- Curious Peoples
Shaping the Future of Modern Art
In the waning years of the 19th century, a new art movement, Post-Impressionism, emerged as a transformative wave. It began around the time of the last Impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1886 and spanned until 1905. This era saw painters like Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and others diverge from Impressionism’s focus on naturalistic portrayals of light and color.
These pioneers, later termed Post-Impressionists, were first grouped under this banner in 1910 by English art critic and painter Roger Fry. Each pursued a unique artistic style, but they collectively emphasized emotional and psychological responses to the world, rather than just optical impressions. Their art, characterized by bold colors, patterned brushstrokes, and sometimes symbolic imagery, marked a shift toward abstraction and a refreshed aesthetic vision.
Unlike the closely-knit Impressionists, the Post-Impressionists often worked in solitude. Cézanne painted alone in Aix-en-Provence, Gauguin isolated himself in Tahiti, and van Gogh worked in the countryside of Arles.
Cézanne, frequently regarded as the most influential among them, bridged Impressionism and Cubism. He reinterpreted nature with geometric simplicity, seeking to discover its structural essence. His approach profoundly influenced modern masters like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, with Picasso famously calling Cézanne “the father of us all.”
The Bathers by Paul Cézanne, 1898–1905
Sainte-Victoire Mountain by Paul Cézanne, 1904
Seurat introduced a scientific approach to Impressionist painting techniques of light and color. He developed Pointillism, a method involving the application of small, unmixed color dots on the canvas to create a vibrant effect. His masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, is an iconic representation of this era.
Bathers at Asnière by Georges Seurat, 1884
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, 1884–1886
Van Gogh, synonymous with bold colors and impulsive brushwork, moved to Paris during the Impressionist era but soon adopted Post-Impressionism, infusing his art with emotional responses to nature and his inner world. His unique style laid the groundwork for modern art.
Café Terrace at Night by Vincent van Gogh, 1888
The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, June 1889
Gauguin, moving away from nature as his primary inspiration, saturated his art with intense color and imaginative subjects. He developed Synthetism, blending the visible world, the artist’s emotions, and aesthetic elements like color and form. Gauguin’s style, marked by bold, unrealistic colors, strong lines, and flatness, contrasted with traditional shading and perspective, aiming to evoke deep emotional responses.
Day of the Gods by Paul Gauguin, 1894
Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? by Paul Gauguin, 1897
The Post-Impressionists, with their radical individualism and commitment to innovative expression, not only diverged from their Impressionist predecessors but also paved the way for key 20th-century movements like Cubism and Fauvism. Their legacy continues to inspire and challenge artistic boundaries.
Words of wisdom
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” —George Bernard Shaw
“Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.” —Oscar Wilde
“Solitude is independence.” —Hermann Hesse
“Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.” —Pablo Picasso
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