Fall 2018


Western Art of the 19th Century (55+)

The 19th century was the age of Western power, created through empire, commerce and industry, and it marked the first maturity of the modern age. The artists of the century reacted to this modernity in a complex way. Although all came to terms with modernity, most were sharply conscious of the pre-modern past that the new age threatened to overwhelm. The loss of the pre-modern past led to an awareness of its value, thus illustrating Georg Hegel’s insight that Minerva’s owl—the owl of wisdom—flies only when night has fallen.

We’ll explore how this artistic response to modernity led to the development of a varied, eclectic and historically conscious creativity in architecture, painting, sculpture and urban design.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

This course is available at the following time(s) and location(s):

Campus Session(s) Instructor(s) Cost Seats available  
Vancouver 6 William Ellis $115.00 0 Join Waitlist

What will I learn?

Week 1: Academicism and Romanticism

The “long 19th century” begins early, with the French Revolution of 1789 (and ends late, in 1914, with the First World War). We examine the two artistic movements whose opposition and interplay set the stage for further developments in art: academicism, the heir to neoclassicism, and romanticism. We begin with the art of Goya, since Goya moves from neoclassic to romantic, and we examine important artists who came thereafter, David, Ingres, Turner, Constable, Gericault and Delacroix among them. We also include sculpture and architecture in our study, in this and following weeks.

Week 2: Romanticism on the Continent and North America

Germany, Scandinavia, Russia and North America produced important romantic artists who nevertheless were strongly influenced by the academic style. Neoclassicism persisted strongly in sculpture, while in architecture, the romantic love of the pre-modern past led to the development of revivalist architecture.

Week 3: Realism and Nationalism

Realism began as a reaction to both full-blown academicism and romanticism, even though it too had its roots in romanticism, as indeed did all the styles we examine in the rest of this course. Nationalism reflects the rising self-consciousness of national identity. We look not only at painting and sculpture, but also at the planned development of 19th century Paris as a nationalist (yet universalist) enterprise whose programmatic, and remarkably successful, ambition was to create the most beautiful capital city in the world.

Week 4: Impressionism and Post-Impressionism

Impressionism was a Janus-faced movement; in one sense it was almost the last flowering of the traditional ethos that the purpose of art is to bring beauty into the world, and in another, very different, sense it pointed to the modernist rupture with the past that marked the early years of the 20th century.

Week 5: Expressionism and Symbolism

In painting, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Munch, Ensor, Marc, and Kandinsky are the exemplars of these related movements.  Architecture and sculpture were less affected by them, but we examine some examples that do show their influence.

Week 6: Art Nouveau and the Rise of Modernism

Art nouveau, which seemed so revolutionary when it appeared, can now be understood as the 19th century’s last great romantic enterprise, dominating new architecture until the advent of the First World War. In painting however, the rise of cubism, futurism, and abstract expressionism directed art away from the 19th century, and away from art’s homage to the past.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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