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Neo-Impressionism

Neo-Impressionism Collage

Started: 1884

Ended: 1935

"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

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.
Neo-Impressionism Image

Beginnings:

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.

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