The Post-Impressionist Movement

This artistic movement evolved from Impressionism

© Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas; used with permission
Paul Cézanne (French, 1839-1906). Peasant in a Blue Smock, 1892 or 1897. Oil on canvas. 31 7/8 x 25 9/16 in. (81 x 64.9 cm). © Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

The term "Post-Impressionism" was invented by Roger Fry as he prepared for an exhibition at Grafton Gallery in London in 1910. The show was called "Manet and the Post-Impressionists" (November 8, 1910-January 15, 1911), a canny marketing ploy to pair a brand name (Édouard Manet) with younger French artists whose work was not well known on the other side of the English Channel.

The exhibition included the painters Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, George Seurat, André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck and Othon Friesz, plus the sculptor Aristide Maillol.

Robert Rosenblum explained: "Post-Impressionists ... felt the need to construct private pictorial worlds upon the foundations of Impressionism."

Post-Impressionists pushed the ideas of the Impressionists into new directions. The word "Post-Impressionism" indicates their link to the original Impressionist ideas and their departure from those ideas -- their modernist journey from the past into the future.

Post-Impressionism and the Fauves

This loose movement was not a lengthy one. Most scholars place Post-Impressionism in the mid-to-late-1880s to early 1900s. For all intents and purposes, it's accurate to include the Fauves among the Post-Impressionists. Fauvism, best described as a movement-within-a-movement, was characterized by artists who used color, simplified forms and ordinary subject matter in their paintings. Eventually Fauvism evolved into Expressionism.

What Are the Key Characteristics of Post-Impressionism?

The Post-Impressionists were an eclectic bunch of individuals, so there were no broad, unifying characteristics.

Each artist took an aspect of Impressionism and exaggerated it.

For example, Vincent van Gogh intensified Impressionism's already vibrant colors and painted them thickly on the canvas (a technique known as impasto). Van Gogh's energetic brushstrokes expressed emotional qualities. It's not easy to characterize an artist as unique and unconventional as van Gogh, but art historians generally view his earlier works as representative of Impressionism,  and his later works as examples of Expressionism (art loaded with charged emotional content).

In other examples, Georges Seurat took the rapid, "broken" brushwork of Impressionism and developed it into the millions of colored dots that create Pointillism, while Paul Cézanne elevated Impressionism's separation of colors into separations of whole planes of color. 

Cezanne and Post-Impressionism

It is important not to understate the role of Paul Cezanne in both Post-Impressionism and his later influence on modernism. Cezanne's paintings included many different subject matters, but all with his trademark color techniques. He painted landscapes of French towns including Provence, portraits that included "The Card Players," but may be best known among modern art lovers for his still life paintings of fruit.

Cezanne became a major influence on Modernists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, both of whom revered the French master as a "father."  

The list below pairs the leading artists with their respective Post-Impressionist Movements.

Best-Known Artists:

  • Vincent van Gogh - Expressionism
  • Paul Cézanne - Constructive Pictorialism
  • Paul Gauguin - Symbolist, Cloisonnism, Pont-Aven
  • Georges Seurat - Pointillism (a.k.a. Divisionism or Neoimpressionism)
  • Aristide Maillol - The Nabis
  • Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard - Intimist
  • André Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck and Othon Friesz - Fauvism