Post-Impressionism 1885 - 1910
By the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886, a number of artists were seeking a shift in focus. Some felt that the Impressionists had allowed their preoccupations with technique and the effects of natural light to overshadow the importance of subject matter.
These artists developed independent styles for expressing emotions rather than simply painting optical impressions, concentrating on themes of deeper symbolism. Through the use of simplified colours and definitive forms, their art was also characterised by a tendency towards abstraction – that is, not painting their subjects as they actually appeared. However, in doing so, they also created a sense of intrigue about the artist was trying to portray.
Eventually these dissenting artists became known as the Post-Impressionists, a term coined by British art critic Roger Fry in 1910 following an exhibition in London.
There is no style or manifesto of aims common to the artists but generally Post-Impressionists continued to use the vivid colours, thick application of paint and real-life subject matter favoured by the Impressionists, but were more inclined to emphasise geometric forms, to distort form for expressive effect, and to use unnatural colours.
You will see, for example, the way in which Paul Gauguin painted large areas of flat colours, whereas Georges Seurat introduced a method of ‘scientific’ painting using small dots known as Divisionalism. Cezanne played with picture planes and geometry and Van Gogh used strong colour to evoke emotion. It was period of great exploration that encouraged the idea that there was no limit to experimentation in the way in which artworks could be painted.
Post-impression provided a vital and creative link between the Impressionist revolution and the founding of all the subsequent major art movements of the 20th century.
Post Impressionist art can be identified by the following features:
The Illusion of form in space;
Use of complementary and analogous colours to produce pyschological effects, rather than descriptive colour;
As in the work of Seurat, brushwork may be pointillist, through a scientific approach to colour;
As in the work of Cezanne, paint may be applied in solid blocks or patches of colour, we may see black shadows and even outlines - the effect is two dimensional up close but three dimensional when viewed from a distance
As in the work of Gauguin and Van Gogh, the use of large areas of vivid colour
Artists from this period include:
Paul Cezanne 1839 - 1906
Georges Seurat 1859 - 1891
Vincent Van Gogh 1853 - 1890
Paul Gaugin 1848 - 1903
Henri de Toulouse - Latrec 1864 - 1901
Henri Rousseau 1812-1867
Paul Signac 1863 - 1935
Emile Bernard 1868 -1941
Henri-Edmond Cross 1856 - 1910
Susan Valadon 1865 - 1938
Key Post Impressionist Artists
One of the most influential artists in the history of twentieth-century painting, Paul Cézanne inspired generations of modern artists. Generally categorised as a Post-Impressionist, his unique method of building form with colour, and his analytical approach to nature influenced the art of Cubists, Fauvists, and successive generations of avant-garde artists.
Cézanne sought to introduce greater structure into what he saw as the unsystematic practice of Impressionism. In his paintings objects appear more solid and tangible than in the works of Impressionist artists.
However, despite this, Cézanne often de-stabilised the integrity of form through subtle distortions and seeming inaccuracies in his many still-life paintings. Objects don’t rest comfortably on their bases, vases seen from the front have rims seen from above, and the horizontal edges of tables sometimes don’t seem to not match up. It is almost as if Cézanne was dismantling the very solidity he meant to reintroduce to the depiction of objects.
Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Still Life with Glass Flask and Fruit, c.1728. The still-life paintings by the eighteenth-century French painter Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin in the La Caze collection would remain a touchstone for Cézanne for the rest of his career.
Paul Cézanne, Dish of Apples, ca. 1875–77. This rich and dense still life, featuring a napkin shaped like Mont Sainte-Victoire, was painted about 1876–77 in the house of Cézanne's father in Aix. The decorative screen visible in the background was long thought to have been made by the artist in his youth.
