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ART206 Post-Impressionism

French Post Impressionism   1890 – 1905

Liberates gesture, color and shape from all previous exceptions  

Literal Abstraction: Formal
Cézanne 1880’s
Seurat 1890’s
Picasso 1905
Cubism 1907
Mondrian 1915

Literal Abstraction: Expressive
Van Gogh 1880’s
Gaughin 1890’s
Rousseau 1900’s
Fauves 1905
Kandinsky 1915

Modern Art in Europe 1880’s to 1930

Post Impressionism 1890’s-1905
German Expressionism 1905-1915
Non- Literal Abstraction 1910-1915
Surrealism 1920-30’s

Impressionism  confirms the Romantic quest for freedom, by liberating intent from traditional patronage and expectations.

Post Impressionism   continues this freedom of expression by liberating emotion, through unexpected use of gesture and color.

Based on essences rather than appearances.

French Post-Impressionism 1890’s

Many artists in the 1870’s, began to feel the limitations of Impressionism, in terms of self-expression.

The Post-Impressionists rejects the limited theories of impressionism, which denied psychological depth and emotional involvement.
Post Impressionism is  a final stripping away of traditional conventions of modeling, perspective and expectations..

In favor of an emphasis on simplified structure of form, and use of pure color.  To empower the emotional effects of color and form.

Post-Impressionism is transitional to post modern contemporary art, as they reinvest subject matter with social significance.  

Cézanne and Seurat approached their painting through scientific and mathematical means. Cézanne in his reference to  geometry, and Seurat in his scientific study of the colors.   While, Van Gogh and Gauguin will use color and gesture to heighten the emotional affect.

Post-Impressionism by the 1890’s is the primary art movement in Paris

When first exhibited in London most of the public laugh at the new style, but it attracted a lot of attention, with an average of 400 visitors a day.  

The British journalist and art critic Roger Fry coined the lasting term Post-Impressionist to describe this “new art” that abandon’s the Impressionist aesthetic, which appealed “only to the eyes.” The Post Impressionists reestablishes significant content. 

They worked and experimented in private , but met often with each other and other leaders of the intellectual avant garde to discuss their newest paintings and  latest philosophies of “modern life”.

Several groups existed during the Post-Impressionists reign.  One of the first is led by George Seurat  and Paul Signac. These two artists created Divisionism, or more commonly, the Pointillists. They based their style on the scientific writings of Eugene Chevreul’s , the “Law of Simultaneous Contrast”. Chevreul  noted that color appeared to be their most intense when positioned next to their compliments, offering the full spectrum of hues.

Post-Impressionists lead by Van Gogh and Gaughin represented a continuation of the Romantic Symbolists’ style, which had a fundamental interest in the iconographic power of symbols and color to provoke the deeply rooted spiritual side of art. 

Importantly, Post-Impressionism philosophically establishes the attitude of anarchy.
Both, individually and politically as the process for natural evolution of self and community. Thus social anarchy, where the community is not compromised. 

 Post Impressionism represents an era immersed in individuality. They felt no accountability towards anyone else or, traditional doctrine.

They extend the Impressionist’s ideals, fought for in the 1860’s and 1870’s, in terms of freedom of intent in terms of subject and working procedure.

George Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Paul Cézanne, are all dead before 1910.


No Flights of Fancy, just the observable facts” expressed in broken color.

Post Impressionism Literal Abstraction:
“Of the Impressionists they say, pretty like a bird signs, but no significant content”,
Liberates emotion with unexpected shape and color, which provokes truth in terms of ideas gleaned from one’s emotions

Liberates the imagination through juxtaposition of realistic imagery. Fuses artist to the subconscious, as a source of new ideas. The feminine aspect of self or the Muse.

Non Literal Abstraction:
No recognizable imagery, celebration of materials and process. Enhances the environment, recognizes vibratory effect of color and shape.

Post Impressionism 1890-1905

Cézanne, Seurat
Van Gogh, Gauguin
Rousseau, the Fauves.

Die Brücke and the Blaue Rieter

These movements reflect understanding that people have lost the primary principle in the community and family, with mechanized Industrialization and Machiavellian concepts of Nationalism.

People have become alienated from the arena of spirit and nature, or the metaphor of heart. Because of Cartesian scientific limitations.

