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Masterworks of American Art

Review America's proud contribution to art with this informative and visually stunning course.

Masterworks of American Art is rated 4.9 out of 5 by 75.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Art Course I never thought I would enjoy American art as much. The prefeeeor is first rate. His insight are valuable. On only wish he would move on to contemporary art, where his insight would be also welcome.
Date published: 2023-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Gentle Man Teaches Brilliantly Taking this 2008 course is like your grandfather taking you to a museum. Professor Kloss’ eye contact is intimate, his smile warm, and his mirth obvious. A marvelous vocabulary and command of his subject make the child in you want to expand your own horizons. That said, this being an art course, there is some nudity, particularly in the lectures on Thomas Eakins. Kloss shows how historical changes in this country march alongside American art away and from its European counterparts. Kloss covers more than 50 American artists. Art critique is beyond my purview, but some stories may suffice for this review. American art (Course Scope) “…was, like America itself, independent, forward-looking…and at times even rebellious." Surprising to myself was not only the enormous time artists spend on a canvas, but that substantive additions can occur. For example, in the Lecture 1 (=L1) portrait of Elizabeth Freake, her infant was later added. L2 references Delaware Indian portraits (Tishcohan and Lapowinsa dated 1735). I showed these to a family friend of Delaware tribal heritage. She has spoken of the Indian/Scandinavian origin of her people. For her the art suggested features, including the bronzing skin tone and certain European facial similarities that continue to be present in her family. These are quite striking and, in fact, one family member who has retained them is a TV personality. L4's unexpected but proportionately accurate painting of George Washington should give courage to anyone whose imperfect physique might be discouraging. Kloss’ discussion of “The Resignation of General Washington” roars against the current attempts of divisive political takeover. Charles Peale’s (L5) “The Staircase Group" was an oddity that started a distinct US artistic move away from Europe. L8 takes this further with early landscapes studies like "Distant View of Niagara Falls" (1830) as the power of American spaces became a new art form. Compare this to Monet/Renoir European landscapes (L6, Great Course "From Monet to Van Gogh"_Brettell): one is about unimaginable land abundance, the other about people decorating outdoor space. L8 says it well via Barkley’s christening of America as "Time’s noblest offspring". There are recurrent human themes: Thomas Cole (L9) "In his last years concentrated his thoughts on religious cycles" (Ex: “The Cross and the World” parallels Franz Liszt music from his monastic cell prior to death (Great Course “Great Masters: Liszt by Greenberg, L8). American art’s vision was well described by (L10) Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature essay quote: "Standing on the bare ground w my head…uplifted into infinite space - all mean egotism vanishes.” L11’s "Eel Spearing not only depicts a dominant black woman but a young white boy in the canoe who appears to be mothered and protected by her – intimate relationships now somehow forgotten and “verboten". L15’s “A Visit from the Old Mistress” portrays the absolute equality paid for by tens of thousands of white Union soldiers' lives. Both stoic women will endure a heavy road ahead. MISC: L12’s “Dying Buffalo, Shot with an Arrow” is riveting, sorrowful: “Like a martyred saint…(it) casts a baleful eye on the viewer” abuts the equally bloody operating scenes of Thomas Eakins “The Gross Clinic” (L19 with no gloves, and many blood-stained hands) and “The Agnew Clinic” (L21). L21 stuns with Kloss’ observation of Eakins’ carefully drawn ear in “The Concert Singer” that “seems to stress the faculty of listening…of sound”. L14 discusses Homer’s portrayal of defiant “Prisoners from the Front” being observed by a very youthful Union general. To this Kloss appends Herman’s Melville’s “All wars are boyish and fought by boys” …or as my father once put his WWII battles: “Old men wouldn’t fight wars”. “The Croquet Scene” (L15) first allowed men and women to play on equal ground. To “croquet” soon meant a woman had won an argument. “Breezing up” by Homer does for me what Kloss says it will: “Those of us who are not sailors suddenly wish we were”. His “Barn Swallows” children are a portrayal of great hope. L16’s “Cup of Death” is Vedder’s stunning escort of a dying young woman by an angelic being into the afterlife. Whistler’s (L18) efforts to reduce shapes, lines and use monochrome in “Nocturne in Blue and Silver: The Lagoon, Venice” is quite striking. L21: Eakins captures the posture of those who think too much in “The Thinker: Portrait of Louis N. Kenton”: pelvis forward, eyes downward. L19-L22 shows Eakins art going multiple directions, well beyond description here.
