Category Archives: Monitoring

CFP: Transnational Perspectives on the Writing of Artists’ Lives, 19th-21st centuries.


Amsterdam School for Regional,
European and Transnational studies.

University of Amsterdam

An Interdisciplinary Workshop

25-26 January 2018

Some writers are so fascinated by other artists that they study their biographies and tell their life stories, in fictional or non-fictional form. Whereas artists’ lives have been written throughout the ages, they have become increasingly popular since the romantic period, with the rise of the artist-hero in the Künstlerroman. Many romantic and post-romantic writers portrayed an artist from their home country as iconic of the nation, thus establishing or consolidating a national cultural tradition. However, there are numerous examples of authors who wrote the life stories of writers, painters or musicians from countries other than their own:

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.

We aim to examine four central issues:

  1. the various forms and usages of artist’s biographies. How and why do writers engage with the lives of other artists? Which elements are foregrounded and which elements are ignored in the life narrative they construct?
  2. the truth and fiction about an artists’ life. To what effect do writers fictionalize certain biographical elements? What kind of ‘truth’ do they convey through literary writing?
  3. the historical development of the artist-hero in modern literature, literary biography and portraiture. Should we consider the romantic period as ‘tipping point’; a period in which artists begin to write about artists? Are there similar tipping or turning points in the twentieth century in the writing of artists’ lives?
  4. the transnational dynamics of identity formation. What is the importance of studying ‘foreign’ artist’s lives in the formation of artistic identities? To what extent does this contribute to the sense of belonging to a (trans)national, European or cosmopolitan artistic community? How do politics come into play here?


Proposals, no longer than 200 words, should be sent before 1 June 2017 to Kasper van Kooten ( and Marleen Rensen (

Biography Institute Newsletter October 2016

Please find below the latest newsletter from the Biography Institute – University of Groningen.

Newsletter Biography Institute
October 2016

Eva Rovers presents biography Boudewijn Büch
Eva Rovers was permitted exclusively to investigate Büch’s personal archive. She interviewed more than 150 relatives of the author. Her research became a journey through a life that was equally improbable as caleidoscopic; a life that was transformed by Büch into a literary game of fact and fiction, performed until its utmost consequences, culminating into a grand final, years after his death.
The presentation will take place on sunday 13 November, 16:00-17.30hrs at the Oude Lutherse Kerk, Amsterdam (Singel 411, Spui corner). It will begin at 16:00 hrs with a welcoming speech by Mai Spijkers, director of Prometheus publishers. Reservation could be done here.

Nigel Hamilton will visit Geschiedenis Festival
At the Geschiedenis Festival (History Festival) at the Philharmonie in Haarlem on 8 October, Hans Renders will have a discussion with Nigel Hamilton on his latest book Roosevelt vs. Churchill. Earlier that day (15.45 hrs) Bas Kromhout, Hans Renders and Robin te Slaa will debate under supervision of Ad van Liempt on the border between right and wrong in the press during World War II.
The website of the festival will provide more information on thedebate and the discussion with Hamilton.

Publication The Biographical Turn
In September the volume The Biographical Turn: Lives in history, edited by Hans Renders, Binne de Haan and Jonne Harmsma, will be published by Routledge. The volume counts 16 chapters in which the ‘biographical turn’ is being studied from the perspective of various topics and research fields in the humanities. The authors of the volume are Debby Applegate, Enny de Bruijn, Sjoerd van Faassen, Binne de Haan, Nigel Hamilton, Jonne Harmsma, Craig Howes, Christian Klein, Lindie Koorts, Sabina Loriga, Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon, Joanny Moulin, Hans Renders, Carl Rollyson en Kaarle Wirta.
For a 20% discount, please use the following link.

Thesis Nigel Hamilton translated into Dutch
The trade edition of Commander in Chief: FDR’s Battle with Churchill (translated as: Roosevelt vs. Churchill: Bevelhebbers in oorlog – 1943) was presented on 2 May in Amsterdam, featuring a lecture by and interview with Nigel Hamilton. The evening was organized by the John Adams Institute. The Historisch Nieuwsblad was given the opportunity to publish the Dutch edition of a book by Hamilton, before the English edition was presented. The American trade edition was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

More information can be found on the
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