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Dr. R. (Rachel) Esner

Faculty of Humanities
Capaciteitsgroep Kunstgeschiedenis
Photographer: Bob Bronshoff

Visiting address
  • Turfdraagsterpad 15
  • Room number: 2.01
Postal address
  • Postbus 94551
    1090 GN Amsterdam
  • Dr. Rachel Esner


    Rachel Esner studied at Columbia University, City University of New York and the Universität Hamburg, Germany. She received her Ph.D. in 1994 with a dissertation entitled Art Knows no Fatherland: The Reception of German Art in France, 1878-1900. Working as a freelance art historian, she published a number of articles over the years, participated in international symposia, and in 2000-2001 was a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre allemande d'histoire de l'art in Paris. In 2003 she joined the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Amsterdam, Department of Art History, where she is currently Associate Professor and coordinator of the dual MA program Curating Art and Cultures. 

    Current research

    Dr. Esner is a specialist in French art and photography of the late nineteenth century. Her current research project, The Image of the Artist in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction focuses on the emergence of the artist as a public figure and celebrity with the aid of nineteenth-century "new media" such as photography and the illustrated press. It explores the various images of the artist formed in the popular imagination by painters and sculptors themselves, their supporters and critics; the sociological and historical necessity of image-building at this crucial moment in the formation of (artistic) modernity; and the consequences of these processes for artists' self-understanding and identity, expressed in their creative works as well as in strategic uses of their newly spreading media image. The artist's studio plays a particularly important role within this research framework, and the last few years have seen the publication of a number of articles on this topic as well as two annotated anthologies, Hiding Making-Showing Creation. The Studio from Turner to Tacita Dean (Amsterdam University Press 2013) and The Mediatization of the Artist (Palgrave 2017).

    Editorial Boards

    Dr. Esner is a member of the editorial boards of Rijksmuseum Bulletin and Stedelijk Studies 

    ESNA (European Society for Nineteenth-Century Art Foundation)

    Founding member and chair. ESNA was founded by a group of scholars, graduate students and museum professionals based in the Netherlands whose research focuses on European art of the long nineteenth century. ESNA’s aim is to provide a forum to promote the exchange of ideas in this field, to support and encourage graduate research, and to enhance networking opportunities for participants. ESNA seeks to contribute to, and foster debate on, nineteenth-century art through the organization of an annual symposium, workshops, excursions, the invitation of visiting speakers, and the co-ordination with other organizations and groups devoted to the study of the nineteenth century. Although originating in the Low Countries, ESNA aims to create a broad international network for the advancement of research into all aspects of nineteenth-century European art.

    ESNA became a foundation in 2018 and has since partnered with the RKD (Netherlands Institute of Art History).

    Departmental Functions

    • Chairperson Program Team Art History (2019- )
    • Program coordinator Curating Art and Cultures (2011- )
    • Program Director, MA Programs in Art and Cultural Studies (2014-2017)
    • Member "BA op de Spa" Committee (2008)
    • Chairperson Opleidingscommissie (2006-2008)
    • Chairperson "Propedeuse op de Schop" (2007-08) 


    • ASCA - Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis
    • ESNA European Society for Nineteenth-Century Art
    • Association of Historians of Nineteenth-Century Art
    • Vereiniging Nederlandse Kunsthistorici
    • ICOM
  • Lectures and Conferences

    Conference papers and public lectures (selected)

