Brushstrokes of History

Ref: C2343637

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 from the Renaissance to the 20th century, when women were finally able to work on a level playing field with men. And we'll 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 great paintings. Sometimes we'll focus on significant historical events but also simpler, more everyday aspects of contemporary society. We'll also look at the backgrounds and motives of the artists.

Do I need any particular skills or experience?

  • You will need your own personal email address so that you’re able to login to the WEA’s digital learning platform: WEA Canvas. You will need to be able to understand how to follow URL links to pages on the internet. If you want to understand more about Canvas please visit:
  • You will need to be able to follow links to join our WEA live video learning platform: WEA Zoom. If you’d like to understand more about our video learning platform, Zoom please visit: and
  • No skills or experience needed
  • This course is suitable for beginners and improvers
  • This course incorporates live Zoom lectures delivered by a subject specialist, during which you will be able to take part in discussions and ask questions. You will need to be able to access the internet on a device with speakers or earphones.

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

  • Identify historical aspects of famous and not so famous paintings.
  • Understand the importance of artists' backgrounds, political views and motivations.
  • Recognise and evaluate historical influences on art in general.
  • Understand how art historical reference works tend to perpetuate mistaken beliefs built up over the centuries regarding artistic value, for example with regard to the Flemish Primitives or women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’s digital learning platform, Canvas, will be used to provide resources and support lessons. If you want to understand more about our digital learning platform please visit:

What kind of feedback can I expect?

  • A range of informal activities will be used by the tutor so that you can check on your learning. These may include quizzes, question and answer, and discussion

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


As a registered charity, and to meet our funders’ requirements, we need to check a few things with you before you enrol. Please check the details below to ensure you meet the basic eligibility critiera:

  • You are paying the standard fee (with a credit or debit card) or you are on any of the qualifying benefits
  • You have a valid email address so that you can receive confirmation of your booking
  • You have been resident in the UK, EU or EEA for the last 3 years
  • You are aged 19 years or older on 1st September 2020
  • You declare that the address you provide is correct and that you will provide evidence of this and your eligibility to live and work in the UK
  • You have read and accept our standard terms and conditions
  • I declare that the address I have provided is correct and that I will provide evidence of this and my eligibility to live and work in the UK

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