Update Jan. 2009: This course is no longer available.
UCSD Art historian William Norman Bryson offers a lively and entertaining introduction to the French Impressionists and other moderns in Formations of Modern Art (website, feed). Although the podcasts are audio-only, you can follow along with Bryson’s lecture slides at this website.
The first lecture is a thought-provoking discussion of the philosophy of art, and it gives us a notion of what the French Impressionists thought they were doing: nothing less than saving the world. Following ideas from Schiller and Kant, many of the the Impressionists thought that art had a role in healing society from the fragmentation caused by industrialization.
As with all UCSD courses, the podcasts are likely to disappear when the academic term ends in December 2008. So download them while you can.