A black and white photograph of several people looking into a photography studio. i Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, Nadars Atelier in Marseille, c.1897, detail, photograph. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Photography and the French Avant-Garde from Delacroix to Cézanne

Online and on campus

Summer term
Tuesday 25 April – Tuesday 23 May 2023, 19:00
On campus
Wednesday 3 May – Wednesday 31 May 2023, 20:00 [London time]

Booking for this course is now closed. You may also be interested in Dr Natalia Murray’s Summer School course, Russian Art 1863-1932: Innovations, Influences and the Roots of Modernity.

The key position that photography now occupies in the context of contemporary art has encouraged a renewed interest in art-historical studies of the vibrant dialogue between photography and painting.

This course will explore the mutual give-and-take, as well as the competition, between these two art forms in France in the period from the 1850s to the 1890s.

Photography presented artists with a number of new tools and impulses: painters from Delacroix to Cézanne used photographs as raw material for the development of drawings and paintings; the medium’s ability to capture stages of bodies in motion, explored in particular by Eadweard Muybridge, encouraged artists like Edgar Degas to revisit and correct age-old conventions of depiction: the representation of the movement of horses is a famous case in point. The unusual, ‘cropped’ viewpoints in Degas’ and contemporaries’ art works likewise derive from photography and heightened the sense of immediacy and intimacy Impressionists sought to convey in their scenes from everyday life. Indeed, the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874 took place in a studio in Boulevard des Capucines belonging to the prominent photographer Nadar.

At the same time, photography’s ability to represent the world with absolute accuracy challenged painting’s traditional claim to ‘truth’ and appeared to render its mimetic project obsolete. It encouraged artists to depict nature in ways not (yet, or easily) available to the younger medium, by capturing light, colour and movement, for instance, and it made others move away from reality and towards the realm of the non-objective and the spiritual.

In return, contemporary painting inspired photography to experiment with the materiality of its images, and to look for ways of making these less ‘precise’ and more pictorial in effect. Early photographers’ efforts in this direction – including photographs on canvas pioneered by Franz Lenbach in Germany, or Gustave Le Gray’s calotype land- and seascapes – contributed to the acceptance of photography as an established art form in its own right by the 1890s.

The lectures will be delivered by Dr. Natalia Murray (The Courtauld), with contributions by Dr Natalia Sidlina, Dr Emily Christensen, and Alistair Morrison, one of Britain’s most prominent contemporary photographers. Moderator: Dr Anne Puetz.


Course delivery details

This programme is delivered both on campus and online.

On-campus course delivery: lectures are at our Vernon Square campus at 19:00, followed by discussion and drinks, pre-course and further reading, and handout materials on our Virtual Learning Environment.

Online course delivery: this online lecture series consists of pre-recorded lectures, released weekly over 5 weeks, and each viewable for a fortnight; pre-course and further reading, handout materials and a discussion forum on our Virtual Learning Environment; live Q&As for each lecture, delivered via Zoom on Wednesdays at 20:00 [London time].

A black and white photograph of several people looking into a photography studio.
Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, Nadars Atelier in Marseille, c.1897, photograph. Image: Wikimedia Commons