The problem facing Roger Fry was the lack of an obvious common denominator with which to describe the four artists (not an unusual dilemma).
He recognized that they represented the four corners upon which the twentieth century’s modern art movements were being built, and knew that both Seurat and Van Gogh had been called Neo-Impressionists; that Cézanne had once been an Impressionist; and that Gauguin had been aligned with the Symbolist movement (in which paintings were full of symbolic references).
But their painterly styles had developed in such different ways; they ended up having less and less in common, not more.
Fry had already decided to include Édouard Manet in the show for art-historical and commercial reasons.
The London art crowd would be unfamiliar with most of the artists he was showing but would have heard of the Impressionists’ forefather, who Fry hoped would have the pulling power to tempt the aficionados out of their houses on a chilly winter’s day.
Once there, he wanted to introduce them to a group of more modern painters, each of whom had taken Manet’s ideas forward in a different way.
So ‘Manet’ definitely had to be in the title, though the other names would not necessarily register. But the word ‘Impressionist’ would, as they were now a big draw.
‘Manet’ and ‘Impressionist’ worked, but wasn’t strictly accurate.
What to do? The solution, thought Fry, was to add a prefix – which is what he did. The exhibition was called Manet and the Post-Impressionists.
Much thanks to Will Gompertz’s book What Are You Looking At….some of the blog is directly taken from this fantastic book.