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The Post-Impressionists: Seurat, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh


The Impressionists were like a tribe. The Post-Impressionists went in different directions: Seurat with his dots, Cézanne with his slabs, Gauguin with his primitive Tahitian scenes, and Van Gogh with wild brush strokes, vivid colors, and an ability to make everything seethe with life.

Complete Video Script

[62] The Impressionists were like a tribe. They spoke the same artistic language. But, after that, more than ever, artists went in different directions…creating art that was uniquely their own. And those artists were the Post-Impressionists.

[63, Georges Seurat, 1859–1891; The Beach, Seurat, The Circus, Seurat] Georges Seurat took the Impressionist technique to its logical conclusion: Reducing the brush stroke to a brush dot, this was Pointillism. All the dots would blend in the eye like a shimmering mosaic of reflected light.

[64, Paul Cézanne, 1839–1906] Paul Cezanne built his scenes not with dots but with thick slabs. His subjects were simple and familiar…objects reduced to their basic geometrical forms: circular apples…rectangular houses…and people posed in triangles. By simplifying reality into fundamental shapes, Cezanne inspired future artists to see ordinary things in a new way.

[65, Paul Gauguin, 1848–1903; Arearea, 1892, Gauguin, Orsay Museum, Paris] Paul Gauguin sailed to exotic Tahiti, where he painted the native people. What may seem primitive and simple is actually intentional: flat scenes with no shading…black outlines filled in with bright colors. The space stacks up rather than recedes when he uses the same colors in the foreground and the background. His women — so different from the establishment Venuses of the Academy back in Paris — lounge innocently, giving uptight Europeans a glimpse of a Pacific Garden of Eden.

[66, Vincent van Gogh, 1853–1890; The Potato Eaters, 1885, Van Gogh, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam] And among the boldest of these Post-Impressionists was Vincent van Gogh. For Van Gogh, his life and art were intertwined. A humble pastor's son from a small Dutch town, he spent time helping poor coal miners…in search of his calling. He gave farm laborers the same dignity usually afforded aristocrats. Through his art he portrayed a vibrant world he felt so intensely.

[67, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam] He moved to Paris, and the City of Light opened up a whole new world of color. Vincent hobnobbed with the Impressionists. He studied their bright colors, rough brushwork, and everyday scenes.

[68] He painted shimmering reflections like Monet…café snapshots like Degas…still-lifes like Cézanne…and self-portraits like nobody else. He set out for the south of France. Energized by the sun-drenched colors and the breathtaking vistas, in just two years Vincent produced an explosion of canvases. Sunshine!…Rolling hills!…the patchwork farms… Working in the open-air, he feverishly painted the landscape, the simple workers, and the starry starry nights.