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Wednesdays, October 12 – November 2, 6 – 8pm


Ensemble view, Room 22, south wall, Philadelphia. © The Barnes Foundation

$220; members $198
(4 classes)

About the Class

This class aims to reinvigorate the well-documented story of European artists’ fascination with and appropriation of art from across the African continent in the early decades of the 20th century. Focusing on the work of Vlaminck, Derain, Matisse, Picasso, Kirchner, and Modigliani, we will trace these artists’ early encounters with African objects, seeking to understand what drew them to works such as wooden Baule masks and metal Kota reliquaries, and how their interest in African material culture affected their unique artistic practices. Individuality and difference will be core values, as we resist collapsing African cultures as well as European modernisms into monoliths. For example, both Picasso and Matisse owned sculpted D'mba busts, but how did their engagement with these commanding headdresses differ? And how can we fully understand the original social functions, regional specificity, aesthetic status, and physical appearance of these Baga works before they were filtered through European eyes?

As we pay special attention to museum display, the divergence of history from historiography, the merits and problems surrounding formalist affinity, and the contexts in which African objects entered Western collections, the Barnes Foundation’s presentation of modern European painting alongside African sculpture will serve as our point of departure. Significantly, the suggestion that each tradition privileges one medium opens up a rich subject of inquiry and provides the framework for the class’s core aesthetic interrogations.

The class is online-only. More about online classes.


Naina Saligram

Saligram specializes in late 19th- and early 20th-century art in France. She has held curatorial, research, and teaching positions at the Yale University Art Gallery, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Barnes Foundation and earned an MA in history of art from Yale University.

Art in Context

Art in Context courses connect works of art to history: What was happening politically, socially, and culturally at the time a piece was made? How did these circumstances shape the artist’s formal choices?