This MA course investigates the similarities and differences between three primary urban centres of modernity at a decisive moment in their development. Through a series of case studies which look at the evolution of city painting in the hands of British, French and American artists in New York, Paris and London we will examine key questions and ideas about the representation of the modern technological and industrial city. Throughout we will be attentive to the international character of this art, to the flow and evolution of influence and revisionism across national boundaries, and to the experience of urban life as it was interpreted by contemporary sociologists, novelists and commentators.
The first, shorter, part of the course begins by surveying the immediate nineteenth-century background to city painting in all three locations, laying emphasis on the international influences and exchanges that linked them together. Tracing the emergence of a vocabulary to describe and investigate the city in the art of Manet and Monet in France and in the work of realists and symbolists who were influenced by James McNeill Whistler in London, we will attend to the ways in which these potent representations of the city were subsequently deployed in the United States. We will investigate the work of American Impressionists such as Childe Hassam as well as the extraordinary impact of Whistler on formative New York artists such as Ernest Lawson, Guy Wiggins and Joseph Pennell.
The second part of the course takes up this situation and works forward, examining the radical reviewing of the city by British modernists in London, including the Vorticists and the artists and writers of Bloomsbury, by experimental modernists in Paris, including Picasso and Braque, and, in a contrasting mode, by American realists such as George Bellows and the Ashcan artists. We will look at the advent of European modernism in the US through a consideration of the complexities of the Armory Show in 1913, and at the careers of Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and other photographers and painters as they investigated possible representations of the modern city through their depictions of New York. This interwoven history provides the impetus for the final section of the course when we will examine the transformation of city space and the visual vocabulary of its depiction in the work of American modernists such as Georgia O’Keefe, Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand, Paul Cadmus and Reginald Marsh, as well as in the distinct but related art of Edward Hopper.
A reading knowledge of French may be an advantage for certain topics.
Please note: site visits in the UK and further afield are subject to Covid-19 guidelines.
Professor David Peters Corbett will be on sabbatical in the autumn term 2021, where the course will be taught by an associate lecturer who is a specialist in the field.