Centre for Continuing Education

Art History Course: School of Paris

Art History. Explore humankind’s amazing cultural heritage.

Study objects of art and their historical development the smart way with Art History courses at the University of Sydney.

School of Paris reflected the extraordinary position of the French capital as the undisputed centre of the global art world during the first four decades of the 20th century. Ever since the emergence of the Realist Avant-garde, France has played a leading role in the cultural life of Europe. A wave of artists of all nationalities gravitated towards the city of lights, in the area around Montparnasse and contributed to the climate of creative intensity. By the mid-1920s, Paris was home to an estimated 70,000 painters and sculptors, most of whom survived in poverty.


This course aims to:

  1. Define the works of art for their pictorial value in their historical context;
  2. Record the evolution of art through various periods;
  3. Recognise various scenes represented in art which include an understanding of iconography and symbolism;
  4. Follow a methodology to help read a work of arts in terms of lines, colours, and perspective; and
  5. Identify art works for those planning to travel to the sites discussed in the course.


Upon successful completion of this course, participants should be able to:

  1. Measure the diversity of art generated that exploded during the first four decades of the twentieth century.
  2. Look at a work of art, place it within an historical, cultural and artistic context, and decipher the message behind its aesthetic beauty.
  3. Provide guidelines about how to look at modern art.


This course covers the following content:

1. Fauvism and cubism

Les Fauves (the wild beasts) used colour the way most artists use line, to define form in space. From these brilliant early experiments, Henri Matisse went on to create some of the most daring and satisfying art of the early 20th century avant-garde. The Spaniard Picasso changed the way we see the world. Together with the French artist George Braque, Picasso undertook an analysis of form and vision that would inspire radical new visual forms across Europe and in America.

2. Les Nabis and Gauguin

The Nabis were a symbolist group, founded by Paul Sérusier, who organised his friends into a secret society. The Nabis felt that as artists, they were creators of a subjective art that was deeply rooted in the soul of the artist. The artists' personal style was accomplished through the choice of how to arrange these lines and colours. Gauguin lead the group with the use of vivid, bold colours which do not show a strong naturalistic bias, and a surface treatment that emphasises the shapes of nature without the use of visible outlining.

3. Symbolism

As opposed to Impressionism, whereby the emphasis was on the reality of the created paint surface itself, symbolism was both an artistic and a literary movement that suggested ideas through symbols and emphasised the meaning behind the forms, lines, shapes, and colours. Symbolism can also be seen as being at the forefront of modernism as it could take the ineffable, such as dreams and visions, and give them form.

4. Orphism and section d’Or Cubist group

Orphism style founded by Robert Delaunay was distinguished by faceted compositions, vibrant colour, and contemporary subject matter that together conveyed delight in the modern life and its technological innovations. The works by his wife Sonia Delaunay will give insight into the woman’s approach to orphism. The name, Section d’Or, reflected the cubists' general interest in geometric forms. It refers to a Paris-based group of 20th century painters associated with cubism, and orphism. The group staged only one exhibition (1912) at the Galerie La Boetie but went on to influence the following generation of artists.

5. French expressionism (feeling and emotion)

Rouault, Soutine, and Chagall were the main representatives of this particular movement in France. This style was characterized by the exteriorisation of the painter’s impulsive reactions to life, and less concerned with the elaboration of pictorial material and forms, than with the expression of their deepest inner feelings; the expressionist painter became the creator of an art of anxiety, uneaneurosis, and apocalyptic threats, in short, an art of fantasies which were projected in the form of a creative spontaneity.

6. French expressionism (life of Paris and portraits)

Modigliani, Toulouse-Lautrec, Le Douanier Rousseau are also representative of the French expressionism movement during the School of Paris. Their unique approach to art opened a myriad of possibilities to contemporaries and future artists to explore. They left an enduring image of Parisian nightlife, maison clauses, circus, cabaret and the stars who performed.

7. Surrealism

The Surrealist movement was founded in Paris by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Disdaining rationalism and literary realism, and powerfully influenced by psychoanalysis, the Surrealists such as Mason, Miró, Tanguy or even Dali believed the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination, weighting it down with taboos.

8. Abstract concepts

What is the idea behind Abstract Art? The basic premise of abstraction is that the formal qualities of a painting are just as important as its representational qualities. Plato already evoked the beauty of abstract art mentioning that non-naturalistic images (circles, squares, triangles and so on) possess an absolute, unchanging beauty. We will review different types of abstract art and what they mean for each artists such as Picabia, Leger, Klein and the first geometric abstraction manifested in Art Deco.

Intended Audience

This course is designed for anyone who would like to learn more about modern art and deepen their knowledge. No prior knowledge of art history is required.

Delivery Style



  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion