Art Styles: Post Impressionism

Vincent van Gogh final version of his "Sunflower" painting a great exammple of post impressionismPost Impressionism is a term which is less easy to define than Impressionism. Though the impressionists differed in personal styles and favorite subjects, one thing which was consistent between the artists was their interest in the transitory effects of light and spontaneous compositions. Though the post-impressionists are also concerned with light, it is not as much of a central concern, and their personal styles differ greatly.

The term Post-Impressionism was coined in 1910 by Roger Fry in the title of an exhibition of modern French painters, organized by Fry in London, describing the work of painters such as Paul Cezanne, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec among others. The term does not define a singular style or approach, it encompasses all artists that whose main goal was to express more than a visual interpretation. The aim of Post-Impressionists was to portray emotion and intellect in addition to imagery. Fry later explained: "For purposes of convenience, it was necessary to give these artists a name, and I chose, as being the vaguest and most non-committal, the name of Post-Impressionism. This merely stated their position in time relatively to the Impressionist movement.

Post-Impressionists extended Impressionism while rejecting its limitations. Artists continued using vivid colors, thick application of paint, distinctive brushstrokes and real-life subject matter, but the Post-Impressionists were more inclined to emphasize geometric forms, to distort form for expressive effect, and to use unnatural or arbitrary color. After a phase of uneasy dissension among the Impressionists, Paul Cézanne withdrew from the movement in 1878 in order “to make of Impressionism something solid and durable like the art of the museums.” In contrast to the passing show depicted by the Impressionists, his approach imbued landscape and still life with a monumental permanence and coherence. He abandoned the Impressionists’ virtuoso depiction of evanescent light effects in his preoccupation with the underlying structures of natural forms and the problem of unifying surface patterns with spatial depth.

Paul signac neo impressioism style of painting "Femmes as Puits" 1892As Post Impressionism developed it was related to Pointillism, a technique associated with Paul Signac and Georges Seurat. This partition of the art movement called themselves the Neo-Impressionists because of their impressionist revival. The neo-impressionists influenced the next generation inspiring Henri Matisse and André Derain in particular.

Paul Signac was struck by the systematic working methods of Seurat, and his theory of colors and became Seurat's faithful supporter. Under his influence he abandoned the short brushstrokes of impressionism to experiment with scientifically juxtaposed small dots of pure color, intended to combine and blend not on the canvas but in the viewer's eye, the defining feature of pointillism.

When we look at the works of Georges Seurat, it is obvious that he is concerned with the effects of light, but his compositions definitely do not evoke a sense of the spontaneous moment. First and foremost, he is noted for his invention of a method of applying paint in small dots of color. George Seurat called this method divisionism, but the term pointillism is more commonly used today. Seurat developed this method in response to his understanding of scientific theories about the perception of light and color. It had recently been discovered that light can be measured in particles as well as wavelengths. It had further been concluded that when we see the various colors of the light spectrum, our eyes perceive the various particles, but the mind mixes them into distinctly different colors. Seurat's paintings are a visual experiment of this idea, placing tiny dots of various colors side by side, and allowing the viewer's mind "mix" them. When perceived up close, they are a dizzying array of vibrant colors. When seen from a distance, the image comes together in a more muted palette, for the colors which are placed side by side become mixed.

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