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Neo-Impressionism Collage


Started: 1884

Ended: 1935

Neo-Impressionism Timeline

Important Art and Artists of Neo-Impressionism

The below artworks are the most important in Neo-Impressionism - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Neo-Impressionism. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

Georges Seurat: A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte (1884-1886)

A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte (1884-1886)

Artist: Georges Seurat

Artwork description & Analysis: This most famous and influential Neo-Impressionist work depicts a cross section of Paris society enjoying a Sunday afternoon in the park on an island in the Seine River just at the gates of Paris. Sunday was the time that middle-class Parisians escaped the city to enjoy the outdoors. The people primarily gather in small groups of two or three or sit alone in proximity to others. It is the relationship between these people that creates a sense of modernity, with its distance and disconnection, and nervous tension that lends the work an air of mystery.

Using a grid system and applying small dots of paint, Seurat took two years to complete this large-scale painting. He went to the park often, observing and making over 60 preliminary studies, including 15 in oil. Invoking Greek classical art, Seurat explained, "The Panathenaeans of Phidias formed a procession. I want to make modern people, in their essential traits, move about as they do on those friezes, and place them on canvases organized by harmonies of color." Seurat hoped to capture the permanence, or essential forms, behind the fleeting moments. Everyone here is caught in a still pose, except for the child in the orange dress skipping off into the trees, the man on the far left playing a trombone, and the furious little dog at the lower right. However, it seems a stillness that might burst into movement at any moment, just as the upper half of the painting moves into sunlight and the boats in the distance cut across the river. While Seurat invoked classical and Egyptian figures, some have interpreted the overall static effect of the composition and the stiffness of the poses as a critique of the artificiality of modern society and the boredom of middle-class life.

Oil on canvas - Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago IL

Albert Dubois-Pillet: La Dame à la Robe Blanche (Woman in White) (1886-1887)

La Dame à la Robe Blanche (Woman in White) (1886-1887)

Artist: Albert Dubois-Pillet

Artwork description & Analysis: This portrait of an unidentified woman was the first Neo-Impressionist portrait. As many of the group concentrated on depicting color in its greatest luminosity, their subject matter tended toward landscapes and cityscapes, but a few artists went beyond such subjects. The MAMC in Saint-Étienne, France has dubbed her "Madame P," but, at the time of the work's inception, Félix Fénéon called her Mademoiselle B. Seated in an upholstered chair, placed before a background wallpapered with floral arabesques, the woman dressed in white, a blue flower on her breast, looks with an indifferent gaze past the viewer.

Albert Dubois-Pillet was a career military officer and self-trained artist whose artistic endeavors were often discouraged by the military establishment. He met Signac and Seurat in 1884 and joined them in founding the Société des Artistes Indépendants. He began experimenting with Neo-Impressionism and by 1885 had adopted the Pointillist technique, becoming one of the first artists to do so. The shimmering effect of the subtle gold arabesques in the wall paper, the blue flower, and the touches of color in her white dress convey a sense of wealth and elegance, yet she seems static, as if her presence were meant to be the decorative element of the room.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Saint-Étienne, France

Camille Pissarro: La Récolte des Foins, Éragny (1887)

La Récolte des Foins, Éragny (1887)

Artist: Camille Pissarro

Artwork description & Analysis: This painting depicts a hay harvesting scene in the countryside near Éragny, where the artist lived with his family from 1884 until his death in 1903. In the center of the canvas, a woman uses a hayfork while behind her others do similar work in a brightly lit field punctuated by hay stacks.

Pissarro adopted the Pointillist technique in 1886, saying that "Neo-Impressionism was the next phase in the logical march of Impressionism." What set his work apart from the other Neo-Impressionists was his emphasis upon rural life and labor. Pissarro's depiction of peasant life along with his own scientific explorations of color speak to the anarchist theories he adopted in the latter half of the 1870s.

Pissarro felt that his scientific studies freed him from the Academy's strictures of how to see and depict reality. He also evoked the utopian visions of peasant societies he read about in the writings of anarchists Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Peter Kropotkin. Pissarro wanted "to educate the public," by portraying the common man, but he also wanted to avoid idealizing and sentimentalizing his subjects. In this work, he depicts the effort of hay harvesting, both in the man at the left arching his back to toss the hay up, and in the woman at the center, the strength palpable in her back and shoulders.

