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In 1874, an art critic mockingly termed Claude Monet’s painting of a sunrise over the sea “impressionist […] more unfinished than wallpaper in an embryonic state.” With this phrase, he gave a name to a new style of painting that profoundly shaped the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century avant-garde movements in Europe and beyond. Beginning with the invention of photography in the early nineteenth century and ending with the advent of cinema, abstraction, and mechanized warfare in the first decades of the twentieth, this course will trace the origins and afterlives of “Impressionism” in art and cultural history. Many of the artists who continue to draw the largest crowds in museums around the world today–among them Manet and Monet, Degas and Seurat, Van Gogh and Rodin, Klimt and Picasso–fall within our period of study and will be subjects of our examination. Designed for students who have no prior experience studying art history, the course will prioritize methods of close looking and formal analysis. (If social distancing protocols allow, the course will include optional study visits to examine first-hand examples of paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and printmaking at the Clark Art Institute and Manton Study Center for Works on Paper and Williams College Museum of Art). At the same time, the questions and methods at the core of our inquiry will be fundamentally interdisciplinary, and will engage students all across the humanities and sciences (major scientific figures such as the inventor Thomas Edison and the evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin will figure prominently in our narrative). Readings will emphasize close engagement with primary sources drawn from multiple disciplines: writings by artists and art critics from the period, as well as scientists, philosophers, psychologists, political theorists, and poets. We will approach “Impressionism” and “Post-Impressionism” as episodes in the cultural history of Europe that are uniquely revealing of a historical experience we still acutely feel today, which was called, for the first time in the nineteenth-century, “modernity.”
Format: lecture; lectures posted to Glow, and discussion sections via ZOOM, with optional in-person study visits to local museum collections
Grading: yes pass/fail option,
yes fifth course option
weekly discussion question, 1 visual analysis essay (4pp), take-home midterm, take-home final, research paper (8pp)
Art-history majors, then art-studio and history and studio majors, then any interested student.
ARTH post-1800 Courses