History, Characteristics of Neo-Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism.

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Two Tahitian Women with Red Flowers
(1899) Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
By Paul Gauguin.

For colour pigments used by
Post-Impressionist painters, see:
Nineteenth Century Colour palette.

Post-Impressionism (c.1880-1905)


What is Post-Impressionism?
Neo-Impressionism (Georges Seurat)
Structure Not Imitation (Paul Cezanne)
Early Expressionism (Vincent Van Gogh)
Synthetism/Cloisonnism (Paul Gauguin)
Scandinavian Post-Impressionism (Edvard Munch)
French Poster Art
Les Nabis (1890s)
Les Vingt (1883-93)
Italian Divisionism (1890-1907)
Fauvism (Henri Matisse)
British Post-Impressionists: Camden Town Group (1911-13)
Group of Seven (Canada) (1920s on)

The Iles d'Or (The Iles d'Hyeres) (c.1892)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

By Henri-Edmond Cross, friend of
Henri Matisse and exponent of
Pointillism, one of the most
influential modern art movements
of the 1880s and 1890s.

Sea of Mist (Mare di nebbia) (1885)
Private Collection. A superb example
of Italian Divisionism, by
Vittore Grubicy de Dragon.

What is Post-Impressionism?

In fine art, the term Post-Impressionism denotes the phase of modern art during which artists sought to progress beyond the narrow imitative style of Impressionism, as practised by Claude Monet and his followers. (For more, see: Characteristics of Impressionist Painting.) The phase lasted roughly from 1880 to the late 1900s, although it endured longer outside France. Probably the most influential Post-Impressionist movements included Neo-Impressionism, early Expressionism, Art Nouveau and Fauvism, although the importance of the period lies essentially in the pioneering art of certain individual painters.

Although most famous Post-Impressionist painters were based in France, Post Impressionist painting spread throughout Europe, to include a wide variety of movements, including early Expressionism, as well as Italian Divisionism, Jugendstil as well as avant-garde groups like Les Vingt, and others.

The most celebrated individual artists of the period include: James Whistler (1834-1903), the flamboyant American painter, noted for his tonal Nocturnes; Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), one of the most influential of modern artists, whose formalistic approach to landscape paved the way for Cubism; the late developer Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), a colourist whose paintings of people and scenes from Tahiti had a huge influence on contemporary symbolism as well as styles of Cloisonism and Primitivism; Van Gogh (1853-1890) one of the pioneers of Expressionism, noted for his intensely personal pictures; Georges Seurat (1859-1891), one of the greatest exponents of drawing, who founded the Neo-Impressionist style of Pointillism, and is best-known for his masterpieces Bathers at Asnieres (National Gallery, London) and the complex A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-6); the alcoholic Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), whose lithographic poster art, and scenes of cafes and nightclubs, helped to create the popular image of Paris at the turn of the century; Henri Matisse (1869-1954) leader of the Fauves, and Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955), best remembered for his picture postcard views of Paris streets.

Nude (Black and Gold) (1908)
Hermitage, St. Petersburg.
By Henri Matisse.

The best collection of Impressionist
and Post-Impressionist paintings
hangs in the Musee d'Orsay Paris.

For a list of the best, see:
Impressionist Painters.

For a list of great works
see: Greatest Modern Paintings.

For a list of the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.

Neo-Impressionism (Georges Seurat)

Georges Seurat (1859-1891), along with his disciple Paul Signac (1863-1935), was the founder of Neo-Impressionism, the name given to the Divisionist technique (also called pointillism) which aimed to establish a scientific basis for Impressionism through the optical mixture of colours. Divisionism adhered to the colour theories of M Chevreul, as elaborated in his 1839 book De La Loi du Contraste Simultanée des Couleurs (concerning the law of the simultaneous contrast of colours). See also: Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910).

Instead of mixing colour on the palette and then applying it to the canvas, a process believed to reduce luminosity, Divisionists added tiny dabs of pure colour directly to the canvas, side by side, thus allowing them to 'mix' in the viewer's eye. Among Seurat's famous Pointillist pictures are Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grange Jatte (1884) and Bathers at Asnieres (1884). Camille and Lucien Pissarro were also occasional practitioners of Divisionism.

For later Dutch 'luminists' (Divisionists), see: Post-Impressionism in Holland (1880-1920).


Structure Not Imitation (Paul Cezanne)

Paul Cezanne, considered by some art historians to be the father of modern art for his influence over Picasso and Cubism, became determined to take a classical approach to plein-air painting as practised by the Impressionists. His carefully structured landscape compositions and still-lifes were built up in different chunks or planes at a painstakingly slow speed (the fruit in his still life paintings used to rot while he painted it!), so as to optimize the effects that each plane brought to the overall composition. This subjugation of natural content to form and structure, had a huge impact on several important 20th century painters like Pablo Picasso, who developed it further into their Cubist philosophy of art.

