Art movements stem from a desire to break away from the confines of previous artistic conventions. For example, Impressionism is a departure from realism, not only in technique, but also in composition. The expressive brushstrokes of Impressionist works emphasize how light hits the planes of a particular subject. The artists of this movement also created in-the-moment impressions of their subjects, further separating themselves from realism’s true-to-life depictions of the world. Therefore, Post-Impressionism is a departure from the spontaneity and use of color emblematic of the Impressionist movement.
Post-Impressionism championed the deliberate composition of painting and symbolism, especially when it came to color. Rather than applying color in a naturalistic way, Post-Impressionists used it to convey emotion and meaning separate from the subject of the painting. Yet, despite these departures from Impressionism, Post-Impressionists similarly brought attention to the artificiality of the medium.
What, then, is the reason behind today’s resurgence of interest in Post-Impressionist art? Is it a sign of the times?
The Original Post-Impressionists
Of course there are the Post-Impressionists that most artists and art historians know: Van Gogh, Gaugin, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec. Out of these names, however, only two showed up in the current market with increased interest. Van Gogh is, of course, a household name, but what about Toulouse-Lautrec? What is it about both of these artists’ work that puts them at the forefront of this contemporary Post-Impressionist resurgence?
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh’s work is textural and composed of expressive brushstrokes. Through color and attention to background, he often depicts subjects or landscapes that convey a sense of loneliness and isolation. There have always been theories surrounding Van Gogh’s mental health. In fact, a recent ARTnews article suggested he had several disorders, rather than just one, during his lifetime. Perhaps this new speculation resulted in Van Gogh’s excellent performance in the 2020 art market, with his paintings selling above the projected price for the auction.
Or maybe we can attribute his art’s market performance to the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit that has been traveling the world. In this interactive experience, visitors can transport themselves into Van Gogh’s moody landscapes and feel the emotion of his work.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Another Post-Impressionist artist involved in the recent resurgence of the movement is Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Though his work differs greatly from Van Gogh’s in tone and subject matter, Toulouse-Lautrec still uses colors that represent the feeling of a space or the interior emotion of the subject. His work is lively, whether it’s displayed in the movement of dancers or in the brushstrokes themselves.
Toulouse-Lautrec also ran in the social circle of those on the fringes of society. His work is, without a doubt, far removed from Van Gogh’s almost somber paintings. However, their similarities lie in the expressiveness of their brushstrokes and how they use color to stir up emotion. Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings also performed well in the 2020 art market, selling well above the market estimate. Could it be that what society needs amidst daily chaos is a more resonant depiction of internal states of being?
Post-Impressionism in a Contemporary Context
Arguably, the rise of interest in Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec’s work can be attributed to the fact that they are both well-known artists. Their increased market performance could simply be a result of an original of theirs finally becoming available and a collector eagerly snatching it up. This is certainly a valid assumption. However, the recent popularity of contemporary art with a similar style leads me to believe the resurgence of Post-Impressionism has more to do with societal desire than name recognition. Here are some contemporary artists who appear to be influenced by the Post-Impressionist movement.
Ghana–born and Austria–based artist Amoako Boafo set a personal record on the market at the end of 2020. His work is fingerpainted, but you can still see how light hits the figure in the scene. There is no realism here, no attention to naturalistic color, and no attempt to disguise the medium.
Based in New York City, artist Derek Fordjour also draws upon Post-Impressionist ideas and techniques. His work is textured, making you aware that you’re looking at a work of art. Additionally, Fordjour does not employ naturalistic color, but rather uses color to communicate the tone of the work. There are no truly smooth surfaces in Fordjour’s work. It’s meant to represent the collective feelings of anxiety, and is a reflection of emotions surrounding death and racial violence. Through the use of color and texture, Fordjour’s aim is to communicate the inherent vulnerability of black existence.
Australian artist Ben Quilty also employs Post-Impressionist techniques. His brushstrokes and short dabs of paint notably highlight how the light hits the objects and bodies depicted in his work. Where he deviates from the Post-Impressionist approach is the way he incorporates surrealism. He swirls and distorts subjects and places strange items together, drawing upon surrealist dreamscapes. Quilty also focuses on the pandemic and how it’s affecting society. Is there something in the way this art depicts the body in motion or in stasis, especially in a time of crisis, that’s behind the resurgence of Post-Impressionism?
Why Are We Currently Drawn to Post-Impressionist Art?
This resurgence of Post-Impressionism is perhaps a sign of the times. In the throes of a global pandemic, as we’re trying to handle a new disconnection from others and more restrictive living, we’re all in a different mindset. The political climate has also been intense and frightening, as though we are watching things crumble right before our eyes.
In the midst of crisis, we find value in art that shows things as they are, not necessarily outright, but through expressive paint strokes and the symbolic representation of the collective mental state of the population. The idealism of subject matter is not what incites an emotional response. What is important right now is the acknowledgement of our feelings in this moment as we question ourselves, the world, everything. There’s no room to smooth things over.
That is not to say there’s a collective feeling of cynicism and hopelessness, but rather that there exists the desire to experience art that conveys a true-to-life feeling of overwhelming emotion. Right now, it’s comforting to know that we are not the only ones feeling what we feel. Ultimately, we want to feel as though we’re not actually alone.
Stay tuned for more information on emerging trends in the art world coming soon!