Date published: 2023-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Right Stuff My wife and I had previously viewed two of Professor Kloss’s lecture series: The World's Greatest Paintings (Course No. 7126) and Dutch Masters: The Age of Rembrandt (Course No. 7180). They were both excellent, as is this course on American painting. Having viewed a few other made-for-television art series, one appreciates what this course does not have: (1) annoying background music that makes it hard to hear the lecturer’s words, (2) dramatizations with actors in period costumes and (3) excessive blubbering about the painter’s personal life. The professor sticks to the subject –painting and context, and he speaks with noteworthy precision. Altogether, a fine course. HWF & ISF, Mesa AZ.
Date published: 2022-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from American Masterworks taught by a Master Instructor Having toured several art galleries in the U.S. and England, including the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and the Art Institute of Chicago, I have seen many works of art which I, most likely, did not appreciate to their fullest extent. For example, as a typical viewer of art objects strolling through a gallery with one's hands clasped behind in an introspective manner, there are many hidden tales that are hidden from the general public view. As one walks up to, say, Winslow Homer's Right and Left, a casual viewer only sees two ducks in different manners of flight, but completely misses the flash of red under the wing of the left duck, which is a premonition of life's end due to the double barrel blast of a hunter's shotgun. These are the type of revelations that are provided by Professor William Kloss in this very interesting and, in many cases, revealing course on Masterworks of American Art. As in any art course, there are paintings that the student is disappointed were excluded, and there are some artists that receive the emphasis which the student feels the artist has not garnered, but notwithstanding this difference of opinion, it is very evident that Professor Kloss's expertise on his subject is outstanding. In most cases, this course is taught in chronological order, and commences with the very earliest times of America, prior to it being a nation of thirteen colonies and goes through the early 20th century ending with Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer. As he progresses through each of his lectures and the chapters in his course book., Professor Kloss shows how American Art was art that in some ways was based on European influence, but mostly, it was art that evolved on it's own from the earliest portraits to the later landscapes and conceptual art that exhibited descriptive realism. It was art that developed in order to define a new world, a primeval place (at least in the beginning), a solitary continent with mountains, plains, forests, and swamps that had never been experienced before. And each artist became his or her own explorer in how to define this new place. Although it was many years ago, one of the paintings I saw at the National Gallery that I continue to distinctly remember was Among the Sierra Mountains by Albert Bierstadt. Even as a common observer the painting literally took away my breath as I studied the detail of this beautiful painting from the magnificent mountainscape to the diminutive features of a single fallen leaf in the forest. As Professor Kloss concludes his course, he uses Bierstadt's spellbinding work to sum up his lectures and to make a point about the peculiar characteristics of American art as compared to art in other countries because this painting is, as is all of American Art, a "hope grounded in reality and suspended in time." I, for one, agree wholeheartedly with his summation, and feel that any art lover will find this course, from the interesting tales to the definitive interpretations of many of our most important American masterpieces, a revelation that you will not want to miss.
Date published: 2022-06-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from masterwork of americian art I would like to write a review IF I had received the product. As yet I have not received it!
Date published: 2022-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A real treat This lecture series is a real treat because the lecturer provides a lot of context about the artists and their works. It has opened my eyes to a whole new perspective on American art.
Date published: 2022-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good value for money I’m really enjoying my Great Course - and even tho I’m only a few sessions in, I’ve already bought more courses!
Date published: 2022-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Survey Course This is an excellent 24-lecture survey of American art. It discusses a range of artists and styles and does a deeper dive into some of the most significant American painters such as Thomas Cole and Winslow Homer. Bill Kloss is his usual encyclopedic, engaging and enthusiastic guide through this area of art. He is one of the best!
Date published: 2021-12-16
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What makes a work of art "American”? How do some of our country's greatest paintings depict its rich history? Explore these and other illuminating questions in Masterworks of American Art, taught by acclaimed art historian and Professor William Kloss. This sweeping 24-lecture survey shows you how brilliant artists including Benjamin West, Thomas Eakins, and Winslow Homer helped create a rich portrait of American history, from its colonial roots to the brink of World War I. Strengthen your understanding of the trajectory of American painting, the artistry of individual works, and our nation's important role in the development of visual art.