Works by Cezanne include: The Card Players (1892), Mont Sainte-Victoire paintings (1882-1906), The Boy in the Red Vest (1890), Man Smoking a Pipe (1890-2), Woman with a Coffee Pot (1890-5), Lady in Blue (1900), and The Large Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) (1894-1906). Cezanne was one of several Post-Impressionists to be supported by the Parisian Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) and the wealthy Russian collector Ivan Morozov. For details of a champion of Post-Impressionism who wrote an important monograph on Cezanne, see: Roger Fry (1866-1934).

Early Expressionism (Vincent Van Gogh)

A key figure in the history of Expressionist painting, the short-lived Dutchman Vincent Van Gogh only painted for the last ten years of his life, but in total contrast to the snail-like Cezanne, once he started he couldn't stop, painting nearly 900 pictures at an average of one every four days. Most are autobiographical, inadvertently charting his emotional decline and ultimate collapse. His painting demonstrates an emotional intensity of colour and brushstroke, as he attempted to convey his personal feelings of what he saw.

All his life is in his paintings, (especially his self-portraits) from the dark and enclosed coarseness of The Potato Eaters (1885), to the soaringly optimistic yellows of his Sunflowers series, followed by the gnarled twisted branches of The Olive Pickers (1889), and the threatening black birds in Wheatfield with Crows (1890). Not surprisingly, Van Gogh became an icon for following generations of expressionist painters whose art purposefully distorted form and colour in order to express feelings.

Another forerunner of the main Expressionist movement was the art produced in the rural village of Worpswede in Lower Saxony, near Bremen. During the early 1890s it was colonized by a group of young artists - including Fritz Mackensen, Otto Modersohn and Hans am Ende. The most famous Worpswede expressionist was Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907), who is best known for her remarkable expressionist portraits of peasants. Other Worpswede artists included Carl Vinnen, Fritz Overbeck, and Heinrich Vogeler. For more information about German art at the end of the nineteenth century, see: Post-Impressionism in Germany (c.1880-1910).


Synthetism/Cloisonnism (Paul Gauguin)

The enigmatic but highly influential French painter, Paul Gauguin developed a simplified non-naturalistic style of painting - known as Synthetism - characterized by decorative line, flat patches of bold colour and esoteric symbolism (see also the cloisonnism of Emile Bernard and Louis Anquetin). The acknowledged leader of the Pont-Aven school, Gauguin was also a key promoter of primitivism. Sadly, his paintings failed to achieve the popularity he hoped for and he died a pauper in the South Pacific.

Scandinavian Post-Impressionism

Arguably the three most important figures in Scandinavia during the Post-Impressionist era were the Norwegian painters Edvard Munch (1863-1944) and P.S. Kroyer (1851-1909), and the Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershoi (1864-1916). Munch, whose painting The Scream (1895) was sold by Petter Olsen at Sotheby's New York for a record-breaking $119.9 million, was highly influential in Scandinavia and Germany, and is seen - along with Van Gogh - as one of the main original sources of expressionism. The Norwegian-born, classically trained painter Peder Severin Kroyer is primarily associated with the Skagen artist colony, a group known as the 'painters of light'. Although inspired by French Impressionism, the group adopted a more realist style of brushwork. Other Skagen members included Holger Drachmann and Carl Locher. One of Kroyer's pupils was the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi (1864-1916), best known for his interior genre-painting. Although suffused with symbolism, his quiet interiors have a mystical, timeless quality about them. Influenced by Jan Vermeer, as well as the American Post-Impressionist James Whistler.

French Poster Art

If Cubism represented the extreme 'intellectual' response to Impressionism, poster art was its antithesis - the ultimate form of decorative art, albeit with functional characteristics. The history of poster art properly begins with the technical innovations of lithographer Jules Cheret (1836-1932), and was influenced by Japonism (notably Ukiyo-e woodblock prints) notably by artists like Hokusai (1760-1849) and Hiroshige (1797-1858). Other famous poster painters included Edvard Munch, Pierre Bonnard, the American illustrator Maxfield Parrish, and the Czech graphic artist Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939). Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was also outstanding. Posters were given a huge boost during the 1890s with the emergence of Art Nouveau, (in Germany and Austria, Jugendstil) of which idiom Aubrey Beardsley, the English illustrator, was an acknowledged master.

Les Nabis (1891-1899)

The late nineteenth century school known as Les Nabis, was a group of Post-Impressionist artists and illustrators based in Paris, who became highly influential in the area of graphic art. Their focus on design was echoed in the parallel Art Nouveau movement. Members of Les Nabis included Paul Serusier (1864-1927), noted for The Talisman; Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Ker Xavier Roussel (1867-1944), Felix Vallotton (1865-1925), Maurice Denis (1870-1943) and Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940).

Vuillard was one of the most gifted and innovative contributors to modern French painting, best known for his magical 'intimist' style of pattened flickering colour. His masterpieces include the genre paintings: In the Garden (1894-5) and Women Sewing Before a Garden (1895). A pioneer of simple design and tonal sympathy. One of the most underrated artists, although his works are in prestigious collections such as the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, the National Gallery in Washington DC and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Les Vingt (1883-93)

Les Vingt (The Twenty, or XX) was a Belgian group of progressive painters, sculptors and writers based in Brussels, who combined - under the influence of the lawyer Octave Maus (1856-1919) - to discuss, create and showcase avant-garde art, both Belgian and foreign, and to promote the latest international developments in decorative design. Founder members included James Ensor (1860-1949), Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921), Theo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926), and Alfred Finch (1854-1930).

Italian Divisionism (1890-1907)

Inspired by the Pointillism of Georges Seurat, which they absorbed mostly through the pages of French and Belgian journals such as L'Art Moderne), Italian Divisionism was strongly influenced by the critic, gallerist, and painter Vittore Grubicy De Dragon (1851-1920), who was the driving force behind the movement, not least because of his progressive articles and reviews in the Roman newspaper La Riforma. Important exponents of Divisionism in Italy included: Angelo Morbelli (1853-1919), Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo (1868-1907), Giovanni Segantini (1858-1899), Plinio Nomellini (1866-1943), Emilio Longoni (1859-1932), Gaetano Previati (1852-1920), and Giovanni Sottocornola (1855-1917).


Fauvism (Henri Matisse)

Henri Matisse the leader of Fauvism, succeeded in freeing colour from its traditional uses, and in the process changed how painters worked, for ever. His contribution to Post-Impressionism cannot be over-estimated. He was the central figure at the scandalous Fauvist exhibition at the Salon d'Automne in 1905. One of his richest patrons was the Russian textile tycoon and Post-Impressionist devotee Sergei Shchukin. Other important Fauvist painters included Matisse's friend Andre Derain (1880-1954), who had studied with him at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Moreau, Derain's friend Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958), the Dutch-born painter Kees van Dongen (1877-1968), the expressionist Georges Rouault (1871-1958), Albert Marquet (1875-1947) who specialized in painting the waterways of Paris, the colourist Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), the Cubist-in-waiting Georges Braque (1882-1963), the Le Havre artist Othon Friesz (1879-1949), the Impressionist style artist Henri-Charles Manguin (1874-1949), Charles Camoin (1879-1964) another friend of the colourist Louis Valtat (1869-1952), and Jean Puy (1876-1960) a participant at the original 1905 Salon d'Automne show.

British Post-Impressionists: The Camden Town Group

Founded in 1911 in London by Walter Sickert (1860-1942), the Camden Town Group (named after Sickert's down-at-heel home district in North London) specialized in realist scenes of city life executed in a range of Post-Impressionist styles and held three exhibitions at the Carfax Gallery in 1911 and 1912. Group members included: Robert Bevan (1865-1925), Spencer Gore (1878-1914), Harold Gilman (1876-1919), and Charles Isaac Ginner (1878-1952). The Camden Town Group emerged after the (arguably more successful) Glasgow School of Painting (1880-1915), led by James Guthrie and John Lavery, who pursued a similar style of naturalism to the Hague School in Holland and the "Impressionist" school in Germany. Another noteworthy loose-knit group of Post-Impressionist painters were the Scottish Colourists, comprising Samuel Peploe, Francis Cadell, John Fergusson, and Leslie Hunter, who were strongly influenced by Matisse and the Fauves.

The Group of Seven (1920-1960s)

Strongly influenced by Post-Impressionism, the Group of Seven were Canadian landscape artists who created bold, highly-coloured paintings, often infusing their compositions with symbolic meanings. The members of the group included Tom Thomson, as well as Franklin Carmichael (1890-1945), AJ Casson (1898-1992), Lionel Fitzgerald (1890-1956), Arthur Lismer (1885-1969), Lawren Harris (1885-1970), Edwin Holgate (1892-1977), AY Jackson (1882-1974), JEH MacDonald (1873-1932), and FH Varley (1881-1969).

Post-Impressionist paintings can be seen in all the world's best art museums, notably: the Musee d'Orsay, Paris; the National Museum of Modern Art, Paris; the Tate Gallery, London; the Hermitage Gallery, St Petersburg; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

• For other late-19th century art movements, see: History of Art.
• For more about early-20th century painting, see: Homepage.

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