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The Beginning of Post-Impressionism

Roger Fry, an English artist and art critic, organized the first Post-Impressionist art exhibit, Manet and the Post-Impressionists, at London’s Grafton Galleries.  The landmark exhibition, which took place in 1910, was the first to introduce the British public to works by Cézanne, Gaugin, Manet, Matisse, Seurat and Van Gogh.  The exhibition, though somewhat a disaster, was one of the most important moments in modern art.

Roger Fry coined the term Post-Impressionism to describe the development of French art since Edouard Manet.  Post-Impressionists rejected the limitations of Impressionism.  They used vivid colors, thick paint application, distinct brush strokes and real-life subjects just as the Impressionists but they were dissatisfied with the loss of structure in Impressionist paintings and put more emphasis on geometric forms, they moved away from natural representation.  They explored emotions through paint, distorting forms for expressive effect and sometimes used unrealistic or arbitrary colors.

Van Gogh used vibrant colors in swirling strokes to convey his state of mind and his feelings, Seurat used pointillism, Cézanne aimed to create order and structure by creating objects out of basic shapes in the bright colors of Impressionism.  Though the Post-Impressionists exhibited together they did not agree on the way to achieve a cohesive artistic movement.

By 1910, British art critics were still trying to accept the Impressionist movement of Claude Monet and Pierre Renoir.  Fry, however, believed that Post-Impressionist art would help to inspire British art and culture with new ideas and direction.  When Fry’s Post-Impressionist exhibition, of about 100 works, rejected Impressionism as being a thing of the past, spectators were perplexed.  Many thought the exhibition was a fraud and offense to English culture.  Critic Charles Ricketts wrote, “Why talk of the sincerity of this rubbish?”

There were a few observers who defended the exhibition but Fry’s credibility as an art critic was ruined.  Fry saw a value in the way Post-Impressionists expressed personal feelings and emotion in their work, though most observers at the time did not.  In the years to come however the artists Fry had presented to the British public were recognized as the fathers of modern art and Fry was hailed as a champion of the movement.

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