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This intensive semester course combines an exploration of the historical and stylistic development of Western European decorative arts, design and interiors of the early 17th to the late 20th Centuries, with an introduction to the professional world of working with objects from these centuries. It is for individuals who wish to gain knowledge of the decorative arts and of twentieth century design; those interested in interior design; and those considering a career change into the art and interior design worlds. It also serves as a bridging course for students with an undergraduate degree in a subject other than art history who wish to apply for a postgraduate program at Sotheby’s Institute. In particular, it is an appropriate foundation for the MA in Fine and Decorative Art and Design (MAFDAD).

In the first half of the course the decorative arts in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries are studied in relation to architecture and interiors, as well as in their wider historical cultural contexts. Topics include the growth of consumer desire and maker expertise in objects in Europe from the seventeenth century, of new materials and techniques, dissemination of taste, the court applied art of Louis XIV, the development of ‘true’ porcelain at Meissen and Sèvres, the influence of trade with the East, and the renewed interest in antiquity by the end of the eighteenth century. The major themes of Historicism and Design Reform, highlighting important figures such as Augustus Pugin, William Morris, Owen Jones and Christopher Dresser, define the focus of study for the nineteenth century. In the second half of the course these themes are further considered relative to the impact of Japanese art and design in Europe and America, and the resultant birth of aestheticism and Fin de Siècle ‘new art’. The twentieth century - a dynamic and complex period of both decorative and design innovation - is given particular, intensive attention. Stylistic and theoretical approaches are studied, from early twentieth century Vienna and America, to French Art Deco, European Modernism, and to post-World War II modernity. The course concludes with an exploration of the plurality of approaches up to the 1980s, including Pop and Postmodernism. Some object handling, and visits to museums and collections, archives, auction houses, workshops and/or studios are important features of the curriculum.

The program requires no prior knowledge of the field.

The Details
  • Course Dates

    Course Dates

    Fall 2018: 10th September - 19th December, 2018.
  • Structure, Teaching Methods And Assignments

    Structure, Teaching Methods And Assignments

    The course is divided into two units taught consecutively across the semester.

    The first unit, The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, explores Baroque and Rococo styles, Neo-Palladianism and Neo-Classicism.

    The second unit, The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, investigates Historicism, Design Reform, Modernism and Post-War to early Post-Modernism. Students are able to take one of the units only if preferred, or to take both units across different semesters.

    The teaching approach emphasizes object-based learning, enabling students to gain confidence in analyzing and identifying and interpreting a wide range of art objects, both in a classroom setting and in numerous study visits to London’s world-class collections. There are also visits to country houses, dealers and previews of relevant auction sales including Sotheby’s, as well as a field trip to Paris (Spring 2017) or Vienna (Fall 2017). Students meet museum curators, auction house specialists and decorative art and design dealers. The unique opportunity to study objects close-up enhances students’ critical and visual skills.
    The teaching is intensive and supportive, with an emphasis on individual and small-group learning. Students also gain valuable practical experience in delivering visual presentations.

    Students are assessed through a combination of descriptive and analytical exercises, visual analysis tests, oral presentations and essays.

    Click here to download a printable version.
  • Sample Topics

    Sample Topics


    • Decorative Arts after Mannerism

    • The Court of Louis XIV

    • Glass and Ceramic Techniques

    • Upholstery and Textiles

    • Establishing the Rococo Interior

    • Neo-Palladian Design

    • Silver Techniques and the Silver Mark

    • Chippendale and the Rococo

    • Continental Neoclassicism

    • Robert Adam


    • Empire and Biedermeier

    • The Historical Revivals

    • The Gothic Revival

    • Design Reform

    • William Morris

    • The Influence of Japan

    • Art Nouveau

    • Jugendstil and Vienna

    • European Modernism and The Bauhaus

    • French Art Deco and French Modernism

    • Scandinavian Design

    • Post-War Architecture and Design

    • An Introduction to Post-Modernism

  • Field Trips And Study Visits

    Field Trips And Study Visits

    A four-day field trip to Vienna features visits to venues such as Viennese dealers and auction houses, the Belvedere, the Winterpalais, Schönbrunn Palace, MAK – Austrian Museum of Applied Arts and to important early twentieth century architectural sites designed by Wagner, Olbrich and Hoffmann.

    London is a major center for decorative arts and design. A wide variety of faculty-led visits to museums and galleries forms an integral part of the learning experience and enables students to gain a direct understanding of the design movements dealt with in the program.

    Sample venues:

    • British Museum

    • Geffrye Museum

    • Goldsmiths’ Hall

    • Hampton Court Palace/Marble Hill/

    • Chiswick House/Syon House

    • Salters Company

    • Sotheby’s Auction House

    • Spencer House

    • Victoria and Albert Museum

    • Wallace Collection

    • William Morris Gallery/Red House

  • Credits And Validation

    Credits And Validation

    The course is validated by The University of Manchester, one of the UK’s leading universities. Students who complete the course successfully will gain 60 University of Manchester undergraduate credits.

    This generally translates to 16 undergraduate credits or 12 graduate in the US system and 30 credits in the European (ECTS) system. Students currently enrolled at other colleges or universities should be aware that transfer of credit is always made at the discretion of the accepting institution. Therefore, applicants should confirm the feasibility of credit transfer with faculty advisors at their home school in advance of registration.
  • Faculty


    Elisabeth Bogdan – Course Leader
    Jane Gardiner
    Dr Lis Darby
    Anne Ceresole
    Helena Pickup

    Visiting lecturers in previous semesters have included:

    Christine Lalumia – A Director of Contemporary Applied Arts and former Deputy Director of the Geffrye Museum

    Lesley Hoskins – Writer, lecturer and exhibition curator, expert on wallpapers and domestic interiors

    Daniel Packer – Former Sotheby’s specialist and expert on silver

    Graham Panico – Decorative art and design lecturer, University of Teeside, and active dealer

    Mary Schoesser – Design and textile historian

    Annabel Westman – Textile historian and director of studies for the Attingham Trust

    Anton Gabsezewicz – International specialist in English ceramics
  • Admission To The Program

    Admission To The Program

    There are no formal admission requirements except a good level of English language competence (a minimum IELTS score of 6.0. or TOEFL score of 78 IBT). Although no prior knowledge is required, the Institute offers places to motived students with appropriate experience and/or ambitions, and with a passion for art and the art world. Applicants are interviewed informally in person or by phone. Our students are of all ages and come from a wide variety of educational and professional backgrounds. The international make-up of the student body at Sotheby’s Institute of Art generates a rich and dynamic learning environment.
  • Program Fees

    Program Fees

    Full-time: £8,250
    Part-time: £4,225

    These fees are exclusive of the cost of the study trip. Vienna travel cost: £950

    Click here to apply.

  • Contact And Request Information

    Contact And Request Information

    For further information, please contact:
    Benjamin Stephenson Admissions or Request Information
    T +44 (0)20 7462 3221

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