material in Europe’s margins through the prism of museum studies, performance studies, and feminist art history. Addressing issues of national, regional and cultural identity that were probed in Blakesley’s earlier Arts and Crafts work, the results of these enquiries dismantle the national framework within which Russian art is invariably viewed, and consider it instead within a broader set of trans-cultural debates. Collectively, her publications, exhibitions and research collaborations aim to instantiate Russian painting within the European mainstream, and forge an innovative conceptual path for the transnational formation of supposedly national schools.


Recent projects include a monograph, The Russian Canvas: Painting in Imperial Russia, 1757-1881 (Yale University Press, 2016), which was awarded the 2017 Pushkin House Russian Book Prize for the best non-fiction writing in English on a Russian subject; and a major new partnership between the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and the National Portrait Gallery in London which culminated in exhibitions in each institution in 2016. For this, Blakesley served as curator and author of the catalogue for Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky, National Portrait Gallery, London, and advisor on its partner exhibition, From Elizabeth to Victoria: British Portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, London at the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. She has also curated or advised on exhibitions in museums and galleries including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Barbican Centre, London; and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC.


Blakesley is a Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery, London; a Syndic of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; and serves on the advisory councils of the Hamilton Kerr Institute and Kettle’s Yard Gallery, as well as the advisory boards of academic journals and professional associations. Media work includes interviews and programme contributions for World at One and Front Row on BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 3, the Russian Service of the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Voice of Russia. She held a Likhachev Foundation Cultural Fellowship in St Petersburg in 2014, and a Leverhulme Trust Fellowship from 2009-10.

Blakesley is also the co-founder and co-director of the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre, a bi-institutional research facility which has established partnerships with Russia’s key centres of art historical enquiry, and has organised conferences and symposia with partners including the Royal Academy, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, London, Moscow State University, Yaroslavl State University, and the Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice. See


Teaching and Graduate Supervision

Blakesley’s teaching encompasses European art history from the 18th to the early 20th century, as well as specialist courses in Russian art and the Arts and Crafts Movement. She supervises a range of MPhil and PhD students working on aspects of art or architectural history in Britain, Russia, or countries of the former Russian Empire, including Georgia and Finland. Recent or current topics of her graduate students include printmaking and the imagery of St Petersburg, Russian artists in emigration, cross-generational relations, defaced images, and many aspects of cross-cultural exchange. She is currently accepting graduate students, and potential MPhil and PhD students are encouraged to get in touch.

Key Publications

Sole-Authored Books

2016    The Russian Canvas: Painting in Imperial Russia, 1757-1881 (Yale University Press, New

Haven and London, 2016), 365 pp. + 268 plates: winner of the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize, 2017.


2016    Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky (exhibition catalogue, National Portrait Gallery, London, 2016), 176 pp. + 90 plates: reprinted 2016.


2006    The Arts and Crafts Movement (Phaidon Press, London, 2006), 272 pp. + 251 plates. paperback published 2009.


2000    Russian Genre Painting in the Nineteenth Century (under maiden name of Rosalind P. Gray, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2000), 216 pp. + 64 plates: reprinted 2002.


Edited Books

2014    From Realism to the Silver Age: New Studies in Russian Artistic Culture (Northern Illinois University Press, DeKalb, Ill., 2014), 226 pp. + 48 plates: co-editor and contributor.


2007    Russian Art and the West: a Century of Dialogue in Painting, Architecture, and the Decorative Arts (Northern Illinois University Press, DeKalb, Ill., 2007), 246 pp. + 37 plates: co-editor and contributor.


2003    An Imperial Collection: Women Artists from the State Hermitage Museum (exhibition catalogue: National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC: Merrell, London, 2003), 224 pp. + 101 plates: co-editor and contributor.


Book Chapters and Journal Articles

2014    ‘Ladies-in-Waiting in Waiting: Picturing Adolescence in Dmitry Levitsky’s Smolny Portraits, 1772-1776,’ Art History, vol. 37, no. 1 (February 2014), 10-37.


2014    ‘Cultural Leadership and International Dialogue between the London and St Petersburg Academies of Art, 1757-1805,’ The Slavonic and East European Review, vol. 92, no. 1 (January 2014), 1-24.


2011     ‘Women and the Visual Arts’ in W. Rosslyn and A. Tosi (eds), Women in Nineteenth-Century

             Russia: Lives and Culture (Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, 2011), 91-117.

2010    ‘Pride and the Politics of Nationality in Russia’s Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, 1757-1807,’ Art History, vol. 33, no. 5 (December 2010), 800-835.


2009    ‘“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, Oxford, 2009), 79-105.


2009    ‘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, Oxford, 2009), 263-284.

2008    ‘“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, vol. 14 (2008), 18-56.

2008     ‘Art, Nationhood, and Display: Zinaida Volkonskaia and Russia’s Quest for a National Museum

             of Art,’ Slavic Review, vol. 67, no. 4 (Winter 2008), 912-933.

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


2007    ‘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, London, 2007), 71-85.


2005    ‘The Arts and Crafts Movement in Russia’ in K. Livingstone and L. Parry (eds), International Arts and Crafts (exhibition catalogue: V&A Publications, London, 2005), 256-265.


2004    ‘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, London, 2004), 203-223.