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11.8: Post-Impressionism (1885 – 1905)

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    Post-impressionism, from 1880-1905, was created by a group of artists who were adopting Symbolism, a new concept reflecting emotions and ideas, moving away from the naturalism embraced by the Impressionists. The movement began in France and spread to America, artists trying to create emotion in their paintings, giving the viewer a more fabulous experience.

    “Love what you love” - Vincent Van Gogh

    One of the prominent Post-impressionists was Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), a Dutch artist who began his career as a minister and switched to painting in his twenties. Van Gogh did not attend art school; he painted what he saw and, in his characteristic style, become one of the most recognizable painters of all time. Supported financially by his brother Theo, Van Gogh painted in an instinctive style, juxtaposing colors as an experiment. Although he only sold one painting in his lifetime, his paintings have sold for as much as 150 million dollars at auction today. Van Gogh produced more than 2100 pieces of art, making him one of the most prolific artists in his short lifetime. The Starry Night (11.40) and Still Life Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (11.41) are some of Van Gogh's most well-known paintings.

    Van Gogh painted multiple images of sunflowers, all similar; only the flowers differ in how they are positioned and the number of flowers. He used the new synthetic yellow paint available, giving him a wide range of hues. He painted the night sky during his time in an asylum as he looked through the bars on his window, seeing the swirling movement in the sky.

    11.40 The Starry Night
    479px-Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_128.jpg11.41 Still Life Vase with Twelve Sunflowers

    “On a starry night…A twinkling light, I look up and imagine myself traveling through time. The beautiful shimmery lights seem to call me there. I can only imagine what it would be like to fly among them. To be able to look down on the earth and see its beauty. All of this, on a starry night.”

    Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) was born in France, where he became friends with Van Gogh, sharing a house and decorating it with yellow sunflowers. The two were seen in town painting side by side, drinking in the local salon and carousing like brothers. Gauguin had lived in Peru when he was younger and traveled to the south seas of Tahiti, where he spent time painting the locals, developing his characteristic style. His unique use of color evokes primal emotions and forces the viewer to use their imagination to fill in the paintings beyond where Gaugin applied paint. Tahitian Women on the Beach(11.42) demonstrates his distinctive use color, and the women positioned to express their emotional feelings.

    11.42 Tahitian Women on the Beach

    Still, life became very common, a recognizable image, and Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) was a specialist. The fruit on a table with draped towels, Still Life with a Curtain (11.43), appears simply painted, yet the sophisticated use of color and the lack of perspective and details is the foundation for the transition to a fundamentally changed world of art at the end of the 19th century. As in Still Life, Drapery, Pitcher, and Fruit Bowl (11.44), he used thick paint on flat surfaces giving the items depth and structure with the oddly stacked fruit or those about to roll from the table.

    11.43 Still Life with a Curtain
    11.44 Still Life, Drapery, Pitcher, and Fruit Bowl

    In a complete change of medium, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) illustrated the French bourgeoisie in traditional Japanese woodblock printing. His contributions include lithography and poster art, capturing the moment on giant pieces of cardboard. The sophisticated and sometimes provocative images express exciting and elegant people enjoying themselves at the theatre. La Goulue (11.45), a poster and Marcelle Lender Doing the Bolero in Chilperic (11.46), a painting, depicts life in the cabarets of Paris, a place for the middle-class men and women to go for entertainment.

    11.45 La Goulue
    11.46 Marcelle Lender Doing the Bolero in Chilperic

    Together, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Toulouse-Lautrec were a group of artists who completely moved art into a new direction. They all had different styles and backgrounds; however, they all painted with color and painted emotion and expression in what they viewed.

    George Seurat (1859-1891) is noted for his innovative use of painting with dots, known as pointillism. Up close, all that can be seen are colored dots; however, viewers are surprised after stepping back to observe a very lifelike painting. The large scale piece, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (11.47), transformed the future of art at the end of the 19th century.

    11.47 A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

    Painting people can be a complicated process, and to bear any real-life similarity, an artist must understand the muscles, tendons, and bone structure of the human body. Originally a historical painter, Edgar Degas (1834-1917) brought the classical training to a modern subject matter, and he became known as the classical painter of modern life. Degas began to study and paint horses spending long days at the track, drawing horse anatomy. His beautiful paintings of horses alter the viewer's perspective enough to wonder where he is when he is painting. Close cropping in At the Races (11.48) adds the foreshortened perspective, yet the painting has a background. Sometimes, he even pushes the scene far to the right, cutting off the horse's legs or half of the cart. Degas was a master of perspective, and in the ballet classes, half the painting is the floor or walls, with the dancers just off to one side. He created an extensive series of paintings of the ballet, including Ballet Rehearsal (11.49).

    11.48 At the Races
    11.49 Ballet Rehearsal

    This page titled 11.8: Post-Impressionism (1885 – 1905) is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .