TRAVEL PURSUITS – Reading paintings with Sean Forester: the artist as critic

Some of you will have travelled with Sean Forester on a Travel Pursuit in one or another region of Italy. Others of you will have participated in one of his seminars at Toronto Pursuits. All who have encountered Sean will know that he is a passionate about classical painting and has an extraordinary gift in helping us see from the point of view of an artist. Sean a classically trained painter and recently relocated from Florence to the Bay Area of San Francisco where he has opened a painting school. He is also exceptionally well-read in the classics and more than musically literate.

Sean and I have been kicking around a number of trip possibilities for next year or two. We welcome your guidance. The information below is schematic but should be enough to give you a rough idea of the possibilities. While the emphasis would be on art, we would pair related literature with each trip and take advantage of the wonderful musical offerings as they are available, like the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the new Mariinski Theatre in St. Petersburg.

Kindly reply to this blog post or send me a personal email, telling us if any of these trips strike your fancy. We welcome suggested modifications or entirely different trip ideas.

(You can enlarge the images below by double clicking on each.)

Belle Epoque Paris

Death of Marat, by David
Mrs. Frederick R. Leyland (detail), by Whistler

Nineteenth Century Paris is one of the pinacles of Western art. From classicism and romanticism to realism, impressionism and art nouveau, Paris was the center of European culture. The 19th Century was a time of tumult and change, and Paris was the centre where cultures and ideas collided to gave birth to the modern world. We will look at some of the great French painters, sculptors, and writers of the time. We will also focus on Americans in Paris such as Whistler, Sargent, Cassat, and Saint-Gaudens.

Possible texts:

Short stories by Maupassant, Flaubert, Zola, or Balzac
Poetry and writings on art by Baudelaire
Journal of Delacroix, letters by Degas and Van Gogh
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough

Itinerary: Sunday to Saturday

Day 1: Neoclassicism Louvre – visit 1, free afternoon
Day 2: Romanticism Louvre – visit 2 (or Delacroix museum), seminar on Delacroix, Baudelaire
Day 3: Realism 1 Orsay – visit 1, seminar on French short stories
Day 4: Realism 2 Petit Palais, Rodin’s house museum, free afternoon
Day 5: Impressionism Monet’s museums, seminar on Degas, Van Gogh
Day 6: Art Neaveau, Modernism Orsay-  visit 2, Montemartre
Day 7: Review. Walking tour of Americans in Paris or trip to Giverny with Sean offering a painting demo

Baroque Rome

Pluto & Proserpina (detail) by Bernini
The Entombment of Christ, by Caravaggio

Rome is the eternal city. While every epoch has left its mark, Rome is perhaps best defined by the Baroque. The city overflows with sculpture and grand architecture: paintings by Caravaggio, sculptures by Bernini, churches by Bramante and Borromini. We will focus on Rome in the 17th Century, the center of the counter reformation Catholicism with its powerful, ornate art. We’ll begin with Michelangelo, a great precursor, and discuss the relationship between science and religion with reference to Galileo and St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. We’ll close with a discussion of Baroque elements in modern Italy with the work of Fellini.

Possible texts:

Meditations of St. Ignatius
Writings of Gallilio, Bruno, Vico
Roman Baroque by Anthony Blunt
La Dolce Vita by Fellini

Itinerary: Sunday to Saturday

Day 1: Villa Borghese (Bernini, Caravaggio)
Day 2: Vatican museum, free afternoon
Day 3: Caravaggio Churches, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Canova cafe
Day 4: Borromini Churches, Seminar on St. Ignatius, Gallileo and Bruno
Day 5: Baroque Garden at Tivoli (Day trip)
Day 6: Capuchins crypt, Cortona at Il Gesu church, watch Fellini
Day 7: Final Seminar, Food walk with Katie Parla

Russian Realism

Portrait, by Kromskoy
A Religious Procession (detail) by Repin

Realism was a worldwide movement in the late 19th Century, from Dickens in England,  to Twain in America, and Courbet in France. But it was perhaps in Russia where realism really blossomed. Many of us know of the novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. the plays of Chekhov, the stories of Turgenev. What is less known in the West are the remarkable paintings of Repin, Levitan, and Kromskoy. These Russian artists were friends with the writers and painted their portraits. They shared a passion for social justice and a love for their Russian homeland. Russian realism in art and literature makes for an exciting journey.

