What is Post-Impressionism?
Post-Impressionism is a term used to describe the development of art that took place in France after Impressionism. It lasted roughly from 1886, when the last impressionist exhibition occurred, up to 1910, when Fauvism was born.
The main Post-impressionists were Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Georges Seurat (1859-1891), Paul Signac (1863-1935), Émile Bernard (1868-1941), Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) and Henri Rousseau (1844-1910). They were not unified by one aesthetic approach but rather by a common interest in the further development of artistic achievements started with Impressionism. Thus, Post-Impressionism often includes styles as diverse as Primitivism, Synthetism, and Pointillism.
The term Post-Impressionism unites numerous phenomena in the history of art. It represents a period from the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886 to the appearance of Fauvism in 1905, predominantly in France.
Post-impressionism should be understood as an artistic direction followed by artists of different approaches and sensibilities. They were on the same path with a common goal – the search for a new identity of painting after Impressionism. Post-impressionism as a predominantly french art movement encompasses various painting methods and thematic orientations – Divisionism, Pointillism, Synthetism, Primitivism, Japonisme etc.
The main Post-impressionist artists were Paul Cézanne,Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Émile Bernard, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Henri Rousseau.
The term Post-Impressionism was coined by art critic Roger Fry in 1906, and the first exhibition to include this term was Manet and the Post-Impressionists at the Grafton Galleries in London in 1910. Post-Impressionist artistic expression scandalized British audiences as morbid and morally degrading. Unlike the objective characteristics of the scene as the value of the impressionist painting, the post-impressionists approached painting more intimately. The found values of a scene, whatever the light, color, or model in post-impressionism, were a field for intervention or upgrading. We can notice different post-impressionist strategies for composing a new image with Pointilists, members of Les Nabis or Synthetists.
Paul Cezzane and Post-Impressionism
The key artistic figure for understanding the development of Post-Impressionism and many other movements in art history is Paul Cezzane. Although he lived a secluded life between Paris and Provence, isolated and completely dedicated to painting, he had probably the greatest influence on the younger generation of post-impressionists and later on the cubism, fauvism, expressionism, and suprematism.
Cezanne’s revolutionary contribution to the theory of painting can be divided into three segments – the absence of shadows, multiple perspectives, and the geometrization of scenes. Cezanne did not use shadow in his painting. In order to achieve the authenticity of the scene in a flat image format, he replaced the relationships of objects that would include shadows with subtle gradations of colors. Painting as primarily an intellectual practice is also evident in the second segment of his revolutionary contribution concerning perspective. Cezanne broke the Renaissance concept of perspective by introducing kinetic vision.
Many segments of the painted scene might not be visible in the traditional notion of perspective but Cezanne uses a successive image perception by introducing multiple viewpoints simultaneously.
The third aspect refers to the architecture of the painting. The harmonious relationship of the painted elements, which, whether it is a landscape, still life or a portrait can be reduced to three basic shapes or geometric forms – sphere, cone and cylinder.
Post-Impressionism and Pointillism – Georges Seurat and Paul Signac
The new art technique of pointillism was completely based on the latest scientific theories at the time which led to a new definition of pointillism painting. Scientists whose work has contributed to the development of the pointillist technique are Michel Eugène Chevreul, James Clerk Maxwell, Ogden Rood, and Charles Blanc.
Michel Eugène Chevreul’s book The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors and Their Applications to the Arts was of particular importance to Georges Seurat and Paul Signac in developing the pointillism technique.
Pointillists relied heavily on the experience of impressionist movement- including themes, motifs, the structure of compositions, color palettes. Inherited impressionist themes are those related to Plein air painting – frequent are scenes from rural life, landscapes, and views of coastal cities.
In addition to the usual themes such as portrait or self-portrait, many pointillism paintings include scenes from urban areas that bring authentic depictions of contemporary interiors and exteriors, intimate ambiences, but also larger gathering spaces such as circuses or cabarets. The key in the pointillist painting technique is the way the paint is applied to the white canvas.
The paint is not previously mixed on the palette, it is applied in its unadulterated form as pure color. Therefore tiny dots of primary colors had been used to generate secondary colors. This application is done by precisely leaving small dots of the desired shade of the primary color.
Meticulousness, precision, and clear organization of the color and tone arrangement make the method that separates the impressionist techniques from the neo-impressionist or the post-impressionist painting tradition.
Pointillism is both a revolutionary painting technique and a completely innovative way of looking at a painting. In order to clearly see the painted scene, the observer had to find the appropriate distance that would meet his optical criteria and indicate to him the pulsating quality of the complementary colors. The most recognizable pointillist painting is probably Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884–1886.
Post-Impressionism and Synthetism – Paul Gauguin
Synthetism is a painting method developed by Paul Gauguin, Émile Bernard and Louis Anquetin. As the name suggests, it is a concept of uniting or combining different principles in the creation of an image. Synthetists did not neglect the naturalistic depiction of the scene but preferred their sentiment or memory towards the particular scene as well as the harmony of color and line. Such united principles were the basis for the synthetist image which was to realize its full capacity through authentic two-dimensionality. Synthetists saw flatness or two-dimensionality as a unique quality of painting that should be further insisted on in modern art.
