Skip to content Skip to footer

Primitivism and Modernism

Online / On-Site / Art in Context

Mondays, June 6 – June 27, 6 – 8pm


Henri Rousseau. Scouts Attacked by a Tiger (detail), 1904. BF584. Public Domain.

$220; members $198
(4 classes)

About the Class

This course explores primitivism as a central dimension of modern art, primarily in France. What—or who? or where?—was deemed “primitive” in this period, and why? If primitivism represented the self-conscious adoption by European artists of so-called “primitive” ways of being, making, or seeing—free from the trappings of modern life—what made it nonetheless decidedly modern?

We will study paintings by Gauguin, Rousseau, Matisse, and Picasso in the Barnes collection, while also looking out to a wider cast of characters from Monet to Puvis de Chavannes and Klee as we examine the heterogeneity of the primitivist impulse. Throughout, we will interweave the histories of imperialism, urbanization, and global tourism with shifts in philosophical and scientific discourses on time, human evolution, childhood, and sensory perception to consider primitivism as not only an artistic phenomenon but moreover an intellectual construct at the heart of modernism’s self-definition.

This course takes place on-site, in the Barnes collection, and also allows online enrollment. All students may participate in class discussions. More about online classes.

On-site capacity: 12
Note: Proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required to attend this class; face masks are welcome but not required.


Naina Saligram

Saligram specializes in late 19th- and early 20th-century art in France. She holds an MA in history of art from Yale University and worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on exhibitions including Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting (2015) and Gauguin, Cézanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia (2012). Her current research centers on Georges Braque in the 1930s.

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?