Art, Light and Colour from Turner to Turrell


Light and Colour in art is a lively subject for looking, thinking and debate, both from the artist’s and the spectator’s point of view. This lecture series will consider various approaches to colour, from J.M.W. Turner in the early nineteenth century, to James Turrell in the present day.

The interaction between light and colour in painting has always been significant, particularly in the way one colour influences another, and how it can be used to create form and composition. Since Turner’s time, the main debate has been more about constructing with colour, as in the work of Matisse, or colour and the expression of emotion, as in the paintings of Kandinsky. Either way, the subject is about what artists have considered colour to be, rather than its scientific, philosophical, or psychological impact. More recently, the issue has also been about the use of real light, as in the work of Flavin or Turrell, rather than using paint to create the effects the artist might want to achieve.

Programme details

Wednesdays, 2–3.30pm (UK time)

Please join in good time before each lecture to ensure that you have no connection problems. We recommend joining 10-15 minutes before the start time. 

26 January 2022

Early nineteenth-century colour and its theorie: Turner, Constable, Goethe and Runge

2 February 2022

Delacroix and the theories of Chevreul: the influence on Impressionism - Monet, Renoir and Seurat

9 February 2022

Post-Impressionist colour: Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh

16 February 2022

Matisse and Bonnard: different approaches to compositional colour

23 February 2022

Colour, Expressionism and Abstraction: Kirchner to Kandinsky, and Mondrian to Rothko

2 March 2022

Colour and the use of real light: Flavin and Turrell


Description Costs
Tuition - virtual attendance £125.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees.

If you do not qualify for the concessionary fee but are experiencing financial hardship, you may still be eligible for financial assistance.

Concessionary fees for short courses


Mrs Mary Acton

Course Tutor

Now retired as Course Director of the Undergraduate Diploma and Advanced Diploma in the History of Art at Continuing Education, Oxford University, Mary Acton continues to teach there, and to work as a free-lance lecturer. She is the author of Learning to Look at Paintings [1997 and 2008] Learning to look at Modern Art [2004] and Learning to look at Sculpture [2014], all published by Routledge.

IT requirements

The University of Oxford uses Microsoft Teams for our learning environment. If you’re attending online, you’ll be able to see and hear the speakers, and to submit questions via the Teams interface. Joining instructions will be sent out prior to the start date. We recommend that you join the session at least 10-15 minutes prior to the start time – just as you might arrive a bit early at our lecture theatre for an in-person event.

If you have not used the Microsoft Teams app before, once you click the joining link you will be invited to download it (this is free). Once you have downloaded the app, please test before the start of your course. If you are using a laptop or desktop computer, you will also be offered the option of connecting using a web browser. If you connect via a web browser, Chrome is recommended.