Post-Impressionism – a concise guide

Roger Fry postimpressionist painter
Postimpressionist British painter, Roger Fry (1866-1934). (Photo by Hulton-Deutsch/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images)

Post-Impressionism (sometimes called Postimpressionism) was a significant French art trend that evolved between 1886 and 1905. Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Georges Seurat led the movement. Post-Impressionism was a reaction to Impressionism’s naturalistic light and colour. Post-Impressionism covers the work of Les Nabis, Neo-Impressionism, Symbolism, Cloisonnism, the Pont-Aven School, and Synthetism.

In 1906, Roger Fry coined the term Post-Impressionism. Art News (15 October 1910) characterised Othon Friesz as a “post-impressionist leader” in a review of the Salon d’Automne and an ad for the show The Post-Impressionists of France. Roger Fry repeated the phrase three weeks later when he organised the 1910 exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists.

The Starry Night by Van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh, “The Starry Night,” 1889 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Post-Impressionists kept utilising vibrant colours, impasto (thick paint), and painting from life, but emphasised geometric forms, distorted forms for emotional effect, and used unnatural or changed colours.

Overview

Post-Impressionists disapproved of Impressionist paintings’ triviality and lack of structure. They disagreed on the way ahead. Georges Seurat and his followers used pointillism or coloured dots. Paul Cézanne wanted to “create Impressionism strong and enduring, like museum art” He did this by simplifying objects while preserving Impressionist colours. Camille Pissarro explored Neo-Impressionism in the 1880s and 1890s. Dissatisfied with romantic Impressionism, he explored pointillism, which he dubbed scientific Impressionism, before reverting to pure Impressionism in his final decade. Vincent van Gogh employed bold colours and brushstrokes to express his emotions.

Post-Impressionist artists exhibited together but disagreed on a trend. Seurat approached colour and composition scientifically. All these artists prioritised harmony and structural organisation over reality.

Defining Post-Impressionism

Roger Fry used the term in 1906 and 1910 to label an exhibition of modern French painters: Manet and the Post-Impressionists. Three weeks before Fry’s presentation, art critic Frank Rutter used the term Post-Impressionist in Art News of 15 October 1910. He called Othon Friesz a “post-impressionist leader” and advertised the show The Post-Impressionists of France.
Fry’s display featured mostly younger artists than Impressionists. Fry said: “Post-Impressionism was the most nebulous and noncommittal word I could offer these painters. This stated their timeframe related to Impressionism.” John Rewald’s Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gauguin covered 1886-1892. (1956). Rewald deemed this a continuation of his 1946 History of Impressionism and noted that Post-Impressionism: From Gauguin to Matisse would follow. This chapter covers various Impressionist-derived art trends from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rewald focused on van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, and Redon. He studied their relationships and the creative circles they frequented (or opposed).

  • Neo-Impressionism: ridiculed by contemporary art critics as well as artists as Pointillism; Seurat and Signac would have preferred other terms: Divisionism, for example
  • Cloisonnism: a short-lived term introduced in 1888 by the art critic Édouard Dujardin, was to promote the work of Louis Anquetin and was later also applied to contemporary works of his friend Émile Bernard
  • Synthetism: another short-lived term coined in 1889 to distinguish recent works of Gauguin and Bernard from that of more traditional Impressionists exhibiting with them at the Café Volpini.
  • Pont-Aven School: implying little more than that the artists involved had been working for a while in Pont-Aven or elsewhere in Brittany.
  • Symbolism: a term highly welcomed by vanguard critics in 1891 when Gauguin dropped Synthetism as soon as he was acclaimed as the leader of Symbolism in painting.

Furthermore, in his introduction to Post-Impressionism, Rewald opted for a second volume featuring Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Rousseau “le Douanier”, Les Nabis and Cézanne, as well as the Fauves, the young Picasso and Gauguin’s last trip to the South Seas; it was to expand the period covered at least into the first decade of the 20th century—yet this second volume remained unfinished.

Sources

Wikipedia contributors. (2022, July 23). Post-Impressionism. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20:48, July 23, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Post-Impressionism&oldid=1100007215

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