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Summer Institute 2014

About the 2014 Institute

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—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 were all 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 experimented with geometry and mathematics and a simplification of structure and form that paved the way for later generations of abstract artists.

Through lectures, gallery talks, discussion groups, and hands-on activities, participants in the Summer Teacher Institute will analyze French impressionist and post-impressionist works by artists represented in the Gallery’s permanent collection, including Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, and Paul Cézanne.

The seminar highlights the social and cultural context of art and demonstrates interdisciplinary teaching strategies. Participants will explore connections between the visual arts and photography, music, language arts, and visit collections of 19th-century French art in other local cultural institutions. Activities are designed to meet teachers' personal and professional enrichment needs.

By offering an opportunity to explore paintings and objects in the National Gallery and other collections, the Institute aims to:

  • Provide an introduction to French art and culture from the 1860s to the turn of the century;
  • Examine the radical changes in technique and subject introduced by French impressionists and post-impressionists, in the context of traditional artistic training and practice;
  • Foster an understanding of painting as an artistic creation and of period techniques of fabrication;
  • Encourage the use of artworks as primary sources in classroom instruction;
  • Share models for incorporating art into interdisciplinary teaching and strengthen students' visual literacy.




The 2014 Teacher Institute is supported by generous gifts from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, the Park Foundation, the Sara Shallenberger Brown Fund, the Faber-Castell USA Fellowship, and the Annetta J. and Robert M. Coffelt Sr. and Robert M. Coffelt Jr. Endowed Fellowship.


Questions about this program should be directed to [email protected]. When contacting the Gallery, please provide a telephone number and the times of day when you can best be reached.