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From Monet to Van Gogh: A History of Impressionism

From Monet to Van Gogh: A History of Impressionism

Professor Richard Brettell Ph.D.
The University of Texas, Dallas
Course No.  7187
Course No.  7187
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

They appeared in a period of upheaval. They saw the rebuilding of Paris, the rise of industrialism, the ruin of the Franco-Prussian war. They displayed their startling and shocking works in a series of exhibitions from 1874 to 1886. And by the 1890s, this "loose coalition" of artists who rebelled against the formality of the French Academy had created the most famous artistic movement in history. "They" were the Impressionists, and Professor Brettell is your expert curator and guide to a movement that created a new, intensely personal vision of the world.

Whether the subject was a city street, a holiday beach, a harvest field, or a demoiselle's boudoir, they virtually invented the sensibility—urbane, contemporary, ever-changing—that today we take for granted as the "modern."

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They appeared in a period of upheaval. They saw the rebuilding of Paris, the rise of industrialism, the ruin of the Franco-Prussian war. They displayed their startling and shocking works in a series of exhibitions from 1874 to 1886. And by the 1890s, this "loose coalition" of artists who rebelled against the formality of the French Academy had created the most famous artistic movement in history. "They" were the Impressionists, and Professor Brettell is your expert curator and guide to a movement that created a new, intensely personal vision of the world.

Whether the subject was a city street, a holiday beach, a harvest field, or a demoiselle's boudoir, they virtually invented the sensibility—urbane, contemporary, ever-changing—that today we take for granted as the "modern."

Who were the Impressionists? What's the difference between a Manet and a Monet? How does a Pissarro landscape differ from one by Cézanne? Were they really as personally scandalous as the Establishment alleged?

And why is Impressionism, a 19th-century phenomenon, still so appealing in the 21st?

What You Will Learn

These artists documented life in the latter half of the 19th century and provided models of behavior, decorum, and urban beauty that persist to this day. This series of lectures will introduce you to the style, subject, and function of Impressionist painting by artists including Monet, Renoir, Cassatt, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and van Gogh.

Separate analysis is given to the important Impressionist exhibitions and their contemporary critics like the writer Baudelaire. Among key topics covered are the public and private worlds of Parisian modernity, life in the countryside, the new leisure class, and the influential legacy of Impressionism.

Dr. Brettell, Professor of Aesthetic Studies at The University of Texas at Dallas, is a teacher and curator of international renown and is widely published on 19th- and 20th-century art. His lectures are designed as a way for you to view and discuss the Impressionist revolution with a deft mix of history, biography, and art:

  • You'll learn how the Impressionist aesthetic was driven by the rise of the railroad and suburban tourism.
  • You'll learn how Mary Cassatt painted the lives of wealthy expatriates, while Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec scoured the dives of Montmartre to draw Paris by night.
  • You'll learn about technique: Degas's use of lighting effects. Renoir's plump, sensuous brushstrokes. Pissarro's use of slabs and pieces of paint. Gauguin and Van Gogh's bold, bright colors.
  • You'll see how Berthe Morisot could convey women's sense of boredom, sadness, and frustration.
  • You'll see how Monet's approach changed in his later years from one in which the subject was in flux and motion to one of constancy and stability.
  • You'll learn what happened to this radical movement as its leaders grew older—and more successful—by century's end.

"We will take a chronological, and oftentimes biographical, approach to studying the artists rather than looking at each career separately," says Professor Brettell. "This is due in large part to the fact that there was a certain amount of collectivity among them, visible not only in the Impressionist exhibitions but in the artistic tours/retreats that pairs of painters took in order to study modern life and its environs.

"As the life and career of each painter unfolds, we are introduced to their families, friends, and colleagues, all of whom become subjects in and influences on their work. The careers of many of the artists are discussed from their early exposure to art, their teachers, travels, and later stylistic influences."

