History, Characteristics of Divisionism & Neo-Impressionism.

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The Papal Palace, Avignon (1900)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris. Paul Signac.
A good example of the Pointillist
theory of colour in painting.

The term "Neo-Impressionism" was
invented by Felix Feneon, the
influential French art critic.

Pointillism (c.1884-1900)

What is Pointillism? - Characteristics

In fine art, the term "pointillism" (from the French word "point" meaning "dot") describes a technique of Neo-Impressionism painting, in which hundreds of small dots or dashes of pure colour are applied to the canvas, or other ground, in order to create maximum luminosity. That is, instead of mixing colour pigments on a palette and then applying the mixture onto the painting, the Pointillist applies small dots of pure unmixed colour directly onto the picture and relies on the eye of the viewer to mix the colours optically. Viewed at the right distance, (supposedly three times the diagonal measurement) the dots of colour give a richer and more subtle effect than can be achieved by conventional techniques. Pointillism (actually an offshoot of Divisionism) was the most influential style of Post-Impressionist painting (1880-95) and was practised by Post-Impressionist painters from a number of different schools. Italian Divisionism, led by Vittore Grubicy De Dragon (1851-1920), was especially active.

For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.
For the chronology and dates
of key events in the evolution
of visual arts around the world
see: History of Art Timeline.

For details of the best modern
painters, since 1800, see:
Famous Painters (1830-2010).

For a guide to the different,
categories/meanings of visual
arts, see: Definition of Art.

For a list of the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.

For a list of great works
see: Greatest Modern Paintings.

How Does Pointillism Relate to Divisionism and Neo-Impressionism?

Strictly speaking Pointillism refers only to the type of mark made on the canvas (the dot). On might just as easily call it "dottism". The actual theory of mixing paint-pigments optically, rather than on a palette, is known as Divisionism (or Chromoluminarism). To confuse things further, Pointillism was the signature style of the French painting style known as Neo-Impressionism. To put it another way, Neo-Impressionist painters absorbed the colour theories of Divisionism and employed Pointillist brushwork, in order to create the most luminous colours.

Note: in reality, the dots of pure unmixed colour are not actually combined by the human eye, which still sees them as separate colours. However, they do appear to oscillate or vibrate, creating a type of shimmer.


Who Invented Pointillism?

The founder of Pointillism was Georges Seurat (1859-91), a model student at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. A traditional, and conventional classical painter, he rejected Impressionism, a style of painting and colour based on the subjective responses of the individual artist, in favour of a more scientific method which he developed around 1884 and called Chromoluminarism. Based on the scientific colour theory of the French chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul (Law of Simultaneous Colour Contrast, 1839), and the American physicist Ogden Rood (Modern Chromatics, 1879), the method was used to a degree by the Impressionist painters, but only on an ad hoc basis, and it was not developed systematically until Seurat. (Compare Monet's approach, see: Characteristics of Impressionist Painting 1870-1910.)

Seurat's main disciple was the former Impressionist Paul Signac (1863-1935). A coastal landscape artist, Signac was strongly attracted by the scientific method behind Pointillism and Divisionism and, after Seurat's death in 1891, he became the leading exponent of the Neo-Impressionist movement. In addition to oil paintings and watercolours, he also produced a number of lithographs, etchings and pen-and-ink sketches composed of tiny, laboriously laid out dots. A strong supporter of younger artists within the Post-Impressionism movement, Signac was reportedly the first person to buy a painting from Henri Matisse.

Who Are The Greatest Pointillist Painters?

Seurat and Signac remain the greatest exponents of Pointillism. As well as them, the Impressionist Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was also an active member of the school, as was Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910), and Maximilien Luce (1858-1941) who portrayed industrial society and working-class scenes. Other artists associated with the idiom include: the Fauvist leader Henri Matisse (1869-1954); Albert Dubois-Pillet (1846-90), a self-taught artist who adapted Pointillism to landscape scenery and naturalist subjects; Charles Agrand (1854-1926), who was more of a lyrical painter; Giuseppe Pelizza da Volpedo (1868-1907), the leading Italian Pointillist; and Theo van Rysselberghe (1862-1926) the founder of Les Vingt, a group of progressive Post-Impressionists. Even Van Gogh (1853-90) painted occasionally in a Pointillist style.


Neo-Impressionism had a notable influence on the next generation, including the likes of Matisse and Andre Derain. In particular, its focus on colour stimulated the emergence of the Fauvism school - and therefore German expressionism - thus playing an important role in the evolution of modern art. NOTE: To see how Monet's, Seurat's and Signac's so-called 'naturalism' led paradoxically to abstraction, see: Realism to Impressionism (1830-1900).

Famous Pointillist Paintings

Georges Seurat
Fishing in The Seine (1883) Museum of Modern Art, Troyes
The Labourers (1883) National Gallery of Art Washington DC
Bathers at Asnieres (1883-4) National Gallery, London
Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp (1885) Tate, London
View of Fort Samson (1885) Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-6, Chicago)
The Models (1888) Barnes Foundation, Merion, PA
Grey Weather, Grande Jatte (1888) Philadelphia Museum of Art
Eiffel Tower (1889) California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco

Paul Signac
The Town Beach, Collioure (1887) Metropolitan Museum of Art New York City
The Jetty at Cassis (1889) Metropolitan Museum of Art New York City
Women at the Well (1892) Musée d'Orsay, Paris
The Papal Palace, Avignon (1900, Musee d'Orsay, Paris)
The Port of Saint-Tropez (1901) The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo
Grand Canal, Venice (1905) Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio

Theo van Rysselberghe
Madame Maus (1890) Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
For other Dutch luminists, see: Post-Impressionism in Holland (1880-1920).

Henri-Edmond Cross
Nocturne (1896) Petit Palais, Geneva

Maximilien Luce
The Foundry (1899) Kroller-Muller Museum, The Netherlands

Camille Pissarro
Self-Portrait (1903) Tate, London

Henri Matisse
Luxe, Calme Et Volupte (1904-5) Musee d'Orsay

Neo-Impressionist works hang in many of the best art museums in Europe and America. For details of European collections containing Pointillist works, see: Art Museums in Europe.

• For more about Post-Impressionist painting, see: Homepage.

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