Post Impressionism is a predominantly French art movement that was born roughly between 1886 and 1905, from the last Impressionist exhibition to the birth of Fauvism. Post-Impressionism emerged as a reaction to the Impressionists’ naturalistic depiction of light and colour. Due to the emphasis on more broad aspects of art like abstraction and symbolic content, it separated itself from Impressionism which still stood to replicate the natural world and the things in it. The movement was led by Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Georges Seurat. The term was first used in 1906 by art critic, Roger Fry. He used the term again in 1910 when he organised Manet and the Post-Impressionists, defining it as the key development in French Art since Manet.
Post Impressionism encompasses a wide range of distinct artistic styles that all share the common idea of responding to the visuality of the Impressionist movement. They stylized variations assembled under the general idea of Post-Impressionism ranges from the more scientifically orientated Neo-Impressionist Georges Seurat to the lush symbolism of Paul Gauguin. However, all banners of Post-Impressionism focused on the subjective vision of the artist and not the representation of something as it is seen. The movement changed the landscape of the art world even further than Impressionism did. The window that was once used to view the world as it was transcended itself and became instead a window into the artist’s mind and soul. The far-reaching aesthetic impact of the Post-Impressionists influenced many groups, like the Expressionists, that arose during the turn of the 20th century as well as more contemporary movements like Feminist Art, which is very heavily centered on identity.
Post-Impressionists extended Impressionism while rejecting its limitations. They still used vivid colours, thick layers of paint and real-life subject matter but were more inclined to emphasize geometric forms, the distortion of forms for expressive effects and the use of unnatural or arbitrary colours.
Some of the key ideas of Post-Impressionism were the importance of symbolic and highly personal meanings within the paintings. For example, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh rejected the observable world, instead looking at their memories and emotions in order to connect to the viewer on a deeper level. Structure, order and the optical effects of colour dominated the aesthetic vision of the Post-Impressionists. Rather than merely representing their surroundings, they relied upon the relationships between colour and shape to describe the world around them. Despite the various individualized styles, most of the Post-Impressionists focused on abstract form and patterns in the application of paint to canvas. Their early works leaned towards abstraction and paved the way for the radical modernist exploration of abstract art that took place in the early 20th century. Critics grouped the various styles within Post-Impressionism into two primary trends, though they were stylized in their owns ways and generally opposed each other. On one side was the structured and geometric styles that was the precursor to Cubism while on the other side was the expressive or non-geometric art that led to Abstract Expressionism.
The Post-Impressionists were dissatisfied with what they felt was the triviality of subject matter and the loss of structure in Impressionist paintings. Though, it seemed, they could not agree on a way forward with these matters. Georges Seurat and his followers fell into Pointillism, which is the systematic use of tiny dots of colours to create form and structure. Paul Cezanne set out to restore a sense of order and structure to paintings. He achieved this by reducing objects to their basic shapes while retaining the saturated colours of Impressionism. Pissaro, who was one of the original Impressionists, experimented with Neo-Impressionism between the mid-1880s and the early 1980’s. Followers of Neo-Impressionism were drawn to more modern, urban scenes as well as landscapes and seashores. Science-based interpretations of lines and colours influenced the Neo-Impressionists’ characterizations of their own contemporary art. Pisarro became quite discontented with what he referred to as romantic Impressionism, he investigated Pointillism which he called scientific Impressionism, before returning to a purer Impressionism in the last decade of his life. Vincent van Gogh used vibrant, swirling brush strokes to convey his feelings and his state of mind. Artists such as Seurat adopted a meticulously scientific approach to colour and composition.
The Post-Impressionists were often not in agreement concerning a cohesive movement. Yet, the abstract concerns of harmony and structural arrangement took precedence over naturalism, in all the works of these artists.