Post-Impressionism is a blanket term for a number of movements and artists in the 1880s and 1890s that, although they were influenced by the Impressionists, explored modernity, color, light, and the idea of what art was in very different ways. These artists did not form one cohesive movement, instead working from a number of theoretical, artistic, and social viewpoints. Many of the Post-Impressionist artists were drawn to bright color and distinctive brushstrokes, but their forms did not dissolve, and their edges were relatively clear.

There are some big names in the conglomerate of Post-Impressionist artists that did not necessarily ally with any particular movement. One of these was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose characteristic imagery was based on Parisian nightlife, and can be identified through his dynamic motion created with loose, sketchy brushwork. Lautrec was influenced by both the Impressionists and Japanese woodblock prints, using these influences, and his own technique of peinture à l’essence (oil paints thinned with turpentine), to create images of the Parisian café-concerts (night clubs where dancers and singers performed), prostitutes, and brothels. He also was a sought after poster artist, who turned the lithographic advertising posters of the period into high art, using as his subjects the more famous of the café-concert performers, such as Jane Avril, La Goulue, and Yvette Guilbert. Comparing two of Lautrec’s images of the interior of the Moulin Rouge, At the Moulin Rouge (1890) and At the Moulin Rouge (1892-1895), some of these characters, friends of the artist, reappear in his sketchy, dynamic style. La Goulue is in both, with her characteristic red, upswept hairstyle, dancing the cancan or speaking with others at the club. Jane Avril is in the front of the later work, her heavily made-up face lit green by the gas lamps. In the second, Lautrec appears as well, walking at the back with his cousin, his self-deprecating caricature of himself. Both show the garish interior of the club as a space to dance, drink with friends, and enjoy a not at all high-society nightlife.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge, 1890 and At the Moulin Rouge, 1892-1895 (photos By Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, and By Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

Lautrec’s lithographs and posters used flat, unmodeled areas of color, with words integrated with the composition, and were very much based on the woodblock prints of the Ukiyo-e style. These typically showed the dancers and singers in a way that left them very identifiable, such as La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge and Le Divan Japonais. Even without her name in the title, La Goulue would be identifiable by her hairstyle and frenetic dance moves, and Jane Avril can be identified in Le Divan Japonais by her hat. The body and gloves of the singer identify Yvette Guilbert, even with her head cut from the composition. The words on both posters are seamlessly integrated into the composition of each, something that would influence artists through Pop Art in the mid-20th century.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge, 1891 and  Le Divan Japonais, 1892 (photos By Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – (more at, Public Domain, and By Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

Paul Cézanne was a Post-Impressionist who would have the most powerful impact on Western painting, transforming paint into visible structure, and credited with beginning Cubism because of his statement that all art can be distilled into the cube, the sphere, and the cylinder. His early work was often dark, showing his interest in the Romantic and the Classical, but also his conflicted views on his family, women, and himself. This can be seen in both the portrait of his father reading the paper from 1866, where his father is ill-defined, and the paint is applied thickly to the canvas with a palette knife, and in The Temptation of St. Anthony, where threatening and slightly grotesque feminine forms fill the foreground of the otherwise dark work. His self-portrait of about 1872 shows him as a shadowy figure against a dark background with a beard that seems to cover his mouth.

Paul Cézanne, The Artist’s Father, 1866 and Temptation of St. Anthony, c. 1870 (photos By Paul Cézanne – 1. The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.2., Public Domain, and By Paul Cézanne – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,


Paul Cézanne, Self-Portrait, c. 1872 (photo By Paul Cézanne – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

His palette lightened under the influence of Camille Pissarro, and his subjects begin to shift after he returns to Aix from Paris. Here, he becomes interested in still-lifes, using wax food because he took so long to paint. Cézanne painted from a number of angles as well, moving around the table to get different views of his still life, and putting them all together on one canvas, working with a similar idea to Manet: showing the two-dimensionality of the surface rather than creating a three-dimensional illusion.Paul_Cézanne_185

Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Apples and Fruit, 1890-1894 (photo By Paul Cézanne – Art Institute of Chicago, Public Domain,

Cézanne focused on two other themes in Aix: one was bathers, a theme that obsessed him his entire career, and the other was Mont Sainte-Victoire, a mountain with which he personally identified. It is in these series from the 1890s and early 1900s, that you can see his turn to the cube, sphere, and cylinder most strongly. His forms begin to shift into basic shapes, which will be very influential on Cubists like Georges Braque, who painted in L’Estaque in Provence in imitation of the master in 1908.