Possible texts:

Selected short works by Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov


Day 1: Moscow 1 – City and Churches, (Seminar 1)
Day 2: Moscow 2 –Tretyakov Gallery
Day 3: Moscow 3—Tolstoy’s House day trip or Polenov House day trip (closer)
Day 4: Moscow 4—Chekhov’s House, Dostoevsky House (Seminar 2), Bolshoi Ballet
Day 5: Travel (4hrs by train), (Seminar 3)
Day 6: St. Petersburg 1– Hermitage
Day 7: St. Petersburg 2– Russian Museum
Day 8: St. Petersburg 3—City and Churches (Seminar 4)
Day 9: St. Petersburg 4—Peterhof palace, Kirov Ballet or Opera
Day 10: Final Review, (Seminar 5)

Dutch Golden Age

The Jewish Bride, by Rembrandt
The Milkmaid, by Vermeer

The 17th Century in Holland is called the Golden Age. This was a flowering of art and culture that accompanied the new wealth from Dutch trading. Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals are surrounded by many other fine artists. Dutch still life, landscape, and interiors are some the most beautiful ever painted. Holland was and remains a stable, tolerant and inclusive society and this is exemplified by the revolutionary philosophy of Spinoza. The Dutch are also practiced at science, design and urban planning. Our Classical Pursuits trip will center on the Golden Age, but as a finale will also consider the role of art and science in Holland today.

Possible texts:

Books on Rembrandt and Vermeer (Rembrandt: The Painter at Work, Girl with Pearl Earring)

Itinerary: Sunday to Saturday in Amsterdam

Day 1: Rijksmuseum 1 (Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals)
Day 2: Rembrandt’s House Museum, Seminar
Day 3: Day trip to the Hague for Vermeer
Day 4: Day trip to the Harleem for Hals
Day 5: Van Loon museum, canal tour, Seminar
Day 6: Rijksmuseum 2 (Still Life and Landscape)
Day 7: Day trip to either Kinderdijk (windmills) or Keukenhof (gardens)

Portrait of a Nation -Washington D.D.

Lincoln by George Peter Alexander Healy
Maga”s Daughter by Wyeth

For this Classical Pursuits trip we head to the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. to look at some great portrait paintings. We will consider the portrait as both personal and political. From old masters at the National Portrait Gallery to the presidental portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, from the American impressionists to Wyeth’s paintings of his family and friends, we will explore all aspects of portraiture. The best portraits capture character, and this holds in writing as well as art. In this spirit we will look at a portrait of Lincoln and his circle as we read Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitzer winning book that is being made into a film with Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln.

Possible Text:

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Itinerary: Sunday to Wednesday in Washington DC

Day 1: National Gallery, seminar 1
Day 2: National Portrait Gallery, seminar 2
Day 3: Freer Gallery and Lincoln memorial other monuments (maybe in the evening)
Day 4: Day trip to Wyeth Museum in Brandywine
Day 4: National Museum of American History, Final dinner

America’s Love Affair with Europe – New York City

Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Champion Single Sculls by Eakins

As the United States grew and prospered in the 19th century, artists, writers, and the elite looked to European culture. Painters Eakins and Sargent, sculptors Saint-Guadens and Chester French, architects White and Hastings, were all connected to Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Industrials like Frick, Mellon and Rockefeller collected European art. American cities founded museums, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art led the way as it purchased pictures by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyck, Titian. The romance with Europe was also personal as Americans travelled to Europe, met and married Europeans. This drama became the material for novelists like James and Wharton. At the same time, Americans were searching for their own identity in art and life. What would an American voice sound like? We’ll explore both American’s love affair with Europe and her struggle to become a new nation.

Possible Texts:

Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee

Itinerary: Sunday to Wednesday in New York City

Day 1: Met: European Art, Seminar 1
Day 2: Frick, visit to the AlgonquinHotel, Palace Hotel café, or Russian Tea Room, Seminar 2
Day 3: Met: American Painting and Sculpture, Opera or NY Philharmonic
Day 4: NY Public Library, Morgan Library, Final dinner


  1. Rochelle Baum

    Love the art trips, particularly holland as I’ve never been there.
    Bravo for the great ideas.

  2. Phyllis Ritvo

    Hi Ann,
    All of these look wonderful, but my energy level is not good enough for the European trips (although the Netherlands always calls to me as I wrote a book about Gouda pottery and had to travel there to do some of the research). The American trips would tempt me mightily.
    P.S. I have very good feelings about the Thomas Jefferson trip, and I talk up Classical Pursuits whenever I can.

  3. Carol Fox

    I’d be interested in an art tour with Mr. Forester in Baroque Rome or the Dutch paintings. Thanks for the great ideas!

  4. Maria Scalia

    Ann, All of these trips are spectacular and a dream come true! Every one of these are inspiring and I wish I could do them all. I have my favorites narrowed down to 3 or 4. So sorry I won’t be in Toronto this year but look forward to the 2013 program. Houston Great Books is talking up Classical Pursuits so we may have a bigger Houston contingency next year, y’all. My best to you and Eva, Maria

  5. Sally Chrisman

    Paris! Rome! Both plans sound ideal for me – major cities, one week duration (can’t get more time off during school year), perfect literature choices! Oui, oui, si si!

    For NYC – I’d love to meet you for an afternoon in my own stomping ground!

  6. Victor Levin

    Ann, Paris is high on my list. I also vote for NY and DC. I like the idea of staying in-hemisphere where possible.

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