French Romanticism, Realism, and Impressionism in Art and Literature: A Three-Part Course with Sandra Laville

French Romanticism, Realism, and Impressionism in Art and Literature: A Three-Part Course with Sandra Laville


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The nineteenth century was one of the most culturally rich, and politically intense, periods in French history. After many centuries of rethinking and reinterpreting the classical ideals of the Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, artists and intellectuals from all walks of life came together to create an all-new vision for literature and art, intimately connected with the political events of the moment and the newly-emerging modern world. Join Sandra on a journey through the nineteenth century and discover how the ups and downs of post-Revolutionary France led to the most innovative artistic movement the world had ever seen.

During this three-part course, we will explore the world of French literature and painting at this exciting time in history, and see how the many artistic currents that arose during this time aimed to find new forms of self-expression while also reflecting the tense political atmosphere. We'll look at three main periods of the century, and the respective literary and artistic movements that arose, one after the other, in the quest for truth, modernity, and self-expression: Romanticism, with its violent passions and tragic nostalgia; Realism, an honest inquiry into the social norms of the lower and middle classes; and Naturalism, a literary movement based on scientific observation, intimately linked to the revolutionary new artistic current introduced by Monet and Renoir: Impressionism.

Led by an expert on European History and French Civilization, Sandra Laville, this course will discuss the main literary and artistic movements in nineteenth-century France. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of the different currents of literature and art that led to Impressionism and the artistic vision of the modern world.

 

Lecture 1: Romanticism

Both a literary and an artistic movement, Romanticism appeared on the scene in the aftermath of the French Revolution and materialized as a rebellion against the rigid rules of Neo-classical art as mandated by Napoleon I. Writers and artists alike began to seek freer forms of expression, using their creation as an outlet for the intense, dramatic, and sometimes violent emotions vehemently repressed and disapproved of in the official state regime. In our first lecture, we'll see how political events influenced artistic and literary expression, and explore the works of the most renowned intellectuals of the period: Victor Hugo and his Les Misérables and Notre-Dame de Paris, Alexandre Dumas and his Three Musketeers, Ingres and his Grande Odalisque, Delacroix and his Raft of the Medusa. What did these artists have in common, and how did the Romantic movement prepare the terrain for generations of artists and writers to come?

Lecture 2: Realism

Several decades after the appearance of Romanticism, and during post-Revolutionary political upheaval, the French intellectual community had become disillusioned and was searching for still newer forms of expression. Our second lecture will look at these newer forms, mainly the birth of Realism. Both writers and visual artists began to observe (and criticize) the societal dysfunctions in the world around them, and to reflect these injustices in their work, as a new kind of social criticism. The main representative of this current in literature is Gustave Flaubert, who exemplified this approach to perfection in his novel Madame Bovary, the tragic story of a woman with high hopes dashed by the mechanics of the social machine in which she lives. In painting, Millet and Daumier portrayed the hardships of everyday life in the farming class -- the lowest of the low in French society -- whereas Courbet chose to represent the grittier side of reality in common, everyday events in his rural hometown. An outrage on all accounts, according to the art critics of the time! But a breath of fresh air for the new generations of artists and writers, who were still looking for inspiration in their quest for the "modern" world and would use this environment as fodder for their own literary and artistic experimentation.

Lecture 3: Naturalism and Impressionism

Several decades later, the French intellectual scene had changed profoundly. More and more artists were challenging the rigid standards officially established by Emperor Napoleon III, and a whole new movement had arisen, known as "Impressionism" and led by Monet, Renoir, and their friends. At the same time, a literary movement called Naturalism had emerged, championed by Emile Zola, a great friend of Manet and the Impressionists. Together, these two styles of expression would create a whole new vision of modern literature and art: objective yet personal, scientific yet expressive, irresistibly modern. In our final lecture, we'll take a look at the great masterpieces by the Naturalist writers, such as Germinal by Zola, and compare and contrast them with the works of the most significant Impressionist painters: Manet, Monet, Renoir, Bazille, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne. We'll see how these works embody the transformation of the whole century, and how they will be used as a compass to guide the coming generations to even higher heights of expression and modernity.

Sandra is an art historian specializing in the link between European art, history and society from the 15th to the 19th centuries. She holds a Master's degree in Art History from the Université La Sorbonne, where she specialized in Italian Renaissance painting and the iconography of the modern European family. Originally from Canada, she also holds an undergraduate degree in Linguistics, with a double specialization in French and Spanish Language Civilization, and has lived in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, and Rome, before finally settling in Paris.

 

How does it work?

This is a three-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in this topic there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $105 for three lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is not suitable for children under age 16

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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