Understanding Art:



Understanding Art: Impressionism

Hosted, Written and Directed by Waldemar Januszczak

Photographed by Owen Scurfield & Andy Kemp

Edited by Matthew Chart, David Potter & Kirsi Pyy

Music by Simon Russell

Produced by Susan Doyon

Executive Producer: Peter Grimsdale

First aired in the U.K. July 2011 on BBC Two



Television: BBC TV

Video: Athena Learning



Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 480i

Bit rate: avg 4.5 Mbps

Number of Episodes: 4

Typical number of chapters/episode: 6

Feature Runtime: 238 min.

Total Runtime: 474 min.

Region Code: 1


Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0


Subtitles: English SDH



• Manet: The Man Who Invented Modern Art (89 min)

  1. Vincent: The Full Story (146 min)

  2. 24-page Viewer’s Guide



Discs in 3 slimcases w/ slipcover

Street date: September 18, 2012


Product Description [from Athena]

Today Impressionist art is found on T-shirts and mugs, but it wasn’t always popular. London Sunday Timesart critic Waldemar Januszczak hosts a lively guide to these revolutionary and influential artists, visiting their studios and the rustic vistas that inspired them. A super introduction to Monet, Manet, Degas, Seurat, Cézanne, Pissarro, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassat, Van Gogh, and other greats. 4 episodes, 4 hrs plus 4 hours of bonus material, 3 DVDs, SDH. Mature audiences.



The Series:  8

Disc 1

Episode 1: The Gang of Four
Radical change was in the air—and on the canvas. As Paris underwent massive social and architectural shifts, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jean Frédéric Bazille,and Camille Pissarro broke artistic ground with unconventional portraits of pleasure spots and unlikely landscapes. Their inaugural 1874 exhibition threw down the gauntlet to the salons.

Episode 2: The Great Outdoors
Toting folding easels and compact paint boxes, impressionists trekked where no artists had gone before, but their trips to city and country weren’t carefree jaunts. Monet risked drowning to paint the coast of Étretat, Renoir deftly navigated the social currents of the Moulin de la Galette, and Paul Cézanne inverted landscape perspective.


Episode 3: Painting to the People
Impressionism wasn’t all sunny landscapes. The “ballet rats” inhabiting Edgar Degas’s luminous pastels pulsed with vitality, while Gustave Caillebotte’s Floor Scrapers(1875) portrayed laborers for the first time. Female artists also emerged: Berthe Morisot dazzled with vibrant brushstrokes, and Mary Cassatt, an American, plumbed her subjects’ psyches.


Disc 2

Episode 4: The Final Flourish
GeorgesSeurat married optical science with artistic inspiration in 1884’s La Grande Jatte, whose countless dots combine colors in innovative ways. In Montmartre, Vincent van Gogh marveled at Japanese prints, and in the early 20th century, Monet overcame failing sight to complete his sprawling Water Lilies.


Manet: The Man Who Invented ModernArt

Édouard Manet lit the fuse that set off the impressionism explosion. Born into a prominent family, the Parisian artist ruffled feathers with his loose brushstrokes and portrayal of casual nudity in 1863’s Luncheon on the Grass. As he broached taboo subjects, he set the stage for modern art.


Disc 3

Vincent: The Full Story

This three-part documentary tells the story of the famed Dutch artist’s rise from humble origins as a preacher’s son to one of the most famous artists in history. The program illuminates Van Gogh’s lesser-known biographical details, including his failed stints as an art dealer and a missionary, and his friendships with fellow artists Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Gauguin.


Critical Reviews

Amazon User:

An entertaining docent (Waldemar Januszczak-UK critic) makes Impressionism as fun as it is beautiful. He's an expert, and he's funny. He keeps the art history and art appreciation learning understandable, on a level where you don't have to be an art elitist. Yet, as a retired art teacher, I learn things I never knew. – Harold Wolf 


BBC blogs:

[1] Very very disappointing. Presenter Waldemar Januszczak is unprepossessing in his appearance, manner and pronunciation. He seems to know very little about his subjects - especially the women artists, who he patronised, completely misrepresented their work and lives. Typical man. I know the Beeb is on a mission to appeal to the beer-swilling masses and the choice of presenter was a conscious effort to dumb down, to employ an apparent man-on-the-street (I'm sure, in reality, WJ isn't), but in producing such shoddy work it insults the viewer, however culturally uneducated. . . Far too many shots of the cute looking presenter and woefully few images illustrating what the show was about! Our screens should have been ablaze with gorgeous colour, paint handling and sculptural form. That's what would turn people on!


