Art History

Taster session: The Study of Western Art and Art History

The distance learning History of Art course is an introduction to Western Art, looking at its development in the context of the individual artist and the wider context in which they worked. This Taster Session is intended to get you thinking about art and, hopefully, inspired to register for the course module this Autumn.

The intention is that you will develop knowledge of the history of art and be able to use relevant terms to explore and analyse various art works. Any terms you are not familiar with, look them up and add explanations or definitions to your own resources library (this is a note for those new to discussing art history as terms usually have a specific meaning in the context of art analysis).


Noon”  c.1865-70 Watercolour on paper. Artist: Simeon Solomon 1840-1905

This painting is part of the collection at the School of Art Gallery & Museum, Aberystwyth University. It is not on public display at present, but it is possible to request a viewing of works in the collection for study purposes.

Look closely at the image – it would be easy to focus mainly on the subject of the painting, that is the story being told or the characters. If you note your first impressions, these are likely to be subjective or emotive descriptions, such as languid, bored or sad figures/ soft colour tones and lines. Studying art history means we can look more closely at images, not just for what they portray but also asking questions about why the artist made the choices he/she did, who was the work produced for, what are the hidden meanings behind the symbolism in objects surrounding the figures. In other words, we can place the painting within its broader context.

Your own observation and analysis

  • Start with facts such as artist/ title/ date it was painted/ size (if you have that information)
  • What medium is used (watercolour, oils, pastels etc)/ colours used (limited palette, bright contrasting colours, realistic colours for the object depicted)

Look more closely at

  • Lines and shapes within the composition, such as triangle to draw the eye to the central figure, strong horizontal or vertical lines
  • How is perspective and distance suggested, such as the seats and trough in the foreground or pillars behind
  •  Figures (remember they are a representation of a person so we usually refer to them as figures rather than by a name of a specific person/character) – are they realistic/ idealised in classical or conventional poses/ how are they linked or interacting with each other (if at all)
  • In this particular painting, look at how the hair and drapery is suggested
  • Note different objects included by the artist – choice of flowers/ cat on the wall/ plate/ statue above the water spout. What do they symbolise (if anything) and would this have been more easily recognised by contemporary viewers in 1870 than modern-day viewers?
  • Techniques used such as finely-detailed brushwork, clear use of sketches or drawn outlines beneath the paint, definite outlines to define the figures

Follow this up with research questions

  • Is this a typical painting for this artist – if not, where does it differ, for example in subject, colours used, techniques?
  • When it was painted, did it follow standard conventions for the period or was it seen as a new approach
  •  Is it similar in style to work of earlier artists or act as an influencer for later artists perhaps?

Find out what you can about the painting and the artist from as many references as possible, making a note of your research sources. Work by Simeon Solomon was included in the Watercolour Exhibition at Tate Britain 2011, and the catalogue gives a brief comment on the artist, noting that he “responded both to the Pre-Raphaelite movement and to artistic developments in France” and was part of the “Aesthetic” movement. There is also reference to his “somnambulistic” images which suggested a moment of introspection and reflection, a “spiritual” or “visionary” encounter [Watercolour 2011 Tate Publishing p157]. So, your initial subjective impressions may in fact reflect what the artist intended!

How to Enrol on a Course
It is advisable to pre-enrol at least two weeks in advance to avoid disappointment, as classes in some subject areas have a limited
number of places. You can:-

  • Download a Enrolment Form from our website
  • You can request a form by email:
  • We can send you one by post: telephone 01970 621580,
  • Or collect in person at the Lifelong Learning Office in Elystan Morgan, Llanbadarn Campus at Aberystwyth University.
  • You must include your fee with your form.

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Further Information