Post Impressionism is the first  Modern Art which acknowledges the relationship between artists, their geni and genius, and nature.

They confirm our natural curiosity and need to sense the inter relatedness between people and Nature.

Instead of alienation between nations, people and nature which is rapidly disintegrating in a dangerous shrinking electronic community.


Economic depression, general pessimism, victims of oppressive social standards. Capitalism and cheap labor. Rich are getting richer.




Marx and Engels, Scientific Socialism, Anarchy
Violent to passive Revolution of Ideas and Beliefs.
Existentialism, Freud, the value of subconscious, synthetism.
Nietzsche – atheism.

Traditional church loses favor to the Evangelical, Atheism (Nietzsche)


Dalton’s discoveries in the subatomic electromagnetic world old. From a concrete fixed nature to a mutable one.
Darwin’s Evolution of Species

French Post Impressionism 1886-1905

Reflects a growing reaction against the ills of industrial society and the exploited worker. Led socially by the intellectual bohemian class.

Years of political and economic oppression follows France's loss in war to Prussia. Civil struggles, social unrest and environmental pollution grows worse. Religions are losing their influences to Darwinism, and Nietzsche.

Post Impressionistic artists turn away from all traditional authority and process, following their own personal need and manner of inquiry. Anarchy  

Their art will reflect a need to bridge the difference between mind and nature or object and observer.

This alienation can be traced back 3,000 years ago, when the divine was moved to the heavens, and more recently with the Cartesian philosophy of mind as superior to nature and scientific rationalism.

These beliefs of separation between matter and spirit have penetrated deeply into the human psyche in the last 3000 years, and there is fear and resistance to facing a different concept of reality and one's relationship to it.

The Post Impressionist artist will acknowledge the concept that as one participates with nature, the results is more than what each brings to the interaction.  Van Gogh and Gauguin will call this "synthetism". Which is when the artist interfaces with nature, the art becomes greater than the sum of the two parts.(artist + nature = third force).

This interface is the existential moment.

Importantly, this fusion of artist and nature will challenge idea that our actions do not have an affect on nature.

Post Impressionism

In 1870's, the Impressionism came as close to being an international aesthetic as any since Gothic.  By the 1980's, it began to fall apart as an organization of artists, no longer a pioneer movement, is seen as a reflection of bourgeoisie, the privileged class.

In The 1890's Post Impressionism begins the modern humanist intent of intense individual inquiry, with dedication to personal
self-actualization as process to social change.  Common characteristics of Post Impressionism:
1).      Intense challenge of traditional process and perspective.

  • Intense personal struggle for self-expression, following ones destiny.
  • Literal abstraction, relying on unexpected gesture and color to provoke emotion.

French Post Impressionism is the first truly modern movement in terms of content.  Establishes a conscious concern with self-actualization and or social reform through the revolution of ideas and beliefs. Recognizing the importance of the emotional body of being human, as that which moves us to change.
"Emotion is everything", Gauguin said.

To quote Roger Fry, who critiqued a group show in London, "aroused to the conviction that, we have ceased to ask what does it represent, and instead, what does it make us feel.  Essences rather than appearances, emotion rather than intellect.

 A radical shift from Renaissance, picture window view, which led to separation of object and viewer.

Post Impressionism reveals essences, not revealed by natural light, but by an analogical empathetic connection between nature and artist, the art and viewer.

Post Impressionism reflects humanists concerns of:
1).      Social anarchy, where ones own art and life naturally advances society. From realization of self to the whole.
2).      Synthetism. Fusion of artist and nature, transcending alienation between people and nature. Implies that art has a life of it’s own.

3).      Essences rather than appearances, "authentic vision"

4).      Meaningful content, to provoke conceptual thinking
rather than imitation of life.

Post Impressionism Intent is to provoke emotion through truth from sensations rather than intellectualization.

Post Impressionist will turn to their own personal needs and visions, inspired by concepts of humanism and devotion to welfare of being human.

Through synthetism, Post Impression will help shift world beliefs from alienation, Cartesian separation of mind and nature, to integration between self and nature.

 By fusing artist and nature, viewer and object, acknowledging or by giving attention to a third force.  A new truth, revealed through essences rather than imitation.