Oil on canvas - Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Vincent van Gogh: Self-Portrait with Felt Hat (1888)

Self-Portrait with Felt Hat (1888)

Artist: Vincent van Gogh

Artwork description & Analysis: While more famously known for his profound influence on the future Expressionist movement, Vincent van Gogh was greatly influenced by the Neo-Impressionist works he encountered in Paris in 1886. In the same year he painted this work and just before leaving for Arles, he was encouraged in his own explorations of color by a last minute visit to Seurat's studio, which he called a "fresh revelation of color."

In early 1887 van Gogh moved to Asnières, a Paris suburb, and met Signac, and he adopted the Divisionist style. Using short strokes of green and red in the methodical manner of Signac and Seurat, his Self-Portrait of 1888 is one of his first Neo-Impressionist works. He uses complementary colors - orange and blue for the background, green and red in his eyes and beard - to intensify one another.

Van Gogh varied the Neo-Impressionist technique in a highly individualized manner. His short brushstrokes are slightly longer and move in varying directions, creating a rhythmic swirl of paint across the canvas. Rather than a mosaic-like effect, the brushstrokes create an emotional intensity and scathingly honest self-observation that presages Expressionism.

Oil on canvas - Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Paul Signac: Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of Félix Fénéon (1890)

Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of Félix Fénéon (1890)

Artist: Paul Signac

Artwork description & Analysis: Signac depicts the art critic Félix Fénéon in profile in front of a swirling, mesmerizing backdrop. With his distinctive goatee, top hat, and cane, and holding a flower in one hand, Fénéon is the very image of a flaneur, an erudite wanderer of city streets who both observed and critically participated in urban life. The background is remarkably innovative with its abstract swirls of complementary colors that resemble a color wheel, and its stars and planet-like circles suggest a kind of rainbow view of the cosmos, arranged harmoniously around its central human figure. Signac depicts the critic as a kind of trail blazer initiating a new world of art.

Signac's use of the word "enamel" in the title suggests the influence of decorative arts and of Cloisonnism, a style used by the artists Paul Gauguin, Louis Arquetin, and Emile Bernard, among others, based upon stained glass and medieval cloisonné work that used intense color planes with defined outlines. Signac did a number of preparatory studies for the background to come up with the right pattern, which was finally based upon the material of a kimono in a Japanese Ukiyo-e print that he owned.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Henri-Edmond Cross: The Evening Air (c.1893)

The Evening Air (c.1893)

Artist: Henri-Edmond Cross

Artwork description & Analysis: Living in the South of France in 1893, Henri-Edmond Cross painted this work in response to a friendly challenge from Signac: "Since we both know and love this sunny land, why don't we both raise a decorative monument to it?" Signac painted In a Time of Harmony, and Cross created this painting, depicting a number of women in a wooded area along the seashore where several sailboats glide past. The setting sun bathes the Arcadian landscape of southern France in soft but vibrant colors and the women in classical attire seem timeless.

Cross, like Seurat and other colleagues, was influenced by the classical composition and ideal landscapes of Puvis de Chavannes. Here Cross looks specifically to Sweet Land (1882) for his composition. Cross adapted the Pointillist technique to the large scale of his canvas. Rather than tiny dots, he used larger rectangular brushstrokes to create a mosaic-like effect. In its decorative and monumental intent, the work was a new direction for him. In 1894 after exhibiting it at the Salon des Indépendants, he gave the work to Signac who displayed it in his dining room. There, the artist Henri Matisse first encountered the painting, which inspired his Luxe, Calme et Volupté (1904).

Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Henri Matisse: Luxe, Calme et Volupté (Luxury, Calm and Pleasure) (1904)
Artwork Images

Luxe, Calme et Volupté (Luxury, Calm and Pleasure) (1904)

Artist: Henri Matisse

Artwork description & Analysis: This painting depicts a sunny shore on the French Rivera, where six nude women in classical poses gather around a picnic blanket before which a clothed and bearded older man is sitting. The sea reaches to the horizon, its expanse broken by the diagonals of a thin yellow cloud and the folded sail of a boat.

The title of the work is taken from Charles Baudelaire's poem "L'invitation au voyage," "There, all is order and beauty, / Luxury, peace, and pleasure." Matisse depicts his interpretation of this idyllic landscape of aesthetic pleasures.

While spending the summer in St. Tropez in 1904, Matisse worked closely with Signac and Cross, depicting the view of the shore from Signac's house. The classical forms and the short brushstrokes signal Matisse's interest in the subjects and techniques of Neo-Impressionism, yet Matisse seems less interested here in the optical mixing of the colors that was so important to the movement. Instead, the strokes, a little too far apart, signal the flatness of the picture plane. Its dynamic and brightly clashing color palette and its almost cut-out figures made it the first work of the new Fauvist movement.

Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Jean Metzinger: Coucher de soleil no. 1 (c. 1908)
Artwork Images

Coucher de soleil no. 1 (c. 1908)

Artist: Jean Metzinger

Artwork description & Analysis: Metzinger presents a lush Mediterranean landscape with trees, a body of water in the background, and bright vegetation, all lit by the radiance of the setting sun. It is only on close inspection that the viewer notices two small, nude female figures who practically meld with the landscape.

Active in the Neo-Impressionist revival, Metzinger began to move away from naturalism in the early 1900s by incorporating Cross's brushstrokes that created a mosaic effect and Seurat's geometry. The landscape is very much a paradise, and the nudity of the two women, by not being featured prominently, is just an aspect of a freer and more natural state of being.

The sun here is a solar disk, as the art historian Robert Herbert wrote, paying "homage to the decomposition of spectral light that lay at the heart of Neo-Impressionist color theory..." An image of the sun vibrating in concentric circles was also used in Robert Delaunay's Paysage au Disque (1906-1907), who adopted the image as a personal symbol. Close friends and colleagues at the time, the two artists painted portraits of each other that used small blocks of contrasting pigments, which were called "cubes," and developed into a proto-Cubist style.

Oil on canvas - Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

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Related Art and Artists

Wassily Kandinsky: Der Blaue Berg (The Blue Mountain) (1908-09)

Der Blaue Berg (The Blue Mountain) (1908-09)

Artist: Wassily Kandinsky

Artwork description & Analysis: In this work, the influence of the Fauves on Kandinsky's color palette is apparent as he distorted colors and moved away from the natural world. He presented a bright blue mountain, framed by a red and yellow tree on either side. In the foreground, riders on horseback charge through the scene. At this stage in Kandinsky's career, Saint John's Book of Revelation became a major literary source for his art, and the riders signify the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The horsemen, although an indicator of the mass destruction of the apocalypse, also represent the potential for redemption afterward.

Kandinsky's vibrant palette and expressive brushwork provide the viewer with a sense of hope rather than despair. Further, the brilliant colors and dark outlines recall his love of the Russian folk art. These influences would remain part of Kandinsky's style throughout the rest of his career, with bright colors dominating his representational and non-objective canvases. From this figurative and highly symbolic work, Kandinsky progressed further towards pure abstraction. The forms are already schematized from their observable appearance in the surrounding world in this canvas, and his abstraction only progressed as Kandinsky refined his theories about art.

Oil on canvas - The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Street, Berlin (1913)

Street, Berlin (1913)

Artist: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Artwork description & Analysis: The vigorously painted Street, Berlin explores the figure of the city prostitute: chic streetwalkers who have angular, mask-like faces. The two women proudly walk down the busy, tilted street of cloaked men with more sullen expressions. Street, Berlin accentuates the hidden sensuality beneath the prostitutes' haughty fashion. The luxury and anxious energy in painting also serve as a commentary on a pre-World War I German culture, as Kirchner believed increasing political tensions further detached urban individuals from society. The Streetwalker series, of which this is a famous example, is one of the most admired areas of Kirchner's art. The models for the series may have been dancer Gerda Schilling and her sister Edna, who later became the artist's lover. He once described the two women as having "beautiful, architecturally structured, rigorously formed bodies", and his encounter with them undoubtedly influenced this series of figure paintings.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Roy Lichtenstein: Drowning Girl (1963)

Drowning Girl (1963)

Artist: Roy Lichtenstein

Artwork description & Analysis: In the early 1960s, Lichtenstein gained renown as a leading Pop artist for paintings sourced from comic books, specifically DC Comics. Although artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns had previously integrated popular imagery into their works, no one hitherto had focused on cartoon imagery as exclusively as Lichtenstein. His work, along with that of Andy Warhol, heralded the beginning of the Pop art movement, and, essentially, the end of Abstract Expressionism as the dominant style. Lichtenstein did not simply copy comic pages directly, he employed a complex technique that involved cropping images to create entirely new, dramatic compositions, as in Drowning Girl, whose source image included the woman's boyfriend standing on a boat above her. Lichtenstein also condensed the text of the comic book panels, locating language as another, crucial visual element; re-appropriating this emblematic aspect of commercial art for his paintings further challenged existing views about definitions of "high" art.

Oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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