Great Impressionist Works You Will See

Presented with these absorbing lectures are more than 200 vividly reproduced artworks for your study and enjoyment, including:

  • Ballet Rehearsal on the Stage, by Edgar Degas. This sepia-toned painting, done in the style of a photograph, was part of the first Impressionist exhibition and raised questions about how visual images were created.
  • Impression: Sunrise (Marine), by Claude Monet. This painting of a sailboat at dawn may have given Impressionism its name, along with Monet's well-known Impression Sunrise. Light, freely painted, about color and immediacy, it is one of the most radical paintings in the history of modern art.
  • Déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), by Edouard Manet. This depiction of Manet's favorite model, Victorine Meurent, as a nude on a picnic with two clothed men was considered scandalous. It exemplifies Manet's tendency to shock, provoke, and raise more questions than he answers.
  • The Beach at Trouville, by Claude Monet. Painted on Monet's honeymoon, this canvas depicts his wife and Madame Boudin at Trouville, on the Normandy coast. The dots on Madame Boudin's dress are actually grains of sand that blew onto the canvas as Monet painted.
  • The Garden, by Berthe Morisot. Morisot executed this work, her career masterpiece, with an incredible gestural abandon that few male artists could match.
  • Vision after the Sermon, by Paul Gauguin. One of the most bizarre and powerful paintings in the history of art, this painting combines elements of high art, Japanese art, and religious imagery.

Trace the Beginning of "Modern Art"

The Impressionists were the first formal group of professional artists to include women: Berthe Morisot and the American, Mary Cassatt. Morisot, in fact, participated in seven of the eight Impressionist exhibitions, more than any other member of the movement except Pissarro.

In their first exhibition in 1874, the "Société Anonyme des Artistes" (the name Impressionists came later) took an approach that was not only modern, but unprecedented.

We tend to think of the history of art as one of individual geniuses who acted as teachers for subsequent groups of artists. But the Impressionists worked very differently. They chose to develop their craft as equals, painting and learning from one another in small groups.

Rather than promoting sameness, this way of working highlighted the unmistakable differences among the groups and artists.

Impressionist painters often painted the same scenes, at times simultaneously, with their easels side by side. These occasions present a fascinating opportunity to compare technique and to see the Impressionist approach at work. Renoir's and Monet's 1869 studies of La Grenouillère (The Frog Pond), a well-known spot for swimming, socializing, and renting boats, offer a notable case in point.

One of the legacies of Impressionism is to leave the viewer with a profound sense of life—of life captured on the canvas, through motion, light, and color, and life lived by these remarkable artists, always seeking to experience and to learn, to better capture the reality before their eyes.

This course is an absorbing lesson in the marvelous cultural, historical, and visual experiences that great paintings provide.