The Pont Aven School
The painting colony at Pont Aven between 1886 and 1888 is crucial to the emergence of this theory. Artists Émile Bernard, Charles Laval, Maxime Maufra, Paul Sérusier, Charles Filiger, Meijer de Haan, Armand Séguin, and Henri de Chamaillard took part in the colony. Inspired primarily by the works of Paul Gauguin, painters
began to use increasingly expressive colors, simplifying scenes, all in the light of a spiritual approach to painting. The strong line that separated the fields of bright colors contributed to the two-dimensionality of the image, which often resembled medieval enamel.
Art Group Les Nabis
Gauguin transmitted the principles of Synthetism to the young painter Paul Serusier. Under Gauguin’s direct instructions, Serusier painted Landscape at the Bois d’Amour at Pont-Aven, also called The Talisman. This was the first work of the new art group Les Nabis. These post impressionists – prophets of modern art continued their work in Paris, where they achieved notable results in painting as well as in the making of posters, stained glass, theater sets, etc.
The members of the group were Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, Henri-Gabriel Ibels, Ker-Xavier Roussel, Paul Ranson etc.
Post-Impressionism and Divisionism – Vincent van Gogh
Another reason why the year 1886 is of great importance for the post-impressionist movement, in addition to holding the last Impressionist exhibition, is because Vincent van Gogh moved to Paris from Antwerp at that time. In Paris, through his brother Theo, he met Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat and others.
After many years of perfecting his drawings, working in watercolor technique, and creating numerous socially engaged paintings that often brought gloomy motifs from the lives of workers and peasants van Gogh’s style will transform. After coming to Paris this dutch painter opens his palette to a brighter and more intense colors. Since then, we can say that his divisionist experiment begins, which will last until the end of his life. Since then, distinctive styles based on dream-like scenes with a special capacity to evoke emotion have been noticed in van Gogh’s painting.
The basis of the divisionist paintings creation can be summed up in two procedures. The first is the application of pure or unmixed color pigment on the canvas and the second is the confrontation of the desired pairs of complementary colors on the canvas in order to achieve maximum brightness. The fullness of the light capacity divisionist techniques strived for refers to individual painted surfaces, but also to the overall image. Scientists and later painters, inspired by their theory, insisted that properly arranged complementary colors on the painted composition could convey to the observer the qualities of colors and shades that do not exist individually on the canvas. So the process of mixing colors and nuances of tones would actually take place in the eye of the beholder, while the canvas itself would be the basis for the optical mixing.
In addition to introducing bright colors, van Gogh began painting with intermittent brush strokes. He also discovers the pointillist technique with which he will be experimenting for some time. The emotional capacity that color can bring to an image has been largely the subject of van Gogh’s search. From the Impressionist method of capturing current sentiments through pointillist scientism based on optical theories in van Gogh’s work, color is a means of portraying his personal impression of a particular scene. In post-impressionism color becomes a means of transmitting the personal experience of a certain scene to the canvas.
- Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)
- Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
- Georges Seurat (1859-1891)
- Paul Signac (1863-1935)
- Émile Bernard (1868-1941)
- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
- Henri Rousseau (1844-1910)
- Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
- Charles Laval (1861-1894)
- Maxime Maufra (1861-1918)
- Paul Sérusier (1864-1927)
- Charles Filiger (1863-1928)
- Meijer de Haan (1852-1895)
- Armand Séguin (1869-1903)
- Henri de Chamaillard (1862-1931)
- Maurice Denis (1870-1943)
- Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
- Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
- Henri-Gabriel Ibels (1867-1936)
- Ker-Xavier Roussel (1867-1944)
- Paul Ranson (1861-1909)
- Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1885, Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, PA, USA
- Paul Cézanne, Bathers, 1894-1905, The National Gallery, London, UK
- Paul Gauguin, Arearea, 1892, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
- Paul Gauguin, The Siesta, ca. 1892–94, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York, USA
- Paul Gauguin, Vision after the Sermon, 1888, Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh, UK
- Vincent van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles, 1889, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France
- Vincent van Gogh, Wheatfield with crows, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night. Saint Rémy, 1889, The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, New York, USA
- Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA
- Paul Signac, Antibes – Morning, 1914, The National Museum in Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland
- Émile Bernard, Breton Women Attending a Pardon, 1892, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas, USA
- Henri Rousseau, The Dream, 1910, The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, New York, USA
- Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge, 1892- 1895, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Legacy of Post-Impressionism
While Impressionism is said to be the first modern art movement, the Post-Impressionists were the ones who had a profound impact on the development of Modern Art in the 20th century. With their innovative experiments in art and subjective approach to painting, they helped to inspire future art movements such as Fauvism, Cubism, and Expressionism. Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse referred to Paul Cézanne as “the father of us all.”