Art Periods- Post-Impressionism
The Centenary of Independence
(Le centenaire de l’indépendance)
Henri Rousseau, 1892 Oil on canvas 57 × 110 cm, 22.4 × 43.3 inches Present whereabouts unknown
Post-Impressionism is the term coined by the British artist and art critic Roger Fry in 1914, to describe the development of European art since Monet (Impressionism). John Rewald, one of the first professional art historians to focus on the birth of early modern art, limited the scope to the years between 1886 and 1892 in his pioneering publication on Post-Impressionism: From Van Gogh to Gauguin (1956): Rewald considered it to continue his History of Impressionism (1946), and pointed out that a “subsequent volume dedicated to the second half of the post-impressionist period” – Post-Impressionism: From Gauguin to Matisse – was to follow, extending the period covered to other artistic movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries — to artistic movements based on or derived from Impressionism.
Post-Impressionism was both an extension of Impressionism and a rejection of their limitations. Post-Impressionists continued using vivid colours, thick application of paint, distinctive brushstrokes and real-life subject matter, but they were more inclined to emphasize geometric forms, to distort form for expressive effect, and to use unnatural or arbitrary color. The Post-Impressionists were dissatisfied with the triviality of subject matter and the loss of structure in Impressionist paintings, though they did not agree on the way forward. Georges Seurat and his followers concerned themselves with Pointillism, the systematic use of tiny dots of color. Paul Cézanne set out to restore a sense of order and structure to painting. He achieved this by reducing objects to their basic shapes while retaining the bright fresh colours of Impressionism. Vincent Van Gogh used colour and vibrant swirling brush strokes to convey his feelings and his state of mind. Although they often exhibited together, they were not a cohesive movement. They worked in geographically disparate regions and in various stylistic categories, such as Fauvism and Cubism.
- Neo-Impressionism: ridiculed by contemporary art critics as well as artists as Pointillism; Seurat and Signac would have preferred other terms: Divisionism for example
- Cloisonnism: a short-lived term introduced in 1888 by the art critic Edouard Dujardin, was to promote the work of Louis Anquetin, and was later also applied to contemporary works of his friend Émile Bernard
- Synthetism: another short-lived term coined in 1889 to distinguish recent works of Gauguin and Bernard from that of more traditional “Impressionists” exhibiting with them at the Café Volpini.
- Pont-Aven School: implying little more than that the artists involved had been working for a while in Pont-Aven or elsewhere in Brittany.
- Symbolism: a term highly welcomed by vanguard critics in 1891, when Gauguin dropped Synthetism as soon as he was acclaimed to be the leader of Symbolism in painting.
Furthermore, in his introduction to “Post-Impressionism”, Rewald opted for a second volume featuring Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Rousseau “le Douanier”, les Nabis and Cézanne as well as the Fauves, the young Picasso and Gauguin’s last trip to the South-Sea; it was to expand the period covered at least into the first decade of the 20th century – yet this second volume remained unfinished.
Reviews and adjustments
Rewald’s approach to historical data was narrative rather than analytic, and beyond this point he believed it would be sufficient to “let the sources speak for themselves.” Rewald frankly admitted that “the term ‘Post-Impressionism’ is not a very precise one, though a very convenient one.” Convenient, as it is by definition limited to French visual arts derived from Impressionism since 1886.
- Modernism, thus, is now considered to be the central movement within international western civilisation with its original roots in France, going back beyond the French Revolution to the Age of Enlightenment.
- Symbolism, however, is a concept which emerged a century later in France, and implied an individual approach. Local national traditions as well as individual settings therefore could stand side by side, and from the very beginning a broad variety of artists practising some kind of symbolic imagery, ranged between extreme positions: The Nabis for example united to find synthesis of tradition and brand new form, while others kept to traditional, more or less academic forms, when they were looking for fresh contents: Symbolism is therefore often linked to fanatastic, esoteric, erotic and other non-realist subject matter.
To meet the recent discussion, the connotations of the term Postimpressionism were challenged again: Alan Bowness and his collaborators expanded the period covered to 1914, but limited their wide approach on the 1890s to France. Other European countries are pushed back to standard connotations, and Eastern Europe is completely excluded.
So, while it seems reasonable to see a split between classical Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in 1886, the end and the extend of Post-Impressionism remains under discussion.
For Rewald, Cubism was an absolutely fresh start, and so Cubism has been seen since the beginning.
Examples of Post-Impressionist paintings
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)
Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
Georges Seurat (1859-1891)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
Paul Sérusier (1864-1927)