Centre for Continuing Education

16 Great Masters of Western and Aboriginal Art Course

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.

Join us and examine art works by the masters of Western and Aboriginal Art. Explore what makes them the masterpieces we appreciate today, learn about the artists, and join a community of like-minded art-enthusiasts in course discussion. Add to your repertoire of knowledge on art history – the knowledge and understanding of the universal and timeless qualities that identify all great art. Add to your understanding of the art of different eras, movements, styles and techniques, and grow your appreciation in the diversity of styles and the communality they share.


The course will assist you in understanding how the artist through his/her work of art reflects the social, historical and artistic context of the wider culture while also examining the artist’s interpretation. The course will provide the tools to break an artwork down to its component parts, appreciating the skill and imagination that the artist used in composing it.


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

  1. Explore the individual qualities of each formal element such as line, colour, composition, form and how artists use them to express their ideas and emotions.
  2. Recognise varied works of art, artists' style, and the stylistic period and historical significance of the art works.
  3. Use different interpretive frameworks in order to analyse works of art.


Cézanne et Manet: The fathers of Modern Art

Édouard Manet was the most important and influential artist in his time and was named the first painter of modern life. His twin interest in Old Masters and contemporary Realism gave him the crucial foundation for his revolutionary approach. His work is marked by jarring areas of contrasting tonalities and flatness of composition, techniques never seen before at that time.

Cézanne is credited with paving the way for the emergence of twentieth-century modernism, both visually and conceptually. He is the most powerful and essential link between Impressionism and abstraction.

Matisse and Picasso: An extraordinary dialogue

Picasso was the first modern celebrity artist, unapologetic for his crass behaviour. Matisse lived in contrast, a reserved man shielding his life from the public view. They mocked each other in their respective works, yet revered each other for their talents. Picasso once said that in order to grasp 20th-century art, you ought to see “side by side everything Matisse and I were doing”. This rivalry and friendship seemed to bring out the best in both artists.

Miró and Chagall: A Realm of Dream and Beauty

Miró invented a new kind of pictorial space in which biomorphic forms, geometric shapes, and semi-abstracted objects issuing strictly from the artist’s imagination were juxtaposed with basic, recognizable forms. Marc Chagall painted dream-like subjects rooted in personal history and Eastern European folklore. It is perhaps best to think of his imagery as lyrical evocations, similar to the allusive plastic poetry of the poets he met in Paris.

Dali and Magritte: The antipode of Surrealism

Salvador Dalí is among the most versatile and prolific artists of the twentieth century and the most famous Surrealist. Dalí opted for his own self-created system of tapping the unconscious termed “paranoiac critical”, a state in which one could simulate delusion while maintaining one’s sanity. Magritte preferred the quiet anonymity of a middle-class existence, a life symbolized by the bowler-hatted men. The illustrative quality of Magritte’s pictures often results in a powerful paradox: images that are beautiful in their clarity and simplicity, but which also provoke unsettling thoughts.

Kandinsky and Klee: the Bauhaus Years

One of the pioneers of abstract modern art, Wassily Kandinsky exploited the evocative interrelation between colour and form to create an aesthetic experience that engaged the sight, sound, and emotions of the public. Klee’s diverse body of work cannot be categorised according to any single artistic movement, or “school.” His paintings, which are at times fantastic, childlike, or otherwise witty, served as an inspiration to the New York School, as well as many other artists of the 20th century.

Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael: The Triumvirate of Renaissance Art

The High Renaissance was traditionally viewed as a great explosion of creativity. Its greatest exponents were the Florentine geniuses Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, together with the Urbino master Raphael. Their art is characterised above all by the qualities of harmony and balance. The picture is invariably totally balanced and self-contained, so that it satisfies the definition of beauty, the quintessential quality of a work of art.

Gauguin and Van Gogh: Postcard from Arles

Few artists have ever seen life so intensely or realised their vision in such splendid fullness. Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin both experimented with the expressive possibilities of colour and line to create distinct personal styles of painting. Working in France at the end of the nineteenth century, the two friends inspired each other during a nine-week period in the autumn of 1888.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye: Art from Utopia

Emily Kame Kngwarreye is one of Australia’s most significant contemporary artists. She grew up in a remote desert area known as Utopia, 230m north-east of Alice Springs, distant from the art world that sought her work. For virtually two-thirds of her life she had only sporadic contact with the outside world. It was not until she was about 80 years of age that she became, almost overnight, an artist of national and international standing.

Intended Audience

This art history course is suitable for adult learners of all ages with a strong personal interest in art history.

Delivery Style

Interactive workshop.

Recommended Reading

Each artwork presented in class will include details allowing participants to research additional information on the internet before class or for their own personal interest.

Web resources:

  • https:/ /www.guggenheim.org/
  • https:/ /www.moma.org/artists
  • https:/ /nga.gov.au/exhibitions/Kngwarreye/

For a background Bibliography:

Stangos, N. (1994). Concepts of Modern Art: From Fauvism to Postmodernism (World of Art Series). London: Thames & Hudson.

Chipp, H. B. ( 1996). Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics. Berkely and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press.

For a general, all-purpose textbook:

Arnason, H. H. and Mansfield, E. (2012). History of Modern Art. 7th ed. New York: Pearson.

For modern American art:

Craven, W. (2002). American Art: History and Culture. Revised 1st ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Anfam, D. (1993). American Art in the Twentieth Century. London: Royal Academy of Arts.


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