Paul Cezanne, Still Life with Apples and a pot of Primroses. 1890
Beginning to paint in 1860 in his birthplace of Aix-en-Provence and subsequently studying in Paris and copying the old masters at the Louvré, Cézanne’s early pictures of romantic and classical themes are imbued with dark colours and executed with an expressive brushwork in the tradition of Romantic artists such as Eugène Delacroix and the well-delineated silhouettes and perspectives preferred by the French Academy and the jury of the annual Salon. His dramatic tonal contrasts and thick layers of pigment (often applied with a palette knife) exemplify the vigour in which Cézanne painted during the 1860s, which is especially apparent in the portrait series of his Uncle Dominique Aubert, variously costumed as a lawyer, an artist, and a monk. (This kind of costume piece is reminiscent of Édouard Manet’s Spanish paintings of the 1860s.)
In his still-life paintings from the mid-1870s Cézanne abandoned this approach and began to look at the technical problems of form and colour by experimenting with subtly gradated tonal variations, or “constructive brushstrokes,” to create dimension in his objects. This shift in style was largely influenced by two factors - his move to L'Estaque in the South of France and his closer association with Impressionist Camille Pissarro. Cézanne was fascinated with the Mediterranean landscape of L'Estaque, with its abundance of sunlight, and the vibrancy of colours. Pissarro proved instrumental in persuading Cézanne to adopt a brighter palette.
Still Life with Jar, Cup, and Apples is an example of Cézanne’s development into a refined system of colour scales placed next to one another. The light of Impressionism resonates in this work, but signs of a revised palette are especially apparent in his muted tones. His influences at this time where such artists as Courbet and Pissaro.
From about the same time, Cézanne ignored the classical laws of perspective and allowed each object to be independent within the space of a picture, for example in such still-lifes as Dish of Apples and in his landscapes. The relationship of one object to another took precedence over traditional single-point perspective.
In single point perspective, things appear to get smaller as they get further away, converging towards a single ‘vanishing point‘ on the horizon line. It is a way of drawing objects so that they appear three-dimensional and realistic – see the section on art terms.
From 1882, he painted a number of landscape pictures of his native Aix and of L’Estaque, a small fishing village near Marseille, in which he continued to concentrate on the pictorial problems of creating depth. He used an organised system of layers to construct horizontal planes, which creates dimension and draws the viewer into the landscape. This technique is apparent in Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley and The Gulf of Marseille Seen from L’Estaque. In Gardanne, he painted the landscape with intense geometric rhythms, which is most pronounced in the houses. (This picture anticipates the Cubism of Georges Braque (1882–1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), especially Georges Braque’s, Viaduct at L'Estaque, 1908.
In 1890, Cézanne began a series of five pictures of Provençal peasants playing cards. Widely celebrated as among the finest figure compositions completed by the artist, The Card Players demonstrates his system of colour gradations to build form and create a three-dimensional quality in the figures.
Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses, a mature work from the early 1890s, reveals Cézanne’s mastery of this style of building forms completely from colour and creating scenes with distorted perspective. The objects in this painting, such as the fruit and tablecloth, are painted without use of light or shadow using extremely subtle changes in colour.
In 1895, the dealer Ambroise Vollard held Cézanne’s first solo exhibition at his gallery in Paris. Although the exhibition met with some skepticism, Cézanne’s reputation as a great artist grew quickly, and he was discussed and promoted by a small circle of enthusiasts, including the art historian and critic Bernard Berenson American and Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt. Posthumous exhibitions at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune and the Salon d’Automne in 1907 in Paris established Cézanne’s artistic legacy (see module on Cubism).
Cézanne was interested in the simplification of naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials – he wanted to “treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone” (for example, a tree trunk could be conceived of as a cylinder, an apple or orange a sphere).
Additionally, Cézanne’s desire to capture the truth of perception led him to explore how our vision, where two separate images from our two eyes are successfully combined into one image in the brain, works graphically, rendering slightly different, yet simultaneous visual perceptions of the same phenomena. This provides us with an aesthetic experience of depth which was different from those of earlier, classical ideals of perspective, and in particular single-point perspective.
Select a subject matter that Cezanne painted - such as still lifes, landscapes or portraits and see if you can paint in his style.
In doing this, closely look at how he has developed the composition and built up layers of colour.
You might like to watch these youtube videos first.
