Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven Paul Gauguin, Breton Girls Dancing, Pont-Aven, 1888, 1983.1.19

In the 1880s, many artists, including Georges Seurat, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh, wanted to move beyond painting what the eye perceived. No defined mission unified this group, but they were galvanized by the efforts of the radical impressionists before them and sought to extend their quest for meaningful self expression and innovation. Seurat used dots of color; Cézanne played with the underlying geometry of forms; and Gauguin painted large patches of unmediated color. All pursued artistic purity. They often abandoned narrative and naturalist impressions, emphasizing instead brilliant optical effects or emotional passion. Although they were figural artists, their work can also have an abstract quality.

These artists self-consciously pushed boundaries and questioned convention. Gauguin and Van Gogh in particular aimed to transform public awareness through their art, identifying societal ills and believing strongly in their ability to effect change. Many sources provided inspiration, including indigenous cultures and spirituality, non-western art, and intellectual contemplation.

Edgar Degas, older and more classically trained than either Gauguin or Van Gogh, was active with the impressionists early in his career, but later adopted more enigmatic qualities. His scenes of ballet dancers, laundresses, and bathers frequently exhibit techniques and compositions that are jarring or seemingly unfinished in their execution - and seem as modern as the work of any of his younger colleaugues.

Seascape at Port-en-Bessin, Normandy Harlequin Fatata te Miti (By the Sea) The Dance Lesson Self-Portrait