Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

Art History: Post-Impressionism (1880s - 1920s)

Post-Impressionism, a significant art movement that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, marked a departure from the traditional Impressionist style. While retaining some of the Impressionists' emphasis on light and color, Post-Impressionists delved into a deeper exploration of form, symbolism, and subjective expression. This period saw the rise of several influential painters who left an indelible mark on the art world. In this article, we will delve into the essence of Post-Impressionism, explore the art styles it encapsulated, and discover the lives and works of five renowned Post-Impressionist painters.

Art Styles of Post-Impressionism

Post-Impressionism was not a uniform style; rather, it encompassed various artistic approaches, each reflecting the painter's unique vision and ideas. Some key art styles within this movement include:

1. Pointillism

Pointillism, pioneered by Georges Seurat, involved the application of tiny, distinct dots of color on the canvas. These dots would blend optically to create vivid and harmonious compositions. The technique required meticulous precision and resulted in artworks that exuded a sense of vibrancy and depth.

2. Cloisonnism

Emerging from the works of Paul Gauguin, Cloisonnism was characterized by bold outlines and flat, intense colors. The style drew inspiration from stained glass windows and traditional cloisonné enamelwork, lending the paintings a distinct, almost otherworldly quality.

3. Synthetism

Synthetism, another innovation by Paul Gauguin, sought to synthesize the natural world with the artist's emotions and experiences. This style emphasized simplified forms, bold colors, and symbolic representation, conveying a dreamlike, subjective reality.

4. Les Nabis

Les Nabis, a group of Post-Impressionist artists including Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard, focused on decorative and symbolic imagery. They embraced elements of Japanese prints and Art Nouveau, leading to an artistic movement that explored the inner emotional and spiritual realms.

Five Renowned Post-Impressionist Painters

1. Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890)

Vincent van Gogh, one of the most celebrated Post-Impressionist painters, is known for his emotionally charged works and vivid color palette. Despite his tragic life, he produced an astonishing number of masterpieces during his brief career. Two of his iconic paintings are:

  • Starry Night (1889): This mesmerizing work depicts a swirling night sky above a serene village, expressing Van Gogh's inner turmoil and profound connection with nature.
  • Sunflowers (1888): Van Gogh's series of sunflower paintings, including this masterpiece, showcase his fascination with the beauty and transience of life.

2. Paul Cézanne (1839 - 1906)

Paul Cézanne's contributions to Post-Impressionism lie in his revolutionary approach to form and structure. He sought to simplify natural shapes into geometric forms and planes, laying the groundwork for future artistic movements. Two of his renowned paintings are:

  • Mont Sainte-Victoire (1902-1906): This series of landscape paintings captures the rugged beauty of Mont Sainte-Victoire in different lighting conditions, showcasing Cézanne's mastery of form and color.
  • The Card Players (1890-1892): This series of paintings portrays rural Provençal peasants engrossed in card games, exemplifying Cézanne's skill in capturing human emotions and relationships.

3. Georges Seurat (1859 - 1891)

As the pioneer of Pointillism, Georges Seurat's contributions to Post-Impressionism were groundbreaking. His scientific approach to color theory and meticulous technique produced mesmerizing works. Two of his famous paintings are:

  • A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-1886): This large-scale painting showcases Seurat's pointillist technique and depicts Parisian leisure on an island in the Seine River.
  • Circus Sideshow (1887-1888): This painting captures the magical atmosphere of a circus sideshow, demonstrating Seurat's ability to portray fleeting moments with precision.

4. Paul Gauguin (1848 - 1903)

Paul Gauguin's artistic journey led him to Tahiti, where he found inspiration for his innovative and deeply symbolic works. His art sought to express profound human emotions and spiritual connections. Two of his notable paintings are:

  • Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897-1898): This large-scale masterpiece reflects Gauguin's quest for existential answers, portraying figures from different stages of life.
  • The Yellow Christ (1889): This emotionally charged painting features a yellow-skinned Christ against a vibrant backdrop, expressing Gauguin's struggle with spirituality and identity.

5. Henri Rousseau (1844 - 1910)

Henri Rousseau, also known as "Le Douanier" due to his former occupation as a customs officer, was a self-taught artist with a unique style. His fantastical jungle scenes and naive approach to painting distinguished him from his contemporaries. Two of his renowned paintings are:

  • The Dream (1910): This dreamlike composition portrays a reclining woman surrounded by exotic animals in a mysterious jungle, encapsulating Rousseau's imaginative world.
  • The Sleeping Gypsy (1897): Another one of Rousseau's jungle-themed works, this painting depicts a sleeping woman with a wandering lion, evoking a sense of enigmatic tranquility.


Post-Impressionism, as an artistic movement, opened new horizons for the world of art. Its innovative styles and the masterpieces created by artists like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, and Henri Rousseau continue to inspire and captivate audiences to this day. The fusion of subjective expression, bold colors, and visionary creativity paved the way for modern art movements, leaving an enduring legacy that will be cherished for generations to come.


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