La Belle Époque in Paris: Art, culture and progress


Photograph of Tournee du Chat Noir de Rolphe SalisOverview:
La Belle Epoque, or Beautiful Era, designates a golden age in the history of France between the close of the Franco-Prussian War and the beginning of World War I (1870-1914).

You will learn about this period of optimism, elegance and progress - both in the arts and sciences - through the eyes of pioneers such as Monet, Manet, Lautrec, Rodin, Debussy, Picasso, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde and their friends. While these revolutionaries paved the way for an extraordinary blossoming in the arts, Gustave Eiffel was challenging architectural tradition with his iconic tower, and César Ritz (‘the King of hoteliers’) was changing the face of modern gastronomy.

Target audience:
This course will appeal to anyone interested in French history, European art history, culinary history, and the ‘golden age’ between the Franco-Prussian war and the onset of World War I.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course you will have:

  • Gained a better understanding and appreciation for this fascinating period in French history
  • Enjoyed an armchair journey through Paris around the turn of the 19th century 
  • Increased your knowledge about inventions particular to this era (the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Paris Metro, the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, sewers and water fountains) 
  • Learned about the importance of Paris World Fairs (Expositions Universelles)
  • Gained a better understanding and appreciation of the key avant-garde art of the period (painting, sculpture, literature, music)

Course outline:
Each session will include lecture presentation with time for questions and group discussion. Topics to be covered include:

  • Artists of the Avant-garde during and after the Prussian siege of Paris 1870 (Monet, Hugo, Morisot, Pissarro) and the communards exiled in New Caledonia
  • The first ‘Impressionist’ exhibit
  • Expositions Universelles, the construction of the Eiffel tower and France’s gift of the Statue of Liberty 
  • Paris food markets at Les Halles, Zola’s Le Ventre de Paris, César Ritz, gastronomy and restaurants
  • Opera Garnier, cabarets, new music, new forms of entertainment and theatre
  • Creative geniuses: Picasso, Matisse, Debussy, Ravel, Cocteau, Isadora Duncan, Satie, Stravinsky. 
  • Inventions: electricity, moving sidewalks, early cinema, and the discoveries of Marie Curie

There is a short break half-way through each session, and tea/coffee is provided.  You are welcome to bring your own refreshments if you wish.

Wendy Joyce has a PhD in French studies from Princeton University and is an expert in 19th- and 20th-century French culture and art history. Her fields of expertise include the history of Paris, French Impressionism and post-impressionism, French literature, and culinary history.

"I always enjoy Wendy's courses. She has a delightful personality and she is both informative and interesting", Painting the French Mediterranean: Monet to Matisse participant (2107)

"The lecturer has an enviable breadth and depth of knowledge of these French painters as well as the enthusiasm to inspire: a great educator!", Painting the French Mediterranean: Monet to Matisse participant (2107)

Relevant links:
Wendy Nolan Joyce

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140.
Phone 04 463 6556,  Email:

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.