Fry’s academic point when styling Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat and Cézanne as the Post-Impressionists was that they had all developed out of Impressionism, the art movement that Manet had inspired and supported.
All four had started their individual journeys by adhering to the Impressionists’ principles, which made ‘post’ – as in ‘after’ – the Impressionists, spot on.
Or, to put it in another – slightly trite – way, they were rather like postmen: each had picked up Impressionism and delivered it to a new destination.
So, what does history tell us? Well, the title worked, but the show didn’t.
The term Post-Impressionist has stuck but Fry’s exhibition received savage reviews, with the usual brickbats thrown.
Shortly after the exhibition opened he wrote to his father saying that he had received a ‘wild hurricane of newspaper abuse from all quarters’.
A typical example of which was a review in the Morning Post which suggested that the show’s Bonfire Night opening was darkly symbolic: ‘A date more favourable than the fifth of November for revealing the existence of a widespread plot to destroy the whole fabric of European painting could hardly have been better chosen.’
The abuse dished out in the reviews was similar to that previously hurled at the Impressionists and would be subsequently directed at several future modern art movements.
‘Call that art?’ was the general sneering tone of the criticism. Fry was accused of being an oddball with spurious taste. But not everybody thought so.
The artists Duncan Grant (1885–1978) and Vanessa Bell (1879–1961), and Vanessa’s sister, Virginia Woolf, thought Fry was marvellous and invited him to join their set of bohemian intellectuals, which later came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group.
Much thanks to Will Gompertz’s book What Are You Looking At….some of the blog is directly taken from this fantastic book.