    • “Jean-Léon Gérôme: Artist-Entrepreneur”, Tools for the Future. Second International Workshop The Artist as an Entrepreneur & Career Paths, Utrecht, HKU, 2018
    • “Gauguin and the Women of Martinique” (with Emilie Sitzia), Symposium Gauguin/Laval, Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, 2018
    • "From Salon to Supermarket: Jean-Léon Gérôme's Celebrity (and Obsurity)", Nineteenth-Century French Studies Association, Los Angeles, 2018
    • "Mediating the Studio. Modes and Models of Representation", Ouvrir l'Atelier, Brussels, ULB, 2017
    • "Making the Truth with Images", Transformationen der Antike, Berlin, HU, 2014
    • "Le Figaro illustré in 1898. Selling the Artist to the Bourgeois Woman", L'Artiste en revue, Brussels (ULB), 2013“Horace Vernet in the Popular Imagination”, AAH, University of Reading, 2013
    • “Nos artistes chez eux. The Image of the Artist in the Illustrated Press”, 2nd Global Conference on Celebrity, Lisbon, 2013
    • “In the Artist’s Studio with L’Artiste”, L’Artiste: une revue pour l’art (1831-1870), Paris, Sorbonne, 2012
    • "Snapshots of Intimacy. Artists Photograph Themselves and their Circles", Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, 2012
    • "The Declaration of Autonomy and the Denial of Interest in Images of the Artists Studio", Nineteenth Century French Studies Association, Philadelphia, 2011
    • "The Field Made Flesh. Deploying Cultural Capital in Images of the Artist's Studio", Nineteenth-Century Studies Association, Albuquerque, 2011
    • "The Photograph in the Studio", Haarlem, Teylers Museum, 2010
    • "Collecting Photographs: From the Archive to the Museum Wall," FOAM - Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam, 2008
    • "Presence in Absence: The Empty Studio as Self-Portrait and Artistic Manifesto," AAH, London, 2008
    • "Charcot/Pygmalion: Aesthetic Vision in the 'Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière,'" Kennis in beeld: illustraties tussen kunst en wetenschap, Amsterdam, Artis, 2007
    • "La peinture allemande au XIXe siècle von Antoine Rous, Marquis de laMazelière: Die deutsche Kunst und das Ende der romanischen Kultur," Médiateurs francophones sur l'Allemagne: 1870-1940, Paris, Centre Allemand d'histoire de l'art, 2000

    Conference (co)organization

    • [Conference] City of Sin: Representing the Urban Underbelly in the Nineteenth Century
      Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum), 19-20 May 2016
    • [Conference] The Mediatization of the Artist, Amsterdam (EYE Film Institute) and The Hague (RKD), 19-20 June 2014 
    • [Conference] The Turbulent Mind. Madness, Moods and Melancholy in the Art of the Nineteenth Century, Ghent (Museum voor Schone Kunsten), 16-17 May 2014
    • [Symposium} Museum en Universiteit. Samen de 19e eeuw opzoeken (ESNA), The Hague (RKD), 31 January 2013
    • [Conference] Hiding Making - Showing Creation. Strategies in Artistic Practice from the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Centuries , Haarlem (Teylers Museum) and Amsterdam (Rijksakademie), 7-8 January 2011
    • [Conference] Visual Culture and National Identity , Amsterdam (Van Gogh Museum), 9-10 June 2010
    • [Symposium] Kennis in beeld: illustraties tussen kunst en wetenschap , Amsterdam (Artis Bibliotheek), 23 November 2007
    • [Symposium] TheoretischHolland: Reflectie op 30 jaar kunstgeschiedenis in Nederland . Amsterdam (Club 11, SMCS), 2 February 2007
    • [Conference]  Art and the City: A Conference on Postwar Interactions with the Urban Realm . Amsterdam (KNAW), 11-12 May 2006
  • Teaching


    Rachel Esner teaches in the following courses:

    • Inleiding in de Kunstgeschiedenis (Nieuwste Tijd) (BA)
    • Vrouwen en Kunst (BA)
    • Collecting, Curating and Display (dMA)
    • Curatorial Practices in the Contemporary World (dMA)

    She also regularly offers BA and MA elective seminars on 19th-century art, as well as on museums, exhibitions, collecting and curating.

    Curating Art and Cultures

    Curating Art and Cultures is a unique, professional Master's designed to train the curators of the future. The programme is offered jointly by the UvA, the VU University and leading museums in the Netherlands.

    Taking place in both the lecture hall and the exhibition space, the Dual Master’s in Curating Art and Cultures responds to the growing demand for academically-grounded curatorial professionals with excellent (inter)disciplinary and theoretical backgrounds. The programme teaches you to engage with crucial theoretical concepts and contemporary issues regarding the collection and display of art objects and cultural artefacts. It also encourages you to deepen your disciplinary knowledge and develop your research skills.

    Van Gogh Museum Visiting Fellow in Nineteenth-Century Art

    The aim of the annual Van Gogh Museum Visiting Scholar in the History of Nineteenth-Century Art Seminaris to provide Master's students with the opportunity to study a single yet wide-ranging subject in nineteenth-century art through an intensive one-week workshop taught by a leading scholar in the field and supported by the Van Gogh Museum. The seminar will introduce students to important issues in the study of nineteenth-century art and provide an impulse for further research. Its aim is to encourage interest in various aspects of the discipline, and to provide students not only with factual information, but more importantly with new methodological and theoretical perspectives on this important period in the history of art.

