Module 5: 1700-1800
The 18th century was an important period of change. The death of Louis XV in France led to a relaxation in court life, cultivating a far lighter touch in French art, and the development of the Rococo. Meanwhile, Britain was still catching up with the Italian Renaissance, the classical styles and ideas of which now penetrated British art and architecture.
As the old regimes of Europe tried to hold on to their position in society, the frivolity of the aristocratic lifestyle resulted in moves towards new forms of government. Revolution in France, followed by Napoleon’s invasion of much of Europe, changed everything that had come before.
This six-week module follows these dramatic changes across Europe, exploring their impact on the art of Fragonard, Watteau, David, Hogarth, Gainsborough, Stubbs and others.
Week 1: A lighter touch
The power of Baroque art, with its bold, dramatic involvement of the viewer, and grandiloquent gestures, had been ideal for communicating the Absolute Monarchy at Versailles.
With the death of the Sun King, Louis XIV, and the ensuing Regency, the court returned to Paris and became more relaxed. One of the prophets of this new, lighter touch, was Jean-Antoine Watteau, whose work we will consider in depth.
Week 2: Defining the Rococo
The work of Watteau, which we explored in the first lecture, can be seen as the precursor of a much-disputed style called the Rococo. But what does this word mean? Where does it come from, and does it constitute a style in its own right?
Examples from across Europe – including the works of Fragonard, Tiepolo and Hogarth – will not only suggest that it did, but will also question its reputation for frivolity.
Week 3: The Grand Tour
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, before the invention of photography, the best way to see European art was to travel. Young gentlemen were led round Europe by their tutors to turn them into fully rounded individuals.
Although the Grand Tour was not solely the preserve of British aristocrats, the British were the most avid travellers, collecting art and antiquities that filled the stately homes of England – only later to be bequeathed to collections such as the National Gallery.
Week 4: A new face for portraiture
In this period, the genre of portraiture enjoyed numerous innovations. Gainsborough combined portraiture and landscape in his painting 'Mr and Mrs Andrews', for example.
Conversation pieces were a new type of group portrait, showing people involved in everyday activities. In fancy portraits, sitters appear in other guises. These innovations were further enlivened by the development of animal portraiture, best exemplified in the work of Stubbs.
After the break, guest speaker Leslie Primo will trace the beginnings of abolition through the eyes of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a black woman living in Kenwood House in the late 18th century, and take a close look at her portrait by Johann Zoffany. How did Dido come to live at such a grand house at the height of slavery in Britain, what exactly was her status, and how was she treated and represented in art?
Week 5: Taking things seriously
Even while the Rococo was in full swing, there was a profound sense that, however frivolous the art, one should be serious about its production. This was monitored by the academies.
Alongside this, advances in science and philosophy led to a changed understanding of humankind’s place within the world, a movement known as the Enlightenment.
After the break, guest speaker Dr Jenny Graham will speak on the cult of sensibility and changing representations of masculinity in 18th-century art with reference to the paintings of Reynolds, Gainsborough, Chardin, Boucher and Greuze.
Week 6: From Revolution to Empire
Just as the Renaissance had been primarily based on an understanding of classical Roman culture, a renewed interest in the art of ancient Greece led to the idealised forms and cool tones of the 18th-century neoclassical style.
This austerity served the sobriety of the French Revolution, as well as the steely determination of the Empire-building Napoleon.
Dr Richard Stemp studied at Clare College, Cambridge, completing a PhD on 15th-century sculpture from Ferrara. He has worked as a lecturer at the National Gallery for over 25 years, and lectures at Tate, the Wallace Collection, the Royal Academy and the V&A in London, and across Europe for Art History Abroad. He has written books on the Italian Renaissance and churches and cathedrals, and has written and presented two series for Channel 4 on art at the National Gallery and Tate Modern. He shares his time between art and acting.
Each session lasts for 2 hours and includes a lecture delivered by course lecturer Richard Stemp, followed by a short break and further discussion. Several of the sessions feature an in-depth contribution from a guest speaker or Gallery expert.
Time will be allowed for questions and discussion via Q&A. We will also be joined by a guest art historian, who will help to answer as many questions as possible.
Handouts are supplied on Tuesday mornings.
Optional homework is provided to help you prepare for the following week's session.
Can't make Wednesday evenings but don't want to miss out? No problem, you can watch again.
Stories of art sessions are recorded and made available to you for one week.
A video of the week's lecture will be uploaded on Friday afternoons, in time for the weekend. You will be able to find the video by checking back to the page where you accessed your handouts for the week's session. Just be sure to watch it by the following Friday lunchtime, as it will be taken down on Friday afternoons.
This is an online ticketed course, hosted on Zoom. Please book a ticket for the six-week module.
Once you have booked your ticket for the module, you will receive a confirmation email, with your Zoom link. It will also be resent to you the day before the session, along with your handouts.
Your link will be valid for the duration of the module.
Booking after the module has started
You are welcome to join the module at any point during its six-week run. However, please note that you will only be able to see the recording from the previous session, as these are taken offline after one week.
A closer look
Would you like to discuss relevant paintings and themes from your lecture course, in a friendly, informal group?
This weekly small group session led by Gallery Educators, provides an opportunity to complement and consolidate your learning from the previous Stories of art session, through a short talk, group discussion and close looking.
Places are limited to 20 people.
A closer look takes place as a Zoom meeting, on Tuesday afternoons from 4-5pm, from Tuesday 20 April. Unlike the Stories of art webinar lectures, these discussions are not recorded, and participants are visible to one another. Attendees will receive a separate Zoom link for A closer look sessions.
To book your place for A closer look, add this option to your basket when you purchase Stories of art, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Module 6: 1800-1900 will run on Wednesdays from 2 June to 7 July, led by Dr Amy Mechowski.
Module 7: 1900-2021 will run on Wednesdays from 14 July to 18 August led by Lucrezia Walker
Tickets for Module 6 will go on sale in May.