First Post-Impressionist Exhibition

From Modernism Lab Essays

Jump to: navigation, search

The Bloomsbury Group’s most direct contribution to the change in human character that Virginia Woolf analyzes in "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown" was the first Post-Impressionist Exhibition, “Manet and the Post-Impressionists” (1910). The exhibition focused on the work of Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin, but also attempted to outline a trajectory from Manet down to the most recent “post-impressionists,” Matisse and Picasso, who were both represented in the exhibition.

Most British art critics in 1910 were still trying to digest the impressionism of Monet and Renoir, and the new exhibition, by rejecting impressionism as old-fashioned, baffled even sympathetic observers. E. M. Forster wrote that “Gauguin and Van Gogh were too much for me.”[1] Many viewers and critics thought the show a hoax or an offense against English culture. The art historian Charles Harrison has listed some of the words applied to the exhibition: “horror,” “madness,” “infection,” “sickness of the soul,” “putrescence,” “pornography,” “anarchy” and “evil.”[2] A few, however, defended the exhibition, and the consummate Edwardian Arnold Bennett suggested that the scorn heaped on modern art by the British public showed “that London is infinitely too self-complacent even to suspect that it is London and not the exhibition which is making itself ridiculous.”[3]

The champions of modernity in art shared Bennett’s sense that London was woefully behind the times. English artists soon began to absorb the influences of Matisse and the early, pre-cubist Picasso. A second Post-Impressionist Exhibition in 1912 displayed paintings by Bloomsbury artists like Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell alongside works
by the major French painters and a number of rather obscure Russians.

  1. Quoted in Samuel Hynes, The Edwardian Turn of Mind (Princeton University Press, 1968) p. 22.
  2. Charles Harrison, English Art and Modernism, 1900-1939, 2nd edn (New Haven: Yale UP, 1994), p. 47.
  3. Quoted in Hynes, Edwardian Turn, p. 332.

This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis's Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), pp. 91-92.

Personal tools