Professor Frances Spalding CBE
Professor of Art History


Frances Spalding is an art historian, critic and biographer. She began publishing articles and reviews while studying for her PhD and gained a reputation as a specialist in modern and contemporary British art. This led to the invitation from Thames & Hudson to write British Art since 1900 in 1986, the first full account of this period and a book which has been widely used in schools, college and universities.  During this period she also developed a reputation as an historian of Bloomsbury, with well-received biographies of Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell, which were followed ten years later by a biography of Duncan Grant. Her biography of Vanessa Bell has been widely cited by scholars of Bloomsbury and of Virginia Woolf.  In the 1990s she opted to work for a period  as an independent scholar, writing, among other things, a centenary history of the Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain and Tate Modern). Since then, she has continued to rescue artists from relative obscurity and has brought them back into the canon, while also championing biography as an art historical method. She is Professor of Art History within the Fine Art section of SACS. In 2009 she published 'John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art' with Oxford University Press, and her most recent book is 'Prunella Clough: Regions Unmapped',  published by Lund Humphries. Her research interests cover art and architecture, cultural and social history.

Frances Spalding initially taught art history at University of Sheffield-Hallam. In the 1900s, while working as an independent scholar, she was closely involved with the English Centre of International PEN, a world-wide association of writers with a central commitment to freedom of expression. She also served  on the Council of The Royal Society of Literature and sat for many years on the Charleston Trust which exists to preserve and maintain the traditions associated with the Bloomsbury house, Charleston, in Sussex; and for eight years she eidted the Charleston Magazine. In  2000, she returned to academic work with her appointment at the University of Newcastle. She is now Professor of Art History and was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, 2005.

This autumn Frances Spalding will be taking part in a symposium at Dulwich Picture Gallery, in connection with the ‘A Crisis of Brilliance’ exhibition. During the ’Battle of Ideas’  weekend (19-20 October) at London’s Barbican she will be sitting on two panels – ‘The Art of Biography’ and ‘Pop Art: more mouth than trousers?’ Other events during the next six months include a talk to the Leeds Art Club on John Piper; a public lecture at the Sainsbury Centre, University of East Anglia, on Benjamin Britten and his librettist Myfanwy Piper; an Art Fund lecture at Newark; a paper at the Sacred  Spaces conference at the Twentieth-Century Society on 30 November; and in 2014, lectures at the Higgens Gallery, Bedford; the Bowes Museum, Castle Barnard; at St Bees, Cumbria; and to the Cambridge Library Group.

This autumn also sees the reissue, by the National Portrait Gallery, of her The Bloomsbury Group, in a slightly larger format and in a stylish and witty  design. She is currently working on The Real and The Romantic, a book about art between the wars, and is curating an exhibition on Virginia Woolf.


Roles and Responsibilities

Frances Spalding is currently Chair of the Board of Examinations for Fine Art and Art History. She also sits on the University's Honorary Degrees Committee and on the HASS Faculty's Cultural Steering Group. She is Vice-Chair of the University's Public Lectures Committee and helps oversee its 'Insights' public lectures programme. She teaches  art history to students from within Fine  Art and from Combined Honours.


BA (Hons) First Class


Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art

Associate Member of the Artworkers' Guild. 

Member of English PEN 

Honours and Awards

Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art

Awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, 2005

Research Interests

Frances Spalding is committed to work that does not compromise scholarship but which is open to all and therefore reaches a wide audience. Internationally renowned, she has appeared in television documentaries on Whistler, Tate Modern, and on the artists who lived at Charleston. Her 'British Art since 1900', in the Thames & Hudson World of Art series, has been widely used in schools, colleges and universities. She is both a specialist in twentieth-century British Art and a biographer, with the result that she has a broad knowledge of English social and cultural history. She has written some 15 books, including a biography of the poet Stevie Smith, as well as lives of the artists Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, John Minton and Gwen Raverat. With David Fraser Jenkins, she curated 'John Piper in the 1930s: Abstraction on the Beach' exhibition which was shown at Dulwich Picture Gallery in April 2003 and at the Djanogly Gallery, University of Nottingham in July 2003. In 2009 her two-person biography - John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in Art - was published by Oxford University Press and received wide acclaim. Her new book - Prunella Clough: Regions Unmapped - published by Lund Humphries is the first full account of this artist's work and her place within the British Art during the second half of the twentieth-centry. The subtitle - Regions Unmapped - refers to Clough's interest in the working environment, in urban and industrial landscapes, in 'edgelands', atrophy and the energy that remains in objects or machines that have lost their purpose or use.

Frances Spalding has lectured widely, at universities in this country and abroad, and has given many talks at arts and literary festivals and to learned societies. She recently gave the prestigious annual Seymour lecture at the National Library of Australia in Canberra, and she also speaks in tents at Arts and Literary Festivals, to local organisations. learned societies and in schools.

Current Work

Frances Spalding is currently writing an article on 'Contingency' for the Art Bulletin, as well as a short introduction to a book on the Eric Ravilious collection in the Fry Gallery at Saffron Walden. She is also preparing a talk on 'The Perils of Biography' and other talks on her new book on Prunella Clough. Future research interests include the changing face of art during the 1960s and '70s and the Anglo-American relations that developed in that period.

Research Roles

Adviser to a Research Council

Postgraduate Supervision

I have a particular interest in the relationship between art and national identity within British art, and in relations between England and America in the 1960s. I welcome opportunities to assist post-graduates in these areas, as well as in the more general field of 20th Century British Art and the practice of life writing.

Esteem Indicators

Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art


Recent funding includes a Senior Fellowship from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, as well as a British Academy Small Research Grant

Undergraduate Teaching

Frances Spalding teaches on the 'Preliminary Studies in Art History' for First Year Fine Art and Combined Honours students. She also teaches and co-ordinates two other modules, on 'Issues in Modern British Art' and on 'Issues in Portraiture' module for Second Year and Third Year students.

Postgraduate Teaching

Currently supervising one PhD student.