post-impressionism coverPost-Impressionism: The Beginnings of Modern Art
Ricky Allman
University of Missouri–Kansas City
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Art history is not one area with which I have a great deal of familiarity, so I thought it would be a good diversion to watch this lecture series on post-impressionism. I found the course worth my time and I learned some new things.

Instructor Ricky Allman explains that post-impressionists were unhappy with the establishment art scene in Paris and broke out to try new styles and techniques in art. They experimented with different approaches to painting, such as creating an image with dots or using heavy brush strokes. The gallery run by the Paris art establishment was called the Salon, and its curators had very staid, conservative tastes. They were quick to reject the work of the post-impressionists for display at the Salon. Members of the group responded by creating their own shows.

The history of post-impressionism is tied closely to the turbulent history of France in the nineteenth century and to advances in technology. Allman devotes full lectures to these influences: politics and religion, science and industry, and photography. He also discusses how outside influences affected the work of the group, such as Japanese art.

Allman talks about the individual artists in the movement and discusses their personalities. He tells us that Vincent van Gogh was an unpleasant person who didn’t like people and that a lot of people didn’t like him. Tradition has sanitized the story about his sending part of his ear to the love of his life. The recipient was a prostitute at a brothel down the road and the piece of his ear may have been cut off in a tussle with Paul Gauguin, with whom he was rooming at the time. Not exactly the van Gogh of the Don McLean song. (And by the way, he only sold one painting during his lifetime.)

Speaking of Gauguin, he was a nasty person who had a penchant for teenage girls whom he got pregnant and to whom probably gave syphilis, from which he suffered. His images of Tahiti reflect the Tahiti he expected, not the Tahiti he discovered when he arrived, which had long since been modernized and westernized.

Allman takes the time to discuss lesser-known artists. He devotes a lecture to Suzanne Valadon, who was popular during her lifetime, but who is largely forgotten today except in France. (Just the opposite of van Gogh.) Valadon had a clear-eyed vision and did not romanticize her subjects. In the lecture on philosophy and culture he discusses Evelyn De Morgan, who was English and whose work is entirely female-centric.

While the post-impressionist movement was largely a French phenomenon, Allman discusses artists outside of France who contributed to the movement. In addition to De Morgan he offers three lectures on non-French post-impressionists. He devotes a lecture each to Edvard Munch and Gustav Klimt, both of whom also represented the transition from post-impressionism to modern art.

There is a lot of material here, and although Ricky Allman’s delivery can be cloying at times, he is highly knowledgeable and presents a comprehensive survey of the post-impressionist movement.

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