Impressionism to Post-Impressionism

I have added notes or responses to my tutor feedback for this assignment at the end of these notes and also have made any necessary amendments.


Franco-Prussian war ends in defeat – 1st German emperor crowned at Versailles. Almost as celebration of ‘bourgeois stability’ (p. 700 WHA) Second Empire monument Paris Opera House opens in period of Third Empire. Public have difficulty understanding the work of the Impressionists. Japan re-opens to foreigners in 1854 by USA – closed since 1634 except for Dutch trading station at Nagasaki.  Middle-class architect designed houses developed – change in domestic architecture and therefore social living. American Civil War ends 1865. Paris Commune suppressed 1871 (Courbet imprisoned for his part in the Commune).  Impressionists – active supporters of Social-Anarchist movement in France.


Salon des Refuses started to accept works rejected by the Salon including those of Impressionists – Salon previously only road to professional success/acceptance – Salon des Refuses was first open challenge to this. Success with art effected social living standards for artists (e.g. Monet had 6 gardeners at his home in Giverny). Independent economic means allowed artists to work without commissions. Art as a way of life became a concept similar to that of a new religion – changing view of status of artists. Freeing of artists from old Classical tradition and ‘authority of the old masters’ (p. 712 WHA) by Impressionist style and influence of Japanese prints. Rodin considered last exponent of an old tradition with sculpture style.


New reproduction processes lead by photography – development of art magazines with international circulations – thereby helped an artist’s work to become known.  Finished works completed in open air by Impressionists not just sketches. New high-toned colour palette with broken brushwork on white-primed canvas as opposed to brown favoured by Impressionists – spectrum colours used to capture the light using small brushstrokes which caused colours to blend optically when seen from a distance – colour used alone to create compositions. Revolutionary use of real materials in sculpture such as hair, muslin or satin (p. 711 WHA). Lithography developed into ‘polychrome medium converted posters’ (p. 713 WHA).  Divisionisim or pointillism – development of technique by Georges Seurat using short uniformly spread non-directional brushstrokes whereby colour blended on the canvas not on the palette. Rodin worked from nature for his sculptures – new development for technique. Metal framing introduced in architecture – Chicago 1883 by William Le Baron Jenney (1832-1907) – development of skyscraper by Louis Henry Sullivan (1856-1924) – skeleton construction which did away with load bearing walls soon followed.


Impressionist – basis on using colour to create form with short brushstrokes/scenes of modern urban life/social observation giving voice to those not previously heard or painted capturing momentary impressions/un-involved emotionally/mostly completed paintings outside (Degas – exception as finished works done in studio with only studies done in chosen environments)/realists with a concentration on the here and now solely for truth and actuality of contemporary experience /concentration on exploration of light.  Monet and Renoir founders of impressionism. Style variations between each – Albert Sisley simplest and purest – Berthe Morisot (female) greater attention to solidity of form – Renoir concern with human figure and rainbow style palette – Eduoard Manet spectrum palette with broad handled flat manner and seemingly concentration on exploitation of women – Degas preferring to paint in the studio scenes of cafes, ballet dancers, nudes and modern life in general.  Degas also sculptural style of sculptural form. Japonisme – influence of Japanese prints on art/Monet discovered through the art how to reconcile 3-dimensional illusionism with a flat painted surface/Lautrec and Mary Cassatt with her colour prints also influenced and solved similar problems/Lautrec flattened illusionistic space (Japanese manner style) and united pattern of pictorial elements with the lettering (transformed poster making). Neo-Impressionist – variation in style as artists wanted to paint with more meaning and to include the individual impression or sensation felt by an artist/variations that were freer and carefree than political by artists such as Pissaro, Henri-Edmond Cross and Signac plus others. Divisionism – Georges Seurat (pointillism and also a Neo-Impressionist) – still scenes or urban life but more working class.  Pierre Puvis de Chavannes – Academy style of subtlety and refinement. Paul Cezanne – greatest of all late 19th Century artists/believed in reflection of work/answered problems of how to reconcile flat canvas with a desired depth/was able to see depth and pattern simultaneously/liked still lifes due to the fact could set them up and work from them over time and created perceived distortions or incorrect perspectives but everything had its place/incredible use of colour and solid construction gave supreme effects of mass and volume/paintings had deep level of spirituality within them – also skilled at portraiture.   Symbolist – works of Gaugin, Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Rodin, Emile Bernard/using imagination and fantasy to express the inner self/colour being directly expressive rather than just descriptive/dream and memory predominate with feelings and ideas starting points of works of art/Gaugin style based on that of the ‘innocence and knowledge, the savage and uncivilised’ (p. 719 WHA) – anti-naturalism. Art-Nouveau – architecture and sculpture/flat, relaxed and decorative swirls and linear patterns/expressive/contemporary and modern style. Historicism provoked demand for a style of the 19th Century and Art Nouveau was first attempt to stop historical revivals – Antoni Gaudi Spanish architect and extreme designer (asymmetrical, jagged planes and extravagant forms with no straight walls or right angles and organic play of exterior and interior).


