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From Monet to Van Gogh: A History of Impressionism

Encounter the most famous artistic movement in history with this course that examines the work of Monet, Degas, Manet, Renoir and many other geniuses.
From Monet to Van Gogh: A History of Impressionism is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 153.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rich in information and insight and empathy Richard Brettell's course on French Impressionism is one of the most thorough courses on Paining I have encountered. The explanation of French Impressionists, the differences due to class, biographical experience, and the mores of French Society as well as the political contexts, is is so well integrated into the explanations of the works as documents as well as art, and ,of course, that was part of the manifesto of Impressionists:,even allowing for the different artists' different emphasies. As a guide to nineteenth French life is is especially detailed;boating parties,,social visits, artist studios, men at work, children,others are all of course integral to the works but Bretell's understanding and development and explanation of all this is not only evidence of his study but part of his sympathy. He has a subtle sense of humour, an eye for individual whimsy, as well as to identify individual techniques and especially in this in respect to the two women artists and their ambience, Cassat[t] and Morisot and their interaction with other artists, Degas, Manet. The course is so rich in all this it is difficult to do justice, and perhaps the most complete compliment one can pay is that one's understanding of French nineteenth century society augmented and so ,our understanding of French literature of the same period. I liked his empathy with women so that when Arnold Weinstein talks of the French texts in his 'Classic Novels' all this treasure imparted by Brettell is summoned to our aid to understand Balzac, Zola, and Proust. I do not think I understood Proust so well until I followed this course although I was educated in France, indeed I do not think I understood France so well as I came to know it through these absorbing, illuminating lectures. I expect I will have many occasions to revisit this course. It is one advantage one has with Wondrium and the Great Courses over University; .that one can return either to follow the entire course or as a reference source on the artists and the times. .I want to remark on one painting which I have never seen before and that was the painting of Mary Casset[t]'s sister at the opera. His description of the painting, his observations of details, his description of her dress, and her radiant intelligent face, will stay in my memory, because it almost explains the ethics,the aesthetics, and the attraction that one experiences when one is captivated by a woman, if he be so fortunate as to experience that in one simultaneous emotional and conscious awareness of her presence and her impact one one's self. And I want to as him a question. I know the Gare St. Lazare, in the days of Steam, the engines, the masonry, they were part of one's every daily experience, either from the outside or inside but perhaps that I have experienced the engines and the steam,and the smells makes me wonder whether any one who has not can have quite the same aesthetic empathy towards the image.
Date published: 2024-02-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very solid GTC course Years ago I watched Prof. Brettell's series on masterpieces at the Louvre, and I enjoyed it. I decided to give this series a try, and was not disappointed. Despite being over 20 years old at this point, "A History of Impressionism" presents a thorough examination of major Impressionist painters and the conditions surrounding their rise in France in the latter half of the nineteenth century. I will say that the format of this - the "classic" format of teacher lecturing to a live studio audience - is one of the beneficial components of the is course. It's certainly much better than the "guy's head talking to camera" format that's used more and more these days in Wondrium content. Anyway, as I watched this course, I learned a tremendous amount about how these painters operated, how they associated, and how they lived. I teach art history at the college level (different time period, though), so while I was familiar with the essentials of Impressionism and many of the artists featured here, Brettell provided some great context - good and bad - for these people. And, may I add - wow! Just listening to Brettell speak about paintings - ANY paintings, really - and provide such interesting commentary is really a skill. It's hard to appreciate this unless you try doing it yourself, and Brettell really had a knack for this. Anyway, another treat was simply from the fact that Brettell had worked so closely with many of the paintings discussed here in his role at the Art Institute of Chicago (I believe it was). To hear his expertise about these works was really something special. With all this in mind, I should add some drawbacks. Despite covering much ground in these 24 lectures, it seems like there was much that was left *uncovered*, and so much more to learn about the movement. Some of this was due to the nature of the subject, but there were some other key issues that I felt could have been addressed more squarely. A key one I had was about painterly technique, whether it can be said that there was a distinctly unifying technique that could be attributed to this group. I had always thought the answer was "yes", but this was not really mentioned here, so I am beginning to doubt it. Anyway, as a whole, this was a great, "classic" series from TGC that most anyone can enjoy.
Date published: 2024-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unforgettable course and instructor It's hard to express all that I got out of this course, but fortunately the other rave reviews offer lots of help. The Impressionists are among my favorite artists, and what surprised me most about this course was how much new information and insight it offered, despite my having visited and studied many of the works presented and having read histories of the artists and the movement. Prof. Brettell makes it all very accessible. At the beginning I feared he would be a little dry, but he warmed up over the first few lectures and communicated naturally and expressively. I got to enjoy him so much, I was saddened to learn that he died at age 71 in 2020. Like many The Great Courses instructors, he was highly recognized in his field, holding the McDermott Distinguished Chair of Art and Aesthetic Studies at his institution for the last fifteen years of his life. I don't think I've watched any of The Great Courses more than once, but this is one I expect to retake and to learn even more from.
Date published: 2023-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Provides Excellent Context on the Artists I knew of most of the artists presented, but even for those I was quite familiar with, I learned a good deal. He covers much about what was going on around the artists, the changes in the city of Paris, changes in available transportation, the rise of a middle class, the invention of photography, and the influence of literary figures, and shows how all of that affected the artists and the art they created.
Date published: 2023-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, Great Background Info I had been exposed to many of these artists and paintings before, but this course filled in very many historical and personal details. Very interesting! Probably my favorite Art History class on Wondrium/TGC, which is saying a lot.
Date published: 2023-06-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A big disappointment! Of the many courses we have ordered from you, this is the only one we haven't liked. In all of the other ones, the presenter was either good enough or very good, and the content was either very interesting or fascinating. This presenter is boring and pedantic. He spends far too much time talking and far too little time showing paintings. And he seems perversely drawn to the least engaging paintings by any given artist, discussing in enormous detail a work of art with little or no appeal to the viewer. Annoyingly enough, he often mentions a painting that sounds a lot better than the one he is showing us, but then doesn't show it. If this had been our first Great Course, we wouldn't have ordered a second one.
Date published: 2023-06-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Provides a cultural perspective of Impressionists Perhaps, because I am interested in the History of Ideas, I found that was said was of more interest and significance than just the visual analysis description.I found these lectures immensely interesting and taught me how to see and look at the Impressionists and to make sense of the whole movement and it taught me how to discriminate and identify the Artists. I a indebted to these lectures which make sense to a none artist. It is a culturally illuminating, having lived in France this course makes sense of aspects of France that I had not understood at the time.
Date published: 2023-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well Done Brettell’s course covers the transition from Classic/Romantic arts to “urban Realism". It documents painters' efforts to find islands of natural intimacy amidst urban drabness to landscape serenity paintings. L1 nicely begins examination of the artistic methods by discussing both Degas's photographic "Ballet Rehearsal on the Stage" vs. Monet's colorful, free-painted “Sunrise". On the more sordid side, Baudelaire (the major 19th century art critic) deeply influenced the Impressionists with his well-dressed French style “dandy" strolling the streets looking for diversion. His life reflected this approach and he ultimately dies of tertiary syphilis. Manet would later also became obsessed with the public café and sex workers in public places. His final masterpiece "A Bar at the Folies Bergere" (L17) had themes of loneliness in public spaces and of repressed desire. It was painted in 1882 as he too died of tertiary syphilis. Degas (L13) followed, with themes of low-life and scandal. He would later (L14) concentrate on portraits of all stations of French people even into urban prostitution. Mary Cassatt, an American, interestingly themed fashion (L16) as “a form of disguise or armor for women” and famously documented her sister's last years (died in her twenties). She and Degas would work together. L4: Manet’s works were rejected by the repressive Salon jury, but Napoleon III created the "Salon of Refused Artists so that the public could “judge the jury". The Salon's rejection and Napoleon III’s remedy brought to mind Franz Liszt’s famous quote (Great Course: Great Masters_Liszt by Greenberg, L7): “From where does a critic derive his or her authority?” L5: Monet and his teacher Boudin, painted their personal interpretations of the outdoor world. Monet, Renoir, and Bazille often painted together (L6), allowing each to better critique and differentiate their own style. Monet/Renoir or Monet/Pissarro went further with this into paired landscapes of identical compositions for mutual critique. While Monet and Manet went on to create “eternal summer" Parisian suburbs at Argenteuil, Renoir would develop humanized landscapes. After his young wife's painful death (L18), Monet fled and sought isolated, remote landscapes with extreme weather effects. He would later return to Giverny and repeatedly experiment with subjects using new techniques. This extension of Impressionism (such as his multiple paintings of haystacks near Giverny) had a fixed subject but the color and “envelope of light" that surrounded them changed. Berthe Morisot (L12) provided a view into the rich Parisian woman's world of gardens, housing interiors externally and internally limited by family needs, melancholy and boredom. Callibotte (L15), on the other hand, would paint male urban subjects (previously avoided by Impressionists) in rowing, drinking, strolling, playing cards, etc. Later painters such as Cezanne (the Post-Impressionist, L9) would run these paintings’ bright, unmixed colors “into the ground”, with some beginning to view such work as “intransigent" social radicalism. The end of Impressionism was covered well (L19-23) with Paul Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec and “The Nabis” who boasted the more neurotic random paint splashes that “sophisticated" critics revel in. As Impressionism seemed to devolve into cartoon, it might be fair to end this section repeating Liszt's: “From where does a critic derive his or her authority?” CONCLUSION: Excellently illustrated and cohesive course on the Impressionists who took us out of museum portraits and into the way light interacts with the natural world.
Date published: 2023-01-09
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Encounter the most famous artistic movement in history with this course that examines the work of Monet, Degas, Manet, Renoir and many other geniuses.


