BA Art History and English Literature / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
The Painters of Modern Life

Course unit fact file
Unit code AHCP20142
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course examines the complex relationships that existed between visual culture and the rapidly changing conditions of life in nineteenth century Europe. We will consider how the art world in this period responded to social, cultural, and critical transformations. We will go on to explore the ways in which artists engaged with, resisted or sought compensation for these new developments in the material sphere. Finally, we will examine how articulations of modernity generated new artistic and intellectual debates concerning perception, representation, expression and subjectivity.


The course aims to:

  • Introduce students to the intellectual, social and political contexts of nineteenth-century painting and visual culture
  • Consider how various nineteenth-century artists responded to these evolving contexts - Introduce students to the primary textual and visual materials which shaped the development of art and visual culture in the nineteenth century
  • Consider how these materials contributed to debates about the nature, purpose and status of art in this period
  • Understand how nineteenth-century visual culture shaped ideas about the history of modernism, modernity and modernisation
  • Reflect upon the critical and art historical reception of nineteenth-century painting

Learning outcomes

  • Display detailed knowledge of the history of nineteenth-century painting and visual culture in Europe
  • Display knowledge of the critical idioms employed by different artists in this period
  • Explain how changing critical idioms can be related to broader patterns of historical and cultural change
  • Display knowledge of the critical, historical and theoretical debates surrounding nineteenth-century painting
  • Explain how responses to nineteenth-century painting have developed over time
  • Think critically and imaginatively about a wide range of textual and visual materials
  • Relate art works and the development of art to more general historical narratives
  • Demonstrate and question how political, social and economic contexts can affect the understanding and interpretation of art


Week 1: Introduction

Week 2: Romancing the Modern

Week 3: Verism, Gusto and the Grotesque

Week 4: Melodrama, Modernity and Memory

Week 5: Imagining Citizenship and Community

Week 6: The New Painting

Week 7: The Aesthetics of Altruism

Week 8: Symbolism and the Apostles of Unity

Week 9: ‘A River of Fire’: Art, Politics and Vision at the end of the Nineteenth Century

Week 10: Nietzsche Has Left the Building: Art and Art Criticism in the 1890s

Week 11: Course overview and Essay Workshop

Teaching and learning methods

11 x 3 hour lecture-seminars (one session per week) which will include time for class discussion and review of directed readings.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Understand debates and arguments about the identity and value of painting and visual culture c.1800-1900
  • Assess the extent to which forms of representation changed during this period and what such developments might indicate about broader forms of social life.
  • Explain how art works functioned as sites for the reproduction systems of power and knowledge, and how these matters relate to critical, curatorial and institutional practices

Intellectual skills

  • Reflect critically on the emergence of different forms of art historical knowledge
  • Develop visual and critical skills to understand a range of cultural arguments
  • Formulate readings supported by the relevant primary and secondary sources encountered on this course unit

Practical skills

  • Evaluate art works and place them within their appropriate social and intellectual settings
  • Engage with the online learning resources associated with this course unit
  • Produce cogent and evidence-rich assessment

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Communicate ideas effectively
  • Deploy a wide range of relevant learning resources in the production of assessed work

Employability skills

Display effective time-management skills through the production of mandatory assessments Display effective IT skills via the production of online research and the submission of mandatory assessments Demonstrate professional skills by utilising assessment feedback to new assessment situations

Assessment methods

Assessment Task

Formative or Summative


Essay Plan






Critical Report (Exhibition)



Feedback methods

Feedback Method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback on Essay Plan after 10 working days


Written feedback on Essay and Critical Report after 15 working days


Recommended reading

Athanassoglou-Kallmyer, Nina, ‘Géricault's Severed Heads and Limbs: The Politics and Aesthetics of the Scaffold’, The Art Bulletin, . 74: 4, 1992, 599–618.

Clark, TJ, Images of the People: Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution, London, 1973

Clark, T.J, ‘Painting in the Year Two’, Representations, no. 47, 1994, 13–63.

Eisenman, Stephen F., ed., Nineteenth Century Art: A critical history, London, 1994

Eisenman, Stephen F., ‘Allegory and Anarchism in James Ensor's ‘Apparition: Vision Preceding Futurism,” Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University, 46: 1, 1987, 3–17.

Fried, Michael, ‘Manet in His Generation: The Face of Painting in the 1860s’, Critical Inquiry, 19: 1, 1992, 22–69. House, John, ‘Reading the Grande Jatte’, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, 14: 2, 1989,115–241.

Colin Trodd, ‘The Energy Man: Blake, Nietzscheanism and Cultural Criticism in Britain, 1890–1920’; Visual Culture in Britain, 19:3 (2018), 289-304

Colin Trodd, ‘Introduction’ Ford Madox Brown: The Manchester Murals and the Matter of History, 1-27 (2022) Manchester Hive. - University of Manchester

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Colin Trodd Unit coordinator

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