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Neo-Impressionism Collage

Neo-Impressionism

Started: 1884
Ended: 1935
Neo-Impressionism Timeline
I painted like that because I wanted to get through to something new - a kind of painting that was my own.
Georges Seurat Signature

Summary of Neo-Impressionism

In the latter part of the 19th century, Neo-Impressionism foregrounded the science of optics and color to forge a new and methodical technique of painting that eschewed the spontaneity and romanticism that many Impressionists celebrated. Relying on the viewer's capacity to optically blend the dots of color on the canvas, the Neo-Impressionists strove to create more luminous paintings that depicted modern life. With urban centers growing and technology advancing, the artists sought to capture people's changing relationship with the city and countryside. Many artists in the following years adopted the Neo-Impressionist technique of Pointillism, the application of tiny dots of pigment, which opened the door to further explorations of color and eventually abstract art.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • In order to more fully capture the luminosity seen in nature, the Neo-Impressionists turned to science in finding their painting technique of juxtaposing various colors and tones to create a shimmering, illuminated surface. By systematically placing contrasting colors, as well as black, white, and grey, next to each other on the canvas, the painters hoped to heighten the visual sensation of the image.
  • Neo-Impressionists aimed to produce correspondences between emotional states and the forms, lines, and colors presented on the canvas that spoke to the modernity of urban life in the age of industrialization.
  • Two terms closely associated with Neo-Impressionism - Divisionism and Pointillism - are practically interchangeable. Most broadly, Divisionism is a color theory that advocates placing small patches of pure pigment separately on the canvas in order that the viewer's eye will optically blend the colors. Divisionism became widely applied to any artist dividing or separating color while using small brushstrokes. Pointillism relied on the same theory of optical blending but specifically applied tiny separate "points," or dots, of pigment.
  • Most of the Neo-Impressionists held anarchist beliefs. Their depictions of the working class and peasants called attention to the social struggles taking place as the rise of industrial capitalism gained speed, and their search for harmony in art paralleled their vision of a utopian society. The freedom they sought in scientific study furthered their abilities to overthrow bourgeois norms and conventions that hampered their individual autonomy.

Overview of Neo-Impressionism

Neo-Impressionism Image

By the mid-1880s, feeling that Impressionism's emphasis on the play of light was too narrow, a new generation of artists, including Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and Vincent van Gogh, who would later be referred to more generally as Post-Impressionists, began developing new approaches to line, color, and form. In 1879 after leaving the École des Beaux-Arts where he'd studied for a year, Seurat said he wanted "to find something new, my own way of painting." He particularly valued color intensity in painting, and took extensive notes on the use of color by the painter Eugène Delacroix. He began studying color theory and the science of optics and embarked on a path that would lead him to develop a new style he called Chromoluminarism.

Key Artists

  • Georges-Pierre Seurat was a French painter who gave rise to the Post- and Neo-Impressionist artistic styles of the late nineteenth century. Seurat's greatest contribution to modern art was his development of Pointillism, a style of painting in which small dots of paint were applied to create a cohesive image. Combining the science of optics with painterly emotion, Pointillism evoked a visual harmony never before seen in modern art.
  • Camille Pissarro was a French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painter. Known as the "Father of Impressionism," he used his own painterly style to depict urban daily life, landscapes, and rural scenes.
  • Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch painter, commonly associated with the Post-Impressionist period. As one of the most prolific and experimental artists of his time, van Gogh was a spontaneous painter and a master of color and perspective. Troubled by personal demons all his life, many historians speculate that van Gogh suffered from a Bipolar disorder.
  • Paul Signac was a major Post-Impressionist who along with Georges Seurat developed the painting style known as Neo-Impressionism (also known as Pointillism or Divisionism) in which small and precise dots of color were used to compose a large, bright, and colorful picture.
  • Henri-Edmond Cross was a French Neo-Impressionist who proved to be very influential to Henri Matisse and to the development of the Fauvist movement.
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Do Not Miss

  • A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
  • Post-Impressionism refers to a number of styles that emerged in reaction to Impressionism in the 1880s. The movement encompassed Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism before ceding to Fauvism around 1905. Its artists turned away from effects of light and atmosphere to explore new avenues such as color theory and personal feeling, often using colors and forms in intense and expressive ways.

Important Art and Artists of Neo-Impressionism

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

Artist: Georges Seurat

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.

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

Artist: Albert Dubois-Pillet

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.

La Récolte des Foins, Éragny (1887)

Artist: Camille Pissarro

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.

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Neo-Impressionism 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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First published on 24 Aug 2017. Updated and modified regularly
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