Brushstrokes of History

Ref: C3741221

A look at paintings that depict important historical events or simply reveal fascinating aspects of contemporary society. This is a history course rather than an art history course but art is very much at its centre. Using examples including the Arnolfini Portrait, Rubens' Massacre of the Innocents, Fragonard's The Swing, depictions of Napoleon in art by David, Ingres and others, Goya's 3rd May 1808, Picasso's Guernica, and Manet's A Bar at the Folies Bergère we will examine the artists' motivation and the background to the events and scenarios portrayed. We will also cover paintings by great women artists over the centuries since the Renaissance and question why their art has so often been ignored. We will also look at art in totalitarian regimes, particularly the Soviet Union under Stalin and Nazi Germany, and how artists in those countries were put under considerable pressure to work within ideological constraints.

Course aim

To look at history through paintings: sometimes great historical events but also simpler, more everyday aspects of contemporary society; and the backgrounds and motives of the artists.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • No skills or experience needed
  • This course is suitable for beginners and improvers

By the end of the course I should be able to:

  • Identify historical aspects of famous and not so famous paintings.
  • Analyse the importance of artists' backgrounds, political views and motivations.
  • Recognize and evaluate historical influences on art in general.
  • Explain how art historical reference works tend to perpetuate mistaken beliefs built up over the centuries regarding artistic value, for example with regard to the Flemish Primitives or women artists in general.

How will I be taught?

  • The WEA tutor will use a range of different teaching and learning methods and encourage you and the group to be actively involved in your learning
  • Examination of reproductions of paintings in slides will be used to encourage informal discussion during the course sessions.

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • You will have opportunities to discuss your progress with your tutor
  • Examination of reproductions of paintings in slides will be used to encourage informal discussion on the

What else do I need to know?

  • Some method of taking notes would be useful

Pre-course work, reading and information sources

  • No pre reading or pre course work is required

What can I do next?

  • Progress to another WEA course
  • Progress to a course with another provider
  • Become involved with the WEA in a range of voluntary work and other activities including campaigning as a WEA member
  • Become involved as a volunteer for a WEA partner or another organisation
  • Access the WEA What Next? booklet here

Download full Course information sheet

Brushstrokes of History


You can if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • are paying the standard fee or are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • are paying with a credit/debit card or are not paying a fee because of a qualifying benefit
  • have a valid email address
  • have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2017
  • have read and accept the standard terms and conditions
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