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Grove Art: Subject Guide

Impressionism & Post-Impressionism

Introduction

Paul Cézanne: Zola’s House at Médan, oil on canvas, 590×725 mm, c. 1880 (Glasgow, Burrell Collection); photo credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NYBoth Impressionism and Post-Impressionism refer to influential artistic movements arising in late 19th-century France. Impressionists rejected the system of state-controlled academies and salons in favor of independent exhibitions, the first of which was held in 1874. They painted contemporary landscapes and scenes of modern life, especially of bourgeois leisure and recreation, instead of drawing on past art or historical and mythological narrative for their inspiration. Interested in capturing transitory moments, the Impressionists paid attention to the fleeting effect of light, atmosphere and movement. They continued the break that the Realists began from the illusionist tradition by emphasizing the paint on the surface of the canvas, flattening the sense of perspective through a lack of tonal modeling, and using daring cropped perspectives which were influenced by Japanese prints. Confronting nature and modern city life directly, the Impressionists differed from their antecedents because they painted en plein air (in the open air) and used a palette of pure colors. The term Impressionism is used to describe a group of painters living in Paris who worked between c. 1860 and 1900. These artists, such as Frédéric Bazille, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Mary Cassatt, sparked an international group of followers and revolutionized Western conceptions of painting.

Post-Impressionism is a term used to describe the reaction in the 1880s against Impressionism. It was led by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Georges Seurat. The Post-Impressionists rejected Impressionism’s concern with the spontaneous and naturalistic rendering of light and color. Instead they favored an emphasis on more symbolic content, formal order and structure. Similar to the Impressionists, however, they stressed the artificiality of the picture. The Post-Impressionists also believed that color could be independent from form and composition as an emotional and aesthetic bearer of meaning. Both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism include some of the most famous works of modern art such as Monet’s Waterlilies, a Series of Waterscapes and van Gogh’s Starry Night. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism continue to be some of the most well-known and beloved of artistic movements.

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