History of Art Research Seminar Series: Professor Susannah Thompson

Thursday 15 February

Join History of Art for the next in the Research Seminar Series chaired by Patricia Allmer.


In 2015, a marble sculpture was (re)discovered at Mount Stuart, a Gothic Revival mansion on the Isle of Bute off the west coast of Scotland. The work, Bust of Christ (1870), was made by the American artist Edmonia Lewis, a woman of African-American and First Nation (Chippewa) heritage who achieved international recognition as a Neoclassical sculptor in mid-late nineteenth century. Lewis lived in Rome for much of her career, working alongside an ex-patriate ‘sisterhood of sculptors’ including Harriet Hosmer, Vinnie Ream and Anne Whitney. Lewis’s work frequently represented abolitionist themes, depicting Black and indigenous figures alongside religious, literary and historical subjects and she achieved international acclaim in her lifetime. For most of the twentieth century, however, Lewis’s work (and the whereabouts of the artist herself) was largely unknown. In the last few decades, (due to work of contemporary artists and academics I will discuss in the talk, including Marlene Smith, Maud Sulter and Lubaina Himid) her work has enjoyed a revival of interest and is represented in major US collections.

A minor work in the artist’s oeuvre, Bust of Christ was one of two religious sculptures purchased by John Crichton-Stuart, the third Marquess of Bute. An extensive patron of the arts, Crichton-Stuart was a Catholic convert, an aspect of his identity shared by Lewis. After being held in storage for over 100 years, Bust of Christ was redisplayed at Mount Stuart in 2021 and is one of only two works by Lewis held in a UK public collection. This talk seeks to trace the story of the work’s acquisition, ask why it remained unknown for so long, and propose ways in which its display might raise broader questions around histories of sculpture.

About Susannah Thompson

Prof Susannah Thompson is a writer, critic and art historian based in Glasgow. Her research interests focus on interdisciplinary and feminist approaches to art criticism and broader forms of art writing, and contemporary art in the UK, particularly Scotland. In addition to ongoing research on the work of the Scots-Ghanaian artist and writer Maud Sulter, Susannah’s recent projects have considered women’s painting practices in post-war Scotland; the art and criticism of Cordelia Oliver; spinsters, bedsits and boarding houses in the life and work of Muriel Spark; and the development of creative and expanded forms of art criticism since the 1960s. She is Head of Doctoral Studies at The Glasgow School of Art.