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Vocabulary for the Study of Post-Impressionism


  • Primary colors (blue, yellow, red): Colors from which all other colors are derived; primary colors cannot be mixed from other colors.
  • Secondary colors: Colors made by mixing equal proportions of any two primary colors. Example: red + blue = violet.
  • Complementary colors: Colors that fall directly opposite each other on the color wheel. Example: blue—orange.
  • Cool colors: Blues and greens.
  • Warm colors: Reds and yellows.
  • Palette: A tray or board on which colors of paint are laid and mixed. Also, the set of colors used by an artist in a painting.
  • Chromatic palette: All of the pigments that are not black, white, or in the gray scale.
  • Earth-tone palette: Range of the earth colors yellow, brown, ochre, and umber; these colors were originally derived from natural pigments.

Composition: The placement of forms, shapes, and colors in a work of art.

Elements of art: The visual components artists use in composing an artwork. Some of these include color, line, shape, space, and texture.

  • Colors (red, blue, green, etc.): See definitions of color above.
  • Line: A mark on a painting with length and direction. Types of lines include horizontal, vertical, wavy, curved, bent, or straight.
  • Shape: Forms such as circles, triangles, squares, rectangles, ovals, or any combination.
  • Space: The way in which space is organized within the work of art; for example, what is close to the viewer (foreground) and what is further away (background).
  • Texture: The feel or textured appearance of a piece of art: rough, smooth, soft, hard, etc. Texture can be real (e.g., an oil painting may feel bumpy because of thick paint) or an artist may create the appearance of a texture. You don’t have to touch a painting to see its texture.
  • Value: The lightness or darkness of the colors used in a painting.

Focal point: The area in an artwork where the viewer’s eye goes first and which usually focuses the viewer’s attention.


  • Landscape: A painting or drawing of the land or natural environment.
  • Portrait: A picture of a person.
  • Still Life: A painting of an arrangement of fruit, flowers, or other assorted objects.
  • Historical, Religious, or Mythological: A painting that depicts an important story in history, mythology, literature, or religion.


A movement or style in the history of painting characterized by the representation of momentary effects of light on color. Impressionists were interested in depicting contemporary life in a new objective manner by rendering an "impression" of what the eye sees at one particular moment.


A movement in the history of painting following Impressionism characterized by systematic examination of properties of three-dimensional space; expressive qualities of line, shape and color; and the symbolic character of subject matter.

Au plein air: French for “in the open air.” In art, it means sketching or painting out of doors, as opposed to in a studio.