Alison Syme photo

Alison Syme

Associate Professor
European and American 19th- and 20th-century Art

Acting Vice-Dean, Faculty July–December 2023
Undergraduate Appointment: Department of Visual Studies (UTM)
Graduate Appointment: Department of Art (St. George)
Cross-Appointments and Affiliations: Centre for the Study of the United States


PhD in Art History from Harvard University, 2005
MA in Art History from Harvard University, 1999
Hon BA in Literary Studies and Art History from the University of Toronto, 1996


At the 200 level, I teach surveys of 19th- and early 20th-century art. My European Art of the Nineteenth Century course (FAH287) regularly includes an optional trip to London and Paris over reading week. At the 300 and 400 levels, I teach theme-based courses on topics such as the dream of creating animate art, from lifelike paintings and moving statues to androids and cyborgs (FAH460: Art and Animation), art and exilic states (FAH457), and modern craft (FAH362). Hands-on projects, from automaton-building to mending, are incorporated in all my courses.


My research primarily focuses on art of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Britain, France, and the United States. Within this field, I study a range of different topics and traditions, from society portraiture to early abstraction. All of my research, however, is characterised by a commitment to close looking, examination of the intersection of art and visual culture, interdisciplinary enquiry, and analysis of the role of metaphors in artistic practice and poetics. My first book, A Touch of Blossom: John Singer Sargent and the Queer Flora of Fin-de-Siècle Art (Penn State University Press, 2010), shortlisted for the Modernist Studies Association Book Prize in 2011, considers Sargent in the context of nineteenth-century botany, gynaecology, literature, and visual culture and argues that the artist mobilised ideas of cross-fertilisation and the hermaphroditic sexuality of flowers in his works to “naturalise” sexual inversion, visually elaborating a floral poetics of sexual variety. I am currently working on two book projects. One is a co-edited, multi-volume set of primary sources on the Victorian artist. The second, Burne-Jones and the Book, explores the Victorian artist’s poetics of materials and animation strategies in the context of Victorian science and print culture. Other current research interests include the Omega Workshops, late 19th-century animal painting, and Morisot’s copies.

Courses Taught


FAH287  European Art of the Nineteenth Century
FAH288  European and North American Art of the Earlier Twentieth Century
FAH360  Art and Visual Culture of the Eighteenth Century
FAH388  Theory in Art History
FAH457  Exile and Modern Art
FAH460  Art and Animation


FAH1001 Methods
FAH1477 Psychoanalysis and the Visual
FAH1486 Bloomsbury and Vorticism
FAH1478 Art and Animation



Willow (Reaktion, 2014)

A Touch of Blossom: The Queer Flora of Fin-de-Siècle Art ((Penn State UP, 2010)


“Omega Flowers and Bloomsbury Modernism,” West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture 29.2 (Fall-Winter 2022): 193–231. 

“Dog Art and Chick Pics,” Cusp: Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Cultures 1 (2022): 116–131.

“Morisot’s Urbane Ecologies,” in A Companion to Impressionism, ed. André Dombrowski, 375–392 (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2021)

“All that is solid melts into air’: Burne-Jones, Glaciation, and the Matter of History,” in Victorian Science and Imagery: The Evolution of Form in Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture, ed. Nancy Marshall, 56–78, 244–252 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021) 

“The Media of Sight: Burne-Jones and the Graiae,” Victorian Studies 62.2 (Winter 2020): 253–267.

“Pressed Flowers: Burne-Jones, the Romaunt of the Rose, and the Kelmscott Chaucer,” Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 29 (Fall 2019): 42–69.

“Bohemians of the Vegetable World,” in Queer Difficulty in Art and Poetry: Re-Thinking the Sexed Body in Verse and Visual Culture, ed. Jongwoo Kim and Christopher Reed, 10–23 (New York: Routledge, 2017)

“Screens of Vegetation; or, The Cyber Gardens of Philomène Longpré,” in Philomène Longpré: Transcendare. Ouvres-Systèmes Sensibles/Responsive Art Systems, ed. Christine Redfern (Montreal: Ellephant, 2016), 39–59.

“Über Geschichten von pflanzlichen Vampiren – oder moderne Verbrauchernachrichten” (“Tales of Vegetable Vampires; or, Modern Consumer Reports”), trans. Daniel Schreiber, in Floriographie: Die Sprachen der Blumen, ed. Isabel Kranz, Alexander Schwann, and Eike Wittrock (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2016), 315–335.


Willows book cover


A Touch of blossom book cover


book cover picturing willow leaves