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Summer course takes students into the world of Parisian Impressionism

Paul Signac (French, 1863–1935), Opus 217Paul Signac (French, 1863–1935), Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones and Tints, Portrait of M. Felix Fénéon in 1890

A summer II session history course in the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI will take students out of the classroom and into the Indianapolis Museum of Art to study firsthand the impact urban Paris played on Impressionist artists and the artists’ role in Parisian society.

Cultural History of Modern France-Impressionism (History B421) begins Tuesday July 1 and runs through Thursday, August 7.  The class meets Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6:00 pm to 9:15 pm and will include visits to the IMA for guided tours of relevant galleries and the print vaults.

“The beauty of the French galleries at the IMA is you can watch French modern art evolve,” says course instructor Professor Kevin Robbins. “By turning your head 90 degrees you can watch four decades of French culture go by.”

The course focuses on the origins and developments of Impressionism as a broad cultural movement based largely in Paris. The class begins with a look at Paris’ development under imperial urban renewal and the development of a leisure economy within the city. From there the class expands to examine the many artists, patrons, and critics assembled in the Impressionist movement.  Students will examine Impressionist works from artists such as Monet, Degas, and Renoir for evidence of how the artists saw and understood the Parisian urban world. “Students are empowered as detectives,” Robbins says. “It turns every painting into a readable document that needs to be decoded. This makes paintings into a much more accessible, malleable subject matter for history students. You can read the images critically, you can read them using documentary analytical strategies developed in other classes and it makes the course more accessible to many people who don’t have training in art history or art.” The class does not require any previous background in art or art history study and is open to all IUPUI students and students from other colleges and universities. Robbins says the course will be especially beneficial to students with an interest in urban history, modern history, and politics.  “This is not a standard art history course,” he says. “This is more about asking relentlessly ‘where does Impressionism come from as an urban historical phenomenon and an urban visual phenomenon?’ The emphasis is on how Paris becomes the essential incubator of Impressionisms.”

To help students gain a better grasp of Impressionistic influences, the course will also explore popular cultural events like ballet, the opera, and music. Robbins says, “One of the things the Impressionists had in common was they were all passionate devotees of music in one form or another—be it dancehall music, popular song, or classical music of the era. These were individuals who reveled in all the musical possibilities Paris presented.”

“This really is an intensive tour of all the various expressive art forms of Paris at the time,” he says.

For more information about the course contact Professor Robbins preferably via email or by phone at (317) 274-5819.

Paul Signac (French, 1863–1935), Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones and Tints, Portrait of M. Felix Fénéon in 1890, 1890-1891, oil on canvas, 29 x 36-1/2 in. Fractional gift of a private collector, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Digital image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY.