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An interdisciplinary workshop, with keynotes by Christopher Wiley (University of Surrey) and Joanny Moulin (Aix-Marseille University).

Event details of Transnational Perspectives on the Writing of Artists’ Lives, 19th-21st centuries
Start date 25 January 2018
End date 26 January 2018
Time 10:00
Location University Library
Room Venue: University Library, Potgieterzaal

Alexander Pushkin tells about the rivalry between two famous composers in his theatre play Mozart and Salieri (1830) ; André Maurois narrates the life story of Shelley in Ariel ou la vie de Shelley (1923);  The Moon and Sixpence  (1919) is a fictional biography of Paul Gauguin written by Somerset Maugham and Symphonie Pathétique  (1935) is Klaus Mann’s biographical novel of Tchaikovsky. More recent examples are the literary biography of Jane Austen written by the Canadian novelist Carol Shields in 2001;  Caryl Phillips’ Radio Play A Kind of Home: James Baldwin in Paris (2004) and Julian Barnes’s novel The Noise of Time (2016) in which he examines the biography of Shostakovich.  

All these examples show literary writers who, in many different ways, construct their subject’s life stories in order to reflect on life and art and to define their own aesthetic position. Whether they criticize their ‘hero’ or identify with him/her as a formative model and make it their own, they establish a trans-national relation with this particular artist.

We will further investigate the dynamics of such transnational relations and appropriations in a two-day international workshop on artists’ biographies in the 19th-21st centuries. We will focus on the lives of artists, written by artists, such as literary biographies, biographical novels and operas or theatre plays that clearly rely on biographical elements.


Thursday 25 january

Coffee and Tea

Opening Session

Welcome and introduction
Keynote by Christopher Wiley (University of Surrey) ‘Musical Biography as a National and Transnational Genre’
11.15 -11.45

Coffee break

Panel I : Literature, music and biography

Krisztina Lajosi, (University of Amsterdam), ‘The Musician as Icon. Liszt’s biography of Chopin’
Sarah Crombach (University of Amsterdam), ‘Nizami Ganjavi’s significance for nation building in Soviet Azerbeijan’


Panel II: Literary Biography

Suze van der Poll (University of Amsterdam), ‘Edmund Gosse’s biography of Henrik Ibsen’
Maryam Thirriard (Aix-Marseille University), ‘English and French Aspects of Life-writing in Harold Nicolson’s Concept of Biography’
Coffee break

Panel III: Life, literature and art

Guido Snel (University of Amsterdam), ‘The lives of imaginary-real artists. From Schwob to Kiš to Bolaño – an attempt at a genealogy’
Maximiliano Jiménez (University of Amsterdam), ‘The impossible demands of life and art: The Transposition of the Artistic Gaze in Michael Cunningham’s The Hours’

16.15- 17.30
Drinks (and optional dinner in the evening)


Friday 26 January

Coffee and tea

Opening session

Keynote lecture Joanny Moulin (Aix-Marseille University) ‘Transnational Artists’ Lives are a Rare Species’
General discussion

Coffee break

Panel IV: Literature and the visual arts

Sander Bax (Tilburg University), ‘Art essays as (auto)biographies: K. Schippers’
Manet van Montfrans (University of Amsterdam), ‘La vie des autres – Das Leben der Anderen. Vie de Paula Modersohn Becker by Marie Darrieussecq: between Portrait and Selfportrait’
Marleen Rensen (University of Amsterdam), ‘Emile Verhaeren’s portrait of Rembrandt’


Panel V: Engaging with artists’ lives

13.45- 14.15
Anna Menyhért (University of Amsterdam), ‘A Free Woman: Writing About Renée Erdős’s Life’
Tamar Hager (Tel-Hai College) , ‘A Crucial Meeting: Writing Julia Margaret Cameron’


Summing up and closure


Registration is free of charge. Please register before 15 January by sending an email to

University Library

Room Venue: University Library, Potgieterzaal

Singel 425
1012 WP Amsterdam