New Wondrium Series Dives into Post-Impressionism

lecture series explores the house that Cézanne built

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Post-Impressionism was an art movement beginning in the 1880s. Some of its key figures include Paul Cézanne, Paul Gaugin, Vincent van Gogh, and George Seurat. What gave rise to Post-Impressionism?

Claude Monet, 1867, Regatta at Sainte-Adresse
Claude Monet’s oil-on-canvas painting, Regatta at Sainte-Adresse, 1867. Painting by Claude Monet / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Cézanne and Van Gogh are two of the most famous painters in history—and Gaugin and Seurat aren’t far behind. These legendary artists are the foremost figures in Post-Impressionism, which is an art style that emerged in part as an argument against impressionism, as its name implies. Impressionism concerned itself with the realistic depiction of color in art while Post-Impressionism eschewed it.

However, it wasn’t as simple as just doing the opposite of what came before it. In his video series Post-Impressionism: The Beginning of Modern Art, Professor Ricky Allman, Professor of Drawing and Animation at the University of Missouri–Kansas City, pinpoints the rise of Post-Impressionism.

What Is Post-Impressionism?

“The term Post-Impressionism didn’t even really get first used until 1910—several years after what some consider to be the end of the movement in 1905,” Professor Allman said. “Most artists probably didn’t worry about it too much and were happy to leave such questions to the academics. But despite the huge variety, there are several main themes connecting them.”

The first, he said, is color. Post-Impressionists used vivid, often unnatural colors, like those of Van Gogh’s well-known self portraits. Their uses of color were often due to recent scientific innovations that led to never-before-seen pigments and wider palettes.

“The second is abstraction,” Professor Allman said. “The Post-Impressionists rejected classical realism and looked for new, less literal ways to depict the world or to convey emotions and feelings. Some, like Cézanne, played around with angles, optical science, and perspective to represent the world in a totally different way and opened the door to the later cubists as they did so.”

Another theme of Post-Impressionism is experimentation. Many famous Post-Impressionists were self-taught and, as Professor Allman put it, “The Post-Impressionists did everything they told you not to in art school.” From Seurat’s pointillism to Van Gogh’s heavy brushstrokes, they looked at centuries of established rules of art and said, “No thanks.”

Where Did Post-Impressionism Come From?

The final theme of Post-Impressionism helps tell us where the movement came from: their interest in non-Western art. An increase in international communication and trade opened Europe to the abstraction, color theory, and other unique qualities of art from Asia, Africa, and South America. These elements influenced Post-Impressionists, contrasting starkly with Impressionism.

Impressionism often emphasized painting outdoors and spontaneously rather than in the studio, but it was still bound by a duty to realism. This can be seen in works like Monet’s Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, 1875, and The Beach at Sainte-Adresse, 1867. Post-Impressionism severed that tie along with the others from previous Western art movements.

“They were pioneering artists who started kicking down the doors of centuries of convention and setting art free,” Professor Allman. “They helped make art about individual expression rather than realistic depiction, and as we’ll see, they really did lay the foundations for modern art.”

Post-Impressionism: The Beginnings of Modern Art is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily