The French Artistic Milieu in the 19th and 20th Centuries

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Art History
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If we generally pay particular attention to specific details of a painting, or the biography of a painter, we often neglect the institutional context in which these details arose. Indeed, artistic creations have always been linked to the kind of society that produced them. This course thus proposes to focus on the structure and function of the world of art in a broader sense, and the evolution of the artistic milieu throughout history. The history of artistic institutions and social artistic practices in France can, in fact, allow us to better understand the major shifts in artistic production, particularly in the 17th century with the introduction of guilds, academia (beginning of classic paintings: Nicolas Poussin, Charles Lebrun), up until the major shifts and tendencies in style after the French Revolution in the 18th century. We will consider neo-classicism (David) and the decline of academic study (Courbet, Manet), with particular emphasis on the major shifts towards Impressionism (Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne…). We will also pay particular attention to new types of artistic study (the creation of academies, workshops, the opening of the Louvre…), the establishment of art dealers, as well as technical and aesthetic innovations in order to understand the effects these movements had on painting as an artistic discipline and the types of works thus created.  This will also allow us to observe, from century to century, the aesthetic and stylistic changes connected to politics, as seen from Louis XVIII to the death of Louis XIV, and from the Regency and the reign of Louis XV and the propagation of the “rocaille” style (Fragonard, Watteau, Boucher), all of which led to a swift return to austerity with neoclassicism, more related to the revolutionary sensibility.

This course is mainly focused on Paris. We will analyze how the cultural and institutional systems allowed for Paris to become the artistic center in Europe, and then globally in the 19th century. The Impressionists will also make up a major part of the coursework; in particular, we will study their role within a new artistic discipline and the novel conception of “the artist.” Finally, and to conclude, we will study the most important cultural and institutional systems that determined artistic creation in the 20th and 21st centuries. We will look in particular at the construction of the ministry of cultural affairs (Andre Malraux, 1959) and its role and mission (up until the present day) in creating support and locations for artistic expression, including FNAC (National Funding for Contemporary Art) and FRAC (Regional Funding for Contemporary Art), The Palais de Tokyo, and others.