Talks

Art in Context | The Insignificance of Hounslow Heath

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About this program

Now a rump of its former self, a municipal park of barely 200 acres, Hounslow Heath before the nineteenth century was a vast area of “wasteland,” 5,000 acres in extent. Mark Crinson will discuss the relatively late enclosure of the heath, its landscape characteristics, certain geometric impositions on it (mapping and the military), myths of delinquency and criminality (highwaymen) associated with it, its negative relation to contemporary discourses of the English garden and to the villa culture on its southeastern fringe, and even the very occasional painting of it. 

Crinson’s current research on “flatlands” explores the claimed cultural insignificance of a particular area of flat landscape to the west of London as well its relation to the theme of flatlands in general. Part of a larger book-length project on Heathrow Airport and its surrounding environment, the research supplies a prehistory of evaluations and representations of the area, asking if this supposed cultural insignificance played a role in the environmental despoliations associated with the airport and its surroundings, both deemed subordinate to London’s global city status and the advantages of international connectedness.

About Mark Crinson

Mark Crinson is emeritus professor of architectural history at Birkbeck, University of London, and previously taught at the University of Manchester (1993–2016). He served as vice president and president of the European Architectural History Network. Recent books include Shock City: Image and Architecture in Industrial Manchester (2022, winner of the 2024 Historians of British Art Prize); The Architecture of Art History: A Historiography (2019, co-authored with Richard J. Williams); Alison and Peter Smithson (2018); and Rebuilding Babel: Modern Architecture and Internationalism (2017). His current book, titled Heathrow’s Genius Loci, will be completed in summer 2024. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 2023. 

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Art in Context

Presented by faculty, staff, Student Guides, and Visiting Scholars, these talks focus on a particular work of art—often in the museum’s collections or special exhibitions—through an in-depth look at its style, subject matter, technique, or time period.

Top image
Capt. Thomas Hastings (after Richard Wilson), On Hounslow Heath, Outer Suburb, West (detail), 1820, etching on paper, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection