Robin Urton: dimensional paintings on glass


Post Impressionism

Georges Seurat

Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte, 1884-85


Post Impressionism is a term which is less easy to define than Impressionism. Though the impressionists differed in personal styles and favorite subjects, one thing which was consistent between the artists was their interest in the transitory effects of light and spontaneous compositions. Though the post-impressionists are also concerned with light, it is not as much of a central concern, and their personal styles differ greatly.

When we look at the works of Georges Seurat, for example, it is obvious that he is concerned with the effects of light, but his compositions definitely do not evoke a sense of the spontaneous moment. First and foremost, he is noted for his invention of a method of applying paint in small dots of color. He called this method divisionism, but the term pointillism is more commonly used today. Seurat developed this method in response to his understanding of scientific theories about the perception of light and color. It had recently been discovered that light can be measured in particles as well as wavelengths. It had further been concluded that when we see the various colors of the light spectrum, our eyes perceive the various particles, but the mind mixes them into distincly different colors. Seurat's paintings are a visual experiment of this idea, placing tiny dots of various colors side by side, and allowing the viewer's mind "mix" them. When perceived up close, they are a dizzying array of vibrant colors. When seen from a distance, the image comes together in a more muted palette, for the colors which are placed side by side become mixed.


Bathing at Ausnieres, 1883


Models in the Studio, 1887


Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp, 1885

Boats, Low Tide 1885



Paul Cezanne

Self Portrait with Rose Background, 1875

Chrysanthemums, 1896-98


Still Life with Plaster Cupid, 1895

Paul Cezanne was much less scientific in his approach to painting than was Seurat. His paint seems to be layed down in patches of color, dividing his canvases into many various planes. His colors are bright, and there is frequently a confusing sense of perspective. There is usually a very limited sense of depth and the contents of his still-lifes seem to almost topple out of balance. All of this is more purposeful than one might normally conclude, for it adds a sense of tension to the artwork, which prevents the "still" life from being quite as static.

Cezanne's decision to defy the laws of perspective (and gravity) will greatly influence Picasso and Braque's invention of cubism (look especially at his landscapes, below, to see this relationship). With Cezanne, it becomes clear that art is not merely a matter of copying what one sees. The modern artist's mission becomes the purpose of re-creating the world to fit the needs of art.



Still Life with Onions

Still Life with Fruit


Mount St. Victoire, 1885-7


The Turning Road 1899



Vincent Van Gogh


What we know of Vincent Van Gogh's tragic life is difficult to forget when we view his artwork. In his self-portraits, it is easy to see the sensitive, moody artist who was tortured by mental illness and personal tragedies. It is possible to appreciate his paintings without knowledge of his personal circumstances - but the more one learns of the man, the easier it is to fall into the entrancing spell of his personal vision. His paintings are disturbing and beautiful at the same time. I almost wonder if they would be beautiful without an element of his troubled soul showing through them. He was a man who had compassion for the world... who wished more than anything to be of some useful purpose to others. His love of humanity and for nature show clearly in his art as well as his letters. But his was a genius that might not have blossomed had it not been for his failures.


Still Life with Hat and Pipe, 1885

The Potato Eaters, 1885

Vincent first tried to be an art dealer, working in his uncle's gallery. He was fired from the position because his opinions about the superficiality of much of the art interfered with his ability to sell it, and his rough manner was offensive to some of the customers. He then went to school to train as a minister, another occupation which ran in his family. He was given a post in a coal-mining town, a job which no other minister wanted because of the desperate situation of the workers. He gave away much of his clothing and food to the workers and lived in the same dirty conditions, often helping them in the mines. A surprise visit by his church superiors resulted in firing him from the position. The Potato Eaters is a painting about the coal miners, which he created years later. Though crude in comparison to his later works, it is successful in getting across his message about the humble condition of these people, who lived close to the earth. In an
early still life, we are reminded of Vincent's Dutch heritage. The dark, chiarascuro manner of painting is influenced by hundreds of years in the shadow of Rembrandt.


Irises, 1889

Bedroom at Arles, 1888


It is when Vincent moves to Paris that he sees the works of the Impressionists which is to have a profound effect on his use of color. Immediately, his work became bright and full of light. His brother, Theo, was an art gallery dealer and was able to introduce his older brother to many painters. Though he does make some friendships (including those with Degas and Seurat) he doesn't quite fit in with the Paris scene, and Vincent eventually moves to the town of Arles to set up his own studio. He invites a fellow artist, Gauguin, to move in with him. Together, they paint, drink in taverns, fight, and eventually the friendship is terminated when Van Gogh, in one of his fits of emotional instability, threatens his friend with a knife. When Gauguin gives him an angry look, Vincent meekly turns away, then later slashes his own ear. He recuperates, but realizing he is a threat to himself (and possibly others), admits himself to a mental hospital.


The Night Cafe, 1888


Cafe on the Place du Forum, 1888


Despite Vincent's emotional and physical instability, he managed to create some of his greatest paintings in the last couple years of his life (having decided upon being an artist only 8 years earlier). Unlike the Impressionists, he chose his colors almost arbitrarily, painting not what he sees but what he feels. Vincent wrote to Theo about Night Cafe, explaining that he chose red for the walls to emphasize the idea that this is a place where a person can go mad.



The Starry Night, 1889

Detail of Brushwork, Starry Night


The Starry Night is Van Gogh's most famous painting, and perhaps his greatest. He paints the night sky from a hilltop overlooking a quiet town with a church and cottages. The most dramatic theme is the swirling stars, which dominate the scene. Competing for attention is a towering group of Cypress trees. It is probably significant that the Cypress is the traditional tree of graveyards, as they are a symbol for eternity. Van Gogh seems to say with this painting that the works of God and nature are everlasting and that the world of man exists merely as a shadow.

Vincent grew increasingly depressed as he realized that his mental illness would never be cured, couple with the realization that he had become a financial burden to his brother, who had recently fathered a child. It was in a wheat field that he shot himself. He managed to crawl back to his home and news was sent to Theo of his tragic condition. Theo came to say goodbye to his brother within hours of his death. Six months later, Theo also died.


Wheatfield and Crows, 1890


Wheatfield and Crows was one of the last paintings that Vincent had finished. Van Gogh's name was still unknown at the time of his death. His first one-man show was exhibited two years later. His fame was made largely by other painters, dating the early years of the 20th century. He was a great influence especially to the Expressionists, to Matisse and Picasso. Though he sold only one painting in his lifetime, his works now sell for millions of dollars.


Paul Gauguin


Self Portrait with Idol, 1893

Van Gogh Painting Sunflowers, 1897


Gauguin, like Van Gogh, decided upon a career in art rather late in life. He was a Parisian stockbroker, who enjoyed painting as a weekend hobby. He exhibited with the impressionists in the 1870s, and in 1883 gave up his job to pursue painting full-time (this decision left his wife and 5 children with little money, so his wife left him to live with her mother). He soon became a leader of the Post Impressionist group in Paris. He then traveled to Pont Aven, a small community in Brittany where he chose to study peasant life. Gauguin believed that the people in this deeply religious region of France were closer to nature and more sincere than those in the city of Paris. He was also attracted to the expressiveness of the peasant costumes. In Vision After the Sermon, Gauguin makes a bold statement about the religious faith of the Brittany community.


Vision After the Sermon, 1888

Mahana No Atua, 1894

The concept of spiritual purity continues to intrigue Gauguin, leading him to travel to Tahiti. Here, he hopes to discover the "noble savage", the ideal of a pure race of people who live close to the earth and are untainted by European materialism. He finds that he has been preceded by missionaries who have converted many from their native religion. There are other European influences as well: alcohol, prostitution and venerial diseases. Instead of focusing on these aspects of his new world, he decides to paint the natives in a paradisal climate, enjoying the traditions of their native culture and bathed in a hyper-colored atmosphere.

When Will You Marry? 1892

Two Tahitians with Mango Blossoms 1899

La Orana Maria 1891

Gauguin has by this time totally given up any reference to the impressionistic brushstroke. Instead, he prefers to lay down his saturated colors in a rather flat manner, filling the canvas with bold and bright shapes. The canvas is also loosely woven, and its texture can be seen through the paint. This technique seems to echo the subject of the Tahitians, which he presents as enlightened primatives. He especially painted the women, whom he felt possessed a quiet dignity and an innate knowledge of life's mysteries.

Gauguin wrote about his feelings for Tahiti as well as painting it, and in both he emphasized the mystical and religious qualities of Tahitian life. He regarded the painting below as his greatest masterpiece. He is, however, gravely ill at this time, and attempts suicide as soon as he finishes it. He died a couple years later after struggling with several illnesses.


Where Do We Come From? What are We? Where Are We Going? 1897


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