Post Impressionism

Continuing with beautiful color and light variations, Post-Impressionism is a late nineteenth century movement following in the footsteps of Impressionism. In the mid-1870s, French artists gravitated toward more individualistic styles. For example, Paul Gaugin began to explore a different culture after his extensive visits to Tahiti. While Gaugin contributed important pieces in this period, a good story can be found in the brief life of another French painter, Georges Seurat. He created a legacy as the inventor of Pointillism.

Georges-Pierre Seurat was born in Paris in 1859 to a family with ample economic resources. His father worked as a legal official. Seurat is remembered perhaps most famously for “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” (1859-1891). In this painting, a perfect example of Pointillism, Seurat used tiny dots to create a beautiful park scene. The figures are decidedly tall in perspective and angular. The most striking feature is the shadow cast over much of the park lawn. The shadow covers about one-third of the painting (the foreground). The people look like they are at peace, although most of them focus their attention on the water. What is missing, however, is the detail of the human faces, robbing the viewer of their expressions.

“Sunday Afternoon” has resided at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIOC) since 1924. The Art Institute notes that early works help to understand the artist before he became a Post-Impressionist. In their 2004 exhibition called “Seurat and the Making of La Grande Jatte,” AIOC noted the “remarkable transformation of his colors and subject matter around 1883–85, when he started to explore the modern-life subjects, high-keyed colors, and broken brushwork of Impressionism.”

This description makes an important point about understanding Post-Impressionism. The fact that Seurat was able to come along and try Impressionism after Impressionists like Monet and Renoir had succeeded in legitimizing their art suggests the ease with which a gifted artist can join an art movement and imitate the style. In this sense, an art movement is not really a movement but a decision by the artist to participate in a common style with other artists.

Seurat uses brilliant colors in balance to make compositions like “Sunday Afternoon” achieve a powerful level of unity. When the observer looks at a Post-Impressionist piece, there is the element of how the light affects the landscape, but the brushwork and colors are also important. Seurat died in 1891 from meningitis.