a history of western art

from the renaissance to the present

post-impressionism


people, terms, and concepts: Post-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, Symbolism, primitivism, expressive color, pointillism, optical mixture

The Post-Impressionists (including both Neo-Impressionists such as Seurat and Symbolists such as Gauguin and van Gogh) for the most part liked the bright color of the Impressionists, but wanted to apply it to the creation of more enduring and significant art than a simple depiction of contemporary social life and momentary light conditions.

Know how Seurat tried to make Impressionism rigorously scientific, for example, with his technique of pointillism and his ideas of optical mixture; and indeed notice that his works are much more rigorously composed and stable than the fleeting glimpses of the Impressionists.  Seurat won't be on the exam ...

The Symbolists more thoroughly rejected Impressionism because they rejected the modern world of urban life and science altogether, choosing to look instead for truth in religion and mythology. Be able to describe general differences between the Impressionist style and that of the Symbolists, and to discuss the idea of primitivism in relation to Gauguin's rejection of science and his quest (in Brittany and in Tahiti) for people who still experience the world through faith and religion rather than reason and science. How do his Vision after the Sermon and Day of the God, below, demonstrate his rejection of scientific objectivity in favor of emotional, intuitive, and spiritual subjectivity, both in terms of form and subject matter?

Van Gogh was associated with the Symbolists, but differed somewhat from them in his rejection of directly spiritual subject matter such as gods and angels (he was raised as a Dutch Calvinist, after all). He usually painted ordinary, visible scenes and objects, but tried to invest them with a sense of moral and spiritual significance through expressive brushwork and color -- or as he put it with regard to the Night Cafe, "I have tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green." How does his Starry Night below try to draw spiritual relevance and consolation from the night landscape and sky? Be able to distinguish Van Gogh's and Gauguin's use of expressive color from the traditional Academic use of local color and the Impressionists' use of perceived color.


Van Gogh, The Starry Night, Post-Impressionism or Symbolism, c. 1890

Gauguin, The Day of the God, French Symbolism, c. 1895

Gauguin, Vision after the Sermon, French Symbolism, c. 1890

Seurat, La Grande Jatte, French Neo-Impressionism, c. 1885

Van Gogh, The Night Café, Post-Impressionism or Symbolism, c. 1890