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    The Realist and the Idealist
    In 1855 Paris held the first of many international exhibitions, allowing Frenchmen and foreign viewers to witness the tensions raging in the French art world. At mid-century, the bitter rivalry was between two competing trends: the French Classical tradition exemplified by Jean-Dominique Ingres, and the French Romantic tradition presided over by Eugène Delacroix. To this mixture was added the new strand of art called Realism. x
  • 2
    Napoleon III’s Paris
    Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, declared himself emperor of France in 1853. His aim was to modernize the economy of France, create a sophisticated and centralized rail-transport system, and completely rebuild and glorify the capital city, Paris. This systematic development meant that, for most Parisians, life was utterly disrupted and altered from fundamental patterns. x
  • 3
    Baudelaire and the Definition of Modernism
    A poet and art critic named Charles Baudelaire began writing systematically about art in 1846. His basic idea was that art should be "of its own times," and he struggled to find artists who would embody his ideals. x
  • 4
    The Shock of the New
    Edouard Manet, the son of a prominent civil servant, was among the best-educated and most authoritatively independent artists of the 19th century. He painted works that, although fundamentally Baudelairian, actually transcend Baudelaire. Manet's painting is as great as Baudelaire's poetry, and greater than his art criticism. x
  • 5
    The Painters of Modern Life
    By 1865 Manet's fame made him the de facto leader of a group of young painters who wanted to push painting further and further into modern life. These artists included Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille, Camille Pissarro, and Paul Cézanne—all of whom would become central members of the Impressionist group. x
  • 6
    Pierre-Auguste Renoir
    Of the young artists in Manet's circle, Auguste Renoir was the most naturally fluent and, hence, sensual painter. His works vary widely in composition, subject, and style, indicating a willingness to experiment that was greater than that of any of his colleagues. x
  • 7
    Impressions in the Countryside
    In 1869 Monet, Renoir, Sisley, and Pissarro all moved to a landscape along the Seine just west of Paris and easily accessible to the capital by train. The aesthetic created by these four men in what we might call the Cradle of Impressionism stressed the modern and the mutable. The landscapes were not only up-to-date in terms of their fashionable urban/suburban subjects, but also in their fascination with the frank use of materials. x
  • 8
    Paris under Siege
    The Second Empire crumbled in 1870 when, after provocation from Prussia, France declared war. Inadequately prepared, the French endured a humiliating defeat. This was followed by another in a series of 19th-century French revolutions, the Commune, based completely in Paris. These upheavals caused many Impressionists to leave Paris and France, and had notable effects on their lives and work. x
  • 9
    The First Exhibition
    Within two years of the group's return to Paris, they had organized themselves into a new and, in French art, unprecedented private and independent group of artists. Their aim was to organize an exhibition of their own work on their own terms, outside the governmental strictures that limited artistic freedom in France. The exhibition, in May of 1874, quickly came to be called an exhibition of Impressionists or an Impressionist Exhibition, possibly based on the title of a quickly painted canvas by Monet entitled Impression: Sunrise. x
  • 10
    Monet and Renoir in Argenteuil
    After the First Exhibition, a core group of the artists spent the summer together in the suburban town of Argenteuil, just west of Paris, a popular spot for sailing on the Seine. That summer can easily be considered the classic moment of suburban Impressionism. x
  • 11
    Cézanne and Pissarro in Pontoise
    While "The School of Argenteuil" painted modern suburban landscapes along the Seine, Camille Pissarro gathered a different group of artists around the much less-modern town of Pontoise, on the river Oise. Although several artists were part of this group, the most important, after Pissarro, was the young provincial painter, Paul Cézanne. x
  • 12
    Berthe Morisot
    Berthe Morisot was the first woman in the history of French art to have a career comparable to the best of her male colleagues. She was also the first to be accepted completely by a group of male artists, including Manet, Degas, and Renoir. Her social position in the haute bourgeoisie and her gender shaped her oeuvre powerfully. x
  • 13
    The Third Exhibition
    In 1877 a relative newcomer to the group, Gustave Caillebotte, organized the third Impressionist Exhibition. His modern and thoroughly urban works anchored what can now be called the single most important of all eight Impressionist exhibitions, defining the major artists for the next several generations. x
  • 14
    Edgar Degas
    One artist, more than any other, represented the modern urban condition as a psychological as well as social condition. Edgar Degas created a body of work in various media that defines Parisian modernism through the interaction of figures with their settings. x
  • 15
    Gustave Caillebotte
    Caillebotte was the wealthiest of all the artists associated with Impressionism. Long known as a collector and patron of the group, he was recognized as a painter in his own right only after World War II, when works from the family collection began to be acquired by major museums. x
  • 16
    Mary Cassatt
    Mary Cassatt was a well-born American painter who had worked extensively in Europe before she met Edgar Degas in 1876. He introduced her into the Impressionist circle, and she became the only American painter who was a major force in the movement. Like Morisot, Cassatt's paintings depict the lives of wealthy women. x
  • 17
    Manet’s Later Works
    Edouard Manet is known today chiefly as a painter of major Salon Paintings in the 1860s, and as the creator of a late masterpiece, The Bar at the Folies-Bergeres. That view is incorrect and undervalues the importance of his Impressionist experiments. He is among the few great painters in the history of art who adapted his style as a mature painter to that of younger artists. x
  • 18
    Departures
    Renoir and Monet became increasingly successful in the early 1880s and, perhaps as a result, increasingly dissatisfied with the group dynamics and politics of the Impressionists. Each of them also became restive about Paris and its suburbs as the sole subject of their art. x
  • 19
    Paul Gauguin
    A young banker-stockbroker named Paul Gauguin met Pissarro in the late 1870s and became a major collector of Impressionism. He also embarked on a career as an amateur painter and sculptor, and exhibited with the Impressionists in their last four exhibitions. x
  • 20
    The Final Exhibition
    In 1885 Pissarro went to visit a young, academically trained painter named Georges Seurat. This meeting changed both men's careers and the subsequent history of art, introducing a scientific rigor into conception, composition, and execution of art. Their collaboration brought an end to the Impressionist experiment when they dominated the final Impressionist Exhibition in April of 1886. x
  • 21
    The Studio of the South—Van Gogh and Gauguin
    A young Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh, came to Paris in February of 1886 and visited the final Impressionist exhibition. He befriended many of the artists but came increasingly under the spell of Paul Gauguin. In 1888, van Gogh moved to Arles in the south of France and succeeded in convincing Gauguin to join him to create an artistic brotherhood called "The Studio of the South." x
  • 22
    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the only son of the Comte de Toulouse, was the wealthiest and most nobly born painter in the history of French art. All of Toulouse-Lautrec's early subjects have their origins in the art of Manet and Degas. Hence, Lautrec can be considered a second-generation Impressionist. x
  • 23
    The Nabis
    In the late 1880s a small group of young men formed a brotherhood of artists called "Nabis" (the Hebrew word for prophet). Edouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, the most important artists of the group, took the informal art of Impressionism into the interiors of 1890s Paris—a realm relatively unexplored by the Impressionists themselves. x
  • 24
    La Fin
    After their final exhibition, boycotted by Renoir and Monet, the Impressionists worked more or less independently of each other. Monet's pictorial production of the 1890s was dominated by the concept of "series" paintings. Pissarro and Degas also devoted much of that decade to series of their own. x