Georges Seurat - A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte, 1884, 1884-86
Seurat is best known for his scientific approach to painting - in particular the optics of colour - which lead him to develop a particular style of placing small dots of colour next to each other, which became known as either Divisionism or Pointillism.
Although Seurat embraced the subject matter of modern life preferred by the Impressionists, he went beyond their focus on capturing the accidental and instantaneous qualities of light in nature.
He wanted to evoke permanence in his work by referencing art from the past, especially Egyptian and Greek sculpture and even Italian Renaissance frescoes. As he explained to the French poet Gustave Kahn, "The Panathenaeans of Phidias formed a procession. I want to make modern people, in their essential traits, move about as they do on those friezes, and place them on canvases organized by harmonies of colour". (source: http://www.artic.edu)
A key work in which he sought to combine all of these features was A Sunday Afternoon on Grande Jatte which he commenced work on in the summer of 1884.
The painting shows members of each of the social classes at a popular park at the island of La Grande Jatte, participating in various activities a sunny Sunday afternoon. The work comprises 48 people, three dogs and eight boats.
It took him two years to complete.
He spent much of his time in the park sketching in preparation for the work, including a smaller version, Study for A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1885). However, he also completed a number of his studies in the studio.
The planning and choice of characters for La Grande Jatte was as complex as the work itself and Seurat undertook many sketched drafts before he arrived on the final plan for the painted piece. Overall, his painting of the work involved 28 drawings, 28 panels and three larger canvases.
To achieve the effect he was seeking, Seurat began developing the painting with a layer of small horizontal brushstrokes of complementary colours. He later added small dots, also in complementary colours, that appear as solid and luminous forms when seen from a distance. The tiny juxtaposed dots of multi-colored paint allow the viewer's eye to blend colours optically, rather than having the colours physically blended on the canvas. In comparison, the juxtaposed touches of colour that are woven together with short, patchy brushstrokes in the Study are more systematically applied, with discrete daubs of paint, in the final work.
On Pissarro's advice, Seurat painted the final canvas with pigments that proved unstable and soon lost their luster. As a result, the Study for A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte provides a vital record of the chromatic intensity he had hoped to achieve, which is not evident in the final painting.
Seurat's style came to be known as Pointillism (from the French word "point," or "dot"), but he preferred the term Divisionism—the principle of separating colour into small touches placed side-by-side which is meant to blend in the eye of the viewer. (Note: This style is also sometimes referred to a Neo Impressionism.) He felt that colours applied in this way—not mixed on a palette or muddied by overlapping - would retain their integrity and produce a more brilliant, harmonious result.
The painting was criticised by some for being too mathematical. However, when it was exhibited, it was mostly heralded as a grand work of meticulous proportions. Suerat intended it to be exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants of 1885, but the exhibition was cancelled. The change in plans meant that he went back to add details to the work which mainly consisted of his most recent thoughts on colour and its use in paintings. He also changed the shapes of some of his figures in order to create more sinuous rhythms.
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was eventually exhibited in the eighth Impressionist exhibition of May 1886, but its style marks it as a Post Impressionist work.
(The final changes were made to La Grande Jatte in 1889. Seurat re-stretched the canvas in order to add a painted border of red, orange, and blue dots that provides a visual transition between the interior of the painting and his specially designed white frame.)
Suggested Videos & Reading
videos about La Grande Jatte http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/post-impressionism.html
article in the Wall Street Journal about the painting: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052970204840504578087511136503452
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Aristocratic and wealthy, painter and printmaker Toulouse Lautrec inherited a genetic disorder that left him with stunted growth, after two accidents in which he broke both legs as a teenager. Whilst he was recovering, Lautrec turned to drawing and painting, both of which he developed a great love for.
The young Henri moved from Albi to Paris in 1882 to study art, where he met the artists Emile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh, and was attracted by the work of the Impressionist artist Edgar Degas (as can be seen in his lithographs of jockeys and horses, for example).
His career, which lasted just over a decade, coincided with two major developments in late nineteenth-century Paris: the birth of modern printmaking and the explosion of a nightlife culture. As well as paintings and other forms of prints, he produced over 300 lithographs, many of which were advertising posters.
Lautrec lived in the Montmartre section which was the nightlife quarter of cabarets, cafes, restaurants, sleazy dance halls and brothels. Here he became a part of the bohemian community.
In the evenings, he could be seen chatting with friends and drinking, and at the same time drawing sketches on paper. Then the next day, he would transform the sketches into paintings and lithographs.
Lautrec created his first lithograph in 1891. When he was commissioned to create a poster advertising the Moulin Rouge, he elevated the lithograph as a popular medium for advertising to the realm of high art.
Over three thousand copies of his Moulin Rouge, La Goulue were pasted on the walls around Paris, prompting an outpouring of popular and critical acclaim and turning the young artist into an overnight sensation.
The style and content of his posters were heavily influenced by Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints by artists such as Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and Ando Hiroshige (1797–1858), which typically feature areas of flat colour bound by strong outlines, silhouettes, cropped compositions and oblique angles.
Using new innovations in lithography developed during the late nineteenth century, Lautrec was able to produce larger prints, use varied colours, and introduce nuanced textures which conveyed the rapid pace of contemporary life.
He frequently used the spattered ink technique known as crachis, seen in his series of prints depicting Miss Loïe Fuller. Fuller was an American famous in fin-de-siècle (end of century) Paris for her performances combining dance, multi-coloured artificial lights (her nickname was the “Electric Fairy”) and music. As she twirled and bounded across the stage enormous lengths of fabric would billow outward from her body and reflect the coloured lights which created a spectacular effect.
Lautrec executed about sixty versions Miss Fuller dancing, in a variety of coloured inks, including gold and silver, which evoke the effect of her performances. Included in the images below are a number of photographs of Loïe Fuller dancing.
Another of Lautrec’s favourite café/concert stars was Yvette Guilbert, who was known as adiseuse or speaker because of the way she half-sang, half-spoke her songs during performances. She had bright red hair, thin lips, a tall gaunt physique, and wore black elbow-length gloves. Although her head is cropped by the top edge of the composition, her elongated body and trademark gloves in the upper left corner of the poster Divan Japonais leave no doubt as to her identity.
Similarly, the pinched features and aloof demeanour of the singer Jane Avril, seated in the foreground of the image wearing one of her famously outlandish hats, is also clearly representative of Lautrec’s style.
As well as his representation of the Paris nightlife, Lautrec is also known for his lithographs of jockeys and horses – horse racing was seen then, as now, as a pleasurable pass-time.
With his lithographs, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec influenced French art through his ability to capture the essence of a subject with economical means, his stylistic innovations, use of large areas of flat colour, and promotion of the use of prints as a popular (and affordable) form of artwork.
Unfortunately his career was short lived, as he died at age thirty-six due to complications from alcoholism and syphilis.
Lithographic prints are based on the principle that water and oil repel one another. To create a lithograph an artist draws on a hard, flat surface, usually a pre- flattened stone such as limestone, with an oil-based material such as lithographic crayon. The stone is then washed with water, which covers the blank areas of the surface but is repelled by the oil based image. Greasy printing ink is rolled over the stone which adheres only to the image. Finally, paper is laid on the surface and pressure is applied to create the lithographic print, which is a mirror image of the original drawing. To create colour lithographs, the artist uses a separate stone for each colour and the image is gradually built up. Lautrec used no more than eight colours in his lithographs (so they never appear too “busy”). The introduction of the steam press allowed for rapid production, multiple colours, and large scale lithographic prints.
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Toulouse La Lautrec
Paul Gauguin was another major influence on modern art, with his focus on colour, two dimensional forms, and the symbolic meaning of art. Primarily known as a Post Impressionist painter, he was also a printmaker and created ceramic sculptures and woodcarvings.
He was a financially successful stockbroker and self-taught amateur artist when he began collecting works by the Impressionists in the 1870s.
However, he had already been exposed to, and influenced by, the vanguard art of the 19th Century through his legal guardian’s collection of works by Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Eugene Delacroix, Honore Daumier, Theodore Rousseau and early works by Camille Pissarro, amongst many others.
