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Impressionist Paris: Modernity and Difference


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Tutor: Dr Allison Deutsch
  • Assessment: a 1000-word research commentary (20%) and 3500-word essay (80%)

Module description

In this module we explore the social politics of painting in the age of Impressionism.

Beginning with Baudelaire’s figuration of the ideal modern artist as a flâneur in the early 1860s, we will consider what was at stake in the most influential theorisations of modern art and modernity in later nineteenth-century France. We will look closely at the work of Courbet, Manet, Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, as well as lesser-known painters who were widely popular in their time, and ask: 

  • How were paintings implicated in the construction of identities related to gender, class, race and nation?
  • How were making, viewing and writing about art conceived in gendered terms?
  • How has art history dealt with the politics of these paintings, from their earliest critics to the key feminist and social art historical interventions of the later twentieth century?

Indicative syllabus

  • Modernity and Modernism: an introduction to the terms
  • Who is the painter of modern life?
  • Courbet and Realism
  • Constructing the ‘Orient’
  • Olympia: Manet and the female nude
  • Olympia’s maid: representing race
  • L’année terrible: gender and class in flux
  • Dangerous revolutionaries: the first Impressionist exhibition in context
  • The opera: practice, performance, performativity
  • Parsing the ‘public’ and the ‘private’: painting the home
  • Painting parenthood
  • Gendered labour: laundresses, milliners, market women
  • Sex work
  • Portraiture and subjectivity
  • Fashion, the department store and the Parisienne
  • Bathing bodies: the modern male nude
  • Deviant bodies: criminality, physiognomy, pathology
  • Neo-Impressionism and the feminising of Impressionism
  • Primitivism and the erotics of the exotic
  • Abiding questions

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will have:

  • a detailed knowledge of painting practices and social politics in later nineteenth-century France
  • the ability to observe, identify and analyse works of visual culture
  • a critical awareness of the functions of such works within the social and cultural contexts of their production and reception
  • familiarity with current debates and approaches to the subject.