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Post-Impressionism

Started: Early 1880s

Ended: 1914

Post-Impressionism Timeline

Important Art and Artists of Post-Impressionism

The below artworks are the most important in Post-Impressionism - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Post-Impressionism. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86)

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-86)

Artist: Georges Seurat

Artwork description & Analysis: Seurat's Sunday Afternoon is perhaps the most famous example of the painting technique known as Pointillism. Although the picture contains the impressionistic elements of light and shadow and depicts the leisure activities of the Parisian bourgeoisie, it is an early example of the artistic reaction to the Impressionist movement. Seurat composed the entire scene from a series of small, precise dots of color. If viewed closely, the painting becomes nothing more than a quasi-abstract array of colors, similar to a needlepoint. When viewed at an appropriate distance, however, Sunday Afternoon comes into focus. Seurat carefully placed each dot in relation to the ones around it in order to create the desired optical effect. He did so in order to bring structure and rationality to what he perceived were the triviality and disorganization rampant in Impressionism.

Oil on canvas - The Art Institute of Chicago

Vision After the Sermon (1888)

Vision After the Sermon (1888)

Artist: Paul Gauguin

Artwork description & Analysis: Gauguin studied in Brittany in the north of France where the unique history and customs represented a certain degree of spiritual freedom and primitive candor for Gauguin. While there, he painted Vision After the Sermon.

The painting, which depicts a revelatory vision of Jacob wrestling with an angel, clearly delineates reality and spiritual manifestation through aesthetic form. While the crowd of churchgoers who experience the vision is in the foreground, the Biblical struggle appears in the background, surrounded by a two-dimensional and vibrantly colored plane. Gauguin relied upon the abstraction of the red ground to communicate the space of the vision as well as the heightened emotions present at a religious revelation. As this work demonstrates, Gauguin rejected the conventions of industrialized modern society, in both his art and his life, through romanticized evocations of the primitive, the incorporeal, and the mystical. In doing so, he helped initiate the individualized expressionistic vein of avant-garde art that influenced generations of artists throughout the twentieth century.

Oil on canvas - National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

Octagonal Self-Portrait (ca. 1890)

Octagonal Self-Portrait (ca. 1890)

Artist: Édouard Vuillard

Artwork description & Analysis: Vuillard, one of the most renowned members of Les Nabis, is known for his intimate portraits of family members and friends as well as his fixation upon decorative patterns. In this bold self-portrait, however, he centers upon the artist by placing his intense gaze front and center. He synthesizes the influences of Japanese woodblock printing, Pointillism, and the artistic tradition of self-portraiture with his personal ideals and goals for painting in this vivid self-representation. The broad brushstrokes and sketchy depiction of Vuillard's features draw our attention to the materiality of the canvas, while the muted colors of the palette signal the artist's departure from observed nature.

Oil on board - Private Collection

Portrait of Doctor Gachet (1890)

Portrait of Doctor Gachet (1890)

Artist: Vincent van Gogh

Artwork description & Analysis: Van Gogh was one of the modern era's most gifted and emotionally troubled artists. Although grossly underappreciated in his lifetime, Van Gogh was an impulsive and often spontaneous painter who embodied many of the ideals of the Post-Impressionist movement. In Portrait of Doctor Gachet, Van Gogh strove to elicit a complex mixture of emotions within the viewer, rather than portray a naturalistic description of the sitter. Van Gogh created painterly rhythms and swirling forms within the arrangement of the figure in order to convey elements of strength, intelligence, and melancholy. Through such intimate and personalized interpretations, Van Gogh epitomized the rejection of Impressionistic optical observation in favor of an emotionally laden representation that appealed to the viewer's heart, rather than his mind.

Oil on canvas - Private collection

Moulin Rouge: La Goulue (1891)

Moulin Rouge: La Goulue (1891)

Artist: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Artwork description & Analysis: A frequent visitor of the notorious Moulin Rouge, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec immortalized the Montmartre dance hall in his highly stylized images of dancers and patrons. This, his earliest lithographic poster for the Moulin Rouge demonstrates his uniquely graphic approach and proclivity for representations of urban life. All figures except the female dancer in the center are silhouettes, while the perspective tilts sharply, lending the scene the impression of three-dimensionality. Although Toulouse-Lautrec focused upon scenes of the modern city like the Impressionists, he revolutionized the subject matter. He used crisp silhouettes and sharply abbreviated the depth of the picture plane to convey the rapid pace of contemporary life.

The Scream (1893)

The Scream (1893)

Artist: Edvard Munch

Artwork description & Analysis: Through its saturated hues and expressive content, Munch's most famous painting, The Scream, articulates the central tenets of his aesthetic mode. While many critics interpret the work as an expression of the modern condition, Munch himself called it a "study of the soul, that is to say the study of my own self." Through the nightmarish image of the anguished individual and the abstract rendering of form, the artist created this highly provocative and personal painting. Unlike the Impressionists' idyllic images of rural scenes, Munch poses an alternate view of man's relationship with nature. Here, the protagonist's emotions are reflected throughout the surrounding scenery, which create a symbolic plane for the expression of internal being.

