Pioneered during the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Synthetism was associated with various artists who wanted to separate themselves from the Impressionism movement. Many art historians link this movement to post-Impressionism. Artists associated with Synthetism include Paul Gauguin, Louis Anquetin, Paul Serusier, and Emile Bernard. The term was applied so that these artists could distinguish themselves from Impressionist painters. In its early years, Synthetism, first used in 1877, was associated with Cloisonnism as well as Symbolism. The aesthetic flourished between 1888 and 1894.
The term Synthetism was applied to the style of artists who wanted to synthesize various elements in their work. These artists wanted to synthesize the exterior of natural forms together with their own feelings about a subject in question and the aesthetic purity of artistic elements like color, line, and form. Synthetism was also concerned with two-dimensional flat patterns, a cornerstone of its aesthetic.
Some art historians have suggested that Synthetism artists used nature; however, they were not compelled to obey its rules. Works characteristic of the movement demonstrate bold outlines and flat swatches of color. The combination of the subject matter with the artist’s feelings is, perhaps, best showcased by the works of Paul Gauguin who was, of course, regarded as one of the founders and leading practitioners of the aesthetic.
Gauguin began to differentiate himself from Impressionist painters because he believed they were too preoccupied with natural elements like natural light which he viewed as superficial. Instead of mimicking elements like natural light, he preferred to infuse his own feelings about a subject into the painting so that it became a dramatic part of the composition. While he was not the only pioneer of the movement, he is, perhaps, its best known author.
Synthetism was linked with Cloisonnism because of its similar use of bold black outlines and bright areas of color. Cloisonnism was a popular form between 1888 and 1894 and overlapped considerably with Synthetism. While Synthetism began to wane after 1894, its tenets revived with the Art Nouveau movement. Moreover, it–along with the works of artists like Gauguin–had a profound impact on the development of twentieth century Modern Art.
Today, works of Synthetism are collected by some of the leading art museums in the world. Works such as The Talisman by Paul Serusier, Reading Woman by Louis Anquetin, and Vision after the Sermon by Paul Gauguin reflect many hallmarks of the movement.