The Unforgettable Beauty of Post-Impressionism

"BEYOND WHAT THE EYE SEES, REACHING OUT TO WHAT THE HEART FEELS"

Throughout the 19th century, a group of predominantly French painters began to change the course of art history. Masters like Claude Monet and Mary Cassatt, among many others, experimented with brush stroke techniques and sharp observation of lighting to create Impressionism.

And the next generation? They took up many of the lessons of this new school of art and completely revolutionized the way we look at painting.

Those young, bold voices are now known as the Post-Impressionists. And their movement continues to inform how we think and talk about art, not to mention how we make it.

What is Post-Impressionism?

Post-Impressionism relies on the use of color and style to express a certain viewpoint.

So why is it called Post-Impressionism? The term was coined by Roger Fry when he named an exhibition, “Manet and the Post-Impressionists.” He chose that term because the movement arose both as a natural outgrowth of, and as a reaction to, Impressionism

For centuries, the ideal had been to make it impossible to see brush strokes altogether. And there was a strict hierarchy of subject matter, with historical and religious scenes at the top moving all the way down to the lowly still-life. The Impressionists came along and changed that. They experimented with brush strokes and painted scenes from everyday life.

The Post-Impressionists picked up on those innovations, but they pushed them even further. A painter like Van Gogh infuses his canvases with lots of life — going beyond what his eye saw and into what his heart felt.

These artists began introducing abstraction into their works. Their color choices and shapes were no longer simply realistic. They weren’t going into full-on studies of pure color and form, but they were the first to really let loose with them.

What are the major artists of Post-Impressionism?

Post-Impressionism gave us some of the most important artists of all time. Its ranks include the likes of:

  • Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890): One of the most famous artists of all time, this painter emphasized abstract patterns and striking colors to create his masterpieces. His work includes the world renowned The Starry Night (1889).

The Unforgettable Beauty of Post-Impressionism - Van gogh starry night

  • Paul Cézanne (1839-1906): Cézanne was a meticulous painter who made surprising color choices, as in his Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Bellevue (1886). He helped spur on Cubism with his experiments in showing subjects from multiple angles. 

The Unforgettable Beauty of Post-Impressionism - Paul Cezanne

  • Paul Gauguin (1848-1903): A world traveler, Gauguin’s artwork reflects the cultures he encountered in places like Martinique and Tahiti. You can see that influence in works like Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1898).

The Unforgettable Beauty of Post-Impressionism - Paul Gauguin

  • Georges Seurat (1859-1891): This artist, famous for A Sunday Afternoon of the Island of La Grande Jatte (1886), created a technique of applying dots of color directly on the canvas, rather than mixing colors on a palette. This would come to be called pointillism.

The Unforgettable Beauty of Post-Impressionism - Georges Seurat

These painters, along with many others, changed art. They pushed beyond the barrier of representation and jump started the experimentation that would come to define art in the 20th century and beyond.

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