This course addresses a crucial period of change and innovation in European art practices and ideas about art and the visual, the consequences and complexities of which are still being played out in the art and socio-cultural worlds of today.

London and Paris were the most modern cities, in which the old and the new, the traditional and the revolutionary tensely co-existed — tensions that were played out in the worlds of art and image-making. The images and objects produced in this period were frequently socially and psychologically scandalous in both their subjects and how those subjects were represented. New and innovative art often generated intensely passionate responses and argument.


  • Early to mid-Victorian painting and photography in Britain, with particular emphasis on the Pre-Raphaelites and their associates: Rossetti,  Millais, Holman-Hunt, Ford Madox Brown, the pioneer ‘art’ photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron and the American artist, Whistler, the exponent of ‘Art for Art’s sake’, who worked in Britain and France.
  • The French innovators, such as Courbet, Manet, Degas, Daumier and influential photographer Nadar, as well as academic art and traditional notions and practices.

Primary themes: 

The complexities of love and relationships between people, the ‘fallen woman,’ women and myth, suffering and death, work, modernity & medievalism, the city and beach, avant-garde, caricature, comedy & cruelty, provocation in painting, lithography, ideas about narrative, symbolism and formalism.

The course focuses on art works that are visually compelling and conceptually complex. Their formal, iconographic and socio-cultural dimensions are studied. Art works are looked at closely and their places in the broader social and political contexts investigated. The differing ways art works can be interpreted, and the limits of verbal interpretation of visual images and objects are investigated. Art critics were increasingly influential. Thus the writings of leading figures, such as Ruskin in Britain and Baudelaire, and their close relationships to artists feature.

Through close readings of art works the course provides skills in the interpretation of visual images generally, in exploring different ways of looking and seeing, and in relating art practices to theory. These skills are applicable and valuable not just for encounters with mid-19th century art, but also for our experiences of art and visual culture generally, whether historical or the most contemporary.

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