Summary of Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism encompasses a wide range of distinct artistic styles that all share the common motivation of responding to the opticality of the Impressionist movement. The stylistic variations assembled under the general banner of Post-Impressionism range from the scientifically oriented Neo-Impressionism of Georges Seurat to the lush Symbolism of Paul Gauguin, but all concentrated on the subjective vision of the artist. The movement ushered in an era during which painting transcended its traditional role as a window onto the world and instead became a window into the artist's mind and soul. The far-reaching aesthetic impact of the Post-Impressionists influenced groups that arose during the turn of the 20th century, like the Expressionists, as well as more contemporary movements, like the identity-related Feminist Art.
- Symbolic and highly personal meanings were particularly important to Post-Impressionists such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh. Rejecting interest in depicting the observed world, they instead looked to their memories and emotions in order to connect with the viewer on a deeper level.
- Structure, order, and the optical effects of color dominated the aesthetic vision of Post-Impressionists like Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, and Paul Signac. Rather than merely represent their surroundings, they relied upon the interrelations of color and shape to describe the world around them.
- Despite the various individualized styles, most Post-Impressionists focused on abstract form and pattern in the application of paint to the surface of the canvas. Their early leanings toward abstraction paved the way for the radical modernist exploration of abstraction that took place in the early-20th century.
- Critics grouped the various styles within Post-Impressionism into two general, opposing stylistic trends - on one side was the structured, or geometric style that was the precursor to Cubism, while on the other side was the expressive, or non-geometric art that led to Abstract Expressionism.
Overview of Post-Impressionism
Though Paul Cézanne famously said, "I will astonish Paris with an apple," he turned away from Paris (but not from fruits) for a quiet life in Provence where he painted, as he said, "nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere and the cone." His artistic approach launched one of the four major trends in movement now defined as Post-Impressionism. And his move to the countryside became a model for other Post-Impressionist leaders including Signac, Gauguin, and van Gogh, who also worked and lived in the South of France.
Important Art and Artists of Post-Impressionism
Seurat's Sunday Afternoon is perhaps the most famous example of the painting technique known as Pointillism. Although the picture contains the impressionistic elements of light and shadow and depicts the leisure activities of the Parisian bourgeoisie, it is an early example of the artistic reaction to the Impressionist movement. Seurat composed the entire scene from a series of small, precise dots of color. If viewed closely, the painting becomes nothing more than a quasi-abstract array of colors, similar to a needlepoint. When viewed at an appropriate distance, however, Sunday Afternoon comes into focus. Seurat carefully placed each dot in relation to the ones around it in order to create the desired optical effect. He did so in order to bring structure and rationality to what he perceived were the triviality and disorganization rampant in Impressionism.
Gauguin studied in Brittany in the north of France where the unique history and customs represented a certain degree of spiritual freedom and primitive candor for Gauguin. While there, he painted Vision After the Sermon.
The painting, which depicts a revelatory vision of Jacob wrestling with an angel, clearly delineates reality and spiritual manifestation through aesthetic form. While the crowd of churchgoers who experience the vision is in the foreground, the Biblical struggle appears in the background, surrounded by a two-dimensional and vibrantly colored plane. Gauguin relied upon the abstraction of the red ground to communicate the space of the vision as well as the heightened emotions present at a religious revelation. As this work demonstrates, Gauguin rejected the conventions of industrialized modern society, in both his art and his life, through romanticized evocations of the primitive, the incorporeal, and the mystical. In doing so, he helped initiate the individualized expressionistic vein of avant-garde art that influenced generations of artists throughout the 20th century.
Vuillard, one of the most renowned members of Les Nabis, is known for his intimate portraits of family members and friends as well as his fixation upon decorative patterns. In this bold self-portrait, however, he centers upon the artist by placing his intense gaze front and center. He synthesizes the influences of Japanese woodblock printing, Pointillism, and the artistic tradition of self-portraiture with his personal ideals and goals for painting in this vivid self-representation. The broad brushstrokes and sketchy depiction of Vuillard's features draw our attention to the materiality of the canvas, while the muted colors of the palette signal the artist's departure from observed nature.