Post-Impressionist Period Paintings: Cézanne and Van Gogh

This paper will handle two post-impressionists paintings found in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The National Gallery of Art’s Virtual Museum Tour presently has 64 Post-Impressionist paintings on view. I have chosen works of Post-Impressionism due to the fact it was an era the place tastes and artistic passions were dramatically modified in Europe, and I find that transition very interesting.
The two paintings that will be mentioned further are Houses in Provence: The Riaux Valley near L’Estaque through Paul Cézanne and La Mousmé by Vincent van Gogh.
Houses in Provence: The Riaux Valley near L’Estaque
Created in 1883, Paul Cézanne’s Houses in Provence: The Riaux Valley L’Estaque. Its bodily dimensions are width, 81.3 cm x height, 65 cm. Its medium is oil on canvas, and it depicts a glimpse of topographical France.
Cézanne loved painting outdoor landscapes, and this particular painting is a view of houses nestled into a hillside in his place of birth, Aix-en-Provence, France. The houses are solidly planted on the painting, with the walls and roof lines joining in very particular junctures. When your vision moves out of the center of the painting, the brushstrokes become freer and less tense, they loosen out. The bottom left corner has meticulously laid brushstrokes of individual colors. These individual brushstrokes of different colors are all grouped together and work together visually, creating depth, to form the different elements of the painting – grass, hillside, rock. This is a landmark of Cézanne’s post-impressionist style, which is building form with color. This painting conveys the message of the beauty and simplicity of the French countryside, and also depicts Cézanne’s love and appreciation for the natural beauty of this small fishing village near Marseille. It is a wonder that Cézanne continued painting because his own father had hoped that he would give it up and threw every obstacle in his way. It is probably the fact that his father, despite his disapproval, still supported him financially, and his entire family had always supported him.
Cézanne is one of the artists that represent Post-Impressionism, and he is well-known for his radiant landscapes, such as this painting. Cézanne thought that one of the most difficult tasks for an artist was to know how to see in nature what an ordinary, unsophisticated observer was in no condition to see, not only the object itself, but the environment almost imperceptible by the human eye (Bordskaïa, 2013). In this painting, Cézanne uses an organized system of layers to construct a series of horizontal planes, which build dimension and draw the viewer to the landscape (Voorhies, 2004). His paintings call attention to the dimensionality of canvas space, and this particular painting employs the use of deliberate brushstrokes, which signify impetuosity, vigor, and brashness never before seen during that time. This style of Cézanne paved the way for avant-garde styles of cubists and Fauvists.

La Mousmé
La Mousmé is an oil painting on canvas by Vincent van Gogh 91853-1890), which was created in 1888, which was two years before his death. Its physical dimensions are 73.3 x 60.3 centimeters.
It is quite impossible to look at van Gogh’s paintings without glimpsing his personal life. A recurring theme in his life is living up to the expectation of his parents, and being in despair because of his self-inflicted doubts and weaknesses. He struggled with mental illness and lived in poverty most of his life. When he started to paint with oil colors in the 1880s, his major motifs involved people (Charles, 2012), which included La Mousmé. He painted La Mousmé in 1888, during what is described as a new peak in his work. This was around the time that van Gogh was staying in Arles, which he lovingly refers to as “the Japan of the south.” Interestingly, both my chosen paintings were done in the south of France. Van Gogh is fascinated with Japanese prints, and this particular painting was inspired by Japanese artwork and the then-popular Japanese-inspired novel of Pierre Loti entitled Madame Chrysanthéme. This is a portrait of a well-dressed, 12-14-year old Provençale girl but with Japanese influences.
Vincent wrote to his brother Theo about this painting. He said that he had to “reserve all his mental energy to do the mousmé well” and it took him one whole week to finish the painting. This painting was a part of van Gogh’s collection of portraits, done at around the same time, which he describes as “the only thing in painting that excites me to the depths of my soul, and which makes me feel the infinite more than anything else” (Charles, 2012).
The artwork is van Gogh’s take on his admiration for Japanese art, which is characterized by well-chosen simplification and exaggerations. He used shape, color, and form to express his feelings. He did not paint perfect shapes, but the forms seem to dance with contrasting colors, which is more expressive than descriptive. The skirt and shirt features rapidly and thickly applied bright colors with definitive outlines. The oleander flowers that the girl is holding symbolizes the girl’s youth. She is just blossoming into womanhood. The light green background is believed to symbolize nature and springtime.
This painting, along with his other works, made van Gogh a very influential figure for artists for generations to come, and he became one of the major precursors of Abstraction, Expressionism, and Fauvism, particularly Henri Matisse (1869 -1954).
These two post-impressionist works of art spoke to my inner being that is why I chose them. I was very impressed with these works of art, and by viewing them, I felt as though both Cézanne and Van Gogh were conveying their messages to me. These are messages of strange quietness and benevolence, of truth and solidarity with humanity.To quote Rudolf Steiner, “…people who allow themselves to be impressed by these works of art and who have learnt to understand their language, will never do wrong to their fellow men in either heart or intellect because the forms of art will teach them how to love…” (Stenier, 1909 in James, 2009)

Brodskaïa, N. (2013). Post-Impressionism. New York: Parkstone Press International.

Charles, V. (2012.) Vincent van Gogh. New York: Parkstone Press International.

James, V. (2009). Art: awakener of consciousness, humanizer for society. Educating the

Will.New York: AWSNA Publications.

Voorhies, J. (2004). Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). The Met, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art

History. October 2004. Retrieved from

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