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Post-Impressionism quotes by Artists and Critics

Excerpted from the exhibition catalogue Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and Beyond by Guy Cogeval, Silvie Patry, and Stéphan Guégan (San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2010)


“I refused to board the Impressionist ship because I found the ceiling too low. . . . Real parasites of the object, [the Impressionists] cultivated art solely on the visual field, and in a way closed it off from what goes beyond that and what can give the humblest sketches, even the shadows, the light of spirituality. I mean a kind of emanation that takes hold of our spirit and escapes all analysis.”

—Artist Odilon Redon, To Myself: Notes on Life, Art and Artists, trans. Mira Jacob and Jeanne L. Wasserman (New York: George Brazillier, 1986), 110.


“Claude Monet’s landscapes are . . . the extremely sensitive shapes of our thoughts.”

—Critic Octave Mirbeau, “Claude Monet,” L’Art dans les Deux Mondes, March 7, 1891, reprinted in Mirbeau, Combats esthétiques, 430–431.


“It is no easier to explain Cézanne’s [fame] than to explain the man himself.”

—Artist Maurice Denis, “Cézanne,” L’Occident, September 1907, reprinted in Maurice Denis, Le ciel et l’Arcadie, ed. Jean-Paul Bouillon (Paris: Hermann, 1993), 129ff.


“[Cézanne] has fled Paris. Does he really exist? Is he not a myth?”

—Artist Maurice Denis, “L’époque du symbolisme,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, March 1934, reprinted in Denis, Le ciel et l’Arcadie, 208.


“While I was admiring that curious, disconcerting side of Cézanne’s work that I have felt for years now, Renoir arrived. But my enthusiasm was nothing compared to Renoir’s. Degas himself also succumbed to the charming nature of this refined savage. Monet, everybody.”

—Letter from artist Camille Pissarro to his son Lucien, November 21, 1895, in Correspondance de Camille Pisarro, vol. 4, ed. Janine Bailly-Herzberg (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France: 1989), 119.


“[I will] astonish Paris with an apple.”

— Artist Paul Cézanne, in Gustave Geffroy, Claude Monet: Sa vie, son oeuvre (Paris: G. Crès, 1922), 106.


“They have managed to produce intense coloring with the help of observation as precise as it is simple. . . . They’ve avoided any muddiness in their painting by using tiny brushstrokes, little dotted points, or the juxtaposition of colors: the mixture occurs in the eye, not on the palette. They paint by attenuating, by modifying the local color of an object through reflections of the strongest adjacent color. They have, so to speak, restored the virginity of the eye, forgetting conventional colors in order to find, on their own, the right note. And they have succeeded.”

—Critic Jean Ajalbert, “Le Salon des impressionnistes,” Revue Moderne, June 20, 1886.


“There is much to be seen here—for instance Delacroix, to name only one master. In Antwerp I did not even know what the Impressionists were, now I have seen them and though not being one of the club yet I have much admired certain Impressionists’ pictures—Degas nude figure’—Claude Monet landscape.”

—Artist Vincent van Gogh to H.M. Livens, Paris, August–October 1886, letter 459a, (, accessed September 16, 2009).


“. . . red-haired . . . with an eagle eye and a cutting mouth, so to speak . . . stocky . . . [making] sharp movements, [having] a jerky walk, vehement in his views.”

—Artist Émile Bernard, “Souvenirs sur Van Gogh,” L’Amour de l’Art, December 4, 1924, 393–400.


“Even Madagascar is too near the civilized world; I shall go to Tahiti. . . . I judge that my art, which you like, is only a seedling thus far, and out there I hope to cultivate it for my own pleasure in its primitive and savage state.”

—Artist Gauguin to artist Odilon Redon, September 1890, reprinted in Guérin, Paul Gauguin, 42.


“I arrange lines and colors so as to obtain symphonies, harmonies that do not represent a thing that is real, in the vulgar sense of the word, and do not directly express any idea, but are supposed to make you think the way music is supposed to make you think, unaided by ideas or images, simply through the mysterious affinities that exist between our brains and such arrangements of colors and lines.”

