Rosalind Polly Blakesley (née Gray) was educated at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and spent a year affiliated to Moscow State University while completing a doctorate on 19th-century Russian painting. She was then a junior research fellow at The Queen’s College, Oxford, an affiliated research fellow at the Russian Institute of Art History in Moscow, and held teaching posts at the universities of Newcastle and Kent before returning to Cambridge in 2002. She has been Head of the Department of History of Art at Cambridge since 2016.
Blakesley’s research focuses on painting, architecture and the decorative arts from the 18th to the early 20th century, with particular interests in the art and culture of imperial Russia, and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Her recent work has brought Russian art from 1750-1914 into dialogue with western European discourse and theory to develop a new paradigm for the subject, and galvanise a burgeoning international field. This has included considering important but unfamiliar material in Europe’s margins through the prism of museum studies, performance studies, and feminist art history. Addressing issues of national, regional and cultural identity that were probed in Blakesley’s earlier Arts and Crafts work, the results of these enquiries dismantle the national framework within which Russian art is invariably viewed, and consider it instead within a broader set of trans-cultural debates. Collectively, her publications, exhibitions and research collaborations aim to instantiate Russian painting within the European mainstream, and forge an innovative conceptual path for the transnational formation of supposedly national schools.
Recent projects include a monograph, The Russian Canvas: Painting in Imperial Russia, 1757-1881 (Yale University Press, 2016), which was awarded the 2017 Pushkin House Russian Book Prize for the best non-fiction writing in English on a Russian subject; and a major new partnership between the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and the National Portrait Gallery in London which culminated in exhibitions in each institution in 2016. For this, Blakesley served as curator and author of the catalogue for Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky, National Portrait Gallery, London, and advisor on its partner exhibition, From Elizabeth to Victoria: British Portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, London at the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. She has also curated or advised on exhibitions in museums and galleries including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Barbican Centre, London; and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC.
Blakesley is a Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery, London; a Syndic of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; and serves on the advisory councils of the Hamilton Kerr Institute and Kettle’s Yard Gallery, as well as the advisory boards of academic journals and professional associations. Media work includes interviews and programme contributions for World at One and Front Row on BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 3, the Russian Service of the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Voice of Russia. She held a Likhachev Foundation Cultural Fellowship in St Petersburg in 2014, and a Leverhulme Trust Fellowship from 2009-10.
Blakesley is also the co-founder and co-director of the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre, a bi-institutional research facility which has established partnerships with Russia’s key centres of art historical enquiry, and has organised conferences and symposia with partners including the Royal Academy, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, London, Moscow State University, Yaroslavl State University, and the Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice. See www.ccrac.org.uk.