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On 1 and 2 June 2023, the ESNA Conference 'Beyond ‘The Obstacle Race’: Women’s role in the history of 19th-century art revisited' will take place, organised by the European Society for Nineteenth-Century Art (ESNA) in collaboration with the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History. Tickets are now available in the RKD webshop.
Event details of ESNA Conference 2023
Start date
1 June 2023
End date
2 June 2023
Lucy Smith and Pauline Ranken of the Ladies’ Scottish Climbing Club climbing the Salisbury Crags in 1908
Lucy Smith and Pauline Ranken of the Ladies’ Scottish Climbing Club climbing the Salisbury Crags in 1908

Rephrasing John Donne’s famous poem, ‘No man or woman is an island entire of itself’, the 2023 ESNA conference investigates women’s interrelations within the art world and their impact on art objects and collections.

In recent years, the interest in women’s various roles within the art world has broadened, resulting in numerous exhibitions and acquisitions. This output has mainly responded to the underrepresentation of women in art history by either isolating them or adding them to pre-existing structures, publications, and institutions, and – most often – by referring to the obstacles they had to overcome.

Although we realize that for a woman in the nineteenth-century art word, there were indeed many obstacles to overcome, the 2023 ESNA conference will instead focus on the choices and possibilities women did have. In our ongoing quest for an inclusive society, it has become all the more clear that people live in relation to each other and create a world together. Our identities are defined by a manifold of intersecting and evolving features and practices. This conference tackles the diverse ways in which women took up different roles in relation to others in order to understand not only historic and present realities, but also the dynamics of art (history).

ESNA Conference 2023

The 2023 ESNA conference thus takes a holistic and systemic approach to women’s roles in art during the nineteenth century. The papers explicitly present women makers, models, critics, dealers, museum professionals, collectors, and other mediators in relation to their historical context and within the broader art world. How did women work together with others, which networks and strategies did they use, run into, or create? Within these two days, we hope to set one more step towards a changed art history, where these female actors take their place as self-evident, interconnected, and permanent fixtures.