Post-Impressionism was an art movement spanning just under a decade – around 1886 to 1905 – in between Impressionism and Fauvisim. Though brief, the movement was incredibly influential and diverse.
Origins and Influences
Post-Impressionism emerged as a reaction against Impressionists’ concern for the naturalistic depiction of light and colour. Due to its broad emphasis on abstract qualities ond symbolic content, Post-Impressionism encompasses: Neo-Impressionism, Symbolism, Cloisonnism, Pont-Aven School, and Synthetism, along with some later Impressionists’ work – like those of Cezanne; the man who refused to be labeled but is credited with contributing to, and influencing movements such as impressionism, fauvism and post-impressionism; among many others.
The term ‘post-impressionist’ was first used in 1906, by Roger Fry (British painter, critic and member of the infamous Bloomsbury Group), which he used again in 1910 in the title of an exhibition of modern French painters: Manet and the Post-Impressionists. Fry was organizing the exhibition for the Grafton Galleries in London. Fry’s term was appropriated three weeks prior to the opening night of the exhibition, by the art critic Frank Rutter; who used it in an article in Art News on the 15th October 1910.
Because post-impressionism embodied so many other artistic movements, post-impressionists all had different interpretations of the movement.
The Importance of Colour
Post-impressionism emerged from the frustrated, naturalistic use of colour by the impressionists. Post – Impressionists also had in common the opinion that the subject matter of impressionist works were on the trivial side, and the free use of brush strokes, focusing on the displacement of light; had lead to a lose of structure in painting. As Cezanne, one of post-impressionisms leaders said, he wanted to “make of Impressionism something solid and durable, like the art of the museums”.
Their mission statement may have been the same, but the direction in which the mission should go, or where it should focus, was undecided. Where Georges Seurat and Camille Pisarro chose the route of pointillism – the repetition of tiny dots of various colour – and became the most famous practitioners, with their seemingly-endless rainbow of dots; Van Gogh chose to focus on the unbridled use of colour in his paintings – such as Bedroom in Arles (which was designed for Gaugin); Cezanne focused on his primary concern with impressionism: form. Cezanne, in works such as The Bathers, set about to not only break naturalist-impressionist barriers of colour, as with van Gogh, but also chose to focus on the return of structure, definition (a key point of Fauvism). Odelin Redon, a great admirer of Delacroix and fascinated with myths and legends, reinterpreted them in visions of bright pastels – see: The Buddha, and Chariot of Apollo. With Redon, flowers took on other-worldly hues
Most Famous Post-Impressionist Painters
The most famous Post-impressionist painters include Van Gogh (see Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin pictured and Sunflowers – his first version), Cezanne (The Smoker), Seurat (A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte), Rousseau and Pisarro (The Church and Farm of Eragny). One of the most notorious was Gaugin (Tahitian Landscape); who had lived with Van Gogh for a time, and is tarnished with having contributed to the deterioration of the sensitive Gogh’s mental health – that would result in him chopping off his ear, and his eventual suicide. Henri-Toulouse Lautrec, the Frenchman who revolutionized the poster design, was also follower of the post-impressionist movement.
Edvard Munch, though categorized as an Expressionist painter, also employed many post-impressionist techniques.