I spent this past semester studying abroad at the University of Oxford (Hertford College) through the Princeton-Oxford Woodrow Wilson School Exchange program. Knowing I would be spending a lot of time in the library studying international relations, history, and politics, I wanted to incorporate art history and museum studies into my Woody Woo program. Because of this, I was excited to take a tutorial in French Impressionism as well as write my EU policy proposal on the restitution of the Elgin Marbles. Oxford’s location proved to be wonderful for studying Impressionism and the Parthenon Marbles debate because of the city’s Ashmolean Museum and its proximity to London’s vibrant museum scene.
First arriving at Oxford, I was most excited to visit the Ashmolean because it was one of the first museums I studied in Princeton’s ART 368 – American Museums: History, Theory, and Practice due to its status as the world’s oldest university museum founded in 1683. In addition to seeing the handful of Pissarro and Manet works on display, I visited the Ashmolean Print Room to study the sketches and drawings of Degas and Pissarro. Throughout the semester I ran away to the Ashmolean as many times as I could, and I was even lucky enough to attend one of Oxford’s extravagant balls held in the museum!
One of the best aspects of studying abroad in Oxford was its proximity to London and its abundance of museums. Because of the independent nature of work at Oxford, I was able to make weekly day trips to London in order to visit museums to experience the works in person. My research on Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, and Pissarro brought me to the National Gallery in London where I viewed Manet’s Music in the Tulieries and Monet’s Bathers at La Grenouillère amongst many other Impressionist works.
I also visited the intimate but formidable Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House, which has a truly incredible collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, including my favorite Manet work, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. Following my study abroad, I was fortunate to travel to Paris to visit the Musée de l’Orangerie, Musée Marmottan Monet, Musée d’Orsay, and the Louvre to see the other extraordinary Impressionist works that I studied throughout my semester.
One of the most impactful moments of my study abroad was my first visit to the British Museum where I saw the displaced Parthenon Marbles, stripped of their narrative in the lifeless Duveen Gallery. The Parthenon Marbles – which were controversially removed off the Parthenon by Lord Elgin in 1801 and are colloquially known as the Elgin Marbles – quickly became the focus of my junior independent work. I dedicated my semester in Oxford to researching and proposing a European Union policy that would bring about the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles from Britain to Greece.
After my study abroad, I traveled to Greece in order to visit the Parthenon and the recently built Acropolis Museum, where I viewed the remaining fragments of the Parthenon that await the return of the friezes in Britain. With my time in England and my visit to Greece, my study abroad was able to come full circle as I – after dedicating three months studying the history and legality surrounding the Elgin Marbles’ removal – firsthand saw almost the entirety of the Parthenon fragments. On the 200th anniversary of their placement in the British Museum, I was able to add to the research and policy proposals surrounding the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles while living in the two countries it closely affects.