Post-Impressionism: The Beginnings of Modern Art

Post-Impressionism The Beginnings of Modern Art


In the late 19th century, a revolution was underway in the art world. In the span of just a few years, some of the most remarkable artworks of the period emerged in close succession. These groundbreaking painters, and others, formed the multifaceted movement art historians call Post-Impressionism.

1886: The tiny, shimmering dots of Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte reveal a totally new way of painting.

1888: Paul Sérusier’s daring landscape The Talisman casts aside centuries of pictorial realism.

1889: Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night explodes from the canvas with seething energy, wild brushstrokes, and passionate feeling.

1894: The ghostly faces and red sky of Edvard Munch’s Anxiety probe beneath the placid veneer of civilized society.

This was a time of vast change, both in European society and in art. But of all the innovators in painting of the 19th century and those that followed, perhaps the most pivotal and transformational of all were the Post-Impressionists.

It was this school of artists who most radically broke with the artistic conventions of the past; developed entirely new ways of seeing and painting; and paved the way for abstraction in art and movements like Cubism and Modernism. Centered in France, and radiating outward to the larger world, Post-Impressionism forever changed the language, conception, and methods of painting, giving viewers new ways of perceiving and understanding visual experience.

In the process of changing the art world so thoroughly, the Post-Impressionists produced an incredible number of the most beloved paintings in the history of art, including works from artists such as Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Henri Rousseau, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Post-Impressionism: The Beginnings of Modern Art takes you deeply into this extraordinary world of color and light, where you will experience a galvanizing and game-changing era in painting across 24 lectures. In the brilliant presentation of Professor Ricky Allman, of the University of Missouri–Kansas City, this course tells an epic story, unfurling a spectacular panorama of paintings, revealing the artists’ reimagining of their tools, methods, and goals. As Professor Allman puts it, “Now that the Impressionists have unlocked the door, the Post-Impressionists are going to blow it off its hinges.”

To know this history-making era in painting, and the phenomenal spectrum of masterworks it produced, is to experience one of Western art’s most glorious moments. The spellbinding imagery of Post-Impressionists continues to touch us deeply today.

Encounter Painters of Vision and Genius

Broadly speaking, the Post-Impressionists were more interested in what they felt than what they saw. They not only invented extraordinary new pictorial techniques and visual effects, but they also looked for ways to go beneath the surface level of reality, to tell deeper and more compelling truths. Within the wide spectrum of painters presented in the course, Professor Allman will guide you on an in-depth exploration of the work of:

  • Paul Cézanne. Take the measure of Cézanne’s massive impact both as a painter and a major influence on other artists. In his iconic landscapes and still lifes, observe how he distilled subject matter to essential underlying forms, painting objects from more than one angle at once, dismantling and reassembling visual perception and opening new ways of seeing.
  • Georges Seurat. Track the process by which Seurat pioneered the technique of divisionism or pointillism, where colors applied separately on the canvas are blended by the viewer’s eye. Witness his use of this technique in Bathers at AsnièresLa Grande Jatte, and in his electric evocations of Parisian life and culture, giving the world a uniquely different way of painting.
  • Vincent van Gogh. In two detailed and penetrating lectures, get to the heart of what made Van Gogh one of the most famous artists of all time. Observe how his troubled youth, passionate spirit, personal relationships, and his mental illness figured into the development of his work, leading to paintings of searing visual intensity, glorious color, and larger-than-life emotion.
  • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Go behind the scenes of Toulouse-Lautrec’s dazzling paintings of Parisian night life—the lush, sensual views of cafés, music halls, circuses, and brothels that remain some of the most beloved images of the Belle Époque. Learn about his work process, and how he pioneered wide visibility for his art through the medium of prints.

Witness the Transformation of an Art Form

In addition to the most iconic painters within Post-Impressionism, you’ll explore a rich range of lesser-known artists, as well as key sub-movements, which round out the story of this revolutionary era in art.

Among these, you’ll learn how a group of painters known as Neo-Impressionists used the parameters of optics and color theory developed by Seurat to pursue a political use of art, seen in the work of extraordinary artists like Paul Signac, Théo van Rysselberghe, and others. You’ll meet the artists called the Nabis, including painters such as Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard, who sought deeper levels of reality within imagery of daily life. And you’ll discover the remarkable creations of the Symbolists, such as James Ensor, Evelyn de Morgan, and Félicien Rops, who used dream, horror, and myth to challenge and provoke their viewers.

As the inquiry progresses, you’ll devote lectures to seminal painters such as:

  • Paul Gauguin. Within a complex legacy, come to grips with the greatness of Gauguin’s work, from his early landscapes and still lifes and bold, symbolic paintings to his luminous, mystical evocations of Tahitian life. Against this background, look into the dark side of his personality, his treatment of women, and his artistic misrepresentation of other cultures.
  • Suzanne Valadon. Follow Valadon’s highly unusual journey to becoming an important Post-Impressionist painter, in the wake of a career as a model for other major artists. Study her extraordinary work, highlighting her beautiful, empathetic depictions of women and domestic life, and her complex, richly colored, boundary-pushing compositions.
  • Gustav Klimt. At the end of the Post-Impressionist era, enter the world of this unique, visionary artist. From his glowing portraits of beautiful society women to his symbol-rich, golden-toned canvasses, see how he straddled Post-Impressionism, Art Nouveau, and the Sezession movement, creating paintings of astonishing visual power.

Travel into a World-Changing Era

These thrilling and richly informative lectures rest on the exceptional knowledge, insight, and artist’s eye of Professor Allman. Throughout this inquiry, he brings his own lived experience as a fine arts painter to the discussion of the works at hand, offering revealing insights into the paintings from an artist’s perspective.

For example, in highlighting the unusual atmosphere of Odilon Redon’s Evocation of Butterflies, Professor Allman points out that the ethereal texture of the orange background appears to be shaped by the flapping of the insects’ wings, as if the painter’s brushstrokes are evoking gentle currents of air. And he delves into the painterly secrets of Henri Rousseau’s famous depictions of jungles, based in an ingenious method of layering multiple varieties of green, with each plant seeming to have a different “temperature” of color.

Finally, across the span of the course, Professor Allman brings alive the dramatic social and historical backdrop that shaped these great works of art, providing detailed biographical information of numerous painters. He also shows that the many factors altering the fabric of European life, thus, shaped its art, such as the 19th-century Industrial Revolution; rail travel; photography; popular culture; the Franco-Prussian War; and the ideas of Hegel, Nietzsche, and Freud.

In Post-Impressionism: The Beginnings of Modern Art you’ll relive a breathtaking and transformative era in painting. Its deep impact on aesthetics and visual culture is still a force in the world today.

Released 3/2023

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