Research project

Royals to Ratcatchers

Project overview

Every portrait tells a story of power. Explore the relationships between the people on both sides of the canvas through a range of subjects rarely brought face to face. How have artists presented sitters from different social strata? How have our views of artists’ subjects been shaped by their perspectives?

A pioneering collaboration between the University of Southampton and the City of Southampton, this exhibition is curated by undergraduate history students. "Royals to Ratcatchers" is a unique exploration of the hierarchies underpinning self-presentation throughout two centuries of art history – from Joshua Reynolds’ gentry to Josef Herman’s miners.

Compare traditional portraits venerating elite sitters to those of celebrating the working class. Do they inspire similar feelings of respect towards their subjects? Conversely, by examining the use of abstraction and allegory, the exhibition asks whether power can exist when identity is lost.

Royals to Ratcatchers: 200 Years of Power in British Portraiture highlights the dynamics woven into the work of some of the country’s most important painters, inviting you to reflect on how these constructs endure within our society today.


Lead researcher

Professor Jonathan Conlin

Professor of Modern History

Research interests

  • British Cultural History
  • Gladstone and Victorian Intellectual History
  • History of Museums
Connect with Jonathan

Research outputs