William Kloss

Standards of beauty are seemingly endless and contradictory, which is why the rather hopeless phrase 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' was coined.


Independent Art Historian

Professor William Kloss is an independent art historian and scholar who lectures and writes about a wide range of European and American art. He was educated at Oberlin College, where he earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Art History. He continued his postgraduate work on a teaching fellowship at the University of Michigan and was then awarded a Fulbright Fellowship for two years of study in Rome. As Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Virginia, he taught 17th- and 18th-century European art and 19th-century French art. Professor Kloss has enjoyed a long association with the Smithsonian Institution, presenting more than 150 courses in the United States and abroad on subjects ranging from ancient Greek art to Impressionism to the works of Winslow Homer. He has also been a featured lecturer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and for The Art Institute of Chicago. Professor Kloss serves on the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, a presidential appointment he has held since 1990. He is the author of several books, including Art in the White House: A Nation's Pride (2nd edition), which won the 2009 National Indie Excellence Award in the Art Category, as well as a 2009 USABookNews award for Best Book in Art. Most recently, he coauthored the United States Senate Catalogue of Fine Art. He also has written articles published in Winterthur Portfolio, The Magazine Antiques, American Arts Quarterly, and Antiques & Fine Art.

By This Professor

A History of European Art
Art in the New World

01: Art in the New World

From its earliest days, the United States has been home to talented, often self-trained artists. In this first lecture, you preview the signature themes, modes, and styles employed by these homegrown geniuses and begin your trip through American art with some of the earliest examples of art of the colonial period.

32 min
18th-Century Colonial Art

02: 18th-Century Colonial Art

Continue our survey of art produced during the colonial period with a close examination of some of the great portraits by such talented painters as John Smibert, Robert Feke, and Joseph Blackburn. You see how portraiture reflected not only the character of its sitters, but also had much to say about this burgeoning society, its practices, and its values.

31 min
The Genius of Copley and C. W. Peale

03: The Genius of Copley and C. W. Peale

This lecture examines the fascinating interplay between American and British schools of art during the second half of the 18th century, beginning with detailed, realistic portraits by John Singleton Copley and concluding with two highly symbolic portraits by Charles Willson Peale.

30 min
A Revolution in Art

04: A Revolution in Art

Trace the development of history painting from its roots in classical subject matter to its role in military commemoration, starting with Benjamin West, whose unprecedented use of contemporary subjects created a sensation and revolutionized the genre. This consideration also includes the work of two artists—Charles Willson Peale and John Trumbull—Revolutionary War veterans who applied their talents to recording the birth of the nation.

33 min
Portraiture in Federal America

05: Portraiture in Federal America

From Gilbert Stuart's famous "Lansdowne" portrait of George Washington to the witty, skillful "Staircase Group" by Charles Willson Peale, the art of portraiture flourished during the early days of the American Republic. Throughout, these masterworks showcase the ability of these great painters to capture the intelligence, dignity, and character of the founding generation.

30 min
Early Historical and Landscape Painting

06: Early Historical and Landscape Painting

Historical subjects continued to have a hold on American painters, but many painters turned their skills to the project of documenting the beauties of the new country through landscape painting. Examine both genres and see how painters who traveled abroad incorporated the influence of Romanticism and Neoclassicism.

32 min
The 1820s—Art in the Era of Good Feelings

07: The 1820s—Art in the Era of Good Feelings

Following the tumultuous Revolutionary era, the country experienced a period of relative peace, which was echoed in the flourishing of still-life painting. Here, you examine examples from the masterful still-life painter Raphaelle Peale, as well as the historical portraits that commemorated the nation's first citizens.

31 min
Thomas Cole and the American Landscape

08: Thomas Cole and the American Landscape

At the age of 25, with only a year of formal training, painter Thomas Cole became a founding member of the National Academy of Design. In this lecture, you explore the early works of Cole, the first great American landscape painter, including his "The Subsiding of the Waters of the Deluge" and "Distant View of Niagara Falls," and examine how his innovative series, "The Course of Empire," reveals a surprisingly pessimistic perspective on the fate of civilization.

30 min
Thomas Cole—The Late Years

09: Thomas Cole—The Late Years

You look at some of Cole's later paintings, which ranged from depictions of distinctly American subjects to works that reflected his time in Europe. The lecture concludes with a consideration of his unfinished religious cycle, "The Cross and the World."

30 min
Other Views, Other Visions

10: Other Views, Other Visions

Cole's legacy continued in the works of his peer, Asher B. Durand, who added his own Transcendentalist sensibilities and commitment to nature to the landscape art pioneered by Cole. This lecture also considers the work of Cole's student, Frederic Edwin Church, who contributed a new and daring perspective on the natural wonder of Niagara, and the luminous landscapes of Fitz Henry Lane.