—Artist Paul Gauguin, in Eugène Tardieu, “Interview with Paul Gauguin,” L’Echo de Paris, May 13, 1895, reprinted in Guérin, Paul Gauguin, 109.


“If I sell a few paintings, I’ll go . . . stay at an inn in some out-of-the-way place in Brittany, to paint and live modestly. In Brittany you can still live more cheaply than anywhere else.”

—Letter from Artist Paul Gauguin to his wife, Mette, August 1885, in Correspondence de Paul Gauguin: Documents, témoignages, ed. Victor Merlhès (Paris: Fondation Singer-Polignac, 1984), 83.


“It was in the autumn of 1888 that Gauguin’s name was revealed to us by Sérusier, back from Pont-Aven, and who showed us, somewhat mysteriously, a cigar lid on which you could see a landscape that way shapeless, by dint of the heavy influence of Synthetism, with violet, vermilion, Veronese green, and other pure colors.”

—Artist Maurice Denis, “Paul Sérusier, sa vie, son oeuvre,” in ABC de la peinture, by Paul Sérusier (Paris: Floury, 1942), 42.


“ ‘How do you see those trees?’ asked Gauguin; ‘If they are yellow, then make them yellow; and that bluish shadow, paint it with pure ultramarine; and those red leaves? Use vermilion.’”

—Artist Maurice Denis, “Paul Sérusier, sa vie, son oeuvre,” in ABC de la peinture, by Paul Sérusier (Paris: Floury, 1942), 42.


“And so we learned that any work of art was a transposition, a caricature, the passionate equivalent of a received sensation.”

—Artist Maurice Denis, “L’influence de Paul Gauguin,” reprinted in Denis, Le ciel et l’Arcadie, 75.


“Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude, an anecdote, or whatnot, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order.”

—Artist Maurice Denis, “L’influence de Paul Gauguin,” reprinted in Denis, Le ciel et l’Arcadie, 5–21.


“We find ourselves increasingly in an atmosphere that is absolutely inimical to imaginative concepts. Photography and sewing machines are the true expression of our time. It is only a short step to a total eclipse of any personal or poetic aspiration.”

—Letter from Artist Puvis de Chavannes, September 28, 1897, private collection, quoted in Aimée Brown Price, “The Poor Fisherman: A Painting in Context,” in Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (Amsterdam: Van Gogh Museum, 1994), 52n8.


“However sad the chosen subject might be, however dreary the picturesque element that compose it, the painting will never . . . give the impression of sadness if the dominant characteristics of the lines, colors, and tone do not agree visually with the feelings the artist is seeking to express.”

—Artist Maurice Denis, “L’époque du symbolisme,” Gazette dea Beaux-Arts, March 1934, reprinted in Denis, Le ciel et l’Arcadie, 176–177.


“From the canvas itself, a flat surface covered with color, emotion emerges, bitter or consoling.”

—Artist Maurice Denis, reprinted in Denis, Le ciel et l’Arcadie, 17.


“Subjecting color and lines in this way to the emotion he has felt and seeks to express, the painter will do the work of a poet, a creator.”

—Artist Paul Signac, D’Eugène Delacroix au néo-impressionnisme, ed. Françoise Cachin (Paris: Hermann 1978), 104.


“M. Rousseau becomes more stupefying with each passing year, but here he imposes and, in any event, claims some very nice publicity for himself. . . . It is, moreover, a terrible neighbor; it crushes everything.”

—Artist Félix Valltton in response to seeing Artist Henri Rousseau’s Surprised (1891) at the Salon des Indépendants, 1891. Quoted in Green et al., Le Douanier Rousseau, 143.


“Terrifying, wherever it passes it leaves despair, tears, and ruin in its wake.”

—Caption printed in relation to War (1894), by Rousseau, in the booklet for the Salon des Indépendants in 1894. Quoted in Green et al., Le Douanier Rousseau, 105.