Elizabeth Heath

Elizabeth Heath

Assistant Curator (Research) and CDA Candidate, National Portrait Gallery/University of Sussex

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 detailed research into portraits in the collection and also compile comprehensive iconographies listing all known likenesses of an individual in public and private collections worldwide. As well as writing catalogue entries for a variety of sitters - including Frederic Leighton and Henry Morton Stanley, Ellen Terry and Octavia Hill - I provide administrative support for the project. This includes frequently liaising with the external Editor and other Gallery departments.

In October 2013 I embarked upon a 3-year Collaborative Doctoral Award studentship funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  As a formal partnership between the National Portrait Gallery and the University of Sussex, my project investigates the professional practice of the NPG’s first Director Sir George Scharf, primarily utilizing the Scharf Archive held in the Gallery’s Heinz Archive & Library.  My thesis is the first in-depth study of Scharf’s career and influence over the length of his 40-year tenure.


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.  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 of oil paintings in public ownership (2010-12).

In 2013 I also worked for a period as 19th Century Assistant Curator at the National Portrait Gallery. Central to this role was the organisation of temporary room displays throughout the Victorian Galleries. These included, for example: William Nicholson: Radical Woodcuts and Struck & Cast: nineteenth-century portrait medals.

Research interests

My MA studies covered developments in British art between 1860 and 1914, with a particular focus on the Aesthetic Movement. 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 nineteenth-century art world, the development of public museums during the Victorian period  and the emergence of the museum professional during the 1800s.

Recent Publications

‘Octavia Hill: The Reluctant Sitter, in ‘Nobler imaginings and mightier struggles’: Octavia Hill, social activism, and the remaking of British Society, Institute of Historical Research, London 2016.

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

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