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Post-Impressionism: Artists, Paintings, and Everything You Need to Know

Paul Cézanne, L'Estaque with Red Roofs, 1885, Private collection. Wikiart.

Art History 101

Post-Impressionism: Artists, Paintings, and Everything You Need to Know

The term “Post-Impressionism” combines the oeuvre of many artists. In this article, we will tell you about four prominent masters who are most associated with the art movement – Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, and Paul Cezanne. DailyArt Magazine has gathered everything you need to know about Post-Impressionism, its distinctive features, and representatives.

It is quite difficult to talk about the striking distinctions between Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, or when one art movement ended and the other began. In all senses, the boundaries between them are illegible. Even mentioned artists did not call themselves Post-Impressionists.

The term itself appeared when they were all already dead – in 1910. At the time, British curator and art critic Roger Fry was hosting an exhibition at the Grafton Gallery in London and needed a new term to combine the quartet’s diverse artworks. He determined the period of Post-Impressionism to be from 1880 to 1905. However the art critic John Rivald was convinced that the period of Post-Impressionism had begun in 1886 (when the last exhibition of the Impressionists took place) and lasted until 1892.

It is a painting Portrait of a Young Woman by Paul Gauguin (1896). He portrayed Vaite (Jeanne) Goupil seated on the chair. The painting looks very bright.
Paul Gauguin, Portrait of a Young Woman – Vaite (Jeanne) Goupil, 1896, Ordrupgaard, Denmark. Ordrupgaard.

Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, and Cézanne all began with Impressionism. Although their oeuvre did not ultimately belong to this artistic direction, they used its basic principles: a true depiction of scenes of modern life; use of vivid, natural colors; use of dynamic strokes in which colors are not mixed; giving preference to the play of light over the accuracy of the image. However, there were differences due to which their paintings cannot be attributed to Impressionism:

– The object of the painting is not external objects, but the inner essence of things. In Post-Impressionism, how the artist sees the world around him/her is more important than how it actually looks.

– Removing the momentary from the canvas and depicting the object of the painting in a fluid state. It is no longer important to imprint the moment, the main thing is to display the attitude.

– The simple image of reality also recedes into the background. Post-Impressionists do not want to copy reality, but to reflect upon it, to pass it through the prism of their own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and imagination. This is why the art movement is characterized by decorativeness and symbolic accents.

– The color palette ceases to be natural. The paintings are full of bright, saturated colors with an “emotional charge” that post-impressionists strive to convey to the viewer.

Vincent van Gogh

In Van Gogh’s paintings, the Post-Impressionist motive “I depict not what I see, but what I feel” is particularly evident. The artist caricatures the properties of objects to convey the desired emotions. For the same reason, he fancifully decorates his paintings and sometimes applies so much paint that they seem three-dimensional.

“How many times have I said that this man will either go crazy or surpass us all. However, I could not have foreseen that he would do both.”

– attr. Camille Pissarro, about Vincent van Gogh.

Everyday walks through the prism of one’s own experience are Van Gogh’s formula, which had begun with Expressionism.

This is the painting Fishing in the Spring by Vincent van Gogh,1887. It depicts cityscape with a river, bridge and the man in the boat.
Vincent van Gogh, Fishing in the Spring, 1887, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA. Wikiart.

Paul Gauguin

At first, Gauguin challenged the Impressionists with a palette of colors. Bright yellow, orange, green, blue, and other unnatural juicy colors spilled over his paintings. They gave Gauguin’s artistic world a unique expressiveness and emphasized the artist’s emotional attitude towards what he depicted.

The painting A seashore (1887) by Paul Gauguin portrays seven figures on the seashore. The sea has a deep blue color.
Paul Gauguin, A seashore, 1887, Private Collection. Wikiart.

Then, Gauguin marked his retreat from Impressionism, creating only semi-real worlds full of symbolism and allegory.

Later the artist began to depict planes of pure color and not using shadows.

Finally, he ended up creating “primitive art“. Actually, this was the primary aim of his trip to Tahiti where he created his famous, exotic series of paintings.

“I’m a great artist and I know about it.”

– attr. Paul Gauguin, on himself.

Georges Seurat

Seurat was a breaker of the Impressionist traditions in his own way. For example, in his paintings he did not chase the ephemerality of the moment and did not even try to depict it on canvas (later his artworks became completely static). Therefore, he did not create paintings outdoors to accurately convey light effects. He had been making only sketches outside and mainly worked in the studio. Seurat was also interested in timelessness.

Unlike Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, Seurat did not reject the achievements of Impressionism so sharply. He was impressed by both the natural colors and the images of everyday scenes from modern life. He wanted to see more order in the paintings though, to make the structure look whole, united. Also he wanted more clarity in contour lines.

The painting Study for "Un dimanche après midi à l'île de la Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat (1884). It depicts two female figures laying on the grass near river.
Georges Seurat, Study for Un dimanche après midi à l’île de la Grande Jatte, 1884, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France. Wikiart.

After a long search, he found something that would give this clarity. It was a technique of color separation called pointillism. Seurat, without pity, said goodbye to the arbitrary strokes of the Impressionists and began to paint using dots, without mixing colors. It seemed to him that in this way his paintings would literally breathe the color and radiate light.

Paul Cézanne

Believe it or not, Cezanne’s innovation was just that he recalled that man has two eyes. Funny, but it’s true. The artist drew attention to the fact that the left and right eyes perceive different visual information. So, when we explore an object, we also look at it from different angles, we turn our heads. But art, he says, offers us the only option of a single angle. Cezanne was convinced that it was incorrect to depict objects like this because we don’t see them that way in real life. Therefore, they should be depicted on the canvas from at least two perspectives, not one.

In the painting The Banks of the Marne (1888) Paul Cézanne depicts riverside house surrounded by trees.
Paul Cézanne, The Banks of the Marne, 1888, Hermitage Museum, St.Petersburg, Russia. Wikiart.

Have you already felt the ideas of Cubism?

In the painting Boy Resting (1890) Paul Cézanne portrays boy in the park who is laying on the ground.
Paul Cézanne, Boy Resting, 1890, Hammer Museum, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA. Wikiart.

Like Seurat, Cézanne loved the clear structure of the composition and the separation of contrasting colors. However, unlike his colleague, he spent his creative research in the open air with a planner in his hands. During his “field research” he tried to portray nature more deeply and objectively than the Impressionists did. He realized another important thing, we do not see all of the details but we see the forms. Thus, Cézanne began to reduce trees, mountains, people, buildings to geometric shapes. It was a revolution. Cézanne opened the door to Modernism. 

In the painting Large Bathers (1900) by Paul Cézanne, we see eleven female nude figures bathing. The painting consists of a lot of blue clor and its tones.
Paul Cézanne, Large Bathers, 1900, National Gallery, London, UK. Wikiart.

Conclusion in four brief theses:

– Van Gogh’s Post-Impressionism gave birth to the ideas of the Expressionism.
– Paul Gauguin’s Post-Impressionism started Primitivism in art and laid the foundations for Symbolism.
– Georges Seurat’s Post-Impressionism initiated Pointillism.
– Paul Cézanne’s Post-Impressionism actually formulated the main ideas of Cubism.

Learn more about Post-Impressionism:

I am a Ukrainian journalist, who enjoy visiting art museums and writing articles on cultural topics.


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