Manet and the Post-Impressionists: “The ‘treeness’ of the tree”

04 July 2024

Manet and the Post-Impressionists, first edition, important association copy signed by Vanessa Bell.


Lot 13 in our Printed Books, Manuscripts & Maps Auction on 17 July
Lot 13 in our Printed Books, Manuscripts & Maps Auction on 17 July

This exhibition held at the Grafton Galleries from Nov 8th - Jan 15th 1910-1911 was not only the birth of the Post-Impressionists but also a turning point for the interpretation of modern art. The catalogue's introduction, attributed to Roger Fry, presents the term ‘Post-Impressionists’ in an attempt to define the diverse group of exhibiting artists by a single term.

Grafton Gallery Manet and the Post-Impressionists, poster, Wikimedia Commons
Grafton Gallery Manet and the Post-Impressionists, poster, Wikimedia Commons

The term, using the prefix ‘post’ sought to frame the works as a direct response to Impressionism which Fry describes as “too naturalistic” in comparison to these more expressive paintings.

The Post-Impressionists aimed to push the boundaries of Impressionism, developing upon the realism of artists such as Degas and Renoir to achieve a depiction of the “emotions which the objects themselves evoked” As Fry explains in the catalogue’s introduction, their works became less about the acurate depict of, say, a tree and more about “the ‘treeness’ of the tree” itself.

Vincent van Gogh, Cornfield with Rooks (later known as Wheatfield with Crows), credit: Van Gogh Museum
Vincent van Gogh, Cornfield with Rooks (later known as Wheatfield with Crows), credit: Van Gogh Museum

Van Gogh achieved this in works such as Wheatfield with Crows, (displayed under the title Cornfield with Rooks) one of his last works. The landscape is not represented with complete accuracy, however, through Van Gogh’s signature brushstrokes and use of vibrant colour, you get a sense of the wheat blowing in the breeze. Painted en plein air (physically outdoors, in this case, in the field itself) you can picture what it’s really like to stand in and experience the landscape. Wheatfield With Crows among many other important Post-Impressionist works such as Manet’s Bar at the Folies Bergere (Un bar aux Folies-Bergere) were displayed at the exhibition.

Edouard Manet, Un bar aux Folies-Bergere, (Lent by Bernheim Jeune & Cie M. Paul Cassirei and M. Durand Ruel), credit: The Courtauld Gallery
Edouard Manet, Un bar aux Folies-Bergere, (Lent by Bernheim Jeune & Cie M. Paul Cassirei and M. Durand Ruel), credit: The Courtauld Gallery
Vincent van Gogh, Garden of Daubigny in Auvers-sur-Oise (Lent by Mme. GosschalkBonger), credit: Van Gogh Museum
Vincent van Gogh, Garden of Daubigny in Auvers-sur-Oise (Lent by Mme. GosschalkBonger), credit: Van Gogh Museum
Vincent van Gogh, Orchard in Provence, Lent by Mme. Gosschalk-Bonger), credit: Van Gogh Museum
Vincent van Gogh, Orchard in Provence, Lent by Mme. Gosschalk-Bonger), credit: Van Gogh Museum

Our copy of this exhibition catalogues holds significant historical importance having been signed on the upper wrapper by Vanessa Bell. She was a significant member of the bloomsbury group alongside exhibition organiser Roger Fry, her sister Virginia Woolf and her husband art critic Clive Bell. As a radical innovator of modernist painting, Bell was a central figure in the development of art at this time. Also attributed as a post-impressionist, her work was exhibited alongside Matisse and Picasso as part of The Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in 1912, arranged by Fry, Bell and Duncan Grant.

The Matisse Room by Vanessa Bell, showing the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, The Large Gallery in 1912
The Matisse Room by Vanessa Bell, showing the Second Post-Impressionist Exhibition, The Large Gallery in 1912

Included in the lot is Sotheby's 'Charleston' catalogue for its sale held on 21st July 1980, containing 130 lots "... donated from various sources to be sold for the benefit of The Charleston Trust. The modernist home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and well-known gathering point for the Bloomsbury Group is still running as a gallery today.

Printed books, Maps and Manuscripts sale | July 17