Richard Brettell

Great works of art communicate across time.


The University of Texas, Dallas

Richard Brettell (1949–2020) was the Margaret McDermott Distinguished Professor of Art and Aesthetics at The University of Texas at Dallas. He earned his BA, MA, and PhD 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 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 included 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 gave scholarly lectures at numerous museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art, and he wrote more than 25 books, including Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century European Drawings in the Robert Lehman Collection and Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860–1890.

By This Professor

Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre
The Realist and the Idealist

01: 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.

32 min
Napoleon III’s Paris

02: 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.

30 min
Baudelaire and the Definition of Modernism

03: 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.

30 min
The Shock of the New

04: 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.

30 min
The Painters of Modern Life

05: 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.

30 min
Pierre-Auguste Renoir

06: 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.

30 min
Impressions in the Countryside

07: 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.

30 min
Paris under Siege

08: 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.

32 min
The First Exhibition

09: 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."

30 min
Monet and Renoir in Argenteuil

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.

30 min
Cézanne and Pissarro in Pontoise

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.

30 min
Berthe Morisot

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.

30 min
The Third Exhibition

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.

30 min
Edgar Degas

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.

30 min
Gustave Caillebotte

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.

30 min
Mary Cassatt

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.

30 min
Manet’s Later Works

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.

30 min

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.

30 min
Paul Gauguin

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.

30 min
The Final Exhibition

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.

30 min
The Studio of the South—Van Gogh and Gauguin

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."

30 min
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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.

31 min
The Nabis

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.

31 min

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.

32 min