Update Sept 22, 2010: This post is about the 2008 version of the class. The 2010 feed is here.
As UCSD Professor William Norman Bryson moves towards the finish line in his course Formations of Modern Art (2010 feed), he turns to the French Impressionists. His (to me) startling contention: the Impressionists were not just painters of light and shadow and beautiful images; they were social critics as well.
His discussion of the Impressionists begins in the last 45 minutes of lecture 13, and continues for the rest of the course. Here are a few of his main points from lectures 13 and 14:
Of all the Impressionists, Auguste Renoir had the most uncritical vision . He painted a paradise of sunny Sunday afternoons where the social classes mixed in easy companionship.
Mary Cassatt turned a critical eye on gender relationships and bourgois culture by portraying women who were not always at ease with their roles.
Gustave Caillebotte often portrayed Paris scenes as alienating spaces populated by strangers who ignored each other.
A warning: UCSD courses usually disappear at the end of the term. The fall 2008 quarter ends December 13. So download the lectures while you still can.