Post-Impressionism: Between Impressionism & Modernism

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  • 0:01 Reaction to Impressionism
  • 1:31 Post-Impressionism Trends
  • 4:42 Post-Impressionist Artists
  • 6:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will explore Post-Impressionism, which was an artistic reaction to the Impressionist movement that swept the art world in the 1870s and 1880s. We will focus on the characteristics and artists of Post-Impressionism.

A Reaction to Impressionism

Impressionism was all the rage in France in the late 1870s and 1880s. This artistic movement focused on capturing the effects of light and fleeting moments in time in vibrant colors and short, quick brushstrokes. Soon, however, some artists grew tired of Impressionist ideas and techniques and began to strike out in new ways, reacting against Impressionism and experimenting with new methods and styles. The result was Post-Impressionism.

Post-Impressionism was never an organized, uniform movement. Independent artists, including Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, and Vincent van Gogh, simply decided to leave Impressionism behind and follow their own artistic directions. These artists did not consider themselves a group, and in some cases, they actually quite despised each other and each other's artistic innovations. What joined them together was their dissatisfaction with Impressionism and their desire to create something new in the art world.

The term 'Post-Impressionism' was never actually used until 1910 when art critic Roger Fry opened an exhibition at London's Grafton Galleries that featured works from several reactionary artists. He called his exhibit Manet and the Post-Impressionists, and the label stuck.

Post-Impressionism Trends

As we look back from the modern vantage point, we can identify several trends that characterize Post-Impressionism. While Impressionists concentrated on light and color within nature, Post-Impressionists tended to pay more attention to emotional expression, symbolism, geometric structure, and artistic subjectivity. Let's look at a few of the styles that Post-Impressionist artists explored and applied.

First, some Post-Impressionist artists played with pointillism, a technique that involved placing tiny dots of color side by side on a canvas. From a distance, viewers could see these little dots as an optical blend of color, but close up, they were merely little dabs of paint. Pointillism proved to be an interesting and quite successful experiment in optics and colors, and viewers are still amazed at how a bunch of little paint dots can come together to form intricate pictures.

Second, many Post-Impressionists were devoted to symbolism. Instead of merely capturing moments in time like the Impressionists did, Post-Impressionists looked for deep meanings in their subjects and tried to express these meanings in their paintings. In other words, a building in a Post-Impressionist work might not be merely a building but might stand as a symbol of modern progress.

Third, many Post-Impressionists believed that works of art ought to blend three primary elements: the outward appearance of the subject, the artist's emotional reaction to the subject, and artistic choices of color, form, and line. This theory is known as synthetism because artists synthesized, or incorporated, their own emotional expressions into their art.

Fourth, some Post-Impressionists placed even greater emphasis on emotion in art. The artist's feelings took center stage and were vigorously conveyed by intense colors and brushstrokes. Sometimes, the subject's form was even distorted and its natural colors altered to show more vividly the artist's emotional response to the subject.

Fifth, a few Post-Impressionists took emotion one step further and entered into the realms of mysticism and spirituality. Calling themselves 'Les Nabis' (the Hebrew word for prophets), these artists attempted to express their inner spirituality and even mystical experiences in their art through blocks of vibrant color and stylized lines that revealed more of the artist's inner state than the reality of the subject.

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