[2] I hate art critics such as WJ. Viewing a painting of ladies at the opera/ theatre, he postulated that Mary Cassatt's sitters were depressed! (If people aren't actively smiling, their facial musculature slackens) Because they understand little about the creative process, critics are always inventing preposterous fantasies about the artists. eg "Evident in this small painting of a sunset, is Constable's mental agony" (or some such rubbish) The fact is that to capture, en plein air, a fleetingly dramatic subject such as a sunset necessitates speed, therefore brush marks are bound to be vigorous and the dark land contrasts strongly with the sky. – “Credo”


[3] I can't disagree more with "Credo".
I find that Waldemar is inspiring and puts a whole new approach to appreciating art, especially a topic which has been covered so many times by critics in the past and who cares if his 'French' is not the best, his enthusiasm is intoxicating. I can't wait for the book to come out. Well done the BBC. Please provide a list of galleries where all these beautiful paintings can be seen. I've spotted the Gauguin in Sheffield and there's a Pissarro in there too. – Peter Goulding



[4] Another example of an "art critic" who has never picked up a brush or knows what it means to be creative. Series by Schama's on art was orders of magnitude better. This series is just drivel, no insights into the art, artist, it's like all he knows about art is from Wikipedia. I'm an artist and I know. – painter_landscapes


And this from the ever-acerbic London Guardian:

Waldemar Januszczak's opening proposition about The Impressionists was that, although they were extremely radical, we think of them as very anodyne, as evinced in the use of their seminal works on umbrellas and chocolate boxes. To prove this point, he had bought a huge bag of stuff in a gift shop. Umbrellas, chocolates, a shirt: it's never a good sign when scenes such as this make it through the edit. . . there is a danger that they think we're idiots. This literal-mindedness persisted throughout: as he says of Paris that it was developing at "breakneck speed", he's running down some stone Parisian steps as if he intends illustratively to break his neck. In the end, though, it wasn't the literal-minded simplicity of the script that made this so unsatisfactory, so much as its agenda: it was the kind of programme about art that people like if they quite like art, but what they really want to talk about is their shed. – Zoe Williams



Image: 7/7

Presented in 480i enhanced for what has become the standard high-definition full-frame format of 16x9 or 1.78:1, Waldemar Januszczak’s visual essays about the origins, development and impact of French Impressionism would have been a disaster if it were not filmed and transferred to video with respectable resolution and sharpness, convincing color and realistic contrast - and so it is.  There’s a surprising absence of light fill for our host in many of his outdoor locations, but the paintings themselves and many locations are properly exposed for natural effect.  Presumably you will watch this with a proper video processor to convert 480i to 1080p, which should handle the combing motion issues adequately.  Motion will smear, even if just the turn of our host’s head.  Camera pans and long lens shots of anyone in motion can be unintelligible until the camera or the subject comes to a stop.  Don’t expect as much if you watch this on your computer.  There are a few transfer/compression artifacts and a smidgen of edge enhancement - not so much as to be distressing.  The two Bonus Features are well handled.  Vincent: The Full Story is more of a mix, but the good parts, especially of the art work is very good indeed.



Audio & Music: 7/8

Januszczak’s delivery is clear enough and crisply articulated, and if you have the least rouble, not to worry, Acorn has provided us with proper subtitles to help us out.  Simon Russell’s delightful music, ambient street noises and murmurings of passersby are nicely folded into the mix.


Extras: 10

Manet: The Man Who Invented Modern Art.  A superb 90-minute look into the life and times of the man who has been called the father of Modern Art, is once again hosted and written by Waldemar Januszczak.  Vincent: The Full Story, a 2004 documentary in three parts, running well over two hours and also hosted and written by Januszczak, gives us an better idea of just how much Januszczak does know about his subject.  I’m convinced.

I might add that I very much like the slimcase presentation: takes less room and makes for easier insert and removal of the discs.  Disc One contains the first three segments of Impressionism; Disc Two contains the last segment, plus Manet: The Man Who Invented Modern Art.  The third disc is devoted entirely to Vincent: The Full Story.



Recommendation: 8

So, as you can tell from the sampling of comments from an audience inclined to appreciate both art and the documentary format, The Impressionists, opinion is very much polarized, depending largely on you one feels about the presenter and his presentation.  I was frankly surprised that I came across no one who felt that Januszczak was merely trying to be funny – in a Python-light sort of way, perhaps.  I thought the beginning of his series makes that abundantly clear.  Just take a gander at that title card!  The whole enterprise struck me as what RadioLab might look like if it were filmed.  What we have here, then, is as much showtime as documentary – full of factoids (a deliciously snarky word, don’t you think) and amusing pictorial asides, with enough real program thrown in to keep it honest.  In fact, I found the whole thing endlessly fascinating. Too many frames with our host front and center, yes - but all in all: entertaining and interesting.




Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

September 17, 2012

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