Basically, the Impressionists broke through the traditions, freeing up the post-Impressionists to experiment. This led the way to what is now known as modern art.
The Impressionists were never really a cohesive bunch. As a group, they didn’t ever agree on anything, except that art was to evolve. It was this desire for change that really banded them together, as loosely ‘together’ as they ever were...
Since the Impressionists were so loosely banded in the first place and hard to define, it is even harder to then define when post-Impressionism started, and who was a post-Impressionist. In my research, I have found a lot of contradictions as to who classified as Impressionist and who classified as post-Impressionist.
So for the sake of discussion, on this website, let’s say Impressionism lasted until the final Impressionist exhibit in 1896, and post-Impressionism developed thereafter.
Generally–speaking, the Impressionists were all about the appearance or the ‘look’ of art, and the post-Impressionists were more concerned with the meaning of art and its reference to thoughts and emotions.
Impressionists were not only about breaking traditions of technique and subject, but also in how to show and sell paintings. They were among the first to do this for themselves.
Post-Impressionists were less interested in realism as Impressionists were. They experimented more with symbols, colour, and composition. The art of post-Impressionists often wasn't about reality at all. So since post-Impressionism happened after the earlier Impressionists paved the way out of the old traditions of the art world, the post-Impressionists had more freedom to experiment with meaning, symbolism and emotion.
Also by the Impressionists’ example, post-Impressionists saw that artists have the power to create new movements in art. Hence, the post-Impressionist era was full of new short-lived ‘-isms’ to loosely describe different approaches different artists were taking to art.
Enough ‘-isms’ to make your head spin! But don’t worry about the details of these. The need-to-know basics of post-Impressionism, is that it brought in many ‘-isms’ that are not well-defined, so just accept any ‘-ism’ from 1890-1925 as a product of post-Impressionism, which was a product of Impressionism...
There were also Impressionists who made innovations in post-Impressionism, and vice versa, go figure...so really don’t worry too much about labels (-isms).
In this website, I have highlighted certain artists whose names you will come across as you explore Paris. (See Paris Art page). I have classified certain artists as either Impressionists or post-Impressionists, but don’t take this classification to heart as the members of each movement overlap. It’s not possible to draw a clear black line.
Advent of the ‘Arts Scene’
A ‘take away’ bit of important info, is that all this artistic change and activity created a tremendous artistic culture in Europe at the turn of the 20th century, and particularly in Paris.
Small art exhibitions were taking place anywhere possible, publicly and privately. And artists were meeting together in bars, cafes, studios, and halls, creating a vibrant artistic social community. Journals and magazines started up to capture, debate, and criticize the art.
This made Paris the most important art centre in the world at that time, and created perhaps the first ‘arts scene’ as we now know it.