Paul Cézanne, Great Bathers, 1898-1905 and Mont Sainte-Victoire, c. 1900 (photos By Paul Cézanne – Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, and By Paul Cézanne – Own work, Public Domain,

Georges Seurat has been called a Neo-Impressionist and Pointillist; he himself called his technique “divisionism,” building up color through dots, or points, of pure color. Seurat was very interested in the optical theories which first came to the fore with the Impressionists, and took a scientific approach to painting. He exhibited with the Impressionists at first as well, much like Cézanne, but went beyond their interests in optical theory, leisure time, and modernity. Seurat was also known for his multiple studies for each work. In these studies, such as L’echo, a study for Bathers at Asnières, you can see Seurat working the concept of putting the dots together on the canvas. It is in more mature works like Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, shown at the last Impressionist exhibition of 1886, that Seurat’s experiments really come together. Here, the small dots of color mix only through the viewer’s eyes, and Seurat has completed a tour-de-force work that is also a meditation on the leisure time of Parisian society, a society where the class divisions are less obvious with ready-to-wear clothing. There may also be a commentary on Social Darwinism, if the theory that the woman in the foreground is a courtesan is correct. Then, the fact that the shape of her pet monkey mimics the shape of her bustle relates to the Social Darwinist conception of evolution of society, with those that are non-white and those that are sex workers considered to be the least evolved.

Georges Seurat, Bathers at Asnières, 1883-1884 and L’echo, study for Bathers, 1883-1884 (photos by By Georges Seurat – National Gallery (NG3908), London, Public Domain, and By Georges Seurat – : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain,

Georges_Seurat_-_Un_dimanche_après-midi_à_l'Île_de_la_Grande_JatteGeorges Seurat, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884-1886 (photo By Georges Seurat – The Art Institute of Chicago, Public Domain,

Perhaps the most interesting, and the most talked about, of the Post Impressionist artists was Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch, largely self-taught artist, who was perhaps the most prolific of the artists of the period as well. Van Gogh was influenced by Dutch Baroque art as well as Japanese woodblock prints, and the works of German Renaissance artists. Some of his early paintings, done while he was still in the Netherlands, show the influences of previous Northern artists, with their use of dark colors, genre scenes as subjects, and distinctly Northern European points of view. But, these were done with van Gogh’s characteristic impasto technique of painting and evident brushstrokes, as can be seen in The Potato Eaters, an image of a Dutch peasant family eating their simple meal of potatoes and coffee. Van Gogh’s range of color expanded after viewing the newly popular Impressionist works, and meeting other artists like Paul Gauguin and Émile Bernard. Here, he also indulges in his love of Japanese prints, finding in them a sort of utopia, where there was only beautiful landscapes and beautiful women. He used these prints as sources for some of his paintings of the brief period when he lived in Paris, and also as catalysts for his move to Arles in Southern France, where he wanted to form an artists’ colony (he only convinced Gauguin to join him).Vincent_Van_Gogh_-_The_Potato_Eaters

Vincent van Gogh, The Potato Eaters, 1885 (photo By Vincent van Gogh – [??? – see original upload data]. However, thisone seems to be ‘borrowed’ from some file or print of the original., Public Domain,

Vincent van Gogh, Pére Tanguy, 1888 and Vincent van Gogh, Japonaiserie: Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige), 1887 (PhotosBy Vincent van Gogh – Musée Rodin, Public Domain, and By Vincent van Gogh – repro from art book, Public Domain,

His artists’ colony failed, due to a fight with Gauguin, caused in no small part by their vastly different personalities and van Gogh’s increasing mental health issues. There are differing accounts of what happened, and the truth is murky, but Gauguin and van Gogh had a fight, which led to van Gogh’s ear being cut off, either by himself or Gauguin, and van Gogh giving the ear to a prostitute. A word here, though, about van Gogh’s mental health issues: it is thought that he had untreated frontal lobe epilepsy, compounded by alcoholism, syphilis, and lead poisoning (he had a habit of putting his paint brushes in his mouth when thinking, and paints of the period contained large amounts of lead). These led to moments of extreme rage, and psychotic breaks with reality, as well as daily struggles with his inner self, something he captured in a number of self-portraits, such as Self-Portrait in Front of Easel and Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, one that is especially poignant because of the woodblock print in the background. It is also around this time that van Gogh’s paint seems to vibrate on his canvas, perhaps because of the untreated epilepsy, and much of his subject matter seems to veer toward death. BUT, there is a new, and very plausible theory that van Gogh did not kill himself, but was instead murdered. Given the fact that he was the son of a Calvinist preacher; had written against suicide in his letters; and was shot in the abdomen from the left (he was right handed), this is believable. At any rate, works like Wheat Field with Reaper, where the person working in the field is using a scythe like that of Death, and Starry Night, with the cypress trees that are associated with death and cemeteries, show the shift in van Gogh’s thinking and palette after the failure of his utopia. It is possible that he thought he was dying, as he certainly was, slowly, from syphilis.

