Academicism to Futurism – The isms

In this series of 10 lectures we trace the development of a European modernist aesthetic that had its roots in the second half of the 19th century in Paris. Edouarde Manet, the first truly avant-garde artist, was the first to challenge the dominance of the official Salon, inspiring other artists to do likewise shaking the very foundations of painting and sculpture, and its reception. That progression is often referred to in art history as The Isms, a journey taking us from Academicism to Futurism.


Academicism –

The conservative Parisian Salon and its adherents, and how they maintained such dominance over the art establishment. All artists sought to promote their work through The Salon, but its selection jury often excluded those who did not conform to a rigid academic style. This ultimately led to the setting up of independent exhibitions in Paris.

Orientalism –

Orientalism was the concept of an appropriation/misappropriation of images of the East that pervaded academy paintings and continued through to the end of the 19th century. This talk looks at how artists sought the ‘otherness’ in a motif that was popular with the art buying public, after the 1830s and adopted by several of the early avant-gardists at the turn of the century.

Manet and Impressionism –

What exactly is Impressionism? – Who were the so-called Impressionists? How did the movement start? What is its legacy? This talk examines all these questions, showing how writers such as Charles Baudelaire challenged a Salon orthodoxy on subject matter in favour of the depictions of modern life as adopted by Manet and others of his circle.


Symbolism –

Symbolism was a counter culture to the depiction of modernity in painting and prose. It was diverse in its aesthetic, from the fresh early Renaissance style paintings by Puvis de Chavannes, to the darker and more sinister works of Gustave Moreau. What they had in common was the portrayal of  absolute truths, often using using metaphor, about the human condition.

Post Impressionism and the rise of Avant-Gardism –

Post Impressionism is in fact an artificial construct, describing a diverse range of artists, who in the late nineteenth century, independently expressed a new language for modern painting that paved the way for modern art in the 20th century. The talk will show how this disparate group, that includes Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin and Seurat, each developed a new manner of painting, to create a modern avant-garde.

Fauvism –

This talk looks at the small group of artists that included Henri Matisse and Andre Derain, who were dubbed Fauves (wild beasts) by an art critic who ridiculed their work at an independent exhibition, as a result of their heavy use of colour to create form. In many ways their work builds on the earlier avant-gardism of Van Gogh and Seurat, and still strikes today’s viewers as a colourful aberration.

Cubism –

Arguably the most important development of modern art was in the experimental work of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the early years of the 20th century. Their pioneering works used portraits and still-life motifs, depicting them as disjointed parts of the whole that gave them a sculptural three-dimensional form. The talk will also look at another variations on the theme such as Purism and Tubism.

Orphism –

Although derived from the school of Cubism, artists such as Robert Delauney sought a different type of motif, using a combination of bright colours to create abstract forms. Other European artists such as Frank Kupka and Wassily Kandinsky followed a similar path to develop an abstract aesthetic. This talk looks more broadly at abstraction


Often referred to as the opposite of Impressionism in its pursuit of naturalism and even realism, this German art movement that included artists such as Ernst Kirchner, began in the early twentieth century as a way of expressing inner emotion rather than external reality. Kandinsky was an early Expressionist before developing forms that were pure abstraction.

Futurism –

Our final talk examines the Italian influence on the Parisian art world that expressed a dynamic depiction of the modern world in painting and sculpture. It stemmed from the publication of a manifesto by a writer Tommaso Marinetti in 1909, in which he wrote passionately about the need to repudiate and even destroy art and its imitators in the past in favour of a new artistic vision that looked to the future!