Paul Gauguin, Breton Peasant Women, 1894
His earliest recorded major painting to survive is Working the Land, painted in 1873.
The brilliant blue of its sky and the brightness and of the greens and yellows in the field were reminiscent of landscapes of the four seasons that Pissarro had recently completed.
It is likely that his intimate knowledge of Pissarro’s landscapes was a key factor in his interest in the Impressionists.
It was under Pissarro’s tutelage, his first real teacher and the only one whose guidance he accepted, that he began to develop a Impressionist technique. He also adopted Paul Cezanne’s parallel, constructive brushstrokes. Encouraged by both Pissarro and Degas, Gauguin contributed to five of the eight Impressionist exhibitions between 1880 – 1882. He also contributed to the debates and discussions that took place between the artists gathering in Montmartre, questioning the nature and role of art in modern society.
In 1882, after a stock market crash and recession left him unemployed and financially ruined, Gauguin abandoned the business world to pursue life as a full-time artist.
When working in Brittany and Martinique, the year after the final Impressionist exhibition, he began the artistic transformation to Post Impressionism with which we are more familiar today, and the creator of “primitive” and exotic images overlayed with symbolic meaning.
In 1886, he first visited Pont-Aven in Brittany, a rugged land of fervently religious people. Gauguin had received a seminary education in his youth and his religious beliefs never deserted him – although he increasingly questioned the strictures of the traditional Catholic church. In Pont-Aven he hoped to tap into the expressive potential he believed he would find in a more rural, even “primitive” culture.
Over the next several years he often travelled between Paris and Brittany, and also spent time in Panama and Martinique.
In 1888, he worked with Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, Paul Sérusier and others in Pont-Aven, developing new theories of painting. They adopted a style of painting known as Synthetism. Synthetism referred to the synthesis of simplified forms and colour schemes with the main idea or feeling of the subject, in order to produce a bolder artistic statement. Essentially the Pont-Aven artists reduced three-dimensional figures and shapes to flatter two dimensional forms with heavy dark outlines (also known as Cloisonnism). Painting also had a symbolic focus, with a brighter palette designed to express human emotion. The new style was, in part, inspired by Gothic art (particularly stained-glass and enamel work) and Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, which were in vogue amongst many artists of the Pont-Aven school. A key painting from this period was Vision After the Sermon which became an important Symbolist work statement.
Gauguin also worked alongside Vincent van Gogh (whom he probably met in Paris during the previous year) in Arles in the south of France in the summer of 1888, at the time that van Gogh was attempting to set up an artists' colony. Both artists continued to experiment with compositional techniques derived from Japanese art, as well as the symbolic 'language' of colour, seeking to emphasise subjective feelings and ideas over naturalistic representation. However, Gauguin and van Gogh argued badly (it was at this time that Van Gogh reportedly cut off part of his left ear) and Gauguin returned to Paris.
In 1891 he moved to Tahiti, where he expected to find an unspoiled culture which was exotic and sensual. Instead, he was confronted with a world already transformed by western missionaries and colonial rule. He had to re-imagine or ‘ invent’ the world he sought, not only in paintings but with woodcarvings, graphics, and written works which generally present an image of an intoxicating earthly paradise where the painter lived as a native among the natives.
However, he also struggled with ways to express the questions of life and death, knowledge and evil that preoccupied him, and he interwove the images and mythology of island life with those of the west and other cultures. He painted such works as Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going To? in 1898. This work was an enormous contemplation of life and death told through a series of figures, beginning with a baby and ending with an old woman, and is surrounded by a dreamlike, poetic aura.
After a trip to France from 1893 to 1895, Gauguin returned to the South Seas. However, by this time he was suffering from illness and depression. In 1901 he moved to the Marquesan island of Hiva Oa, still searching for a lost paradise. “I think the savage element there, together with complete solitude, will revive the fire of my enthusiasm before I die, give new life to my imagination and bring my talents to a fitting conclusion.” He died there in 1903.
