Animal Studies and British Art—Graduate Student Symposium

Cosponsored by the Yale Department of the History of Art, the Yale Center for British Art, and the Yale Peabody Museum

The objective of this one-day, in-person graduate student symposium is to reconsider the proliferation of animals in British art through the lens of the burgeoning field of animal studies. British art is renowned for its inclusion of animals: the racehorses and lions of George Stubbs, the stags and dogs of Edwin Landseer, Edward Lear’s scientific illustrations and nonsense creatures, and Damien Hirst’s controversial shark and sheep, to name only a few. The animal subject can be seen as a defining trait of British art. The recent Wallace Collection exhibition Portraits of Dogs: From Gainsborough to Hockney asserted that “more than any other nationality perhaps, the British have both commissioned and collected portraits of dogs,” a statement that might also apply to imagery of horses or livestock. There has been little critical study of the significance of these creatures across the span of British art history, but the recent “animal turn” in scholarship is primed to rectify this lacuna.

Animal studies is an interdisciplinary field that draws upon the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences to investigate the relationship between humans and non-human animals and the effects and implications of that relationship across a wide range of disciplines, including aesthetics, ecology, ethics, and politics. Some objectives of the field are to challenge anthropocentric views of history and culture and to push for understandings of animals as actors, rather than objects, in their own histories. British art is ripe for such recontextualization, not only because of the rich history of animal engagement within the British Isles, but also because of the global impacts of Britain’s imperial ambitions on non-human animal life. 

In addition to paper panels, the symposium will include opportunities to view and discuss works from the YCBA’s collection, including its large holdings of Stubbs and other sporting art, and to visit the newly reopened Yale Peabody Museum.

The YCBA will provide a travel stipend for graduate students interested in attending from within the Boston–New York corridor. For more information, email

Top image
George Stubbs, Pumpkin with a Stable-lad, 1774, beeswax and oil on panel, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection