Post-Impressionist Movement Begins Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Painting both during and after the Impressionist period in France, the post-Impressionists sought to create representations less focused on the ephemeral nature of perception than were the Impressionists. The movement formed a bridge between the early modernism of the Impressionists and the mature modernism of the twentieth century.

Summary of Event

Post-Impressionism was a movement in France that represented both an extension and a rejection of Impressionism. The term “post-Impressionism” was coined by English art critic Roger Fry Fry, Roger to describe the work of such painters as Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Georges Seurat. These painters began as Impressionists, but each abandoned that style to form his own personalized style. Post-Impressionism[PostImpressionism] Art;post-Impressionism[PostImpressionism] Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Paul Impressionism;and post-Impressionism[PostImpressionism] [kw]Post-Impressionist Movement Begins (Late 1870’s) [kw]Impressionist Movement Begins, Post- (Late 1870’s) [kw]Movement Begins, Post-Impressionist (Late 1870’s) Post-Impressionism[PostImpressionism] Art;post-Impressionism[PostImpressionism] Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Paul Impressionism;and post-Impressionism[PostImpressionism] [g]France;Late 1870’s: Post-Impressionist Movement Begins[4820] [c]Art;Late 1870’s: Post-Impressionist Movement Begins[4820] Van Gogh, Vincent Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de Seurat, Georges

Impressionism was itself a revolt against tradition and did not conform to conventional academic requirements, emphasizing instead the fleeting effect of light and color through the use of thick applications of paint, distinctive broad brushstrokes, and subject matter drawn directly from life. A basic principle of Impressionism was painting outdoors (en plein air), directly from nature, in order to portray subtle atmospheric changes. The Impressionists contended that a painting that sought to capture an outdoor scene should not be constructed in the studio. In order to capture fleeting atmospheric conditions, an artist had to work quickly, before the light changed. Thus, there was no time to mix colors carefully or to portray objects in great detail. This is what gives Impressionism its sense of spontaneity.

Post-Impressionism is a much more diverse movement than is Impressionism. Its style is therefore difficult to characterize. The post-Impressionists were disinterested in recording light and color phenomena faithfully. Thus, although post-Impressionism is characterized by bright color and sharply outlined edges, color is used to infuse a painting with emotion and expression, rather than to capture an effect observed in nature. The artists felt that art should have a deeper and more permanent significance than that of an “impression.” Unlike the Impressionists, however, they were not a cohesive group working together and exhibiting together with a common philosophy or aesthetic. Rather, in an effort to reorganize nature, each post-Impressionist artist set out independently to create order from the haphazard form that existed, using whatever technique seemed right to him.

Cézanne is the earliest painter to be labeled post-Impressionist, and in fact he produced his first such works during the late 1870’s, while Impressionism itself was still in full swing. He even exhibited several works now thought of as post-Impressionist at Impressionist exhibitions. Cézanne’s revolutionary style of painting equated color and form. Each dab of paint assumed a definite and predetermined position in space. He was not interested in imitating the real world. Rather, he was interested in re-creating three-dimensional shapes and the spaces between them without interrupting the flatness of the canvas. To do so, he placed objects in front of one another, overlapped them, and used warm reds and yellows, which seemed to jump forward in a painting, in contrast to cold blues and greens, which receded.

Cézanne showed all sides of an object at once, making them seem to come out of the painting. Whether the subject of his painting was human or the assemblage of objects forming a still life, he ignored surface detail and reduced his subject matter to basic geometric shapes—cube, sphere, cylinder. This facet of his art was to form the basis of the movement called cubism Cubism Art;cubism during the early twentieth century. Cézanne painted landscapes as well as numerous still lifes. Although the objects in these still lifes seemed to be placed haphazardly, he would spend hours arranging and rearranging them so that the final effect would be exactly what he desired. His entire life was spent struggling to develop the technical competence to express on canvas what he experienced in nature. His struggle resulted in techniques so innovative that he has been called the founder of modern art.

Gauguin reacted differently against Impressionism and nineteenth century French realism. Like Cézanne, he felt that the two-dimensional quality of the canvas should be maintained and that painting should not be treated as if it were sculpture. Gauguin’s own style, called cloisonnisme, first emerged in paintings from Brittany characterized by bright, flat color patterns and strong outlines. He wanted to express the world around him in a realistic and straightforward way, so he used bold shapes and vivid colors. His style was primitive, partly because he had no formal training.

The famous example of Georges Seurat’s use of pointillism is his 1886 painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jate.

Eventually, Gauguin traveled to Tahiti Tahiti , and he painted representations of Tahitian women. The beauty of the South Sea Islanders made a huge impact on Gauguin, and he painted them repeatedly. His style remained the same, but his colors became more resonant and his design simpler. He freed art from some of its conventional limitations, rejecting the relatively new idea that art must portray something seen in the real world, often using color unnaturally to set an emotional tone and create an atmosphere or expressive effect.

Van Gogh Van Gogh, Vincent began painting in the Impressionist manner of applying paint in small dashes but later painted in swirls and waves, applying the paint thickly to express his strong feelings and exaggerate his vibrant palette. His technique of often applying paint directly from tube onto canvas and then molding it with his brush (called impasto) became a hallmark of his work. Yellow was his favorite and most used color. It represented the sun, creation, and fields of wheat. The other colors most common to his palette (blue and purple) only served to intensify the effect of his yellow. His well-known sunflowers were painted almost entirely in yellow.

The term “expressionism” Art;expressionism Expressionism was coined to describe van Gogh’s work. Van Gogh, Vincent When he was painting in Arles in the south of France, he painted with violent passion and energy. His broad and strong brushstrokes vibrated energy and, at the same time, distorted reality by exaggerating what he considered essential while leaving surface detail vague. His canvases showed the torment of his repeated seizures, conveyed by writhing, twisting forms against turbulent skies. Many consider his mental instability to have been key to his emotional expressiveness.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s art depicted the “night people” of Paris, Paris;and post-Impressionism[PostImpressionism] particularly Montmartre: Montmartre Paris;Montmartre actors, circus performers, dancers, nightclub entertainers, pimps, and prostitutes. He chronicled the gaiety of Parisian night life and lived the life he pictured. Toulouse-Lautrec Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de often portrayed figures as silhouettes placed off-center and simplified almost to caricature. As a result of two accidents in his teens, the growth of Toulous-Lautrec’s legs was stunted, so as he matured, his torso and head developed normally, but his legs did not. His dwarfish, grotesque appearance caused him to be excluded from conventional society and thrust into the world of his paintings.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s work was devoid of emotion and was so detached that he appeared to be an outside observer of the life he portrayed. Obeying no taboos, he was unconcerned about the subject matter portrayed in his paintings and considered the more unattractive aspects of life fit subjects for art. His sharp eye captured the bohemian life with humor, energy, and color. His greatest art was in his lithographs. Using a few colors and simple outlines, his posters usually advertised entertainers in such innovative ways that they resembled candid snapshots. They were, in fact, the result of many carefully prepared sketches.

Seurat Seurat, Georges developed the method of painting called “pointillism,” in which thousands of tiny dots of brilliant unmixed color were applied to the canvas side by side. Theoretically, the eye of the viewer would mix the colors, so that a person looking at an image of a flower composed of tiny blue and red dots would see a purple flower. His method was slow and meticulous, and he hoped to achieve greater accuracy of detail, as well as to indicate the vibrancy of colors in bright sunlight. Seurat Seurat, Georges is sometimes criticized for his impartiality and dryness, but he was a sharp observer of contemporary Parisian life. He sought to restore solidity and architectural order to Impressionist painting through a new and innovative technique.


Several twentieth century artistic movements were influenced by post-Impressionism, including Fauvism, led by Henri Matisse Matisse, Henri (1869-1954), a short-lived movement characterized by bold distortions of forms and exuberant color. The beginning of the Fauvist movement in the first decade of the twentieth century is often taken to mark the end of the post-Impressionist movement. Cubism Cubism followed Fauvism: Paint texture and color were abandoned by the cubists, as were emotionally charged subject matter and concern about the play of light on form, movement, and atmosphere.

The cubist palette was limited to black, brown, gray, and off-white, in rigid geometric composition. The aim was to appeal to the intellect by showing everyday objects as the mind rather than the eye perceived them—from all sides at once. Late cubism Cubism Art;cubism (1913-1920’s) used brighter colors and more decorative effects with fewer and simpler forms. Cubism was a form of abstract art, or art which is not an accurate representation of form or object. The artist simplifies or exaggerates the object using various shapes, colors, or forms. Notable cubists were Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

As art developed through Fauvism and cubism to abstract expressionism Art;expressionism Expressionism and utterly nonrepresentational forms, artists came to be concerned more explicitly with the canvas and less explicitly with the world beyond it. The end result of this trend was to be found in the paintings of Jackson Pollock Pollock, Jackson and Jasper Johns Johns, Jasper , which represented nothing other than paint on canvas. This concern with representing the medium itself had roots in the work of the post-Impressionists.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Athanassoglou-Kallmyer, Nina Maria. Cézanne and Provence: The Painter in His Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Examines how Cézanne’s alliance with the region of Provence affected his innovative painting style and critical reputation. Illustrated with 120 color plates and halftones.
  • citation-type="booksimple"


    Cézanne and the Post-Impressionists. New York: McCall, 1970. Informative text and illustrations of the post-Impressionists.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Druick, Douglas W., et al. Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South. Chicago: Thames and Hudson and Art Institute of Chicago, 2001. Catalog accompanying an exhibit of the two artists’ work that was displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Van Gogh Museum in 2001-2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Halliwell, Sarah, ed. Who and When? Impressionism and Postimpressionism: Artists, Writers, and Composers. London: Marshall Cavendish, 1998. Overview with illustrations written in simple narrative fashion.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Herbert, Robert L. Seurat: Drawings and Paintings. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. Examines the full range of Seurat’s work, concentrating on the personal and social meaning of his individual paintings and drawings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rewald, John. Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gauguin. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962. Classic text with illustrations on the history and influence of post-Impressionism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomson, Belinda. The Post-Impressionists. Secaucus, N.J.: Chartwell Books, 1983. A detailed survey of the period, analyzing the artists, their rivalry, their subject matter, and major themes.

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Categories: History