Using Gauguin's Post Impressionist style of large areas of flat colour, paint a work which has a symbolic meaning. Choose any subject that Gauguin may have painted.
Vincent Van Gogh
Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh's first job, in 1869 when he was just 16, was working in the Hague branch of an international art dealing firm, Goupil & Cie, where he was reasonably successful.
However, he was transferred to the office in Londonin 1873 and then Paris, where he lost interest in the role. After being dismissed in 1876, he briefly became a teacher in England, and then, deeply interested in Christianity (his father was a Protestant Minister), a lay preacher in a mining community in southern Belgium. He was also dismissed by the church, but his future artwork was heavily influenced by his spiritual beliefs.
Largely self-taught, van Gogh began his study as an artist by meticulously copying prints and studying nineteenth-century drawing manuals and lesson books. He believed that it was necessary to master working with black and white before working with colour, and that it was important to concentrate on learning the rudiments of figure drawing and rendering landscapes in correct perspective.
Van Gogh's admiration for the Realist Barbizon artists, in particular Jean-François Millet, whose work he'd seen in London, influenced his decision to paint rural life. During 1884 – 85, while again living with his parents in Nuenen in the Netherlands, he painted more than forty studies of peasant heads, which culminated in The Potato Eaters. Van Gogh wrote that he wanted to express that they “have tilled the earth themselves with the same hands they are putting in the dish”.
His style underwent a major transformation during a two-year stay in Paris from 1886 to 1888. During this period he took lessons in the studio of Fernand Cormon – an artist who was very popular with foreign students. It was here that he met fellow students Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Emile Bernard. Vincent's brother Theo was by this time the manager of Goupil and Cie in Paris, and he was able to introduce Vincent to the light filled work of prominent Impressionist artists such as Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro. Vincent also saw the latest technical innovations (pointillism) by Post Impressionists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac.
Vincent discovered a new source of inspiration in Japanese woodcuts, which sold in large quantities in Paris. Both he and Theo began to collect them. The influence of the bold outlines, cropping and colour contrasts in these prints showed through immediately in his own work.
He used brighter colours and developed his own style of painting using short brush strokes. The themes he painted also changed, with rural labourers giving way to cafés and boulevards, the countryside along the Seine and floral still lifes. He also tried out more commercial subjects, such as portraits. However, Vincent mostly acted as his own sitter, as models were relatively expensive, and he painted more than twenty self-portraits.
By 1888 Vincent began to tire of the frenetic city life in Paris. Unfortunately his mental health began its decline, resulting in violent mood swings, depression, and drunken and erratic behaviour. He longed for the peace of the countryside, for sun, and for the light of 'Japanese' landscapes, which he hoped to find in Provence in the South of France, and so in February 1888 he moved to the "little yellow house" in Arles.
He hoped his friends would join him and help found a colony of artists. Paul Gauguin did join him for a short period of time, but with disastrous results. Van Gogh’s nervous temperament made him a difficult companion and night-long discussions combined with painting all day undermined his health. It was at this time that he cut off part of his left ear with a razor. Penniless, he spent his money on paint rather than food, living on coffee, bread and absinthe.
His ongoing depression caused him to seek periodic refuge in a nearby asylum at St Remy. Over the course of the next year, he painted some 150 paintings, including many still lifes and landscapes. He also painted copies of works, using black-and-white photographs and prints, by such artists as Delacroix, Rembrandt and Millet. He described his copies as “interpretations” or “translations”, comparing his role as an artist to that of a musician playing music written by another composer.
In May of 1890, his mental health appeared to have improved and he moved to Auvers-sur-Oise under the watchful eye of Dr. Gachet. Two months later he was dead, having reportedly shot himself "for the good of all".
Van Gogh's finest works were produced in less than three years - in a technique that grew more and more impassioned in brushstroke, in symbolic and intense colour, in surface tension, and in the movement and vibration of form and line.
During his brief career he sold only one of his paintings. However, by 1890, van Gogh’s work had begun to attract critical attention. His paintings were featured at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris between 1888 and 1890, as well as in Brussels in 1890, and articles about his work began to appear in major newspapers.
