Introduction to Neo-Impressionism

Neo-Impressionism is an avant-garde art movement that flourished primarily in France during the late 19th century, which counteracted the impulsive and intuitive art mannerism of Impressionism with a sense of organization and permanence. It utilized applied scientific optical principles of light and colour to create a luminous painting depicting modern urbanscapes. Rooted in colour theory with strong anarchist connections, this technique also depicted the social struggles in a backdrop of rising industrial capitalism. Divisionism and Pointillism were the techniques closely associated with this Avant-Garde art form.

Divisionism refers to the juxtaposition of colours in the form of patches that interact optically with the viewer. Pointillism, on the other hand, is the technique in which small dots of colours are applied in a form or pattern that allows the viewer’s eyes to perceive the image as a whole using theory of optical bending. Championed by George Seurat and Paul Signac, this art movement denounced spontaneity for measured painting techniques grounded in scientific theories.

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Divisionism in Georges Seurat  Le Chahut_©wikipedia.org
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Divisionism in L’homme à la tulipe by Robert Delaunay_©wikipedia.org
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Pointillism in Seurat’s Parade de cirque_©wikipedia.org

Rise of the Movement

1886 was a momentous year that acted as a turning point in the history of the art world as the eighth and final Impressionist exhibition marked the advent of the Neo-Impressionist movement with the exhibit of George Seurat’s work “A Sunday Afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte”. The painting was made using the Pointillist style and is considered a manifestation of the Neo-Impressionist style. Art critic Félix Fénéon coined the term Neo Impressionism seeing Seurat’s painting at the Salon of the Société des Artistés which was otherwise called Chromoluminarism by Seurat.

The art movement gained momentum far and wide. Camille Pissarro embraced the colour harmony and vision in Seurat’s artwork and recognized it as a new phase in Impressionism. Theo van Rysselberghe, Hendri, Charles Angrand adopted Seurat’s distinctive style and technique. Hendri Edmond cross and Hippolyte Petitjean practiced divisionist techniques to watercolor painting. Artists such as Albert Dubois-Pillet, Léo Gausson, Louis Hayet, and Maximilien Luce also joined the movement.

Important paintings of the Neo-Impressionist Period

  • A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte (1894-1886) by George Seurat is the most influential of all Neo-Impressionist paintings done in the Pointillist technique. It depicts the bourgeois in the park enjoying a Sunday afternoon outdoors on an island in the Siena river. The composition depicts the artificially and boredom of modern life which can be apprehended by the stiffness in posture.
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A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte_©wikipedia.org
  • La Dame à la Robe Blanche (1886-87) by Albert Dubois Pillet was the first successful attempt at the Neo-Impressionist portrait of an unidentified woman. One of the first artists to adopt the Pointillist technique, this painting depicts the shimmering gold arabesque, a gaze that seems to look past the viewer, airing a sense of wealth and elegance.
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La Dame à la Robe Blanche_©wikipedia.org
  • La Ŕecolte des Foins, Éragny (1887) by Camille Pissarro depict the countryside fields with a woman at the centre busy in using the hayfork in a brightly coloured field filled with haystack. The paintings reveal his anarchist ideologies through the depiction of reality in utopian visions.
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La Ŕecolte des Foins, Éragny_©wikipedia.org
  • Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, Tints, Portrait of Félix Fénéon by Paul Signac (1890) has art critic Félix Fénéon, a trailblazer in the field of discovering new art as the centerpiece. With an interesting background having fascinating swirls of complementary colours, the painting portrays him in his distinctive style with a hat, cane, and flower in hand. The use of Enamel in the title of the painting depicts its influence of decorative art.
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Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, Tints, Portrait of Félix Fénéon by Paul Signac_©wikipedia.org
  • The Evening Air (1893) by Henri-Edmond Cross is a result of a friendly challenge by Paul Signac, which depicts women in the woods near a seashore. Influenced by Pointillism, the painting depicts Cross’ inclination towards classical composition.
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The Evening Air_©wikipedia.org
  • Luxe, Calme et Volupté (1904) by Hendri Matisse is a picture of beauty and luxury with six women in classical poses and a man on a sunny day at the French Riviera. A follower of Signac’s interpretation of divisionism, the far-spread strokes and dynamic colour palate was a one-of-a-kind painting of the new Fauvist movement.
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Luxe, Calme et Volupté_©wikipedia.org

 

  • Coucher de soleii no.1 by Jean Metzinger portrays a lush landscape with two women that blend with the background. Metzinger’s works were based on Cross’s brushstrokes and Seurat’s geometry. He went on to become one of the founders of the proto-Cubist style.
Coucher de soleii no.1_©wikipedia.org

Fall of the movement

Neo-Impressionism reached its peak during 1886-1991. However, even with the sudden death of George Seurat, pioneer of the art movement, in 1891, the momentum died down. Signac took over as the head of the group which underwent significant stylistic changes by the introduction of abstract visual rhythm and subjectivity. It evolved significantly over the next decade with the social and political alliances. Impressionism carved the way of future movements, including fauvism and abstraction. Though short-lived, it influenced several artists including Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, among numerous others.

References:

 ” Neo-Impressionism”. Accessed via artstory.org.

Dita Amory. (October 2004). “Georges Seurat (1859–1891) and Neo-Impressionism “Accessed via metmuseum.org.

 “Neo-Impressionism”. Accessed via wikipedia.org

Author

A student of PMCA Cuttack. She believes nothing is black or white but grey. Like the meaning of her name, she is in quest of her grey; the perfect balance in life be it through her words or design. Her love for architecture, history, and baking best describes her.

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