(ARTH009) Introduction to Nineteenth-Century Art and Architecture

Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse



This course starts on: to be confirmed
Early bird course price £135.00:

Tutor: Dr Jeni Fraser
Course Code: ARTH009
Level: Non-accredited, non-credit bearing
Assessments/Exams: None. Throughout the course you will be given ideas and questions to respond to in the online discussion area. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not compulsory.
Duration: 10 weeks
Estimated Student Study Time: 2 – 5 hours per week are recommended, but time spent is flexible and at your discretion.
Fee: £150.00
Pre-Requisites: No academic qualifications nor experience are required – you will simply need an enthusiasm for this subject.
Delivery: Online Distance Learning
Late Entrants: If this course is not full by the start date then late entrants will be accepted for up to two weeks after the start of the course. As a late entrant you can choose to catch up on the material you have missed or you can skip the missed weeks and concentrate on the material at the point where you join the course, but unfortunately we cannot offer fee reductions or course extensions for late entrants.
Recommended Reading**:

The following text is recommended reading only:

The Story of Art
E.H. Gombrich
Phaidon Press, 2007.

Required Reading**: None

**Please note: All courses are subject to sufficient numbers of students registering before they are confirmed as running. Therefore, after booking your place you are advised not to purchase any texts until you have received confirmation that the course is running.

This course was previously taught by Dr Jeni Fraser when it was offered by the University of Exeter*. If you studied it with the University of Exeter* you might not wish to study it again with Learn for Pleasure as although we have revised and updated our courses where necessary, it will likely be substantively the same.


This course will introduce you to the major artists of the nineteenth century, through rich imagery, dynamic histories and supporting literary sources.

Together we will examine the materials, techniques and interpretations that artists employed to communicate with their audiences, as well as finding out about some of the personalities for whom they created such magnificent works.

You will also learn how to ‘read’ the nineteenth century, through stylistic investigations of representative artworks, as we explore the social, economic and political contexts for their production.

The nineteenth century saw the formation of our modern experience, with dramatic societal changes, and new transportation links which allowed ideas to travel faster, and exchanges of information to journey further.

The Baroque giving way to Romanticism – and then Impressionism – describes tremendous upheaval in the way that people used visual culture to express their ‘sense’ of the world around them.

It was a time that saw the birth of daring painting techniques, as well as new methods of architectural construction and new artistic viewpoints; the dawn of an age in which illusionism was challenged by those with a desire to paint from real life.

Europe was at the forefront of such innovations, and our cultural tour will be concentrated mainly in England, France and Spain – although we will have a few forays into America, and we’ll also trace Japanese influences on nineteenth-century artists.

Syllabus Plan

Week 1: Introduction
Week 2: Neoclassicism
Week 3: Turner and the Romantic Visionaries
Week 4: Realism
Week 5: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
Week 6: Arts and Crafts
Week 7: Sculpture in the 19th Century
Week 8: Revolutions in Painting: The Impressionists
Week 9: Post-Impressionism
Week 10: Fin de Siècle

Course Content in Depth

Week One
An Introduction

We’ll begin with some background to the art that influences that of the 19th century. This will be a refresher for those who might already have some knowledge of art history while being useful information for those that haven’t.

Week Two

In the second week we’ll explore Neoclassicism, which is characterised by clarity of form, sober colours, shallow space, and strong horizontal and verticals that render the subject matter timeless (instead of temporal as in the dynamic Baroque works), and classical subject matter (or, rather, classicised contemporary subject matter).

Week Three

In our study of Romanticism we’ll see how this artistic and intellectual movement, that originated in the late 18th century, stressed strong emotion, imagination, freedom from classical art forms, and rebellion against social conventions. Romanticism is found in many works of literature, painting, music, architecture, criticism, and historiography, and can be defined as a rejection of the precepts of order, calm, harmony, balance, idealisation, and rationality that typified Classicism in general, and late 18th-century Neo-Classicism, in particular.

It was also, to a large extent, a reaction against the Enlightenment, against undue emphasis upon rationalism and economic materialism as characterised in capitalism. Romanticism emphasised the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental.

Finally, in the area of colour, the Romantics clearly distanced themselves from the neo-classicists for whom colour was always subservient to the design. For Romantics, colour was the life and soul of a picture and was in itself capable of building up form without recourse to contour-lines. The pre-eminent pioneer in this direction was Turner.

Week Four

The Realist movement in French art flourished from about 1840 until the late nineteenth century, and sought to convey a truthful and objective vision of contemporary life. Realists democratised art by depicting modern subjects drawn from the everyday lives of the working class. Rejecting the idealised classicism of academic art and the exotic themes of Romanticism, Realism was based on direct observation of the modern world.

Week Five
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

The Pre-Raphaelites were a secret society of young artists (and one writer), founded in London in 1848. They were opposed to the Royal Academy’s promotion of the ideal as exemplified in the work of Raphael which, to them, lacked the sincerity and spirituality of early Renaissance works, especially the paintings of Jan van Eyck. They re-imagined medieval England in a series of images that are (almost) instantly recognisable, and much-loved.

Week Six
The Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts Movement developed in 19th-century Britain as a rebellion against the fashion for inventive sham and over-elaborate design, and as an attempt to reverse the growing dehumanisation of work in society. It was based on simple forms, truth to materials and the use of nature as the source of pattern.

Week Seven
Sculpture in the 19th Century

The 19th century was a remarkably prolific period for sculpture: the triumphant middle-class and the political powers eagerly appropriated this art form, the former to decorate their homes and proclaim their social status and to inscribe the ideals and beliefs of the period in stone and bronze.

Week Eight
Revolutions in Painting: The Impressionists

Taking their name from Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, the Impressionists were established in Paris during the 1870’s. Concentrating on relaying the immediate visual effect of the world around them, using bold brush strokes and contrasts of colour, the artists initially drew heavy criticism for their perceived naive and trivial approach to art.

Week Nine

Post-Impressionists pushed the ideas of the Impressionists into new directions. The word ‘Post-Impressionism’ indicates their link to the original Impressionist ideas and their departure from those ideas – their modernist journey from the past into the future. The Post-Impressionists were an eclectic bunch of individuals, so there were no broad, unifying characteristics. Each artist took an aspect of Impressionism and exaggerated it.

Unit Ten
Fin de Siècle

Fin de Siècle is an umbrella term embracing symbolism, decadence and all related phenomena (e.g. Art Nouveau) which reached a peak in 1890s. Although almost synonymous with other terms such as the Eighteen-Nineties, the Mauve Decade, the Yellow Decade and the Naughty Nineties, the Fin de Siècle however expresses an apocalyptic sense of the end of a phase of civilisation. The real end of this era came not in 1900 but with the First World War in 1914.

Learning Outcomes

This course will help you to develop:

  • Confidence in discussing Baroque art
  • Your ability to recognise the Baroque style
  • An understanding of the social, economic and political contexts of its development
  • Familiarity with the materials, techniques and interpretations used by Baroque artists
  • Familiarity with some of the personalities and stories behind the patronage of Baroque art