Self-Portrait, 1889, by Paul Gauguin (National Gallery of Art)
The popular style of 19th-century French painting known as impressionism—filled with color, light, and scintillating brushwork—was an act of extreme rebellion when it appeared in the 1870s. For artists to depict fleeting sensations of rain, a sunrise, or a human gesture was shocking to other artists, art lovers, and critics who had been taught that fine art should focus on timeless and unchanging subject matter.
The work of these modern masters—notably Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cassatt, and Morisot—led in turn to the radical art of the post-impressionists. During the 1880s and ’90s Seurat, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh used vivid colors and form to depict subjects from the real world, but in ways were not always fully realistic.
In a lavishly illustrated two-part program, art historian Nancy G. Heller explores the sources, masterpieces, and later influences of these rebels, including their impact on early 20th-century art.
FRI., JAN. 10
6:30–7:30 p.m. Edouard Manet and the Transition to Impressionism
This sophisticated “Painter of Modern Life” challenged many artistic and cultural norms, especially in his disquieting early paintings of contemporary women, such as Olympia and Luncheon on the Grass. Examine how his later works, notably A Bar at the Folies Bergère, definitively moved into the realm of impressionism.
7:30–8:30 p.m. Monet the Master
Claude Monet’s extraordinary series of haystacks, poplar trees, and, especially, waterlilies, demonstrated how much a painting could convey of the fascinating, ever-changing colors, sounds, and emotions inherent in a seemingly ordinary subject.
SAT., JAN. 11
9:30–10:45 a.m. Beautiful Women in Lovely Settings
The art of Pierre-Auguste Renoir is characterized by a remarkable sweetness, demonstrated in such works as Le Moulin de la Galette and Nude in the Sunlight. Explore the source of this approach, and the controversies that nevertheless arose concerning Renoir’s art, as well as the paintings of Berthe Morisot, another pioneering French Impressionist.
11 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Ballerinas and Bathers
Justly famous for his studies of ballet dancers (such as the iconic sculpture Little Dancer, 14 Years Old), Edgar Degas also found unexpected harmony in the movements of bathing women and galloping horses, both of which he described in exquisite oil paintings, pastels, and sculptures. Survey the life and work of Degas’s American friend and protégée, Mary Cassatt, whose depictions of mothers with their young children continue to charm and fascinate viewers.
12–1:30 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1:30–2:45 p.m. Post-Impressionism I: Structuring Color, Space, and Form
Inspired by the impressionists’ experiments, both Georges Seurat and Paul Cézanne created memorable paintings by organizing the world into carefully calibrated systems of colored dots or patches of color. Their works, including Seurat’s celebrated A Sunday on La Grande Jatte and Cézanne’s extraordinary series of still lifes and views of Mt. Sainte-Victoire, directly influenced early 20th-century European modernism.
3–4:15 p.m. Post-Impressionism II: Expressing Emotions Through Stylization
Working at the same time as Cézanne and Seurat, Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh conveyed strong emotions by drastically simplifying the colors and forms of their paintings, as in Gauguin’s seductive Tahitian subjects and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Heller also explores the later impact of this type of post-impressionism, which has continued into the 21st century.
Heller is professor of art history at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
World Art History Certificate core course: Earn 1 credit*
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Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)