MA History of Art

New York-London-Paris, 1880-1940

Professor David Peters Corbett

Men of the Docks, George Bellows, 1912, Oil on canvas, (114.3 x 161.3 cm), © National Gallery, London. i Men of the Docks, George Bellows, 1912, Oil on canvas, (114.3 x 161.3 cm), © National Gallery, London.

This MA course investigates the similarities and differences between three primary urban centres of modernity at a decisive moment in their development. Through a series of case studies which look at the evolution of city painting in the hands of British, French and American artists in New York, Paris and London we will examine key questions and ideas about the representation of the modern technological and industrial city. Throughout we will be attentive to the international character of this art, to the flow and evolution of influence and revisionism across national boundaries, and to the experience of urban life as it was interpreted by contemporary sociologists, novelists and commentators.

The first, shorter, part of the course begins by surveying the immediate nineteenth-century background to city painting in all three locations, laying emphasis on the international influences and exchanges that linked them together. Tracing the emergence of a vocabulary to describe and investigate the city in the art of Manet and Monet in France and in the work of realists and symbolists who were influenced by James McNeill Whistler in London, we will attend to the ways in which these potent representations of the city were subsequently deployed in the United States. We will investigate the work of American Impressionists such as Childe Hassam as well as the extraordinary impact of Whistler on formative New York artists such as Ernest Lawson, Guy Wiggins and Joseph Pennell.

The second part of the course takes up this situation and works forward, examining the radical reviewing of the city by British modernists in London, including the Vorticists and the artists and writers of Bloomsbury, by experimental modernists in Paris, including Picasso and Braque, and, in a contrasting mode, by American realists such as George Bellows and the Ashcan artists. We will look at the advent of European modernism in the US through a consideration of the complexities of the Armory Show in 1913, and at the careers of Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and other photographers and painters as they investigated possible representations of the modern city through their depictions of New York. This interwoven history provides the impetus for the final section of the course when we will examine the transformation of city space and the visual vocabulary of its depiction in the work of American modernists such as Georgia O’Keefe, Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand, Paul Cadmus and Reginald Marsh, as well as in the distinct but related art of Edward Hopper.

A reading knowledge of French may be an advantage for certain topics.

Course Leader: Professor David Peters Corbett

In the event that a course leader is on sabbatical, takes up a fellowship, or otherwise is not able to teach the course, they will be replaced by another experienced course leader either for a semester or, in some cases, the academic year.

Please note: whilst many Special Options will include site visits within the UK and further afield, these are subject to confirmation.

Option Full MA History of Art

Special Options 2024/25

You can either make a general application for the MA, or you may indicate your preferred Special Option(s). Many applicants choose to make a general application for the MA in History of Art at the Courtauld. If you do this we will match your application to a Special Option that matches your interests and has space. Alternatively you may indicate your preference for up to three Special Options, tailoring personal statements in relation to each Special Option.

Our Special Options change from year to year as we seek to refresh and expand our offer.

We aim to confirm these at least twelve months in advance, and will always contact applicants immediately in rare instances where changes have to be made. In 2024/5 we are especially pleased to include new or returning Special Options, including Art and Empire in the Indian Ocean World, c.1800–1900, Architectural Legacies of Empire at Home and Abroad, c.1620- c.1920, Violent Materials: Art and War in the Early Modern World, ca. 1500–1800, Court and Commerce: Arts of Islam and the Great Mongol State, 1206-1368 and The Surrealist Century: Mediums, Madness, Magic and the Manifesto of Surrealism (1924).