History of Art

Hell panel from The Garden of Earthly Delights.
It is alleged that Bosch self-portrait is in the
upper centre at right under the table

Autumn Term

Bosch, Brueghel and the Surrealists

 Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel the elder – two northern Renaissance artists and a larger group of 20th-century artists known as the Surrealists.  We are looking at the strange and wondrous vision of painters who lived 500 years apart, but who were united by their capacity to create curious and captivating art. To the audiences of their respective times, they might have been considered somewhat radical. The course will look at their work separately and then will make comparisons with a selection of paintings, which will reveal their shared rich spectrum of subject matter and approaches to reveal some surprising similarities and connections.

Tutor:                   Emma Rose Barber

Time:                     Wednesdays 10.15am – 12.15pm

Dates:                  Autumn term 2018: Sept 19 – Dec 12 (half term w/c Oct 22)
                              Spring term 2019: Jan 9 – April 3 (half term w/c Feb 18)
                              Summer term 2019: May 1 – May 22

Venue:                 Victoria Hall

Fees:                     £124 for a 12-week term

                              £41 for a 4-week summer term

Venue:                 Victoria Hall

Bosch painted strawberries placed on a tightly-knit circle of nude humans, a vivid red, juicy fruit resting between a woman’s legs with a bird emerging from it and cavorting and frolicking couples in filmy water and transparent globes.  Brueghel painted raggedy beggars with mouths wide open, people with feet as flat as pancakes, and stunning visions of strange and snowy lands.  Max Ernst painted monsters in the shape of a bin, with a nude beside; he scrubbed a piece of floor and called it art. Salvador Dalí put lobsters on a phone; he painted Narcissus in a setting of strange, Neolithic rock and disembodied forms. While the art of René Magritte takes a familiar subject such as the Annunciation and puts a metal sheet with bells, a paper cut out and two posts in it. None of the subject matter is conventional or straightforward in the work of these artists.  They all like to play with nefarious elements and superimpose them onto others, they disembody forms and structures and place them in incongruous settings, and they boldly depict the nude, the sexual, the frightening and the strange in order to make art that resists classification. Indeed, for André Breton, painting must ‘open on to something else, beyond its appearance’.

Bosch, Brueghel and the Surrealists (artists, including Max Ernst, Joan Mirό, Man Ray, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Paul Klee and Leonora Carrington) have far more in common than we might think.  While the former painted religious and moralising subjects, the latter conjured freaky and fantastical forms and shapes that seem to emerge out of nowhere and with less than obvious subject matter or representation.  But they share an interest in dream-like visions, fantasy, the bizarre, absurd, wonky structures, mythical animals, little figures, hybrid creatures and the strange and odd. Bosch and Brueghel worked mainly in Belgium and Holland, while the Surrealists were truly international artists, working in Mexico, Paris, New York, Brussels and Prague. 

The course will look at their work separately and then will make comparisons with a selection of paintings, which will reveal their shared rich spectrum of subject matter and methods to present dream realities and the release of refreshing imagery from the accepted norm. We will also look in some depth at the literary culture that might have influenced the artists: the religious writings and proverbs of northern theologians and the philosophy and political writings of Freud and Marx for the Surrealists. We will also read some of the Surrealist literature, for example the words of Guillaume Apollinaire, who first coined the term surréalisme.  

The Surrealists have been seen as critical of the times in which they lived, reacting to the World Wars and 20th-century bourgeois culture and the sexual repression that Freud wrote about.  They prioritised the unconscious and a dream-like status as a reaction to the prevailing orthodoxy.  While Bosch and Brueghel are not known for their blatant politicising, their art, often drawing on folk-lore and proverbs offers moralising commentaries, sometimes of a satirical nature on human-kind’s transience, our folly, and our sins.  And like the Surrealists, they were untrammelled in drawing on the more diabolical, perverted aspects of what it was to be human. We shall explore their art and consider to what extent the artists were reacting to the world around them, charged to confront the existing bourgeois social order; or whether their art is simply the product of their engaged  visual and vivid imaginations.

The Surrealists challenged the so-called traditional canons of taste, invoking sadism, sexual obsession, masochism… And while both Brueghel and Bosch were also seen, for the time, as audacious challengers to the status quo, if they had lived in another time, who knows what metamorphoses their art may have undergone?

For all the artists we will study in this course, at the heart of their art was an irrepressible, bold desire to express and innovate and this is one of the ways in which they might seem to make a surprising union. They delight in inverse iconography and depiction. There is a mood in which life and death, sin and virtue, sex and love, the real and the imaginary are perceived to be in league with one another. Above all, their art can surprise and shock.  All the painters concerned created works that might in part be completely inexplicable.  But this does not matter, for we are looking at imagery that was dictated by other worldly visions rather than reality itself.

Topics covered:

Bosch and Brueghel and the writings and thoughts relevant to their time

The Surrealists- introduction and subject matter

The Surrealists – methods and types of art: frottage, collage, fumage, montage, the ready-made, decalcomania and automatism

Max Ernst and Joan Miró

Analysis and comparison of the works of Bosch and Brueghel with a selection of Surrealist paintings

Salvador Dalí, Man Ray

Paul Klee and André Breton

Female Surrealists including Dora Carrington, Eileen Agar and Dorothea Tanning

Leonora Carrington and René Magritte

Conclusions, including contemporary writings of the  Surrealists

A gallery visit will be included in the Autumn programme

Suggested reading:

  1. Waldburg, Surrealism, Cologne, 1965; Eng. trans., London, 1965

W.S. Rubin, Dada and Surrealist Art, New York and London, 1969

  1. Balakian, Surrealism: The Road to the Absolute, Oxford and New York, 1970
  2. Chadwick, Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement, London, 1985

Spring and summer terms

Women in Art

 “Someone, I say, will remember us in the future”                                               Sappho

Women and art, women and the representation of the nude, women and feminism in art, women and the male gaze. And then there are the women artists.  So much of the history of and documentation around women in art has been dominated by the male viewpoint and a ‘gender’ debate, which, instead of helping to promote women artists, results in our knowing very little about women artists and what they produced. This course seeks to redress that imbalance of knowledge between male and female artists and celebrate the wonderful art women have created from as early as the 13th century.  We will look at female artists from all periods, taking our study up to the present day with artists such as Cornelia Parker and Tacita Dean.

