Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Fall Semester

Today was "back to school" day for me. I started in the PhD program in Art History in 2005. It seems like ages ago in some ways, and then in others just like it was yesterday. I've been taking 2 courses a semester, but for the fall I'll be taking 3, so I expect to be pretty busy. The good news is that this will be my last official semester for coursework (by "official" I mean for a grade). One class I'm taking is a lecture course entitled Watteau and His Legacy. We're studying the brief career of Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), the French artist whose name has become synonymous with the early Rococo and the fête galante, scenes of aristocrats frolicking in romantic gardens or actors and musicians performing for the viewer. The picture above is by him: The French Comedians from 1720-21. It shows actors performing in a melodrama. The picture is owned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it probably will be hanging alongside other works for a special exhibition opening there 3 weeks from now called Watteau, Music, and Theater. Watteau was important for introducing this new subject matter into the art world at the time, and his untimely death at the age of 37 from tuberculosis helped jettison ongoing interest in his subjects, which were picked up by later French artists such as Fragonard and Manet.

My second class is a seminar entitled The Role of Travel 1750-1900, and it relates to how travel impacted the European and American art world at this time. The topics that we will be covering include: the Grand Tour (when wealthy aristocrats from England in the 1700s used to travel to Italy for extended visits to be "civilized" by the art there); Travel Books and Prints; the Railroad (how it became both a new way in which to travel, and a subject for art in the second half of the 19th century, such as works painted by Turner, Manet, and Monet); Artists' Colonies (rural colonies like Barbizon to urban colonies like the Nazarenes in Rome); National and International Exhibitions (e.g. the Great Exhibition of 1851, etc.); Orientalism and Primitivism (artists and their interactions with non-European cultures).

My last class isn't really a class but an independent study with my advisor, which means lots of reading and summarizing, then preparing an extensive annotated bibliography and proposal as it relates to the focus area for my Oral Examination in the spring and my ideas for a dissertation. I'm going to be working on 19th-century British classicism in painting and sculpture, and the career of John Gibson (1790-1866). Gibson was a British sculptor who lived in Rome for nearly 50 years. He was a member of the Royal Academy and counted among his important patrons Queen Victoria herself. I was pleased to see a few of his works, albeit briefly, when I was visiting Buckingham Palace in July. You may recall I gave a paper on one aspect of Gibson's career last November at Yale, but there's a lot more work to be done.

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