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait in Front of Easel, 1888 and Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, 1889 (photos By Vincent van Gogh – VG Gallery, Public Domain, and By Vincent van Gogh – Web Museum (file), Public Domain,

Vincent van Gogh, Wheat Field with Reaper, 1889 and The Starry Night, 1889 (photos By Vincent van Gogh – repro from artbook, Public Domain, and By Vincent van Gogh – Transferred from the English Wikipedia, Public Domain,

The Symbolist Movement began as a literary movement focusing on psychological phenomena, and Symbolist artists rejected the social consciousness of Realism and the Impressionist interest in nature; they were attracted to the imagination and to the irrational. One of the most famous of these artists is Paul Gauguin, who used bright colors as flat shapes, outlined in black, on surfaces that are soft and smooth. Gauguin, who, like van Gogh, was largely self-taught, but he was more interested in finding what he considered to be a “primitive” culture that would be closer to nature. He started first in Brittany, working with other artists, like Émile Bernard, in Pont Aven. Here, he painted a number of images of the local Breton community in traditional clothing. He always painted them as if devoutly religious, connecting them and their spirituality to the land. Gauguin also used colors to express emotions and psychological responses, as opposed to using them as a means to record the people and places as they actually were.

Paul Gauguin, The Yellow Christ, 1889 and Vision After the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel), 1888 (photos By Paul Gauguin – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, and By Paul Gauguin – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

Gauguin eventually left France for Tahiti, then a French colony, looking for this pure, “primitive” experience, but found a colonized culture. He painted a series of works there in which he tried to express the pre-colonial realities of Tahiti, much as he had tried to express a pre-industrial reality in Brittany. Some of his works, like Manao tupapau (Spirit of the Dead Watching) and Nevermore, take on the Western images of Venus that date back to the Renaissance. Here the Venus figures are obviously non-Western, and do not seem as coy or sexually available as previous figures. Gauguin paints in the fabrics favored by the Tahitian people, and, at least in Manao tupapau, includes some of the Native beliefs, such as in spirits of the dead coming to the living.

Paul Gauguin, Manao tupapau (Spirit of the Dead Watching), 1892 and Nevermore, 1897 (photos By Paul Gauguin – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, and By Paul Gauguin – Courtauld Institute, Public Domain,

Other Symbolists focused on mythical or Biblical scenes that were often macabre or threatening in some fashion. Gustave Moreau, who taught many of the younger artists, used a number of jewel-like tones in his works and intricate details to create erotic scenes. Odilon Redon instead focused on strange shapes and abstract imagery to create dreamlike images that are often hard to understand.

Gustave Moreau, The Apparition, 1874 and Gustave Moreau, Galatea, 1880-81 (photos By Gustave Moreau – The Bridgeman Art Library, Object 125056, Public Domain, and By Gustave Moreau – Rama, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr,


Odilon Redon, The Cyclops, 1898 (photo By Odilon Redon – [1], Public Domain,

Edvard Munch combined Symbolism with Expressionism, creating images that detailed human suffering. Munch was raised by a devout Christian father who was also a doctor, and watched his mother and sister die of tuberculosis, a disease he also suffered from as a child. This, and a disastrous love affair, informed his art for the rest of his life.  Many of his images combined both death and life in the same image, especially when young women were the subject. He also created a number of works that were part of his Frieze of Life, which combined works that had Love, Angst, and Death as subjects. His most famous work, The Scream, represented Angst, and related to a psychological incident in which Munch, while crossing a bridge in Oslo, heard what he called a psychic scream of the universe. The Voice relates to love, and depicts a woman near Munch’s home on a fjord, but the woman appears to have no mouth, relating his conflicted feelings about love. He also painted his own Death of Marat, which took David’s painting of that theme as its inspiration. Here, though, Munch is Marat, dead on the bed, and his lover is Charlotte Corday, highlighting his complex feelings about the relationship.Edvard_Munch_-_Death_and_Life_-_Google_Art_Project

Edvard Munch, Death and the Maiden, 1893 (photo By Edvard Munch – Google Art Project: pic, Public Domain,

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893 and Edvard Munch, The Voice (Summer Night), 1896 (photos By Edvard Munch – WebMuseum at ibiblioPage: URL:, Public Domain, and By Edvard Munch – Google Art Project: pic, Public Domain,


Edvard Munch, Death of Marat, 1905-1908 (photo by By Edvard Munch – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.; original source was, Public Domain,

Pablo Picasso also began as a Symbolist with his Blue Period and Rose Period. The Blue Period lasted from 1901 to 1904, and his subjects were the poor and unfortunate. He depicted melancholy and pessimism with a predominance of blue as a mood-creating element. Many of these works were heavily influenced by his depression, and the suicide of his friend, Carlos Casagemas, who was the subject of La Vie pictured below. Picasso’s Rose period led to further exploration of color and themes of circus performers and common people. The change in color reflects Picasso’s happier mood. This period ran from approximately 1904-1906. Some of the works, like Family of Saltimbanques, also dealt with the death of Picasso’s sister when they were young, as she is shown to the left, holding a basket of flowers and the hand of a young clown, Picasso himself.

Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist, 1903 and La Vie, 1903 (photos by the Art Institute and wikiart)


Pablo Picasso, Family of Saltimbanques, 1905 (photo by wikipedia)

There were other strains in the fin-de-siècle culture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of these was Aestheticism in which the sole justification of art is its intrinsic beauty. This was based in the idea of “Art for Art’s Sake” of Whistler. One of the major proponents of this was Aubrey Beardsley, who illustrated Oscar Wilde’s play, Salomé, a work was denounced for its decadence. These works show the late-19th century decadence of the British dandies like Beardsley and Wilde, and are overtly erotic in their feeling and meaning.

Aubrey Beardsley, The Peacock Skirt, 1893 and Salomé with the Head of John the Baptist, 1893 (photos By Aubrey Beardsley – [1], Public Domain, and By Aubrey Beardsley –, Public Domain,

Another of these fin-de-siècle movements was Art Nouveau, which characterized by sinuous, asymmetrical, linear patterns that primarily influenced architecture and the decorative arts. It went by different names in different parts of Europe and the US, but the sensuous curving lines and floral or plant-like forms were constants, with an emphasis on these being made by new, industrially produced materials. Spaces like Victor Horta’s staircase for the Maison Tassel in Brussels and Hector Guimard’s Métro stations in Paris exemplify this. In Spain, Art Nouveau was Modernismo, characterized by Antonio Gaudí, who used the cliffs of his native Catalan as the inspiration for buildings like Casa Milà in Barcelona. Perhaps his most famous work, was Sagrada Familia, the cathedral in Barcelona that is unfinished, although should be finished in the 2020s. The building combines Gothic tendencies with natural forms that represent Catalonia and divine creation.

Victor Horta, staircase of the Maison Tassel, Brussels, 1892 and Hector Guimard, entrance to a Métro station, Paris, 1900 (photos  By Henry Townsend – Own work (own photo), Public Domain, and By vxla from Chicago, US – Metra in ParisUploaded by Mackensen, CC BY 2.0,

Antonio Gaudí, Casa Milà, Barcelona, 1906-1910 (photos CC BY-SA 3.0, and By Olavfin – Own work, Public Domain,

Antonio Gaudí, Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, 1883-1926 (photos By Arnaud Gaillard (arnaud () – Own work, CC BY-SA 1.0, and By Bernard Gagnon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, and By Poniol60 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

In Vienna, art had long been under control of the Academy and Salon. In 1897, a group of artists broke away and formed the Vienna Secession, which did not champion any one art style, but was meant to provide a forum for diverse styles which shared the rejection of Academic naturalism. One of the leaders of this break-away style was Gustav Klimt, who designed the poster for the first major exhibition of these artists. After this, Klimt became known for his highly decorative, heavily worked surfaces that often included gold leaf with the paint, such as in The Kiss and the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. In these later works, the forms dissolve into patterns and colors, trending toward abstraction. Death and Life deals with the escalating tensions of Europe in the years leading up to and at the beginning of World War I. Klimt_-_Erstes_Ausstellungsplakat_der_Wiener_Secession_(zensierte_Version)

Gustav Klimt, Secession, poster for the first exhibition, c. 1898 (photo By Gustav Klimt – repro from artbook, Public Domain,

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1908 and Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I,  1907 (photos By Gustav Klimt –, Public Domain, and By Gustav Klimt – 1. The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.2. Neue Galerie New York, Public Domain,

Gustav Klimt, Death and Life, 1910-15 (photo By Gustav Klimt – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

Henri Rousseau was often called Le Douanier, as he was a Customs Official. He was called a naïve painter due to a lack of formal training, and painted in his spare time. Rousseau was initially mocked by critics, but later was much admired for his dream-like works that seem now like precursors to Surrealism. Works like The Snake Charmer and The Dream reflect his interest in the non-Western, as well as Freud. The Dream, painted in 1910, merges visionary world of dream with a detailed depiction of reality. This work draws on Freud’s writings on the Mechanisms of Dreaming:

  • Representability—idea/feeling can be changed into a picture
  • Condensation—merges elements into a new form
  • Displacement—moves an element from its usual setting to another place
  • Symbolization—process of making symbols

Henri Rousseau, The Snake Charmer, 1907 and The Dream, 1910 (photos By Henri Rousseau – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, and By Henri Rousseau – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

The period encompassed by the general Art Historical term “Post Impressionism” is characterized by an increasing number of differences within the art world. Many artists felt free to pursue their own artistic interests.



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