Lost works of art: a critical and creative study of reception and restitution

Stevens, Bethan Kathleen (2012) Lost works of art: a critical and creative study of reception and restitution. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis examines pieces of visual art that are untraced, stolen or otherwise understood as lost. It conceptualises how this alters artworks. Are they still ‘objects’ in ‘visual’ culture? Might they become literature? Lost works continue to be circulated and interpreted through practices of remembrance, narrative and often through visual reproductions. These become extraordinarily overdetermined once a work vanishes. I investigate this process in four critical case studies and a novella. The first study looks at Vanessa Bell’s painting The Nursery (1930-32), a major work which has been critically neglected because unavailable. I ask what this can tell us about memory and nostalgia, and explore the ghostliness of visual representations. The second study examines Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in the period after it was stolen (1911-13). I closely read some startling journalistic responses to this and to earlier, Victorian thefts. Through these writings there emerges a new kind of ekphrasis and a new conception of the museum. My third study builds on these readings of visual and literary restitutions to consider how lost art could inspire a corresponding critical methodology. With reference to writings on aesthetics by Burke and Derrida, I look at William Blake’s Virgil woodcuts, reading them through their missing parts, including chopped-off edges. The fourth study explores how lost works can be restituted creatively as well as critically. I analyse missing episodes of Doctor Who, which have inspired reconstructions from fans – an active audience of lost art. Finally, my novella tells the story of a curator of an illicit museum; it uses the epistolary form, which has a history of creating drama through lost letters. My conclusion suggests how, using evidence to feel for what cannot be seen, a focus on lost art can spark unique ways of thinking about vision, writing and criticism.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > English
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N5300 History > N6350 Modern art > N6370 Renaissance art. 15th and 16th centuries
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N5300 History > N6350 Modern art > N6447 19th and 20th centuries
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR0125 Relations to other literatures and countries
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 28 Aug 2012 05:57
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:37
URI: http://srodev.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/40476

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