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Neo-Impressionism

Neo-Impressionism Collage
Started: 1884
Ended: 1935
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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

Key Artists

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.

Important Art and Artists of Neo-Impressionism

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

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.

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

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.

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

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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