modernism in art

late impressionism through surrealism

Van Gogh and Cézanne

readings: (this looks like a lot but it's mostly 5-10 minute videos)

• SH video, Vincent van Gogh, The Potato Eaters

• SH video, Vincent van Gogh, The Bedroom

• SH video, Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night

• YouTube video, Van Gogh's Ugliest Masterpiece

• Art Assignment video, Better Know: The Starry Night

• selections from Van Gogh’s letters (primary source)


• SH essay, Paul Cézanne, The Basket of Apples

• SH video, Paul Cézanne, Still-Life with Plaster Cupid

• SH essay, Paul Cézanne, Turning Road at Montgeroult

• SH video, Paul Cézanne, Mont Saint-Victoire


key terms and concepts: Post-Impressionism, expressive color, realism, formalism, linear perspective, diminution

Van Gogh generally fits with the Symbolist branch of Post-Impressionism in his spiritual and expressive qualities, but there are some significant differences between Van Gogh and other Symbolists such as Gauguin that are instructive: (1) unlike Gauguin, who painted pictures of other people having religious visions, Van Gogh paints directly from his own visions and religious feelings; (2) where Gauguin, and indeed most of the Symbolists, used direct supernatural and religious subjects, Van Gogh rarely if ever did, relying on expressive form (and especially color) to lend significance and expression to ordinary, perceived reality.  Be able to discuss what his letters say about his aims and how he tries to use color to invest deeper, expressive, moral meaning in ordinary, non-supernatural scenes such as the café and night sky scenes below.

Cézanne does not belong to any particular movement so he's usually identified by the very vague term 'Post-Impressionist'.  After a couple of years exhibiting with the Impressionists, he isolated himself in the south of France, where he began painting the same things over and over again.  Exactly what it was that he was trying to get right is not easy to say, but everyone from the Symbolists through the Fauvists and Cubists saw him as a role model.  Here are a couple of key quotes attributed to him that begin to explain his goals:

     “I am trying to make of Impressionism something solid and lasting like the art of the museums”

     “I am trying to re-do Poussin over again after nature.”

How do both quotes show Cézanne's simultaneous wish to be true to art (formalism) and true to nature (realism)? How are painting and nature fundamentally different, especially in terms of composition and space? How does Cézanne try to make nature (and Impressionism, which he saw as just a direct copy of nature) more orderly?  How did he try to make his works an accurate reflection of the three-dimensionality of nature and the two-dimensionality of painting at the same time?  Be able to analyze either the works below in some detail along these lines.

Van Gogh, The Night Café, Symbolism, 1888

Van Gogh, Starry Night, Symbolism, 1889

Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire, Post-Impressionism, 1885-87

Cézanne, Still-Life with Plaster Cupid, Post-Impressionism, 1895