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For more information about Vincent Van Gogh's life you may wish to visit these websites:
or, you may wish to watch this video:
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Henri- Edmond Cross, Le Bois, 1906–1907
Cross stated that the Neo-Impressionists were "far more interested in creating harmonies of pure colour, than in harmonizing the colours of a particular landscape or natural scene."
Henri Matisse was very influenced by the late-career Cross, and such works were instrumental in forming the principles of Fauvism. source: Wikipedia
Cross's early works, portraits and still lifes, were in the dark colours of Realism. In 1883 he met Paul Signac, who became a close friend and artistic influence and in 1884, he co-founded the Société des Artistes Indépendants and became friends with other artists involved in the Neo-Impressionist movement, including Georges Seurat. Despite his association with the Neo-Impressionists, Cross did not adopt their style for many years. His work continued to manifest influences such as Édouard Manet, as well as the Impressionists. The change from his early, sombre, Realist work was gradual.
Cross's paintings of the early-to mid-1890s are characteristically Pointillist, with closely and regularly positioned tiny dots of colour. Beginning around 1895, he gradually shifted his technique, instead using broad, blocky brushstrokes and leaving small areas of exposed bare canvas between the strokes. The resulting surfaces of the paintings resembled mosaics, and the works may be seen as precursors to Fauvism and Cubism.
Whereas in Pointillism, minute spots of paint were intended to blend colours harmoniously, the "second generation Neo-Impressionism" strategy was to keep the colours separate, resulting in "vibrant shimmering visual effects through contrast".
Henri - Edmond Cross
Lucie Cousturier was born in Paris and became interested in painting at the age of fourteen, and studied under Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross.
She was also a close friend of the pointillist Georges Seurat. (His painting La Grande Jatte hung in her studio until just before her death.) It’s also obvious from looking at her range of paintings that she was influenced by Cezanne.
Cousturier first exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Indépendants in 1901, and was to exhibit three to eight oil paintings at the Salon every year until 1920. She exhibited at other exhibitions in Brussels and Berlin, and at the end of 1906 gave her first solo exhibition in Paris.
By 1907 she had mastered her technique and use of colour. In her later paintings, particularly outdoors scenes, her style became increasingly fluid and free, with warm and lively colours. Her work was also exhibited at the Berheim-Juene Gallery in Paris.
During World War I Cousturier lived in a house in Fréjus in France which was located beside camps where Senegalese riflemen were staying before going up to the front. She visited the camps and decided to provide literacy classes in her home - which would be the theme of a story on Des Inconnus chez Moi (Some Strangers in my Home) that she published in 1920.
Lucie Cousturier, Self Portrait, c1905-10
Lucie Cousturier was one of the first to write on the subject of the relationships between Africans and Europeans as the Minister of Colonies commissioned her to visit West Africa and to make a "study of the indigène's family milieu and, more particularly, the role of the female indigène with regard to the influence she exercises over the moral formation of children". She landed in Dakar on 13 October 1921 and spent the next seven months travelling in the region. She kept a journal in which she gave her impressions of the land, the people and the way in which she related to them, and she made sketches of what she saw. Her journal eventually formed the basis for two books.
In October 1923, 164 of her drawings and watercolours from her African journey were included in an exhibition at the Galerie de Bruxelles, together with works by Paul Signac.
Cousturier also wrote biographies on several artists, including Signac, Seurat and Henri-Edmond Cross.
Lucie Cousturier and Grace Cossingtson Smith – Post Impressionist bonds.
In researching French artist Lucie Cousturier, I came across a painting, Femme Faisant Du Crochet, c1908, that immediately reminded me of an iconic Australian painting, The Sock Knitter, painted in 1915 by Grace Cossington Smith.
The Sock Knitter is considered by many to be the first Australian truly Modernist (Post Impressionist) painting because of the bold forms and use of colour. It’s perhaps all the more remarkable because although she has been drawing for many years, when Cossington Smith painted this at the age of 23, she has only been painting for a year. The painting is of her sister, Madge, and shows her knitting socks for the war effort for the first World War.
