Elizabeth Heath

Elizabeth Heath

Assistant Curator (Research)

Job description

As Assistant Curator (Research) I work part-time on the Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue, an online publication which continues the Gallery’s series of printed period catalogues. As part of a small team, I conduct in-depth research into portraits in the collection and also compile comprehensive iconographies listing all known likenesses of an individual in public and private collections. As well as writing catalogue entries for a variety of sitters - including Frederic LeightonHenry Morton Stanley and Ellen Terry - I provide administrative support for the project. This includes frequently liaising with the external Editor and other Gallery departments. My role also provides the opportunity to participate in related academic activities. Resulting from my research into portraits of Octavia Hill, for example, I delivered a paper on the subject at the National Trust/Oxford University centenary conference held at Sutton House (Sept. 2012).


After graduating from the University of Reading with a BA (Hons) in English and History of Art, I completed an MA in 19th century British Art at The Courtauld Institute of Art. My first museum role was at Leighton House Museum, where I worked as Curatorial Assistant. I joined the National Portrait Gallery as Assistant Curator (Research) in 2008, on a part-time basis. Alongside this position I was employed as Project Curator in the Prints & Drawings department at the British Museum (2012). I have previously worked as Catalogue Co-ordinator for The Public Catalogue Foundation, during which time I produced the London North and East and National Maritime Museum catalogues (2010-12).

From January to October 2013 I provided maternity cover for the 19th Century Assistant Curator, at the National Portrait Gallery. Central to this role was the organization of temporary room displays throughout the Victorian Galleries. These included, for example: William Nicholson: Radical Woodcuts and Struck & Cast: nineteenth-century portrait medals.

In October 2013 I embarked upon a 3-year funded CDA studentship, working with the University of Sussex and the National Portrait Gallery. The project aims to investigate the professional practice of the Gallery’s first Director Sir George Scharf, principally utilizing the Scharf Archive to establish the extent of his influence during the early years of the Gallery and the in the development of the collection. 


Research interests

My MA studies covered developments in British art between 1860 and 1914, with a particular focus on the Aesthetic Movement. In my dissertation I considered changing modes of pictorial representation in relation to a contemporaneous interest in the nature of perception and experience. I have been fortunate that subsequent research positions have enabled me to consolidate my specialism in the 19th century and to effectively situate works produced during this period within a social and historical framework.  Recent interests directly resulting from my PhD research, include: the London art world, museology and the development of museums in the Victorian period, nineteenth-century historiography and the emergence of the museum professional during the 1800s. 

Recent Publications

‘Octavia Hill: The Reluctant Sitter’ (a chapter in a collection of essays on Octavia Hill, published by the Institute of Historical Research, forthcoming 2014).

Oil Paintings in public ownership in London: North & East, Public Catalogue Foundation, London 2013