32 min
American Genre Painting

11: American Genre Painting

In genre painting, the artist acts as storyteller, capturing implied narratives in scenes from everyday life. Here, you sample some masterful examples of this mode, and see how literature, landscape, and history painting interact on the canvas.

32 min
Native Americans and Westward Expansion

12: Native Americans and Westward Expansion

Next, turn your attention to the frontier and the depiction of Native Americans produced by some of the period's greatest painters, including Charles Bird King, George Catlin, and William Ranney. You see how these images combined a sympathy for the native people with a faith in the idea of Manifest Destiny.

30 min
The Civil War in Art

13: The Civil War in Art

As the Civil War approached, artists turned to landscape painting and symbolic representations to interpret the rising conflict. You survey a range of these images, from the quiet, reassuring paintings of George Henry Durrie and John Frederick Kensett to Winslow Homer's detailed and startling images from the front.

28 min
The Glow of Peace

14: The Glow of Peace

At the end of the war, artists expressed a new hope, as seen in glowing images of peace and harvest captured by Winslow Homer and George Inness. The evocations of a "New Eden" are seen in the majestic western landscapes of Albert Bierstadt and George P. A. Healy's bittersweet evocation of the move from war to peace.

29 min
Art—The Mirror of Social Change

15: Art—The Mirror of Social Change

The paintings of Winslow Homer and others provide a remarkable perspective on the striking social changes after the Civil War, including shifts in gender roles, professions, national identity, and race relations. You also look at the cult of childhood that surfaced, as portrayed in Eastman Johnson's "Barn Swallows."

30 min
1876–1893—The Civic Revival of the Nation

16: 1876–1893—The Civic Revival of the Nation

The period 1876–1893 witnessed an increasing devotion to artistic endeavors as American cultural life began to emulate European models. Paintings reflected this greater interest in the arts, including images inspired by opera and literature.

29 min
1885–1900—Contrasts of Dark and Light

17: 1885–1900—Contrasts of Dark and Light

You examine the striking dichotomy between light and dark through the dark, quiet tableaus of William Harnett and John F. Peto, with their beautiful trompe l'oeil illusions, and the vibrant paintings of plein air artists such as William Merritt Chase and Childe Hassam.

31 min
Americans Abroad—Expatriate Painters

18: Americans Abroad—Expatriate Painters

In their search for the finest American artists, the organizers of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition considered painters living in American cities as well as those in Europe. This lecture examines three famous American artists who, despite their expatriate status, are among America's greatest talents: James McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt, and John Singer Sargent.

30 min
Thomas Eakins—Innovation and Rejection

19: Thomas Eakins—Innovation and Rejection

This lecture initiates a three-part consideration of one of the greatest and most controversial of American artists, Thomas Eakins. In this first lecture, you examine his early works, including his series of paintings of rowers and his masterpiece, "The Gross Clinic."

30 min
Thomas Eakins—Success and Scandal

20: Thomas Eakins—Success and Scandal

Eakins' interest in verisimilitude can be seen in some of his virtuoso representations of the human form based on his careful observations of the body in motion. This interest ultimately led to his downfall, as his studies of and professional fixation on the nude human body elicited outrage and led to scandal.

31 min
The Last Years—

21: The Last Years—"And Who Is Eakins?"

This final lecture on Thomas Eakins examines the artist's later works, including his remarkable images of boxing scenes and his haunting portraits of women that seem to reflect the artist's own increasing sense of isolation and disappointment.

28 min
Winslow Homer in England and New England

22: Winslow Homer in England and New England

Here, you return to the works of Winslow Homer, You start by viewing some of his powerful paintings of seascapes and nature scenes that reflect his time spent in England and New England. You also begin to explore Homer's remarkable sympathy for animals, as seen in his remarkable hunting scenes.

29 min
Winslow Homer—The Last Years

23: Winslow Homer—The Last Years

By his mid-50s, Homer was not so much a recluse as a man deeply immersed in the natural world—in the wilderness, the tropics, and the sea. You explore how he rendered these settings in some of his greatest paintings, including "Fox Hunt" and "The Gulf Stream."

29 min
Ourselves and Our Posterity

24: Ourselves and Our Posterity

In this final lecture, you take a fresh look at the trajectory of American art and reconsider some of these great paintings within the broader context of our rich artistic legacy, a legacy that endures and continues to inspire American artists to interpret our world.

31 min