For a large portion of art history, artists used various mediums to create accurate portrayals of the external world. Art often evolved in a way that pursued more accurate depictions of light, subjects, and environments. All of this began to change, however, with the Post-Impressionism movement. What is Post Impressionism and how did it influence artists up until this day? In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of the art movement, what influenced Post Impressionists, and what characterizes the work of this period. 

What is Post Impressionism in Art History?

First, let’s define Post Impressionism

The Post Impressionism art definition can be difficult largely due to the variety of visual characteristics of the work. However, understanding the definition will give you a better idea at what distinguishes the movement from others. 


What is Post Impressionism in Art?

Post-Impressionism is an art movement that emerged at the end of the 19th century. As work of the Impressionists became more prevalent, artists began desiring more self expression within their work. Their desire to express inward emotion and individual perception rather than recreating what is simply presented to them by the outside world led these artists to create a movement now known as Post-Impressionism.  

Famous post impressionism artists:

  • Paul Gauguin
  • Paul Cézanne
  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Georges Seurat

This article is part of our ongoing series on Art Styles. You can also refer to our Art History Timeline post to help place this movement in context.

Difference Between Impressionism and Post Impressionism

Post Impressionism History

To really understand Post-Impressionism and how it is distinct yet a product of the art movements before it, let’s dive into the history of Post Impressionism. 


Before the Post Impressionism movement there was simply Impressionism. Impressionism was an art movement that emerged around 1860.

While Impressionism borrows from Realism as far as focusing on everyday subject matter, it distinguishes itself in style. Impressionism focuses on initial sensations and impressions an artist has of a scene and basing their work off of this rather than what reality presents.

Because of this, Impressionist work often displays quick brush strokes with an almost sketch-like style. Subjects and environments are less defined by parameters, but rather by color and energetic brush strokes. 

The Case for Impressionism

As an artist almost synonymous with the Impressionist art movement, Claude Monet talks of his work saying, “Now I really feel the landscape. I can be bold and include every tone of pink and blue: it's enchanting, it's delicious.”

Emergence of Post Impressionism Movement

While the Impressionists paved the way by leaning more into emotion than pictorial recreation, they still focused on the primary subject of art being the outside world. 

Around five to ten years after Impressionism became more relevant, artists had time to react. They took this philosophy of emotion from the Impressionists, but turned it inward toward the artist. 

What is Post Impressionism Art Paul Gauguin Mahana No Atua Day of the God

Paul Gauguin  •  Mahana No Atua (Day of the God), 1894

Traditionally, art had always been a way for artists to present the outside world to others through the work they created. But now, artists wondered if art could be a way to present themselves through their depictions of the external world. With this idea and approach to art, Post-Impressionism emerged.

Most Post-Impressionist artists came from France with the exception of the now legendary Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh. Unlike the Impressionist movement, artists of the Post-Impressionist movement formed relationships with each other but typically worked alone. 

This allowed Post Impressionism artists to pursue their own curiosities which were often attempts to break away from the common subject matter and methods of predominant European art culture at the time. For Gauguin, this was Tahiti and Tahitian culture. For Van Gogh, this was cafes and life in Arles in the South of France. 

What is Post Impressionism Vincent van Gogh Cafe Terrace at Night

Vincent van Gogh  •  Café Terrace at Night (1888)

Despite varying styles, subjects, and curiosities, Post-Impressionist artists all connected through their approach to creating art. The philosophy of including their internal experiences within their portrayals of an external world. 

What is Post Impressionism Defined by?

Post Impressionism Characteristics

While connected through a philosophical approach to art, Post-Impressionists varied in visual characteristics. However, like any art movement, some defining traits emerged from the Post Impressionism time period


Although a variety of styles can be found in the art movement, artists tended to drift into two different directions during the Post-Impressionism movement. 

Some artists heavily utilized defined shapes and geometry to create their work and paintings. These more structured styles were arguably the precursors to what would eventually evolve into Cubism.

What is Post Impressionism Art Mont Sainte Victoire c by Paul Cezanne

Mont Sainte-Victoire (c.1895) by Paul Cezanne

The second style Post-Impressionist drifted toward were less geometric and more expressive. Short brush strokes created subjects and environments giving a scene more energy. Compositions often flowed with less definitive structure. This heavily influenced the works of the Expressionist and Abstract Expressionist art movements. 

What is Post Impressionism Art Vincent van Gogh A Wheatfield with Cypresses

Vincent van Gogh: A Wheatfield, with Cypresses

Artistic philosophy 

Like we mentioned above, Post-Impressionism was not about distinct visual characteristics that artists used. Rather it was about the artists themselves and what pieces of themselves they put within their work. 

Take for example, Vincent van Gogh’s The Night Cafe. Van Gogh has called this piece his “ugliest” work, not because of a lack of artistic technique, but rather how the subject matter is intentionally presented to feel. Nerdwriter1 further breaks down this analysis in the video below. 

Post Impressionism examples  •  Van Gogh’s Ugliest Masterpiece

The Post Impressionism time period was and still is an incredibly influential art movement. It opened many artists’ eyes at what art could be and what art could mean. In many ways, it was a movement that emerged as a reaction to what art had always been, a medium to depict the outside world.

But for the first time, artists began looking inward, presenting themselves to the outside world through their depictions of it. 


Explore More Styles and Movements

This was just one of many fascinating segments of art history. There are many eras, styles, artists, and movements to discover. Let's continue our study by choosing the next stop on your way to becoming an art aficionado. Below you can visit our Art Styles Index, our Art History Timeline, or choose an individual movement.

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  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

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