Postimpressionism was a movement in late-19th-century French painting that emphasized the artist's personal response to a subject. Postimpressionism takes its name from an art movement that immediately preceded it: Impressionism. But whereas impressionist painters concentrated on the depiction of a subject's immediate appearance, postimpressionists focused on emotional or spiritual meanings that the subject might convey. Although impressionist artists interpreted what they saw, their approach nevertheless remained rooted in observation of the natural world. Postimpressionists conveyed their personal responses to the world around them through the use of strong, unnatural colors and exaggeration or slight distortion of forms.
Postimpressionism can be said to have begun in 1886, the year that French painter Georges Seurat exhibited Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-1886), and to have ended in 1906, the year French painter Paul Cezanne died. British art critic Roger Fry, however, coined the term postimpressionism, in 1910 when he organized an exhibition of French paintings at the Grafton Galleries in London. Fry is said to have been dissuaded from using the word expressionist to describe the work of Cezanne, Seurat, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, and others, and to have finally declared: "Oh, let's just call them post-impressionists; at any rate, they came after the impressionists." The term was firmly established when Fry held a second show of postimpressionist art at the Grafton Galleries in 1912.
The painters most closely associated with postimpressionism all took part in Fry's first exhibition: Cezanne, Seurat, Gauguin, Matisse, and van Gogh. Although their styles differed greatly from one another, these artists shared an ability to communicate concepts, emotions, or personal sensation through their art. .
Unlike other postimpressionists, Paul Cezanne did not create symbolic equivalents between elements of his paintings and particular emotions or concepts.