READINGS: POST-IMPRESSIONISM AND EXPRESSIONISM
Van Gogh, Letters
Background: Eugen Weber, Expressionism
Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art
Term applied to the reaction against
led by Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van
Gogh and Georges Seurat. It can be roughly dated from 1886, the year of the last Impressionist exhibition, to
1905, when Fauvism appeared and the first moves towards Cubism were made. While it was predominantly a
French movement, there were related developments in other countries, which often occurred somewhat later.
Post-Impressionism can be loosely defined as a rejection of the Impressionists’ concern for the naturalistic
depiction of light and colour in favour of an emphasis on abstract qualities or symbolic content. It therefore
and the later work of some Impressionists.
The term was coined in 1910 by the English critic and painter Roger Fry for an exhibition of late 19th-century
French painting, drawing and sculpture that he organized at the Grafton Galleries in London.
1. History and application of the term.
After considering more substantive terms such as ‘expressionism’, Fry settled on ‘Post-Impressionism’
for the title of the exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in 1910–11, as this did no more than point out that the
Post-Impressionists came after the Impressionists. From the beginning he admitted that the label was not
descriptive of a single style. The catalogue preface, written by Fry with Desmond MacCarthy, secretary to the
gallery, but not signed by either, begins (1910–11 exh. cat., p. 7):
The pictures collected together in the present exhibition are the work of a group of artists who cannot
be defined by any single term. The term ‘Synthetists’, which has been applied to them by learned criticism, does
indeed express a shared quality underlying their diversity; and it is the critical business of this introduction to
expand the meaning of that word, which sounds too much like the hiss of an angry gander to be a happy
For Fry and MacCarthy the only common denominator between the Post-Impressionist painters was
their rejection of Impressionism (1910–11 exh. cat., p. 7):
In no school does individual temperament count for more. In fact, it is the boast of those who believe
in this school, that its methods enable the individuality of the artist to find completer self-expression in his work
than is possible to those who have committed themselves to representing objects more literally … the Post-
Impressionists consider the Impressionists too naturalistic.
The full title of the exhibition was
Manet and the Post-Impressionists
, although Manet was represented by
fewer works (nine) than the painters of the next generation. There were, for example, forty-six works by
Gauguin, twenty-five by van Gogh and twenty-one by Cézanne. Other artists whose work was shown included
Seurat (two works), Paul Sérusier (five), Maurice Denis (five), Félix Vallotton (four) and Odilon Redon (three).