    Since 2013, the seminar may followed as a tutorial for 6 EC within the various MA programs. For more information see the UvA Studiegids or contact Dr. Rachel Esner (

  • Books and Exhibitions

    This book offers trans-historical and trans-national perspectives on the image of “the artist” as a public figure in the popular discourse and imagination. Since the rise of notions of artistic autonomy and the simultaneous demise of old systems of patronage from the late eighteenth century onwards, artists have increasingly found themselves confronted with the necessity of developing a public persona. In the same period, new audiences for art discovered their fascination for the life and work of the artist. The rise of new media such as the illustrated press, photography and film meant that the needs of both parties could easily be satisfied in both words and images. Thanks to these “new” media, the artist was transformed from a simple producer of works of art into a public figure. The aim of this volume is to reflect on this transformative process, and to study the specific role of the media themselves. Which visual media were deployed, to what effect, and with what kind of audiences in mind? How did the artist, critic, photographer and filmmaker interact in the creation of these representations of the artist’s image?

    The artist, at least according to Honoré de Balzac, is at work when he seems to be at rest; his labor is not labor but repose; it is above all conceptual, and not something done with the hand. This observation provides a model for understanding modern artists and their relationship to their place of work - the studio - what they do there, and (above all) their representations of it. Hiding Making – Showing Creation investigates the complex visual strategies artists have developed in such images to foreground certain aspects of creation while carefully hiding others from view: although often appearing to reveal all in their depictions, artists are never entirely open about their practice, and habitually hide their manual labor in order to present an image of almost magical creative genius. Taking a transhistorical, transnational and multi-medial perspective, the volume seeks to addresses possible continuities in artists’ own understanding of their working spaces from the nineteenth century to today, and to sketch the contours of what the editors view as the emerging field of studio studies.

    The book is the result of the international two-day conference Hiding Making – Showing Creation, which took place in January 2011 in collaboration with Teylers Museum in Haarlem and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. 


    Vincent Everywhere. Van Gogh's (Inter)National Identities

    International research project, book publication, and symposium, in cooperation with Dr. Margriet Schavemaker (Stedelijk Museum), Hendrik Folkerts (Stedelijk Museum) and Shailloh Philips.

    The project was funded by, among others, the Mondriaan Foundation, Prince Bernhard Cultuurfonds, and SNS Reaalfonds.

    It resulted in a book publication (Amsterdam University Press), a two-day international conference (Visual Culture and National Identity, June 2010), several book presentations in the Netherlands (Spui25) and abroad (Rome, KNIR), and a radio interview (see link below)


    • Versneden en verbeeld: Anatomie in geneeskundeen kunst ,UB Singel and SMART ProjectSpace, 9 July-7 September 2007
    • Hellas: Visies op Griekenland in de 19e eeuw , Allard Pierson Museum, 7 July-18 September 2006
    • Spiegel van het geheugen: De fotografische verbeelding van de Romeinse oudheid in de negentiende ee uw, Allard Pierson Museum, 24 June-25 September 2005
    • Het lichaam blootgegeven: Tekeningen uit de collectie van de Rijksakademie, 1766-1900 , Allard PiersonMuseum, 24 June-12 September 2004
  • Publications


    • Esner, R., & Sitzia, E. L. (in press). Gauguin on the Brink: Martinique and the Image of Women. In Van Gogh and Laval in Martinique Van Gogh Museum.


    • Esner, R. (2019). Jean-Léon Gérôme: The Artist in Word and Image. In L. Dixon, & G. P. Weisberg (Eds.), Making Waves: Crosscurrents in the study of nineteenth-century art : Essays in honour of Petra ten-Doesschate Chu (pp. 127-136). (XIX: Studies in 19th-Century Art and Visual Culture ; Vol. 4). Brepols Publishers. [details]
    • Esner, R. (2019). Le Figaro illustré en 1898 : vendre de l’artiste aux bourgeoises. In L. Brogniez, & C. Dessy (Eds.), L'artiste en revues: arts et discours en mode périodique (pp. 357-373). (Interférences). Presses Universitaires de Rennes. [details]
    • Esner, R. (2019). ’Ateliers d'Artistes’ (1898): An Advertorial for the 'Lady Readers' of the Figaro illustré. Early Popular Visual Culture, 16(4), 368-384 . [details]



