Undergraduate Dissertation Prize Winner

Winner of the Association for Art History’s Dissertation Prize 2017

We are delighted to announce that Fiona Saint-Davis (Plymouth University) is the winner of the 2017 undergraduate Dissertation Prize for her essay, “’These Stupid Sketches’: Bernard’s Brothel Drawings”.

The prize will be awarded to Fiona at the 2018 Annual Conference in London. You can read an abstract of her dissertation below.

Shortlisted runners up

We also shortlisted three runners up. These were:
• “The Abject Object: Dialectics of Decay and the Vulnerable Body”, by Shannon Brunette (University of Nottingham)
• “Relics of an Unrealised Future Miodrag Živković’s Yugoslav War Memorials”, by Sophie Birkin (University of Cambridge)
• ‘“X is A”: Incidents of Metaphor in Robert Smithson’s Art and Writing’, by Samuel Spike (University College London)
• “’West Coast Ophelia’: Stevie Nicks and Representations of Pre-Raphaelite Femininity in Fashion and Rock Music of the 1960-70s”, by Elina Ivanov (Brighton University)

“’These Stupid Sketches’: Bernard’s Brothel Drawings”, by Fiona Saint-Davis.

Between April and October 1888, a crucial moment in the development of Post-
Impressionism, the young Émile Bernard sent twenty drawings to Vincent van Gogh
on the theme of prostitution. His project culminated in a suite of eleven humorously
annotated studies titled Au Bordel, which he referred to as “ces croquis stupides.”
Bernard’s pejorative attitude has set the tone for the reception of his drawings,
invariably treated as a young man’s ambivalence towards sexually available women.
Little effort has been made to situate them within nineteenth-century discourses
concerning state regulated prostitution, nor have they have been addressed by feminist art historians, which is perplexing considering the attention given to Degas’s brothel monotypes.
Also missing from accounts is that during these same months, public discourse
concerning prostitution escalated to unprecedented levels with the censorship of Le
Courrier Français for an illustration seen by contemporary commentators as critical
of the Republic’s involvement in venal practices. Two trials resulted in prison
sentences for graphic artist Louis Legrand, and the journal’s Editor and publisher,
engendering heated battles in the press and artistic circles. At issue were the state’s
commercial exploitation of women and minors, and the freedom of artistic expression.
A compelling chronological relationship can be demonstrated between the
controversy as it unfolded and the production and development of Bernard’s drawings, at a moment crucial for both Art History and French politics. Far from being a relatively inconsequential project demonstrating personal sexual confusion, the context of the drawings’ production suggests a sophisticated level of engagement with a debate that exposed patriarchal repression at the heart of the French Republic. This Dissertation argues that Bernard’s “stupid drawings,” executed as the Republic prepared to celebrate the centennial of its formation, are of greater importance than has been realized, and invite reconsideration of Van Gogh’s responses to them.

Many thanks to the members of the student committee for assessing this year’s Dissertation Prize; Sara Tarter, Marie Hawkins, Alicia Hughes, Karolina Koczynska, Isobel MacDonald, Caroline McCaffrey-Howarth, Clare Nadal, Naomi Stewart, and thanks to Trustees Tilo Reifenstein and Carol Richardson for making the final decision. We received an exceptionally high standard of submissions for this year’s prize which made the assessment process even harder than usual.