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.

Post-Impressionist Artworks

  • 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

Understanding Post-Impressionism

The term post-impressionism was coined by the British art critic Roger Fry, who organized an exhibition titled Manet and the Post-Impressionists in 1910, showing artists whose style grew out from Impressionism. It is a loose term that ties together different painters who all built their art on the advancements of Impressionism but took different directions to extend its boundaries further. Despite the distinctly diverse artistic approaches, works made in the Post-Impressionist style are characterized by highly visible, broad brushstrokes, thickly applied paint, unnatural, vibrant colors, multicolored shadows, and distorted forms and perspectives.

The Post-Impressionists continued to paint everyday themes and apply everything they have learned from Impressionists about using colors, light, and shadows. Still, they added their new ideas to art. The four central figures of the era of Post-Impressionism – Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, and van Gogh –  began to experiment with new perspectives, techniques, and color palette to express their perception of the world driven by emotions. According to Paul Cézanne, who is often regarded as the father of modern art, “a work of art which did not begin in emotion is not a work of art.”

Cézanne was interested in structure and form and changing perspectives. His unique method of reducing objects to their basic shapes and building them out of planes of colors and from multiple perspectives at once will later influence Cubism. Gauguin wanted to achieve a “synthesis” in his work, meaning a fusion of composition, aesthetics, and subject matter, and to express symbolic content in art. His paintings are marked by intense vibrancy, symbolism, and exoticism. Vincent Van Gogh sought to convey deep and passionate emotions through his art, creating vibrant, anti-realistic, highly personalized, and emotionally charged paintings. Inspired by optical theory, Georges Seurat and Paul Signac wanted to paint scientifically accurate effects of color and light. They developed a technique called Pointillism that emphasized color by using small dots of pure color on the canvas.

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.”

Notable Post-Impressionists

  • Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), French
  • Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), French
  • Georges Seurat (1859-1891), French
  • Paul Signac (1863-1935), French
  • Émile Bernard (1868-1941), French
  • Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), French
  • Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), French
  • Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Dutch

List of Related Art Terms

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