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Post-Impressionism - Art History

Mid 1880s to Early 1900s

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© Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; used with permission

Paul Cézanne (French, 1839-1906). Peasant in a Blue Smock, 1892 or 1897. Oil on canvas. 31 7/8 x 25 9/16 in. (81 x 64.9 cm).

© Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

The term "Post-Impressionism" was invented by Roger Fry as he prepared for an exhibition at Grafton Gallery in London in 1910. The show was called "Manet and the Post-Impressionists" (November 8, 1910-January 15, 1911), a canny marketing ploy to pair a brand name (Édouard Manet) with younger French artists whose work was not well known on the other side of the English Channel.

The exhibition included the painters Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, George Seurat, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck and Othon Friesz, plus the sculptor Aristide Maillol. Robert Rosenblum explained: "Post-Impressionists ... felt the need to construct private pictorial worlds upon the foundations of Impressionism."

Post-Impressionists pushed the ideas of the Impressionists into new directions. The word "Post-Impressionism" indicates their link to the original Impressionist ideas and their departure from those ideas -- their modernist journey from the past into the future.

How Long Was Post-Impressionism a Movement?

Mid-1880s to early 1900s (including the Fauves as a Post-Impressionist Movement)

What Are the Key Characteristics of Post-Impressionism?

The Post-Impressionists were an eclectic bunch of individuals, so there were no broad, unifying characteristics. Each artist took an aspect of Impressionism and exaggerated it.

For example, Vincent van Gogh intensified Impressionism's already vibrant colors and painted them thickly on the canvas (we call this impasto). Van Gogh's energetic brushstrokes expressed emotional qualities. Therefore, we see him as an off-shoot of Impressionism and a proponent of Expressionism (art loaded with charged emotional content).

In other examples, Georges Seurat took the rapid, "broken" brushwork of Impressionism and developed it into the millions of colored dots that create Pointillism, while Paul Cézanne elevated Impressionism's separation of colors into separations of whole planes of color.

The list below pairs the leading artists with their respective Post-Impressionist Movements.

Best-Known Artists:

  • Vincent van Gogh - Expressionism
  • Paul Cézanne - Constructive Pictorialism
  • Paul Gauguin - Symbolist, Cloisonnism, Pont-Aven
  • Georges Seurat - Pointillism (a.k.a. Divisionism or Neoimpressionism)
  • Aristide Maillol - The Nabis
  • Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard - Intimist
  • André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck and Othon Friesz - Fauvism

Suggested Reading:

Rewald, John. Post-Impressionism: From van Gogh to Gauguin.
New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1978.
(NB - Rewald was working on the second volume: From Gauguin to Matisse before he passed away in 1994.)

Arnason, H. H. and Elizabeth C. Mansfield. History of Modern Art, 6th Edition.
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2010.

Atkins, Robert, Artspoke: A Guide to Modern Ideas, Movements, and Buzzwords, 1848-1944
New York: Abbeville Press, 1993.

Rosenblum, Robert and H. W. Janson, 19th-Century Art.
New York: Prentice Hall and Harry N. Abrams, 1984.

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