From Colonial to Modern Art: Europe, Africa and the World

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses
Intermediate—Year

This class explores the artistic products that resulted from the concurrent emergence of colonialism and the modern condition on the continents of Africa and Europe. Relationships between industrialism, immigration, and urbanism as they manifested in the arts in Europe and in its colonial territories will be identified and analyzed. Though structured colonial relationships began as early as the 15th century, this course will focus on the 19th—the height of the modern European territorial occupations of Africa. The arts of the 19th century depict a world in flux: We see artistic producers struggling to define cultural identity, class status, and sociopolitical organization in an increasingly international environment. While art history surveys of the 19th century traditionally focus on French art, specifically the role of the Academy and Parisian artists and architects, this course will explore how “Europe” was variously defined over the course of the century through an inclusion of colonial objects, as well as the art and architecture of Europe beyond Paris. The World’s Fairs (London 1851, Paris 1889 and 1900, and Chicago 1893) provide the opportunity to see this colonial exchange with the “other” take place on a grand scale, while private “Wunderkammers” in Europe reveal how wealthy Europeans ingested the exotica of other cultures. As Europe renegotiated its sense of identity, so, too, do we see the creation of “Africa” as a cultural and geographical concept during the 19th century. From this continent, we will examine objects made for both local use and for international sale; we will investigate how modernity through urbanization, trade, travel, and war created the burgeoning artistic production in African nations during the 19th century. Formal analysis of objects will be balanced with discussions and readings of theoretical texts dealing with pertinent 19th-century issues, such as the rise of urbanity and technology, the colonial enterprise, primitivism, exoticism, collections, viewership, and connoisseurship.