What were hitherto accepted expressions and definitions in the history of women’s art are now contested and challenged. The narrative around women in history has had a patronizing and paternalistic tone to it. Women have had a bad press in art.  But they have also not had that much documentation at all.  And still, even since the publication of Griselda Pollock’s essay, ‘Why Have there Been no Great Women Artists’ (1988), which sought to address the issue, women artists suffer from not being well known.  Their histories and reputations also suffer from being categorized as ’female artists’, when men do not have ‘male’ attached to their name.   And yet there were and there are literally hundreds of female artists.

So loaded is the subject of women in art, that writing their history is a formidable task. 

This course will try to make the contribution of women to the visual arts central, but at the same time steer clear of why male artists have always had so much more prominence. And yet, we cannot really study women artists without considering gender and gender differences.  And here we will look at whether looking at female art through the filter of feminist art history scholarship is a help or a hindrance.  We will try to reclaim the history of women artists in their own right and within their own framework.  A central aim of the course is to look at women artists for themselves, rather than viewing them from the perspective of the ‘why’ or from a predominately male point of view.

As artists, women have suffered from an opinion that basically no woman could possibly have the physical or mental stamina for such work, nor would it be fitting that she should. Indeed in Renaissance Netherlands, women were not allowed to paint in oil. And yet women did paint, we just know less about them, as histories are written by men. Women artists had slightly better luck at gaining work, or even a reputation, if they were part of an existing artistic family. As patrons, women were able to commission works of art, but generally only independently wealthy women, such as Isabella d’Este could do so.  And then there is the even more tense and challenging discourse on the representation of women in art – from sinners such as Eve to saints such as St. Katherine of Alexandria, the nude female from Venus to a demure portrait of a Renaissance woman. Only in the 20th century were women really able to challenge the dominance of male artists and take their rightful place.

Throughout this course, we shall meet a selection of outstanding women through the ages, some famous and some obscure, united by their unwavering commitment to the creation of art and promoting art. We will look at artists from the medieval period – manuscript illuminators who even pictured themselves into the margins.  We will look at the invention of the self-portrait by a female artist and consider how artists in the Italian Renaissance, such as Sofonisba Anguissola and Artemisia Gentileschi, started to paint brave and innovative subjects. In a particularly vibrant time for women, both in terms of their increasing desire to be known and gain equal rights, we will focus on the 19th century, looking at female Impressionists and Victorian artists.  We will then focus on early 20th-century artists belonging to movements such as Surrealism and the Bloomsbury Group, with a particular focus on the stunningly inventive Vanessa Bell, and we will take our investigations right up to the present day, incorporating the work of Cornelia Parker.

 Finally, to bring things up-to-date, we will look at the notion of shifting gender by a consideration of the work of Harriet Hosmer, Rosa Bonheur and Gluck, with a side look at Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and the film, The Danish Girl, with Eddy Redmayne, about a male artist who wished that he was a woman.

 Women have always created controversy in art and it is gender that probably obscures our greater understanding and awareness of the role of women artists, as education for and about women is not equal with that of men.  But as we are witnessing another period of feminism when we remember the Suffragettes in 2018, the centenary year of (some) votes for women, and the media is awash with the ‘Me Too’ Campaign and allegations of sexual harassment, it seems to be the right time to look at the social, historical and contemporary context of women in the visual arts.

 Topics covered will include:

Introductory – what do we mean by women and art? And Feminist art history, beginning with 2 seminal texts (Pollock and Nochlin)

Woman as model, sinner and saint (Medieval to Renaissance)

Medieval and Renaissance artists – nuns and court painters, including Sofonisba Anguissola, Plautilla Nelli and Artemisia Gentileschi

Female patrons of the Renaissance including Isabella d’Este and Margaret of Austria

The problem with wives (Leo Krasner) and Lee Miller

The eroticised image of women, e.g. classical Venus, women in bath – Degas, woman as fallen, Holman Hunt, Rossetti

Harriet Hosmer, Rosa Bonheur, Gluck, (Hannah Gluckstein) – shifting sexuality and gender

Female Impressionists: Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morrisot

Victorian Female Artists and models and the PRB

Women artists and Modernism including Frida Kahlo, Laura Knight, Winifred Nicholson and Gwen John

Female Surrealists, Meret Oppenheim and Remedios Varo

Case Study – Vanessa Bell and the Bloomsbury Group

The contemporary female artist today – Cornelia Parker, Rachel Whiteread, Maggi Hambling and Tacita Dean

 A gallery visit will be arranged during the Spring term.

 Suggested reading:

Nancy G. Heller, Women Artists: An Illustrated History, 2003, Abbeville Press

Maureen Reilly ed., Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader, 2015, Thames & Hudson

Whitney Chadwick, Women, Art and Society, 1990, Thames & Hudson

Elsa Honig Fine, Women and Art: A History of Women Painters and Sculptors from the Renaissance to the 20th Century, 1981

Alicia Foster, Tate Women Artists, 2004, Tate Publishing