Europe experienced a time of culural upheaval between 1886 and the start of the First World War in 1914. It was a period in which many European artists — most famously, Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh — broke with established tradition, rejecting direct transcription of the world around them known as realism and naturalism. Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh stood out among their peers with their unflinching commitment to the experimental and took risks with received conventions. Most tellingly, they created images where space is either severely constrained or eliminated altogether. Their influence spread in no small part because their work was exhibited widely across Europe, inspiring artist after artist who saw it.
Paul Gauguin, Vision of the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel) (Vision du sermon: la lutte de Jacob avec l’ange), 1888. Oil on canvas. 72.2 × 91 cm.
Gauguin’s Vision of the Sermon in which a group of Breton women are separated by a huge diagonal tree-trunk from the biblical scene they’re imagining of Jacob wrestling an angel was a foundational painting for Post-Impressionism. Gauguin is asking: if the quality of art can no longer be judged by the degree to which a tree looks like a tree in the external world, what is the criterion for artistic excellence?