This seminar examines the pioneering artists of French impressionism and post-impressionism whose innovations laid the foundations for 20th-century art.
The second half of the 19th century witnessed great political and social change in France with accompanying challenges to the artistic status quo. The poet and essayist Charles Baudelaire urged artists to paint modern life rather than subjects drawn from history. As if responding to his call, a group of radical young painters—pejoratively dubbed "impressionists"—turned their attention to the changing world around them, especially Paris, which was undergoing large-scale transformation from a medieval to a modern city. The new parks and broad boulevards, the cafes, theaters, and dance halls—where the social classes mingled in ways previously unimaginable—all became fodder for the impressionists' art. While Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir captured the optical and ephemeral effects of light and color in both urban and rural settings, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt used similar techniques to portray a more sequestered world of domestic rituals and personal relationships.
A younger generation of artists absorbed and extended the impressionists' spirit of invention. Painters such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh invested their art with emotional, psychological, and spiritual depth, choosing colors and forms for expressive rather than descriptive purposes. Paul Cézanne and Georges Seurat challenged the impressionists' efforts to dissolve form through light. Experimenting with geometry and mathematics they simplified structure and form, paving the way for future abstract artists.
The seminar highlights the social and cultural context of art and introduces interdisciplinary teaching strategies. Participants will explore connections between the visual arts and music, social studies, and language arts. They will visit collections of 19th-century French art in other local cultural institutions. Activities are designed to meet teachers' personal and professional enrichment needs.