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Gothic Modern, 1870s-1920s — From Munch to Kollwitz

Project team

Professor Juliet Simpson - Principal Investigator and project lead

Dr Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff - principal partner, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum, Helsinki

Dr Ralph Gleis – principal partner, Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Dr Stina Høgkvist – principal partner, National Museum, Oslo

Vibeke Waallann Hansen – principal partner, National Museum, Oslo

Dr Cynthia Osiecki – principal partner, National Museum, Oslo

Dr Julia Zaunbauer – principal partner, the Albertina, Vienna

Dr Barbara Buchbauer – principal partner, the Albertina, Vienna

Dr Riitta Ojanperä – partner, Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum

Dr Marja Sakari – principal partner (2019-2023), Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum


Professor Krista Kodres (Estonian Academy of Arts, Tallinn)

Dr Jeremy Howard (University of St Andrews)

Professor Jeanne Nuechterlein, University of York

Dr Johan de Smet, MSK, Ghent

Dr Marja Lahelma, University of Helsinki

Stephan Kuhn, University of Bergen

Professor Gabriele Rippl, Bern University


Finnish National Gallery-Ateneum, Helsinki

Alte Nationalgalerie (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin), Berlin

National Museum, Oslo

The Albertina, Vienna


Coventry University, CAMC; Finnish National Gallery, Ateneum;

Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (international award to PI Prof Juliet Simpson);

German Ministry of Research and Education-Heidelberg University, CAPAS (international award to PI Prof Juliet Simpson)

Indirect funding: Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin; National Museum, Oslo, Albertina, Vienna.



Project overview

Gothic Modern, 1870s-1920s is the first in-depth study (comprising an international touring scholarly exhibition in partnership with three world-leading national museums, linked research publication and a series of international symposia and major outreach events) to explore the pivotal importance of late medieval Gothic art for the artistic modernisms of the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries.

It sheds new light on a bold story of Gothic art rediscoveries and reinventions from the 1870s to 1920s, crossing borders of past and present, place and community, artistic and social practices, to shape new ideas of artist-hood, cultural connection and different ‘belonging’. Viewed through the lens of new artist and writer encounters, discoveries and recreations, the exhibition and its substantial linked research outputs, illuminates the Gothic as a core fascination for early twentieth-century art, transcending nation-centric stories, straddling war and its aftermath. Key to this enquiry are innovative ways in which artists, writers and historians drew on medieval art through pilgrimages, ‘devotions’, eroticism, nature, sensory alterities and the ‘Dance of Death’, to create powerful expressions of their modernity; of identity, sexuality, navigate social challenge and trauma, the dislocations of war, post-war and the potential for world-making.

Gothic Modern thus presents an ambitious new approach to modern art focusing on the untold story and memory of its discoveries and new responses to late medieval art from the 1870s to 1920s, which profoundly challenges canonical stories of modernity and modern art. Its objective is to create ground-breaking understanding of the Gothic as a transformative, cross-cultural stimulus for ‘other’ identities of modern art which resonates for the twenty-first century. Dark or radiant, enchanted or ‘uncanny’, spiritual or traumatic, embodied or haunted, these ‘other’ sites of modernity and their artworks, engaged Edvard Munch, Käthe Kollwitz and their immediate contemporaries, with urgent new creative visions for imagining and making worlds.

Project objectives

  • An ambitious new approach to modern art focusing on the untold story of n medieval reinventions in Europe’s north and East from the 1870s to the 1920s
  • Illuminates the Gothic as a core fascination for early twentieth-century art, transcending nation-centric and nationalist identities, straddling war and its aftermath
  • Reveals a hidden Edvard Munch and Käthe Kollwitz through their deep attraction to the art of the ‘Gothic’ past and how this resonated for their contemporaries, including Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Hugo Simberg and Helene Schjerfbeck
  • Explores how these artists were inspired by medieval Gothic art through pilgrimages, eroticism and the ‘Dance of Death’ to create powerful new expressions of sexuality and trauma, death and reconnection
  • Project’s focus is on major late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Nordic, German, Belgian and British art works displayed alongside rare medieval Gothic and early Renaissance objectsA compelling exploration of the Gothic for the twenty-first century, about new ideas of individual, gender and transnational community, entwined with the dark, the emotive and uncanny

Impact statement

To create ground-breaking new knowledge of the Gothic in re-imagining a different story of modern art, crossing borders of art, place, time and cultural identities to reach new audiences beyond academia via a major international touring exhibition in Helsinki, Oslo and Vienna. Drawing on world-leading museum and private collections, and with key artworks shown for the first time in the public domain, the exhibition’s ambitions, and its linked research publication and educational, cultural and outreach activities, are to open new understanding of the potency of the Gothic as a different energy of modern art and creative experiment beyond nation-centric stories.



  • J. Simpson, ‘Nordic Devotions: Gothic Art as Erotic Affect: J.-K. Huysmans’ Decadent Gothic Modern’ (Chapter), Nordic Literature of Decadence: Reverberations from Paris and Voices from the North, P. Lyytikäinen Mirjam Hinrikus, Viola Parente-Čapková, Riikka Rossi (Eds) (Routledge: New York, 2019), pp. 239-254 ISBN: 9780429655425
  • J. Simpson, ‘Portable Museums: Imaging/Staging the ‘Northern Gothic Art Tour ― Ephemera and Alterity,’ Ephemeral Exhibition Spaces (1750-1918), Eds D. Bauer and C. Murgia, University of Amsterdam Press: Amsterdam, 2021
  • J. Simpson, ‘Imaging the Uncanny Memory: War and the Isenheim Altarpiece in 1917-19’, in Memory, Word and Image: W.G. Sebald's Artistic Legacies, Eds C. Lerm-Hayes et al. Amsterdam University Press (Heritage and Memory Studies Series), Amsterdam, 2023
  • J. Simpson and G. Rippl, eds. ‘Emotional Objects: Northern Renaissance Afterlives in Object, Image and Word. 1890s-1920s’, special issue, Journal of the Northern Renaissance, 14 (2023),
  • J. Simpson, T. Bauduin, A.-M. von Bonsdorff and J. Baetens (Eds), et al., Gothic Enchantments, 1860s-1940s, Peter Lang (Critical Interactions and Relations in the Arts, series ed. B. Bullen), Oxford-Vienna-Bern, 320pp. with ills. Publication: 2024-5
  • J. Simpson, ‘Unseen Modernities: Re-imagining the Visionary Real in the Art of Marianne Stokes’, in Women’s Legacies in Natural Studies and Liberal Arts, eds C. Lollobrigida and A. Modesti, Turnhout and Los Angeles: Brepols, 2024
  • J. Simpson and A. von Bonsdorff, eds, Gothic Modern: from Edvard Munch to Käthe Kollwitz (multi-author book), Munich: Hirmer-Chicago: Chicago University Press, forthcoming, August, 2024

Major international scholarly exhibition

Gothic Modern, 1870s-1920s – From Munch to Kollwitz, Ateneum-Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki (October 2024-January 2025), Nationalmuseum, Oslo (February 2025-June 2025), Albertina, Vienna (September 2025-January 2026).

 Queen’s Award for Enterprise Logo
University of the year shortlisted
QS Five Star Rating 2023