Depictions of Nature in the Post-Impressionist Era

The Post-Impressionist era began as painters attempted to break free from Impressionism and find new ways to express emotion. Impressionist paintings were often done alla prima, meaning that they were painted outdoors, with little or no alterations being made later in a studio setting. Because of the alla prima painting style, the number of landscape paintings increased throughout this time. During the mid-to-late 1800s, a number of independent artists began throwing out the Academic rules of painting, and painting according to their own style. This group has come to be known as the Post-Impressionists. Their goal was to create a personal expression of emotion in every piece they produced. This gallery will look at a number of Post-Impressionist pieces that depict a scene of nature, and look at how the artists' use of emotion could elevate a simple landscape into something everyone can relate to.

Georges Seurat was known for his development of pointillism, using small dots of color that optically blend when one stands far enough away. His development of pointillism marked the start of the Post-Impressionist era. This painting, which depicts the marina in the village of Grandcamp, off the Normandy coast, utilizes this technique. Seurat has placed dots of unmixed color onto the canvas, which forces one to optically mix the colors for themselves. By utilizing pointillism, Seurat takes a possible Impressionist setting, and implements his Post-Impressionist take on it. The scene feels static. The water is still, the boats in the background don't appear to be moving, but the dots of color create enough movement to prevent the eye from getting bored.
During his early painting stages, Vincent Van Gogh experimented with both the airy brushstrokes of Impressionist work, as well as the pointillism of Seurat. After admitting himself into an asylum in Saint Remy, Van Gogh painted over 150 canvases. This painting, depicting the view from his window, exemplifies the Impressionist technique, but with greater precision. Rather than using dabs of pure, unmixed color like the Impressionists, Van Gogh used longer, serpentining brush strokes. The movement he creates with these brush strokes, as well as the bright colors he uses, evokes emotion from a viewer, without overpowering them.
Paul Cézanne's was known for his analytical representation of nature, which was influenced by the Cubists, Fauvists, and other avant-guard movements. This painting implements Fauvist principles, most noticeably the use of bold, vibrant colors, and undisguised, unblended brushstrokes. Cézanne uses a series of horizontal lines in the house, and vertical lines with the trees to create depth. This flow creates a rhythmic continuity throughout the painting. The serene image evokes a sense of stillness and tranquility, and isn't so over abstracted that the piece becomes non-relatable.
Camille Pissarro, while typically known for his Impressionist work, experimented with Post-Impressionist ideas between 1885 and 1890. In this painting, Pissarro uses the Pointillism technique, though whereas in the early Seurat painting the colors were darker and muted, Pissarro uses more vibrant greens and blues. Just as a real sunset can play with the eye, Pissarro's use of Pointillism has a similar optical effect on the viewer. The scene is relatable, capable of bringing back the feeling of awe a viewer gets from witnessing a real sunset.
Paul Gauguin found much of his inspiration from areas in the South Seas, and most notably Tahiti. He was known for his use of bright colors and his focus on the shape and mass of the objects he was painting. This painting was one of the first Gauguin painted on his first trip to Tahiti. The vibrant colors used express both the joy and tranquility that Tahiti brought him. It was Gauguin’s use of non-naturalistic colors helped pave the way toward Expressionism in the Modernist era.
For many years, Odilon Redon was known for his lithography and charcoal work. It wasn’t until the 1890s that he began working with oils and pastels. Redon was known for his self-exploration within his pieces, and much of the thought process behind his paintings has been documented in his journals. This pastel piece looks almost mystical in nature, as the horizon and the reflection in the water nearly blend together. While his works were an act of self-exploration, it was also Redon’s intent for them to remain ambiguous. He says “My drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined.” Redon forces the viewer into a different mind frame than many people of this time were accustomed to. The vagueness of the piece enables the viewer to use their imagination, and make up a story about the content of the piece. Quote from
Henri Rousseau was known for his jungle-themed paintings, even though he never left France. Inspired by zoos, botanical gardens, postcards, and photographs, Rousseau created highly stylized depictions of mostly exotic scenes. This painting, which depicts an exotic jungle scene, uses this stylized approach. The human figures and the deer are disproportional to the nature that surrounds them. The piece contains virtually no shadowing, which makes the scene appear static, almost like each object was pasted to the canvas. Since his paintings are all composed of separate experiences of jungle life, and are pieced together after the fact, it is hard to distinguish what of his painting is real, and what he made up for the scene. This technique is what separates Rousseau from many other painters. He creates a unique experience for the viewer, by enabling them to see into his mind, and show his ability to see what was not laid out for him on paper.
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