Post-Impressionism Art | Paintings, Painters & Characteristics

Kenli Doss, Amy Troolin, Sasha Blakeley
  • Author
    Kenli Doss

    Kenli Doss has years of experience teaching acting, writing, and drama. She has a BA in English and a BA in Drama from Jacksonville State University. She also has more than five years' experience as a tutor in subjects like English, Science, and Math.

  • 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.

  • Expert Contributor
    Sasha Blakeley

    Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University and a TEFL certification. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for seven years.

What is post-impressionism? Learn the history, definition, and characteristics of post-impressionism, and read about popular post-impressionism art and artists. Updated: 10/18/2021

Table of Contents


What is Post-Impressionism?

Post-Impressionism is a style of art derived from the late 19th-century form called 'Impressionism.' The Post-Impressionism definition can be simplified to this: highly impressionist art that varies from the naturalism of Impressionism to express the inner feelings of the artist. In other words, Post-Impressionism uses the same real-life subjects Impressionism does but includes a personal addition from the artist.

History of Post-Impressionism

Post-Impressionism art saw its birth in France at the end of the 19th century when french art began to experience a growth spurt. In the 1870s, a group of artists created the art form known as Impressionism because they wanted to represent the natural world with short brushstrokes. The Impressionist movement had just begun when artists around Europe started deviating from this technique. Post-Impressionist artists did not consider themselves a school of any kind and, in some cases, openly detested the art of their peers.

Post-Impressionism Time Period

The Post-Impressionism time period was clouded by invention, leading many like-minded artists to seek a new form of expression through painting. Though the painters who created Post-Impressionism have never been a collective group, the art form has been perfected and treated as an established school of art for over one hundred years.

Roger Fry coined the term 'post-impressionism' in his 1910 exhibit at London's Grafton galleries. He famously exhibited works from the artists who challenged commonly accepted art techniques and named the exhibit Manet and the Post-Impressionists. The term stuck and is still used today to describe the art created by those who wanted to add personal expression to the naturalism of Impressionism.

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Post-Impressionism Characteristics

Post-Impressionism characteristics can differ because the artists who originated the techniques involved with Post-Impressionism did not work together. Still, there are a few defining characteristics that make up the art form. All forms of Post-Impressionist painting have three characteristics in common:

  • subjectivity
  • real-life subject matter
  • manipulation of color or geometric design

Subjective Nature

One of the biggest changes Post-Impressionism made to Impressionism is intention. While Impressionist painters attempted to represent the world as it appeared to them, Post-Impressionists added the interpretation and reflection of the artist into the painting. The subjectivity of Post-Impressionist art is what sets it apart from the other art forms of the 19th-century.

Real-Life Subject Matter

Post-Impressionism is like Impressionism as it relates to subject matter. Both art styles aim to represent the real world in one way or another. Every Post-Impressionist painting uses real-life subject matter, meaning images seen by the eyes of the painter. Where Post-Impressionism varies is in its mode of real-world representation. The artists involved with Post-Impressionism do not simply portray the world as if taking a photograph, they add interpretation and emotion to the scene or figure via color, shape, and form.


Also referred to as 'Divisionism,' Neo-Impressionism is a movement that branched from the Post-Impressionist ideals during the late 19th century. The leader of this Neo-Impressionist thought was Georges Seurat, who aimed to take Impressionism in a more scientific direction. Seurat gained fame by experimenting with color and the way in which the human eye perceives it. His most famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-1886), mixes Pointillism with Neo-Impressionist ideals to create an illusion from small dots of primary colors.


Symbolism is an important feature in many Post-Impressionist works. Many painters of the movement used the real-life subjects of their paintings as symbols for grander ideas. For example, a Post-Impressionist may paint the image of a half-eaten apple she sees on the street as a symbol for food waste in the world.

One group of Post-Impressionists called 'Les Nabis' focused on incorporating religious and spiritual imagery into their paintings. They used the techniques of Post-Impressionism to express their ideas of spiritualism and mysticism through art.


Pointillism is a technique that sprung from the mind of Georges Seurat, who also ushered in the school of Neo-Impressionism. Seurat's technique uses tiny dots of paint to create a larger picture and is a mode of painting many Post-Impressionist artists tried during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Post-Impressionism Painters and Paintings

Post-Impressionism paintings can look widely different from one another, often sharing only short brushstrokes and live subject matter in common. Some of the most influential and memorable Post-Impressionism painters are listed here:

  • Paul Cezanne
  • Georges Seurat
  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Paul Gauguin

Maison et ferme du Jas de Bouffan by Cezanne

Cezanne made great use of geometry in his works.

Painting by Cezanne

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  • Activities
  • FAQs

Post-Impressionism Activities

This lesson introduced you to the nebulous art movement known as post-impressionism. Use the following activities to explore this concept further.

Deep Dive

You have now read a little about several post-impressionist artists including Cezanne, Seurat, and Toulouse-Lautrec. Choose one of these artists and do your own research on his life. What inspired him to create? What were his most famous pieces? What kind of life did he lead? Write a short biography of your chosen artist. You can also do research into post-impressionist artists not listed in this lesson. Think outside the box!

Retroactive Label

As this lesson explained, the term ''post-impressionism'' was applied to a number of artists many years after they produced their works. The same retroactive labeling is true of the metaphysical poets and, to some extent, of existentialist philosophers. Consider why this label was created for the post-impressionists and what impact that has on the artistic canon and our view of history. Write a journal entry explaining your thoughts, with reference to other retroactively labeled groups if you wish.

Create Your Own

One of the best ways to get inside the minds of the post-impressionists is to create your own post-impressionist art. You can try imitating the style of a famous artist, or else employ a technique like pointillism. You can also create a brand new kind of artwork, provided you keep the six main trends of post-impressionism in mind while you work and try to incorporate at least one of them into your art. Consider how the act of artistic creation changes your view of the post-impressionists and what they were aiming to achieve.

Why is post-impressionism important?

Post-Impressionism laid way for many new techniques such as Pointillism and Synthetism to arise. It also catalyzed the creation of many modern movements such as Cubism and Surrealism.

What's the difference between Impressionism and Post Impressionism?

Impressionism is the school of art which proceeded Post-Impressionism and represents real-life subjects with many,short brushstrokes indicating light and shape. Post-Impressionism uses the same subject matter as Impressionism but adds the artist's emotional or geometric interpretation to said subject.

What defines Post-Impressionism?

Post-Impressionism can best be defined as a movement of art which aims to transform images from the real world with emotion from the artist. Post-Impressionist paintings often differ from one another but maintain this basic description.

What are the key characteristics of Post Impressionism?

Post-Impressionism can branch into many different techniques, but there are a few characteristics which define the basis of the movement. Post-Impressionist paintings include real-life subjects and are always centered around the interpretation of the painter.

Who were the Post Impressionist artists?

The main artists involved with Post-Impressionism did not consider themselves a group. They are Paul Cezanne, Georges Seurat, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin.

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