Post-Impressionism

(1880s-1900s)

Post-Impressionist paintings were a broad reaction against Impressionism. The works continued to use the bright Impressionist palette, but rejected the Impressionism’s emphasis on the spontaneous recording of light and color. Post-Impressionists sought to create art with a greater degree of formal order and structure. The new styles they created, Georges Seurat’s divisionist technique and Vincent van Gogh’s brushwork, led to more abstract styles that would prove highly influential for the development of modernist painting in the early twentieth century.

Post-Impressionist compositions focused on the personal experience of the painter, versus fidelity to the object like in Impressionism; the style of the work, developing a new method of paint application or viewing the piece from multiple angles, was more important than subject matter.

Characteristics:
-see brushstrokes
-personally expressive
-style over fidelity
-no fleeting light or moment (= multiple moments or angles)
-bright palette
-moved away from journalistic detail of earlier periods
-art is for the artist’s sake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works:

Post-Impressionism:

Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1904-6
Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand Jatte, 1884-86
Paul Gaugin, Mahano no Atua, 1894
Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889

 

(one of many versions)
Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1904-6, Oil on Canvas
-his abstract work highly influenced later modernist painters
-in the 1870s, Cézanne adopted a style under the influence of Pissaro that had a bright palette, broken brushwork and everyday subject matter of the Impressionism
-Cézanne dedicated himself to the objective transcription of what he called his “sensations” of nature
-unlike the Impressionists, he did not seek to capture transitory effects of light and atmosphere, but rather to create a sense of order in nature through a methodical application of color that merged drawing and modeling into a single process
-Cézanne’s goal = to make Impressionist art something solid and durable like the art in the museums – exemplified in this painting
-the mountain was near his home in Aix; he depicted it about thirty times in oil (the many versions of the subject make the piece timeless); this version shows the mountain rising above the Arc Valley, which is dotted with houses and trees and is traversed at the far right by an aqueduct
-framing the scene at the left is an evergreen tree, which echoes the contours of the mountains, creating visual harmony between the two principle elements of the composition
-even lighting, still atmosphere and the absence of human activity in the landscape communicate a sense of timeless endurance, at odds with the Impressionists’ interest in capturing a momentary aspect of the ever-changing world; paint strokes are more deliberate than the Impressionists
-his varying strokes record his “sensations” of nature and weave every element of the landscape together into a unified surface design
-the surface design working with the spatial recession generates a fruitful tension between the illusion of three dimensions “behind” the picture plane and the physical reality of its two-dimensional surface
-the foreground tree (a repoussoir that draws the eye into the valley and toward the distant mountain range) suggests recession
-atmospheric perspective – created by the gradual transition from the saturated greens and orange-yellows of the foreground to the softer blues and pinks in the mountain; however, the colors of the foreground foliage match the background and sky, which challenges the illusion of consistent recession – makes the peak look nearer and binding it to the foreground plane


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand Jatte, 1884-86, Oil on Canvas
-works with complementary colors – Chevreul’s law holds that adjacent objects not only cast reflections of their own color onto their neighbors, but also create in them the effect of their complementary color; Seurat calculated exactly which hues should be combined, in what proportion to produce the effect of a particular color – divisionist technique (the optical mixture was not successful in his works, because the dots of color are large enough to remain separate in the eye, giving his pictures a grainy appearance)
-theme: weekend leisure (typically Impressionist)
-the rigorous divisionist technique, the stiff formality of the figures, and the highly calculated geometry of the composition produce a solemn abstract effect quite at odds with the casual naturalism of earlier Impressionism; the individuals' stark separation from eachother shows a degree of alienation where everyone is engaged in their own lifes
-seems to recall much older forms of art – ancient Egyptians (with its formal style)
-interpretations: Seurat may have intended to show how tranquil the island should be, or it could have been a criticism of the Parisian middle-class
-the key to the painting’s meaning may be the composure of the mother and child who stand as the still point around which the others move – the child is a model of self-restraint and may even represent the progress of human evolution (also shown by the monkey in the foreground)
-with its scientific precision, Seurat tackled the issues of color, light and form
-to make the experience of art for art’s sake, Seurat surrounded the picture with a frame of painted dots
-tourist scene/leisure (like the Moulin de la Galette)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Gaugin, Mahano no Atua, 1894, Oil on Canvas
-the work shows a transition from earlier Impressionism, because the work was painted from the imagination not from nature (disregards reality and uses the imagination)
-Gauguin said that art is an abstraction (less fidelity to form, more about style)
-Gauguin’s work laid the foundation for the development of nonrepresentational art in the twentieth century
-painted in his spare time under the tutelage of Posers
-three years after the stock market crashed, Gaugin abandoned his wife and five children to pursue a painting career – disgusted with what he called the corruption of urban civilization and seeking more “primitive” existence, Gaugin traveled, eventually to live in the Pacific (Tahiti)
-his style was inspired by nonacademic sources like medieval stained glass, folk art, and Japanese prints – simplified drawings, flattened space and anti-naturalistic color
-rejected Impressionism because it neglected subjective feelings and “the mysterious centers of thought”
-called his anti-Impressionist style synthetism (synthesized observation of the subject in nature with the artist’s feelings about that subject, expressed through abstracted line, shape, space and color)
-despite its Tahitian subject – the painting was produced in France
-Tahiti, according to Gaugin, would offer unspoiled paradise where he could work cheaply and “naturally” – what he found was a colonized country whose native culture was rapidly disappearing under the pressures of Westernization
-this painting and others ignore the reality and depicted the Edenic ideal of his imagination (through the use of bright colors, a stable composition and an appealing subject matter)
-divided into three horizontal zones – in styles of increasing abstraction // upper – most realistic, centers around the statue of a god, behind which extends a beach landscape populated by Tahitians; middle – beneath the statue, three figures occupy a beach divided into several bands of anti-naturalistic color, the central female bather dips her feet in the water and looks out at the viewer, while on either side of her two figures recline in fetus-like postures – perhaps symbolizing birth, life and death; bottom – an abstract pool whose surface does not reflect what is above it, but instead offers a dazzling array of bright colors, arranged in a puzzle-like pattern of flat curvilinear shapes; by reflecting a strange and unexpected reality exactly where we expect to see a mirror image of the familiar world, this magic pool seems the perfect symbol of Gauguin’s desire to evoke “the mysterious centers of thought” (subjective feelings)
-its meanings cannot be literally represented but only evoked indirectly through abstract pictorial means

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889, Oil on Canvas
-adopted Seurat’s divisionism, but instead of applying the paint in dots, he applied it freely in multidirectional dashes of impasto (thick applications of pigment), which gave his pictures a greater sense of physical energy and a palpable surface texture
-(van Gogh went a little crazy) – he recorded his heightened emotional state in paintings that contributed significantly to the emergence of the expressionistic tradition, in which the intensity of an artist’s feelings overrides fidelity to the actual appearance of things
-van Gogh painted it from his window in the asylum of Saint-Remy
-above the quiet town the sky pulsates with celestial rhythms and lazes with exploding stars – one explanation for the intensity of van Gogh’s feelings is the then-popular theory that after death people journey to a star, where they continue their lives
-the idea is visible by the presence of the cypress tree, a traditional symbol of both death and eternal life, which dramatically rises to link the terrestrial and celestial realms
-the brightest star in the sky is actually a planet, Venus, which is associated with love
-perhaps the painting’s extraordinary excitement also expresses van Gogh’s euphoric hope of gaining the companionship that had eluded him on earth
-painted from the imagination, not from nature, perhaps influenced by Gauguin who said that art is an abstraction