 Literal abstraction. Liberates emotion, through an emotional response to unexpected color, gesture, and shape. Expressing significant content.

Post Impressionism
Literal Abstraction

Definition of Aesthetic:
Unexpected color shape and gesture, to provoke emotions, to shock out of traditional expectations. Essences vs appearances, authentic vision. Literal Abstraction

The Intent:
To evoke change in both the social , political and individual sense, through authentic vision of essences rather than appearances. Through the fusion of artist and nature, “Synthetism.” Which,
Challenge the idea that one can describe or participate with nature without causing an affect that is greater then the two parts.
Humanist Contributions:
1).   Play to emotions, feelings rather than intellect.
2).   Intense challenge of traditional authority and process.
3).   Intense personal struggle for self-actualization.

Public, and critics resists Post Impressionists literal abstraction, or exaggerated gesture and color at the "expense of realism".  But, Roger Fry, says  "aroused to the conviction not to imitate nature, but to create form, not to imitate life, but to find an equivalent to life forces"


From Post Impressionism liberation of color and gesture, with attitudes of anarchy and Synthetism.

A posture of intense individualism and personal inquiry lead to the Fauves and German expressionists.  Who will, through more radical unexpected gesture and color to evoke emotions and feelings.

To provoke significant concepts rather than appearances. All begun by the Impressionists then Post Impressionists.

The first radical avant-garde event of the 20th Century, the Salon d’Automne 1905.

A critic, seeing a Renaissance like sculpture in the exhibition writes, “Donatello among the Fauves (wild beasts).

Gains immediate public attention, though not acceptance”

The show is taken to Berlin in 1908 with Van Gogh and Gaughin’s work, which will inspire German Expressionism.   

Fauves break more from the tradition of Post Impressionism with larger areas of pure chromatic color and more aggressive brushwork.

The intent is a purposeful unexpected use of color, to make it, the color as carrier of truth in perception, through the sensations.

HENRI MATISSE 1869 – 1954

Until his middle 30’s he paints conservatively seemingly not affected by current trends.  His wife supports, working as a dressmaker.

After 1900, begins experimentation of color and shape. He is denounced as an “art criminal”.

At 35, he sells first work, “Women in Hat” for $100.00 to an art dealer. She introduces him to art circles and paints “Joy of Life”, which is jeered by public.  At age 40, a Russian collector buys a year worth of art and is publicly recognized as a leader in the avant-garde. Buys a country estate.

Commutes to Paris studio, becomes ill and an invalid. Has a tilted bed from which he does watercolors and collages until he dies at age 85.>


1901 –1906: Several showings of the Fauves and Van Gogh and Gauguin draws large crowds in Europe. The Berlin show in 1905 impresses young artists of Europe who had grown up in the decadent morbid mood of 1890’s which will spawn the horrors of World War I

A direct expression of emotion in color and gesture with little concern for traditional discipline. All plastic elements are subservient to emotional expression.

There intent was not to imitate, but to shock.
Two artists communities are established, the Bridge and Blue Rider.

“Reason is the enemy of art, all rules; all canons of art vomit death.”
The art reflects the pessimistic view of human conditions, a concern with the deterioration of European society; the oppression and brutality against people. The urgency of pre-world war conditions. Yet an optimism that art would make a difference.

Demands attention to know oneself, and thus to evolve.


German Expressionism
In 1905, Ernst-Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel and Fritz Bleyel founded the association called “Die Brücke”. They felt their art was a bridge linking all revolutionary elements in art.

Die Brücke sought to emphasize the “inner force” in their art, then subject will become more social / political.

Formed in Dresden, by former students of architecture. A brotherhood, with a manifesto, proclaiming free paintings, permitting forceful reckless freedom. Inspired by Van Gogh and Gauguin, they establish a commune outside of city to work free from urban pollutions.

German Expressionism was the first of 20th c, counter cultures. Intent upon destroying middle class values and replacing it with rational socialism.

A form of social revolt, embracing libertarian ethics and mystical philosophy, exposing a social utopia caught between their idealism and the reality of WWI.

Kirchner – “As youth, bearers of the future, we want to achieve freedom to live and work in opposition to the old established forces”.

To liberate and provoke emotions around social /political issues.


