Post-Impressionism, Symbolism and
Cynthia Noble
Key Concepts
Correspondences: Late19th/Early 20th Centuries, Captialism,
colonialism, Subjectivity, Industrial Revolution, Science (relativity),
• Post-Impressionism is an umbrella term for a number of disparate styles that arose
in Europe after the peak of Impressionism in the early 1880’s and into the early
twentieth-century; it does not describe one particular look or style
• The Post-Impressionists extended the Impressionists’ commitment to radical
innovation and the rejection of the conventions of the bourgeoisie. The idea and
practice of the avant-garde fully emerges and proceeds to continually renew itself,
i.e. the pace of “-isms” increases.
• The transition from Impressionism to Post-Impressionism represents an ideological
shift from the belief in objectivity (associated with Positivism) toward an interest in
subjectivity. Impressionists believed that there are certain “visual facts” that could
be represented, while those reacting to Impressionism asserted that each
individual perceives the world differently and personal imagination is important.
(See next page for key concepts on Symbolism and Expressionism)
Key Concepts, cont.
• Some consider Symbolism, both a literary and artistic approach, as a style that falls
under the Post-Impressionist umbrella, while others see it as a distinct art historical
moment. The Symbolists opposed the values of rationalism and material progress
and instead explored emotion, imagination and spirituality.
• The Symbolists sought a deeper and more mysterious reality, which they conveyed
through ambiguous subject matter and formal stylization suggestive of hidden and
elusive meanings. In other words, they created images that expressed psychic
experiences, such as dreams and visions.
• Expressionism is both a way of approaching art, which occurred in many historical
periods, and a particular tendency of the late nineteenth- and early twentiethcenturies.
• Expressionism refers to abstracted forms and colors often in a simplified style
meant to communicate subjective emotional and spiritual states.
• Sub-styles: Expressionism in France emerged as Fauvism, a style noted for its
explosive colors and impulsive brushwork and flourished in Germany in groups
such as Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter.
Images: Post-Impressionism, Symbolism, Expressionism
Claude Monet. Rouen Cathedral: The Portal, 1894 (Impressionism)
Georges Seurat. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884-86
Paul Cézanne. Mont Sainte-Victoire, c. 1885-87
Vincent Van Gogh. The Starry Night, 1889
Paul Gauguin. Mahana no atua (Day of the Gods), 1894
Gustave Moreau. The Apparition, 1874-76
Henri Rousseau. The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897
Henri Matisse. Woman with a Hat, 1905
Henri Matisse. Le Bonheur de Vivre (The Joy of Life), 1905-06
Franz Marc. The Large Blue Horses, 1911
Vasily Kandinsky. Improvisation No. 30, 1913
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Street, Berlin, 1913
Karl Schmidt-Rotluff. Two Women, 1912
Edvard Munch. The Scream, 1893
Assignment: Focusing on Matisse’s Bathers, 1909-17 from the Art
Institute’s permanent collection (see next page), write a visual and
contextual analysis of this work. What is the cultural “story” that that
this painting tells?
Reading: Matisse. “Notes of a Painter” (1908)

Post-Impressionism, Symbolism and Expressionism