i Edgar Degas, Two Dancers on a Stage, 1874, detail, oil on canvas, The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust) © The Courtauld

23 – Idealists, Realists and the Avant-Garde: The Battle for Nineteenth-Century French Painting

On campus

Course 23 – Summer School on campus

Monday 3 – Friday 7 July 2023
Dr Lois Oliver

This course is now full, please fill in the booking form to be added to the waiting list. You may also be interested in course 19 – Fathers of Modern Art: Manet and Cézanne or course 24 – Bright Lights and Dark Visions: Nordic Art from the Danish Golden Age to Edvard Munch.

Course description

In a cartoon published in 1855, Honoré Daumier imagined a battle between two rival aesthetic schools in France: ‘Idealism’ appears as an ageing neoclassical nude, wearing an antique helmet, with his palette as a shield, heroically raising his mahlstick as a spear, to defend himself against ‘Realism’, a scruffy figure in rustic clogs, brandishing a small square palette and clumsy paintbrush. The image perfectly encapsulates the artistic and political differences between these two entrenched aesthetic positions, but the real joke is that neither of these veteran combatants is as vigorous as he used to be: both would be vulnerable to a new avant-garde challenger. The French art world witnessed a series of battles as traditionalists grappled with the successive challenges presented by Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Symbolism. This course explores the reasons behind the profound innovations in subject matter and technique that characterised the age, and the obstacles faced by avant-garde artists in getting their work exhibited and accepted. We shall explore the work of Ingres, Delacroix, Delaroche, Courbet, Millet, Rousseau, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cassatt, Morisot, Seurat, Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

Lecturer’s biography

Dr Lois Oliver studied English Literature at Cambridge University, and Art History at The Courtauld, where she wrote her doctoral thesis on The Image of the Artist, Paris 1815-1855. She worked at the Harvard Art Museums before joining the curatorial team at the Victoria and Albert Museum and then the National Gallery, where she co-curated the major exhibition Rebels and Martyrs: The Image of the Artist in the Nineteenth Century (2006) and a series of touring exhibitions. Currently Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Royal Academy, and Associate Professor in art history at the University of Notre Dame in London, Lois is also co-curator of Berthe Morisot: Impressionism and the Eighteenth Century at Dulwich Picture Gallery (31 March-10 September 2023). She enjoys writing audio and multimedia tours for clients including the National Gallery, Royal Academy, Royal Collection, and Tate, and has appeared on BBC Radio and TV.