In 1911 Wassily Kandinsky with Franz Marc formed the association called “Der Blaue Reiter” (“The Blue Rider)”, the name of a book published by March and Kandinsky.

Their works differ from “Die Brücke” in the lyrical and less solemn tone of their works. The “Blaue Reiter” stressed the artist’s inner vision by allowing color, line and form to express content.

 Interest in dissolving objects into abstract shapes caused “Der Blaue Rieter” to move towards total abstraction.  The first show for “Der Blaue Rieter” was in Munich in 1911.

Der Blaue Rieter to Non-Literal Abstraction:
Founded by Marc and Kandinsky in Munich, 1911.
They published a manifesto of their philosophical concerns and how the elements of art are seen as spiritual forces.

They relate color to sound, as how it has potency to affect the environment. To bring it into resonance with the cosmos that naturally seeks order.  Even more mystical than the Bridge.

For them realism has ceased to exist as a priority. The material world is a “snag and delusion”.

They turn to the realm of pure abstraction, as the artistic arena.   Leads to a more radical expression of art then ever before.

“The power of art to reveal the inner nature of the world”

A.  Schopenhauer.

FRANZ MARC 1880 – 1916

Visits Paris before his career is cut short by World War I.
“I am beginning more and more to see behind, or to put it better, through things; to see behind them- something which is concealed, for the most part.”

“I try to heighten my feelings for the organic rhythm if all things, try to feel myself pantheistically into the trembling and flow of the blood of nature”.

W. KANDINSKY (early works 1900 –1910)
A simplification, yet direct response to his own emotional feeling from the landscape then his inner self.

“Involuntary” responses in color and gesture.  “To charge form and color with spiritually by eliminating resemblance’s to physical world”.

Wrote how Impressionism “had destroyed the object and atomic research dissolved the substance. Drew analogy of drawing to music, demanding intuitive facilities”.

Propose a completely subjective analogical symbolic meaning for colors, and a new theory of abstract structural relationship.

“Artists task is to raise world consciousness to the sphere of spiritual, to reestablish contact with the great chain of being”.

“Everyone who immerses himself in the hidden internal treasure of their art is an enviable co – worker on the spiritual pyramid which will reach to heaven”. 

“What they think to be abstract is more realistic, because what is real is not the outer idea, bur the essences of things”.

Kandinskys work will reflect an expressive non-literal abstraction. While in France, Mondrian, a founder of “De Stijl” will take non-literal abstraction to a formal style.

De STIJL- World War I had disrupted continuity of art in central Europe. In Holland several artists, including Piet Mondrian form a group with similarities to Bauhaus and Constructivism, an aesthetic based on mathematical simplicity and primary forms.
They publish a manifesto in 1917 in opposition to all “Baroque” styles including Impressionism. Reduce all formal plastic elements to flat surfaces right angle, and primary hues.
All of Art and Utilitarian design should conform to this aesthetic.

Piet Mondrian  1872-1944
Born in Holland, arrives in Paris in 1912, at age 39. He moves quickly to abstraction under influence of cubism. Reaching for “spiritual absolutes” inherent in “balance of opposition” such as found in the cross. The process or attitude of “pure means”, is seen as the most effective way of obtaining equilibrium.

Helps found De Stijl in 1917, and will rather quickly create a formal non-literal abstraction.
“The classification of equilibrium through art is of great importance to humanity” New style should not be individual, but collective and international”.  “In which dualism of subject and object, universal and individual, is over come”.

Art is of great importance to humanity, it is the task of art to express a clear vision of reality.

Non-literal Abstraction 1910 – 1920
Der Blaue Reiter
De Stijl
Breaks down last barriers, resistance to abstraction and subconscious realms of experience. 

Humanistic Characteristics:

  • Liberates all concrete elements of art from traditional expectations. 
  • Recognizes vibratory effect of color and shape on the environment. 

Aesthetic:  Non-Literal
Style:         Formal to expressive
Content:       Celebrates spiritual essences of color and shape or their vibratory affect naturally, bringing it into resonance with the whole.  “Limited success because nerve sensors are weak,”

The social scene reflects the age of World War I and World War II. Mass publication of manifestos, outraged against all traditional values, aesthetics, and social /political morality by intellectual class.