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The great markers of the medieval pilgrim routes, revolutions celebrated in paint and sculpture, hymns to the Eiffel Tower and the aeroplane ‐ the art of France has both lead and shocked European taste.
Gothic architecture was known as “the French style”, the 18th century delicacy of Watteau and Boucher and of Boulle furniture was copied across the great courts, while David’s heroic celebration of Napoleon and the brutal deconstruction of the Cubists were, at first, ridiculed and deplored.
Painting, building and the decorative arts, however, are the product of specific moments of thought and experience, and we will explore a thousand years of creativity not only through style and artists, but also as the expression of history.
“The series has been excellent. This is the third course I have attended of Nicole Mezey and I really enjoy her sessions. She is informative, interesting and her lectures are well structured”
How, why and when did France emerge as an arbiter of taste for other nations? After a brief overview of the themes of the series, we will consider the architectural synthesis of the Gothic, and sophisticated manuscript production which dictated the aspirations of every enlightened court.
Italy may have been the cradle of the Renaissance, but it was the French monarchy and aristocracy who used architecture, painting and decoration to turn the arts into a language of European supremacy.
Dominated, in legend, by the persona of Louis XIV and the multi‐disciplinary magnificence of Versailles, the 17th century was also nonetheless distinguished by artists flourishing beyond the court orbit, from Georges de la Tour in Lorraine to Poussin in Rome.
The licentious, pleasure‐seeking court of Louis XV demanded fun and frivolity in the arts. The delightful pastel shades and sensuous lines of French rococo style became the artistic passion of the European courts, expressed in furniture, porcelain and the painting of Boucher and Fragonard.
The unrest of the later 18th century, followed by war and revolution, provoked dramatic responses. We will explore the experience of a tumultuous age in paeans of Napoleonic praise and the Romantic pain of Gericault and Delacroix.
Few artistic worlds were as dictatorial as that of 19th century France. For the successful, reputation and wealth awaited, but the constraints also created stirrings of rebellion through the unlikely medium of landscape and the peasant studies of Jean‐Francois Millet.
Moving from classical gods to contemporary courtesans, from epic combat to country funerals, Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet shocked society by rejecting traditional themes, using their art to capture the reality of the world around them, laying the ground for Impressionism.
Today, we love impressionism, with its luminosity, brilliant colour and memories of sunny summer landscapes. As we know, however, their first audience was much less appreciative ‐ why? what was it about this style which so offended and alienated their society?
In the wake of Impressionism, artists begin to use their work in new explorations of form and feeling. Cezanne, van Gogh, Gauguin and Rodin took painting and sculpture on a journey away from the past and into the 20th century.
Fragmentation, emotion, mischief and protest were the driving forces as we move into the 20th century. Picasso, Matisse and Duchamp were at the forefront of those seeking a new purpose for the artist in the age of mechanical reproduction.