Japanese prints and Oriental influence on both Impressionist and Symbolist. Paul Signac talks of the political and social influence on the art of the Neo-Impressionist period/struggle between the workers and the capital as the Neo-Impressionist artists were supporters of the Socialist-Anarchist movement/socialism also influenced the positivism of the Italian Divisionisti (developed separately from French). Influence of other cultures including Polynesian and South Seas culture for Gauguin who moved there. Influence on Art Nouveau possibly from the Symbolist painters – only a formal connection. Post-Industrial Revolution nostalgia inspired 19th Century art


Colour theories and other theories – Michel Eugene Chevreul, Ogden N. Rood, Charles Henry. Symbolist Movement heralded for poets by Jean Moreas with Socialist Manifesto (1886) – Gustave Kahn, poet, gave further declaration. Academician Jean-Leon Gerome stopped French President entering room of Impressionist work. Study of optics and physiological principles pursued by Chevreul and Hermann. L. F. von Helmholtz and others. Jules Laforge – poet – knew and wrote of Impressionists he knew personally. Naturalist writers – Zola and Manupassant – Impressionists discovered their visual interest for their work.

FOOTNOTE:  I feel compelled to mention my own impressions of the section in WHA on Munch and Rodin – I was struck by the fact that both seem to be of tortured minds and were able to externalise the internal conflicts that both seemed to have.  If you add in the work of Van Gogh and Gauguin too you have a collection of minds that are a brilliant in their art but somewhat frightening in their expression and very much remind me of the work of Goya from the previous period and going back even further to Hieronymous Bosch and all bring to thought the phrase ‘the tortured artist’.  I always associated Rodin with softer natural sculptures and to see the one of the Gates of Hell is a revelation which compels you to look closer and wonder what his thought processes were at the time – it is very reminiscent of some of the art done regarding the concentration camps in World War 2 and considering those were the Gates of Hell maybe that is an apt although horrific comparison.  I did not think I could learn to appreciate Van Gogh’s more expressive work but now I understand on a basic level the meaning of the artistic movement I am finding both his and Gauguin’s work fascinating – the use of colour and line and form to express feelings that have been internalised would perhaps today be described as a form of therapy.


Fleming, J and Honour, H. 1984. A World History of Art. Seventh Edition. London.  Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

Tutor feedback and suggestions:

My tutor has asked me to check I have answered the following questions and the answers below are in addition to my notes above:

  • “How did the subject matter of art change from the Realist period through to the Post-impressionists?”  The Realists concentrated literally on producing truthful and realistic representation of the subject matter in terms of colour, form and composition – Realism for me personally is the style which does exactly what it says! Importantly the Realists also concentrated on real-life subjects which were not always deemed palatable and by this I mean they painted life as they saw it regarding the social, economic and political structure and cultures of life at the time and in doing so effectively went against the upper echelons of society who patronized the artistic market.   However, the Impressionists moved forward to literally creating impressions of the subject matter with loose, light brushstrokes using pure colours and and a concentration on the changes in the light which resulted in some paintings almost being abstract in quality but retaining impressions of the subject.  Finally the Post-Impressionists reacted against the Impressionists and used bright vivid and opaque colours with a concentration on the form of real-life subjects although often with distortions – the colours were often unnatural as the artists sought to regain a sense of the subject which the Impressionists, they felt had trivialised.
  • “What contributed to those changes?” There is no doubt the changing status of the artists had a major effect on the style particularly as the artists as they started to work independently of patrons and also started to exhibit independently of the great exhibitions.
  • “How did the formal approaches differ?” I feel I have answered this as I answered the difference in response to the question on the subjects of the art to a large extent but to summarise:  the Realists concentrated on the use of colour and technique to produce naturalist and realistic representations whilst the Impressionists were interested the scientific optical effects of light and used light loose brush strokes to capture the essence of the scene in front of them and usually working en plein air.  However the Post-Impressionists reacted against the Impressionists and created distorted forms with bright, often unnatural colours and a concentration on the real-life subjects in order to bring back the focus to the importance of the subject matter which they felt the Impressionists had, as I have stated, trivialised.
  • How did the exhibition strategies differ?”  This I have answered in my notes above.
  • “How did the art from this period pave the way to the modernism of the early twentieth century?” Gradually the move from Realism to Impressionism to Post-Impression resulted in the movements of Fauvism and Cubism with their concentration on expressing or evoking emotion – each movement had reacted against as the artists sought to express themselves.  The changes in the style through the different movements was more pronounced than I feel was seen in previous styles – the differences in Renaissance to Baroque styles are clear but there are periods at the beginning or end of each where the styles emerge from one another as economic, political or social influences change and take effect whilst I am finding the differences between the modern styles are more pronounced as if there are full stops or at least commas or semi-colons almost announcing a change is coming or if there is a capital letter a change has already started and a new stylistic movement has begun.

My tutor has mentioned the male artist being seen as an outsider or observer as is stated in Baudelaire’s essay and also that I should think about Realism’s emphasis on labour as a subject.  This is where I find personal interest as I am someone who when I read about history I am not so much interested in the dates or the wars or the laws as social, economic or political facts but am interested in the lives of the people and who they were.  As someone who is studying textiles and therefore having to really work on my artistic skills I can relate to Baudelaire’s comments – an artist is like a photographer in that if the artist is painting a scene or a figure they are capturing a moment in time whether that is a moment that records a historical scene or just the light as it changes across water.  The artists who captured the scenes of labour including those mentioned by my tutor, Degas, Caillebotte and Manet, did so as a common theme in much the same way today that artists paint images of people working now.  I am not sure I agree with my tutor stating that there is no definitive line  between movements and subjects because the stylistic differences for me personally appear more pronounced although perhaps with a little blurring at the edges but I do agree that the subject matter is much the same – the same scenes are painted but in different styles and with different expressions.  Realism concentrated on the labour of the land and city and caught moments that had not necessarily been painted previously – they were harsh subjects that were not always pleasant to view but were the reality of the time. As I review the work of Degas I realise he caught the harsher side of ballet in his portrayal of the dancers at practice with these women not coming from the upper classes but very much the lower classes desperate to escape their poverty stricken lives with the ballet seemingly a fantasy world to inhabit.

  Finally my tutor has asked me to “demonstrate how, rather than the impression of the spectacle of the external world (a focus of the Impressionists), the Post-Impressionist artists, such as Van Gogh, turned towards the expression of the internal psychology of the individual. ”  I have taken time to think about my answer to this and I have described above how the Impressionists sought to capture the ‘essence of the scene’ and a fleeting impression of what they saw directly in front of them as they painted in the open air but the Post-Impressionist artists sought to express internalised emotions.  The Post-Impressionists used colour as a form of expression with some choosing to distort form or others such as Seurat, as mentioned in my notes, invented pointillism to build up colour and Van Gogh used colour in swirling marks but all concentrate on expressing the scene they wish to portray but as an expression rather than impression – the Impressionists gave a hint at the scene as if the scene was witnessed perhaps through the haze of a summer sun or a mist with less distinction of form but their successors gave definitive form that was direct with the aforementioned vivacity of colour.  


This entry was posted in ASSIGNMENT 4 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s