    • Esner, R. (2017). Horace Vernet in the Public Imagination. In D. Harkett, & K. Hornstein (Eds.), Horace Vernet and the thresholds of nineteenth-century visual culture (pp. 57-72). Dartmouth College Press. [details]
    • Esner, R. (2017). Making the Truth with Images: Some Visual Context for The Fall of the Roman Empire. In J. Helmrath, E. M. Hausteiner, & U. Jensen (Eds.), Antike als Transformation: Konzepte zur Beschreibung kulturellen Wandels (pp. 71-80). (Transformationen der Antike; Vol. 49). De Gruyter. [details]




    • Esner, R. (2011). Presence in absence: the empty studio as self-portrait. Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft, 56(2), 241-262. [details]




    • Esner, R. (2012). The gift: Cezanne's "The Artist's Studio" (1866) in Zola's "The Masterpiece" (1886). Kunstlicht, 33(2/3), 41-51. [details]


    • Esner, R. (2011). Ateliers d'artistes aux XXe et XXIe siècles, du lieu à l'oeuvre [Review of: G. Waterfield (2009) The artist's studio; W. Davidts, K. Paice (2009) The fall of the studio: artists at work; M. Diers, M. Wagner (2010) Topos Atelier: Werkstatt und Wissensform; M.J. Jacob, M. Grabner (2010) The studio reader: on the space of artists]. Perspective : la revue de l’INHA, 2010/2011(3), 599-604. [details]


    • Esner, R. (2010). Beyond Dutch: Van Gogh's early critical reception 1890-1915. In R. Esner, & M. Schavemaker (Eds.), Vincent everywhere: Van Gogh's (inter)national identities (pp. 137-145, 180-182). Amsterdam University Press. [details]
    • Esner, R. (2010). De kunstenaar en zijn gereedschappen: een panorama van de negentiende eeuw. In M. Jonkman, & E. Geudeker (Eds.), Mythen van het atelier: werkplaats en schilderpraktijk van de negentiende-eeuwse Nederlandse kunstenaar (pp. 79-91). D'jonge Hond. [details]
    • Esner, R. (2010). Het Nederlandse voorbij: de kritische receptie van Van Gogh tussen 1890 en 1915. In R. Esner, & M. Schavemaker (Eds.), Overal Vincent: de (inter)nationale identiteiten van Van Gogh (pp. 143-152, 188-190). Amsterdam University Press. [details]
    • Esner, R., & Schavemaker, M. (2010). Epilogue. In R. Esner, & M. Schavemaker (Eds.), Vincent everywhere: Van Gogh's (inter)national identities (pp. 163-165, 183). Amsterdam University Press. [details]
    • Esner, R., & Schavemaker, M. (2010). Introduction. In R. Esner, & M. Schavemaker (Eds.), Vincent everywhere: Van Gogh's (inter)national identities (pp. 7-11, 167). Amsterdam University Press. [details]


    • Esner, R. (2007). Contributions. In F. Kitschen, & K. Helms (Eds.), Deutsche Kunst - Französische Perspektiven, 1870-1940 Berlijn. [details]


    • Esner, R. (2006). 'Right About Now... And then?'. Jong Holland, 22(4). [details]
    • Esner, R. (2006). Review of Barbara Wittmann [Review of: B. Wittmann. Gesichter geben. Édouard Manet und die Poetik des portraits]. Sehepunkte, 6.
    • Esner, R. (2006). Review of Richard Thomson [Review of: R. Thomson. The troubled Republic. Visual culture and social debate in France, 1889-1900]. Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, 6.
    • Esner, R. (2006). Right about now... and then? Jong Holland, 22(4). [details]


    • Esner, R. (2004). Die deutsche Kunst und das Ende der romanischen Kultur. Antoine Rous, Marquis de la Mazelières Buch La peinture allemande au XIXe siècle von 1900. In A. Kostka, & F. Lucbert (Eds.), Distanz und Aneignung: Kunstbeziehungen zwischen Deutschland und Frankreich, 1870-1945 (pp. 177-188). Parijs & Berlijn: Akademie Verlag. [details]
    • Esner, R. (2004). Ein Preuße in Paris: Wandlungen des Ruhmes und Nachruhmes Menzels, 1855-1905. In Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen (Beiheft, 1999) (pp. 303-308). [details]


    • Esner, R. (2003). Sincérité et sentiments: L'oeuvre religieux de Fritz von Uhde aux Salons parisiens. In U. Fleckner, & T. W. Gaehtgens (Eds.), De Grünewald à Menzel: L'image de l'art allemand en France au XIXe siècle (pp. 307-320). Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme. [details]


    • Esner, R. (in press). Review of: Friederike Kitschen, Als Kunstgeschichte populär wurde. Illustrierte Kunstbuchserien (1860-1960) und der Canon der westlichen Kunst. Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide.


