Progression of Art
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
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.
Oil on canvas - The Art Institute of Chicago
Vision After the Sermon
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.
Oil on canvas - National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh
Self-Portrait with Waroquy
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.
Oil on board - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Portrait of Doctor Gachet
Van Gogh was one of the modern era's most gifted and emotionally troubled artists. Although grossly underappreciated in his lifetime, Van Gogh was an impulsive and often spontaneous painter who embodied many of the ideals of the Post-Impressionist movement. In Portrait of Doctor Gachet, Van Gogh strove to elicit a complex mixture of emotions within the viewer, rather than portray a naturalistic description of the sitter. Van Gogh created painterly rhythms and swirling forms within the arrangement of the figure in order to convey elements of strength, intelligence, and melancholy. Through such intimate and personalized interpretations, Van Gogh epitomized the rejection of Impressionistic optical observation in favor of an emotionally laden representation that appealed to the viewer's heart, rather than his mind.
Oil on canvas - Private collection
Moulin Rouge: La Goulue
A frequent visitor of the notorious Moulin Rouge, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec immortalized the Montmartre dance hall in his highly stylized images of dancers and patrons. This, his earliest lithographic poster for the Moulin Rouge demonstrates his uniquely graphic approach and proclivity for representations of urban life. All figures except the female dancer in the center are silhouettes, while the perspective tilts sharply, lending the scene the impression of three-dimensionality. Although Toulouse-Lautrec focused upon scenes of the modern city like the Impressionists, he revolutionized the subject matter. He used crisp silhouettes and sharply abbreviated the depth of the picture plane to convey the rapid pace of contemporary life.
Through its saturated hues and expressive content, Munch's most famous painting, The Scream, articulates the central tenets of his aesthetic mode. While many critics interpret the work as an expression of the modern condition, Munch himself called it a "study of the soul, that is to say the study of my own self." Through the nightmarish image of the anguished individual and the abstract rendering of form, the artist created this highly provocative and personal painting. Unlike the Impressionists' idyllic images of rural scenes, Munch poses an alternate view of man's relationship with nature. Here, the protagonist's emotions are reflected throughout the surrounding scenery, which create a symbolic plane for the expression of internal being.
Oil, tempera, and pastel on cardboard - National Gallery, Oslo
The Large Bathers
Many consider Cézanne's The Large Bathers his defining masterpiece. In it, Cézanne employed the technique of constructing visually complex images composed of simple shapes, lines, and geometric forms built up from the canvas with thick impasto. He composed the bathers, trees, and landscape from planes of color and applied the paint with a palette knife, not a brush. These color planes highlighted the fact that the viewer's eye observed a scene both simultaneously and consecutively. This visual effect caused the forms of the bathers' bodies in the foreground to merge into the branches of the trees in the landscape behind them. This visual slippage heralded the future of modernist painting. The spatial ambiguity of the Bathers and Cézanne's emphasis on formal structure paved the way for the visual experimentations of Cubism.
Oil on canvas - Philadelphia Museum of Art
In The Dream, his last and largest painting, Rousseau presented a unique interpretation of the traditional theme of the reclining nude. She is resting on her side, surrounded by the tropical flora and fauna of the mysterious depths of a jungle. Curiously, the woman reclines on a couch, not a patch of grass, observing her exotic surroundings as if at a great remove. Rousseau explained that he depicted the woman as she sat on her sofa in her Parisian apartment, dreaming of the tropical jungle that surrounded her. The lack of perspectival depth, use of bright color, and distorted representations accentuate the dream-like quality of the painting. Although Rousseau repeatedly painted images of jungles, he never even left Paris. Instead, his exoticized images of the non-industrialized world were creations of his own imagination that emphasized his rejection of modernity as well as the preeminence of his individual artistic vision. Like many of his other works, Rousseau's The Dream displays the artist's disregard for naturalistic depiction and realistic content in favor of surreal renderings.
Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art