Oil, tempera, and pastel on cardboard - National Gallery, Oslo

The Large Bathers (1900-1906)

The Large Bathers (1900-1906)

Artist: Paul Cézanne

Artwork description & Analysis: Many consider Cezanne's The Large Bathers his defining masterpiece. In it, Cezanne employed the technique of constructing visually complex images composed of simple shapes, lines, and geometric forms built up from the canvas with thick impasto. He composed the bathers, trees, and landscape from planes of color and applied the paint with a palette knife, not a brush. These color planes highlighted the fact that the viewer's eye observed a scene both simultaneously and consecutively. This visual effect caused the forms of the bathers' bodies in the foreground to merge into the branches of the trees in the landscape behind them. This visual slippage heralded the future of modernist painting. The spatial ambiguity of the Bathers and Cezanne's emphasis on formal structure paved the way for the visual experimentations of Cubism.

Oil on canvas - Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Dream (1910)

The Dream (1910)

Artist: Henri Rousseau

Artwork description & Analysis: In The Dream, his last and largest painting, Rousseau presented a unique interpretation of the traditional theme of the reclining nude. She is resting on her side, surrounded by the tropical flora and fauna of the mysterious depths of a jungle. Curiously, the woman reclines on a couch, not a patch of grass, observing her exotic surroundings as if at a great remove. Rousseau explained that he depicted the woman as she sat on her sofa in her Parisian apartment, dreaming of the tropical jungle that surrounded her. The lack of perspectival depth, use of bright color, and distorted representations accentuate the dream-like quality of the painting. Although Rousseau repeatedly painted images of jungles, he never even left Paris. Instead, his exoticized images of the non-industrialized world were creations of his own imagination that emphasized his rejection of modernity as well as the preeminence of his individual artistic vision. Like many of his other works, Rousseau's The Dream displays the artist's disregard for naturalistic depiction and realistic content in favor of surreal renderings.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art



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Related Art and Artists

Girl with a Hoop (1885)

Girl with a Hoop (1885)

Movement: Impressionism

Artist: Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Artwork description & Analysis: Like Monet, Renoir loved to employ natural light in his paintings. However, by the 1880s he had become dissatisfied with capturing fleeting visual effects. Having felt he had "wrung Impressionism dry," and losing all inspiration or will to paint, Renoir began to search for more clarity of form. In Girl with a Hoop, a work he was commissioned to paint of a nine-year-old girl named Marie Goujon, Renoir developed a new style he dubbed "aigre" (sour), in which he applied thick, elongated brushstrokes to evoke natural movement in the backdrop and soft, textural brushstrokes complemented by hard lines to portray the young girl in the foreground. This painting, through its fluid handling of paint and portrayal of the young girl at play, evokes the distinctly carefree mood of much of his work. While the other Impressionists focused on more existential themes of alienation in modern society, Renoir centered on the representation of leisure activities and female beauty, asserting his disregard for subjects of an overtly critical nature.

Oil on canvas - The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The Talisman, the River Aven at the Bois d'Amour (1888)

The Talisman, the River Aven at the Bois d'Amour (1888)

Movement: Les Nabis

Artist: Paul Sérusier

Artwork description & Analysis: Painted on the lid of a cigar box, this work was painted under Paul Gauguin's direction in his Synthetist style of expressive color. Gauguin had encouraged Paul Sérusier to approach nature from a subjective point of view, instructing the artist to use colors straight from the tube rather than attempting to mix them and match them up to what he saw in nature. According to Maurice Denis, Gauguin had told Sérusier: "How do you see these trees? They are yellow. So, put in yellow; this shadow, rather blue, paint it with pure ultramarine; these red leaves? Put in vermilion." Yet, the painting is also different from the work of Gauguin. The result was far more abstract - a painted reality, the "equivalent" of that which is perceived by the artist - with flat areas of bold color. However, certain elements of the landscape remain recognizable: trees, the path, the riverbank, and the mill. On his return to Paris, Sérusier showed his young fellow painters, the future Nabis, what was to become their "Talisman": the "magical charm" for the group. The theorist of the Nabi group, Denis, explained that in front of this landscape, he and his friends felt "liberated from all the yokes that the idea of copying brought to [our] painters' instincts."

Oil on board - Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Street, Berlin (1913)

Street, Berlin (1913)

Movement: Expressionism

Artist: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Artwork description & Analysis: Kirchner is renowned for his many Berlin street scenes, and this particular work is perhaps his most well known from that category, if not his entire catalog. His jagged, angular brushstrokes, acidic colors, and elongated forms all charge the street atmosphere on the canvas and achieve something very rebellious for its time and exemplify the stylistic break with tradition that the members of Die Brücke sought. As a founding member of the group, Kirchner set out to establish a new order of painting, one that visibly renounced Impressionistic tendencies and the need to accurately portray figurative forms. In Street, Berlin, Kirchner created a stunningly askew rendition of an alienated, urban street procession. Without regard for realistic depiction of form, he bent and contorted his narrow figures like they were blades of grass in a meadow. Another uniquely modern feature of Street, Berlin was Kirchner's choice to position two prostitutes (identifiable by their signature plumed hats) as the painting's (somewhat off-center) focal point.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

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