    • Esner, R. (2022). How to Photograph Painting a Picture – Then and Now. In R. Gobyn, & T. Van Imschoot (Eds.), Staging the Painting Process Grafische Cel.
    • Esner, R. (2022). Van Gogh in (and around) Hollywood. In Van Gogh in America Detroit Institute of Arts.
    • Esner, R. (2022). [Review of: M. Bailey (2021) Van Gogh's Finale : Auvers and the Artist's Rrise to Fame]. The Burlington Magazine, 164(1432), 731-732. [details]



    • Esner, R. (2012). Nos artistes chez eux: l ’image des artistes dans la presse illustrée. In A. Bonnet (Ed.), L’artiste en représentation: images des artistes dans l'art du XIXe siècle (pp. 139-149). Fage. [details]


    • Esner, R. (2010). The early years of Dutch photography [Review of: H. Rooseboom (2008) De schaduw van de fotograaf: positie en status van een nieuw beroep, 1839-1889]. Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis, 123(4), 622-623. [details]



    • Esner, R. (2006). [Review of: B. Wittmann (2004) Gesichter geben: Édouard Manet und die Poetik des Portraits]. Sehepunkte, 6(12). [details]
    • Esner, R. (2006). [Review of: R. Thomson (2004) The Troubled Republic: Visual Culture and Social Debate in France, 1889-1900]. Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, 6(1).


    • Esner, R. (2005). [Review of: H. Foster, e.a (2004) Art since 1900: modernism, antimodernism, postmodernism]. Jong Holland, 21(4).
    • Esner, R. (2005). [Review of: M. Biele-Wrunsch (2004) Die Künstlerfreundschaft zwischen Édouard Manet und Émile Zola: Ästhetische und gattungsspezifische Berührungen und Differenzen]. Sehepunkte, 5(3).


    Prize / grant

    • Esner, R. (2023). NWO Museumbeurs: Nagelaten. Vrouwelijke schenkers en legatoren aan Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (1849-heden).
    • Esner, R. (2018). NWO-KIEM "Documenting Curatorial Practices in Dutch Art Museums, 1945-Today.

    Membership / relevant position

    • Esner, R. (2011). Co-organizer Hiding Making/Showing Creation. Strategies in Artistic Practice from the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Centuries, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Oude Turfmarkt 129, 1090 GK Amsterdam.

    Media appearance

    Talk / presentation

    • Esner, R. (speaker) (29-10-2013). Le Figaro illustré in 1898. Selling the Artist to the Bourgeois Woman, L'Artiste en revue, Brussels.
    • Esner, R. (speaker) (12-4-2013). Horace Vernet in the Popular Imagination, AAH Annual Conference, Reading (UK).
    • Esner, R. (speaker) (11-3-2013). Nos artistes chez eux. The Image of the Artist in the Illustrated Press, 2nd Global Conference on Celebrity, Lisbon, Lisbon.
    • Esner, R. (speaker) (28-6-2012). In the Artist’s Studio with "L’Artiste", L’Artiste: une revue pour l’art (1831-1870), Paris, France.
    • Esner, R. (speaker) (8-1-2012). Snapshots of Intimacy. Artists Photograph Themselves and their Circles, Sunday Lecture Series, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
    • Esner, R. (invited speaker) (28-12-2011). The Declaration of Autonomy and the Denial of Interest in Images of the Artist's Studio, Nineteenth-Century French Studies Association Conference, Philadelphia, PA, United States.
    • Esner, R. (invited speaker) (4-3-2011). The Field Made Flesh. Deploying Cultural Capital in Images of the Artist's Studio, Nineteenth-Century Studies Association Conference, Albuquerque, NM, United States.


    • Esner, R. (organiser) (31-1-2014). Museum+Universiteit. Samen de 19e eeuw opzoeken, Den Haag (organising a conference, workshop, ...).


    • van Dijk, M. E. (2017). Foreign artists versus French critics: Exhibition strategies and critical reception at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris (1884-1914). [Thesis, externally prepared, Universiteit van Amsterdam]. [details]
    This list of publications is extracted from the UvA-Current Research Information System. Questions? Ask the library or the Pure staff of your faculty / institute. Log in to Pure to edit your publications. Log in to Personal Page Publication Selection tool to manage the visibility of your publications on this list.
  • Ancillary activities
    • No ancillary activities