Lecture Titles

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Richard Brettell
Ph.D. Richard Brettell
The University of Texas, Dallas

Dr. Richard Brettell is the Margaret McDermott Distinguished Professor of Art and Aesthetics at The University of Texas at Dallas. He earned his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Yale University. Prior to joining The University of Texas at Dallas, Professor Brettell taught at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, Yale University, and Harvard University. Professor Brettell was the founding American director of the French Regional and American Museum Exchange, designed to promote the exchange of art and information between regional museums in France and the United States. He served as the McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art and has advised and consulted for museums such as the Portland Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. His museum exhibition work includes Monet in Normandy (for the de Young Museum in San Francisco) and The Impressionist in the City: Pissarro's Series (for the Dallas Museum of Art). He has given scholarly lectures at numerous museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art, and has written over 25 books, including 19th and 20th Century European Drawings in the Robert Lehman Collection and Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860-1890.

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Reviews

Rated 4.7 out of 5 by 66 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Wonderful journey through Impressionism I very much enjoyed "A History of Impressionism" and learned a ton. The presenter was awesome with obvious deep knowledge and passion for his subject matter. The personal history of individual artists brought out a human side often overlooked. Putting everything in historical perspective set the table to help understand the motivation and inspiration of the times. And the detailed discussion of chosen paintings made the experience complete. I love the quote from Baudelaire that art should be "of its own times" reflecting the realism of the moment for the current as well as future generations. Highly recommend if you want a thorough introduction into a wonderful period of time and the wonderful collection of artists that made it happen. November 19, 2014
Rated 3 out of 5 by Blah, Blah, Blah #@$%&*! This course spends much more time showing the lecturer talking than it does showing the Impressionistic art! Why do I need to watch the speaker TALKING about pictures, instead of LOOKING at the pictures while he talks, which I would have preferred? The speaker is knowledgeable, but he is not as pretty as the pictures!! The historical / biographical information was interesting, and some unusual pictures were shown that you might never get to see unless you went to some unusual places. But, I thought there were too few pictures for the time spent with the DVDs. November 15, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by eye contact The ONLY criticism I can come up with for this course is that the professor seems to avoid making eye contact with the camera. He consistently looks toward the ceiling when speaking. This, though, should not be a reason to avoid purchasing this course as it is obvious from the outset that the professor knows his subject well. He also speaks clearly and effectively. I really like the abundant use of graphics in this course, ie photos of the paintings cited, maps of the areas the painters lived in, and photos, drawings, or paintings of the places in which they worked. I naively thought that this course would only discuss paintings of the Impressionist Era but was happily surprised to find out that the course, so far, also discusses the political circumstances in which the painters worked. So, you'll learn about other personalities related to this era, which, to me, only adds to my understanding of the world in which these painters worked and how it is that they produced the masterpieces that they did. The eye contact issue I mentioned should not be a reason to avoid this course............after several lectures I stopped noticing. November 11, 2014
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