Modern Art Course.


This course offers a selective introduction to the history of modern art. Eschewing household names, it focuses on major artists who are less well-known. Each session addresses a specific artist and art movement and its related themes and contexts.

Topics covered include Camille Pissarro and Impressionism; Maurice de Vlaminck and Fauvism; Francis Picabia and Dada; Philip Guston, Abstract Expressionism and after; Ed Ruscha and Pop Art; Gerhard Richter, photorealism and abstraction.


Each session offers an introduction to an aspect of modern art and will address specific themes,contexts and artists. The sessions will typically consist of two halves: the first giving a broader overview of an artist’s career; the second a more in-depth discussion of a particular issue or work.

Week 1. Camille Pissarro: The Father of Impressionism

Impressionism has been domesticated. Its once shocking artworks now adorn mouse mats, tea towels and coasters. This session aims to get past false familiarity and recover the radicalism of Impressionism. It details how the Impressionists pioneered new ways of painting and seeing, how they developed new models of exhibiting, and how they responded to the new world of urban modernity.

Week 2. Maurice de Vlaminck: An Orgy of Pure Colour

Maurice de Vlaminck was one of the original Fauves (Wild Beasts), a loose grouping of artists that also included Henri Matisse and André Derain. Like them, Vlaminck was a renowned colourist,whose paintings are celebrated for their vibrant use of strong, clean tones. This session focuses on Vlaminck’s paintings of flowers and examines how the Fauves’ understanding of colour feed into later abstract painting.

Week 3. Francis Picabia: Change your Ideas as Often as your Shirts

Francis Picabia once claimed that ‘if you wanted to have clean ideas you should change them as often as your shirt’. True to his word, Picabia’s career is marked by radical shifts in style. This session looks at the career of this eclectic artist, whose paintings made a decisive contribution to the development of Cubism, Dada and abstract art.

Week 4. Herbert Read: The Accidental Collector

The writer Herbert Read was Britain’s most influential champion of modern art. A friend of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, Read was instrumental in shaping the British reception of Constructivist and Surrealist art. Using Read’s own art collection as a springboard, this session examines his contribution to the development and reception of modern art in Britain.

Week 5. Phillip Guston: Abstract Expressionism and After/ Ed Rusha: Huh? Wow!

This session considers the work of two artists, Philip Guston and Ed Rusha.

Philip Guston was an abstract painter and member of the New York School. During the 1950s, heexhibited alongside Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. By the mid-1960s though, Guston had renounced abstraction as a ‘sham’. His subsequent figurative paintings are populated by a cast of cartoon Klansman, lone lightbulbs, cigarette butts and shoes. The darkly comical nature of these works belies both their pictorial sophistication and political seriousness.

Pop artist Ed Rusha once claimed there are two types of art: bad art which makes you say ‘Wow! Huh?’ and good art which makes you say ‘Huh? Wow!’. This session examines why Rusha’s work belongs to the latter category.

Week 6. Gerhard Richter: The Greatest Living Artist

Gerhard Richter regularly tops lists of the world’s greatest living artists. A virtuoso painter, Richter’s work encompasses photorealistic portraits and landscapes, minimalist monochromes and painterly abstracts. Richter’s technical brilliance is matched by the conceptual sophistication of his work. The first half of this session offers an overview of Richter’s career; the second focus on his cycle of history paintings.


Course Tutor: Dr Simon Marginson is an independent art historian and curatorial researcher. He specialises in twentieth-century art and has published on various aspects of British and European modernism.

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Guide Prices

Course Fee: £42

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Map & Directions

History of Modern Art - A Six Week Course


Ilkley Playhouse, Weston Rd, Ilkley, West Yorkshire, LS29 8DW
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Call direct on:

Tel01943 609539

Opening Times

Season (22 Feb 2023 - 29 Mar 2023)
Monday - TuesdayClosed
Wednesday10:30 - 12:00
Thursday - SundayClosed

* Course Dates: weekly from Wednesday 22nd February to Wednesday 29th March 2023 10.30am-12pm (six sessions).

Venue: Wharfeside Theatre - unreserved seating.

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