Artists' Colonies

Course summary

  • Mon 02 Oct 2017 to Mon 04 Dec 2017
  • 2:00-4:00pm 10 meetings
  • Ewert House, Ewert Place, Oxford, OX2 7DD
  • From £199.00
  • 10 CATS points
  • Course code O17P473ARW
  • +44 (0)1865 280892
  • Course ended

Artists' Colonies


In the late nineteenth century, the pursuit of fresh subject matter saw many artists leave urban studios to live in communal settings, often for lengthy periods, in rural and coastal sites. The railways made artists' colonies accessible from the metropolis, also facilitating modern tourism. The pan-European trend for rural simplicity attracted a diverse range of artists from Josef Israëls, Max Liebermann, Peder Severin Krøyer and Anna Ancher to Winslow Homer, Stanhope Forbes, Henry Scott Tuke and Laura Knight.

Like the impressionists, the practitioners of rustic naturalism painted scenes from everyday rural life, often en plein air, experimenting with the effects of natural light on motifs and models. Photography influenced pictorial representations of rural labour, traditions and community – and vice versa. We will look at artists' colonies, and the works they generated, from the point of "discovery" of these sites to the artists' interactions with local people. Wider social and political forces driving the flight to countryside and coast will also be discussed to locate these works in their contemporary contexts.

From Brittany to Cornwall and from the North Sea coast to the tip of Denmark, this course invites students to explore a fascinating array of imagery produced at Europe's peripheries.

Programme details

Term Starts:   2nd October   

Week 1:          Artists' colonies: what were they?

Week 2:          The appeal of the periphery

Week 3:          The colony artist: some case studies

Week 4:          Women in the colonies: some case studies

Week 5:          Typical sites: the idea of 'place-myths'

Week 6:          Typical subjects and themes

Week 7:          Photography, painting , photorealism

Week 8:          Coast: artists' colonies in Britain

Week 9:          Focus on Cornwall I

Week 10:        Focus on Cornwall II and Conclusion


Background Reading:

Weisberg, G.P., Beyond Impressionism: The Naturalist Impulse in European Art, 1860–1905

Lübbren, N., Rural Artists' Colonies in Europe 1870-1910

de Leeuw, R., Sillevis, J., Dumas, C., The Hague School: Dutch Masters of the 19th Century

McConkey, K., Impressionism in Britain
(Yale University Press with The Barbican Art Gallery, 1995)

Nochlin, L., Realism
(Penguin, 1990)

Jackson, David, Nordic art: the modern breakthrough 1860–1920


If you are planning to purchase books, remember that courses with too few students enrolled will be cancelled. The Department accepts no responsibility for books bought in anticipation of a course.

If you have enrolled on a course starting in the autumn, you can become a borrowing member of the Rewley House library from 1st September. If you are enrolled on a course starting in other terms, you can become a borrowing member once the previous term has ended.

Recommended reading

All weekly class students may become borrowing members of the Rewley House Continuing Education Library for the duration of their course. Prospective students whose courses have not yet started are welcome to use the Library for reference. More information can be found on the Library website.

There is a Guide for Weekly Class students which will give you further information. 

Availability of titles on the reading list (below) can be checked on SOLO, the library catalogue.

Recommended Reading List


Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to do so.


Course Fee: £199.00
Take this course for CATS Points: £10.00


Dr Mary O'Neill

Dr Mary O'Neill's research focuses on late-nineteenth-century Cornish fisherfolk imagery. Her work, including a fully illustrated book, has been published in Britain and Germany. She curated Penlee House Gallery's summer exhibition in Penzance in 2014.

Course aims

To investigate the emergence of artists' colonies in continental Europe and in Britain, and analyse works produced there in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Course Objectives

1. To understand key characteristics of artists' colonies and the broad artistic, social and political contexts in which they flourished.

2. To identify common themes in the works produced in a range of continental and British artists' colonies.

3. To be aware of British interpretations of such rural themes, particularly in  Cornwall.

Teaching methods

•              illustrated lectures and discussion

•              group work, with tutor guidance, taking images/texts/clips as a basis for discussion

•              case studies of specific colony artists or artist groups

•              student mini-presentations

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

1. Understand why and how artists' colonies became popular in the late nineteenth century

2. Identify typical subjects, themes and features of colony art

3. Be aware of how artists in Britain interpreted rural themes, particularly in Cornwall.

Assessment methods

Option A) Choose one painting that exemplifies colony art and one that shows a reworking of a typical colony subject or theme.  Analyse them from the point of view of artists' motivations, choice of subject matter, technique and reception. (2 essays, 750 words each)

Option B) Choose two colony paintings by artists from two different countries. Compare and contrast them from the point of view of artistic approach and technique, as well as the paintings' meaning and impact. (1 essay of 1,500 words)

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)