My immediate question was, Could Grace Cossington Smith have seen the painting by Lucie Cousturier and been influenced by it?
You can see a strong similarity in style between the two paintings - both young women in silent contemplation as they go about their craft - both dominate the picture plane. Both paintings are Post Impressionist - Cousturier's being more in style of Paul Signac and Henri-Edmond Cross with her use of Divisionist brush strokes and Cossington Smith's being more in the style of van Gogh, with her use of broader choppy brushstrokes to delineate form. (You can see how she has used a similar technique in her self portrait painted a year later.)
What I do appreciate about the two paintings is that they both reflect a moment in time - Cousturier's being painted in France in warmer months prior to the first world war, and Cossingston Smith's being painted in colder months in Australia, not long after the war commenced. Even the colours used in the paintings reflect the mood and relative temperatures.
Both artists have also worked in patterns, and geometry plays a strong part in their composition.
Was there any connection between the two artists?
At this early stage in her career, Cossington Smith was looking to learn as much as she could from European artists.
So, given that she hadn’t travelled to Paris before her painting was completed, is there any way that Cossington Smith would have seen a reproduction of Cousturier’s work?
We know that Cossington Smith travelled to London in 1912, where she had lessons at the Winchester School of Art, and that she also travelled to Germany. Although there isn’t a record of the exhibitions she attended between 1912 and 1914, which is when she returned to Australia, she did state that she was a little disappointed by the Impressionist works she had seen whilst overseas.
In Sydney, Cossington Smith studied art under Dattilo Rubbo. Rubbo has a great feeling for the colour of the Impressionists and Post Impressionists including Van Gogh, Cézanne, Pissaro, Sisley, Gauguin, Vuillard, Seurat and Italian artist Giovanni Segantini. He placed reproductions of works by these artists in his studio, following a trip he took to Europe for several months in 1906 (before the work by Cousturier was exhibited), and these reproductions certainly did influence his students.
One of these students, Norah Simpson, also travelled to England in 1912-13, and she brought back a number of reproductions of the Post Impressionists, which she showed with great enthusiasm to Rubbo’s students. She and Cossington Smith spoke a great deal about what she had seen whilst she was overseas, and it was only a year later that Cossington Smith began work on The Sock Knitter.
Is it possible that Norah Simpson brought back a reproduction of the work by Lucie Cousturier? Was the painting included in any of the catalogues for the exhibitions in which her work was shown – for example at the Salon of the Society of Independent Artists, in Paris in 1909, which Simpson may have acquired whilst overseas?
Rubbo also had a practice of inviting artists to talk to his students during their lunch break, so it may have been that a guest speaker introduced the students to the work of Cousturier.
Whether or not Cossington Smith was influenced by Lucie Cousturier, or other artists in her circle, or the similarities are just co-incidental as Cossington Smith sought to develop her own modern style, remains a is a tantalizing mystery, which is a great part of my fascination with art history.
Grace Cossington Smith biography, Retrieved from
Hart, Deborah (ed), Grace Cossington Smith, National Gallery of Australia, 2005
Lanfranchi, Adèle de; Lucie Cousturier, 1876 - 1925, 2008.
Little, Roger; Lucie Cousturier, les tirailleurs sénégalais et la question colonial, Paris, L'Harmattan, 2009.
Lucie Cousturier, Retrieved from Rfi, March 29, 2010
The Sock Knitter, Retrieved from
Violet, Jean-Marie; (August 2009), Review of the book, Mes inconnus chez eux, travelogue by Lucie Cousturier, Paris: F. Rieder et Cie, 1925. (255p.), Reedition : Paris: L'Harmattan, Autrement Mêmes, 2003. 2 vol. Introduction de Roger Little, AFLIT, The University of Western Australia, 6 August 2009.
Select a still life subject.
Paint it using a similar style to:
2. Van Gogh,
3. Gauguin, and
4. Seurat or Cousturier
Which of these styles did you find most comfortable adopting? Why? Did you find one painting more visually appealing?