Post Impressionist is the term used to describe and encompass the complex, varied and often overlapping trends in French painting in the period from circa 1880 to circa 1905. These trends emerged largely in response to or in reaction to the achievements of the Impressionist artists.
The key artistic movements that are encompassed by the Post Impressionist period label include the Neo-Impressionists (also the Pointillistes and the Divisionists); the Synthetists (also the Pont-Aven School and Cloissonists); Symbolism; Neo-Traditionism; the Nabis; the Salon de la Rose + Croix. The period culminates in the Fauve artists. Post Impressionism is also used to encompass the Belgian developments of Luminism, Les Vingt and the Libre Esthetique.
In their different ways, all these groups felt dissatisfaction with Impressionist art, particularly with its preoccupation with the sensation and the ephemeral moment; its apparent lack of coherent or rigorous methodology and its seemingly conservative bases in realist and naturalist art.
In their different ways, the various Post Impressionist groups re-examined and sought to re-form the achievements of the French Impressionist artists: to codify its practices or base them in more permanent, scientific procedures or to invest the subject with a conceptual and/or emotional significance as well as to broaden art’s social reach.
New links were forged by Post Impressionist artists between the fine arts and the graphic and decorative arts of mass culture and communications, linking to the Arts and Crafts movements and the revolution in printing techniques at the end of the nineteenth century.
The Post Impressionist artist groups were supported by their development of a network of alternative exhibiting possibilities. From 1883 the Groupe des Indépendents (subsequently the Société des (Artistes) Indépendents) provided an official alternative to the Salon system. From 1891 the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts proved a forum particularly for Symbolist artists; and 1903 the more overtly radical Salon d’Automne was founded, whose 1905 exhibition has become famous for publically launching the Fauves.
The term Post Impressionist itself was first coined only in 1910 when English critic Roger Fry named his exhibition at the Grafton Galleries, which presented French art of the previous three decades - featuring works by Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin - ‘Manet and the Post Impressionists’. Fry’s selection prioritised artists who he felt exploited the formal facts of painting, particularly colour and line, in order to express emotion. Indeed, Fry had also toyed with the label ‘Expressionist’ for his exhibition.
The developments of the varied Post Impressionist artists can in the long term can be seen to have paved the way for the succession of radical avant-garde groups which dominated art in Paris from circa 1905 to the outbreak of war in 1914. Post Impressionist art can therefore be seen as heralding a paradigmatic shift from nineteenth century aesthetics towards modernist art.
The first major historical study of the Post Impressionist period was by John Rewald whose seminal and magisterial study Post-Impressionism: From Gauguin to Van Gogh was first published in 1956.
Thomson, B. Post-Impressionism, Tate Gallery Publishing, London, 1998
Denvir, B, Post-Impressionism, Thames and Hudson, London, 1992