While Impressionism had its beginnings in France, it was a British artist and art critic, Roger Fry, who named the Post-Impressionist movement as the development of art after Monet. He coined this term after the Post-Impressionist artists were all dead so they remained unaware that they had inspired a true art movement. Other than van Gogh, the artists were all French and most of them were previously Impressionist painters who had redefined their idea of what a painting should be.
Fry put on more than one Post-Impressionist exhibit in Britain, although the first was by far the most successful. While the critics were not raving about the art, many were highly impressed. These exhibits gained a large amount of publicity and they drew crowds because it was something to have so many works of Cézanne, Gauguin, and van Gogh in Britain at the same time.
Post-Impressionism took up where Impressionism left off and, while it still was characterized by vivid colors, distinct brush strokes, a thick application of paint, and real-life, candid subject matter, these artists also tended to focus on geometric forms or to distort forms explicitly for the expression this enabled them to achieve. Another characteristic of this movement was to use color in an unnatural manner.
The Post-Impressionists were well aware that they owed a great debt to the Impressionist style with its bold brush strokes, vivid use of color, and its act of breaking away from the traditional. What the Post-Impressionists did was to make the art more personal, not to the viewers, but to themselves. In other words, these were artists who were truly painting for themselves and not others, possibly for the first time in art history.
Post-Impressionists tended toward restoring structure to art, whereas in Impressionism the paintings were more trivial and unstructured. Unlike the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists liked to paint alone. The Impressionists tended to be more of a close-knit group and painted together often. However, Post-Impressionists did exhibit work together.
Pointillism was one incredibly unique form of Post-Impressionism, introduced by Georges Seurat. This form of painting consisted of using tine dots of color to create a piece. Seurat was inspired by the new theories that light was made up of particles as well as waves and by the process through which we see color. As a result he began painting by using tiny dots of intense color which would allow the mind of the individual viewing the painting to mix those colors. This style of painting led to the creation of a new movement called Neo-Impressionism, founded by Seurat and Paul Signac. Many did not favor their style, but it still inspired many.
As part of the Post-Impressionist movement, Paul Cezanne separated himself from the Impressionists with the aim of making paintings that were more solid. He focused more on the underlying forms that created the objects he painted. His work seemed to be a patchwork of color without much depth and with various planes in his work. Cezanne seemed to ignore the laws of gravity in his work and it is this aspect in particular that greatly influenced Picasso and Braque when they created Cubanism.
In contrast, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin felt Impressionism was too objective and sought a more spiritual expression of themselves through their work. They both had a life wrought with mental illness and were unsettled, which may be why they expressed the spiritual in their work. They also both started painting later in life after pursuing other careers. They were artists that truly painted what they felt, not what they saw.
Post-Impressionism laid the foundation for two later art movements, Cubism and Fauvism. Cubism was a movement that depicted an object from more than one view point by breaking it up into pieces, analyzing it, and reassembling it in an abstract form. Thus their art did not consist of the traditional one viewpoint and they often consisted of many right angles that overlapped without creating a particular sense of depth. Fauvism was less abstract and focused on lines and brilliant color. They often applied paint straight from the tube as they were more interested in spontaneity than in the finish of the work. Both of these movements were short-lived but powerful in their influence.