Pointillism Painting: A Brief Introduction
Pointillism painting is a style of art where artists apply dots of color to their canvas. While this looks like a mismatched series of spots and dabs up close, it gradually merges into an image as the viewer steps away.
The Neo Impressionists, Georges Seurat and Paul Signac developed this innovative technique. Their theory focused on color separation, using it to create stunning optical effects.
Georges Seurat artworks and Paul Signac paintings are often described as “Divisionism". However. As a result, Art Historians use the terms Pointillism and Divisionism interchangeably.
This brief introduction presents the most famous Pointillism artists and their famous oil paintings. From Paul Signac paintings to Georges Seurat A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, here’s everything you need to know.
What does Pointillism Art mean?
Pointillism painting refers to art using small dots or strokes of paint to create stunning wall art. When viewed from a distance, these dots and dashes blend to form a beautifully shifting yet balanced whole.
Pointillism painting emerged as a response to Impressionist oil painting. Famous paintings by French artists Claude Monet and Pierre Renoir, focused on fleeting moments and shifting light. In contrast, Pointillism painting used carefully controlled color combinations and marks.
Nonetheless, there are similarities between Impressionist paintings and Pointillism art.
Impressionist paintings often use tiny, fleeting brush marks. These strokes resemble the Pointillist technique of using dabs of color. Equally, artists in both movements depict urban scenes and the effects of light and color. For this reason, coastal scenes (filled with sparkling water and shifting winds) are typical for both Impressionists and Pointillists.
At the final 1886 Impressionist exhibition, Camille Pissarro encouraged several young artists to participate. These artists included Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, and Lucien Pissarro (Camille’s son). Their paintings appeared in separate rooms, highlighting the divisions between old and new.
These artists’ oil paintings marked a distinct shift from Impressionism art. Gone were spontaneous and emotional representations. Instead, this new art was scientific and systematic. These modern art oil paintings showed shimmering scenes of contemporary life, alive with tiny dabs of color and light.
What are the defining principles of Pointillism Artists?
The color theories of Michel Eugene Chevreul profoundly influenced the principles of Pointillism.
Chevreul worked for a tapestry manufacturer, trying to increase the vibrancy of their textiles. As part of this work, he discovered placing complimentary colors (for instance, “opposites” such as blue and orange) enhance each other’s brightness and intensity.
This discovery informed Chevreul’s ideas about “simultaneous contrasts” and how our eye naturally blends adjacent complementary colors. He published these theories in an 1839 book. These theories fascinated Georges Seurat in particular.
As a result, they formed the guiding principles of Pointillism painting, resulting in colorful paintings which are enjoyed today.
Georges Seurat met the painter Paul Signac in 1884. Soon after their first meeting, the two artists put Chevreul’s theories into practice.
Both Signac and Seurat also explored further investigations into color theory, notably the work of American physicist Ogden Rood.
What are the rules of Pointillism Painting?
The “rules” of Pointillism stemmed from Signac and Seurat’s interest in the principles of color theory. As a result, Pointillism involved the careful placement of dots of pure, unmixed pigments. For Pointillist artists, this created a more striking image than traditional methods of mixing colors.
Despite their fame and importance, neither Paul Signac nor Georges Seurat described themselves as Pointillists. Instead, they preferred terms such as “Chromoluminarism” or “Divisionism”. Indeed, Paul Signac once commented that he didn’t “paint with dots”. Instead, he said, a Neo-Impressionist artist “divides”.
Nonetheless, art critics soon adopted the term Pointillism. The critic Felix Feneon particularly championed this new French art style.
In one article, Feneon described Signac and Seurat’s art as “peinture au point”. Translating as “painting by dots”, this description captured the public imagination. As a result, the term “Pointillism” stuck.
Paul Signac created a Portrait of Felix Feneon in 1890. This work confirmed Feneon’s importance as a Pointillist patron and the artist’s belief in Pointillist techniques.
Who are the two famous Pointillism Artists?
The two most famous Pointillism artists are Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. These two artists brought scientific color theory to life.
Some of the most celebrated Paul Signac paintings include The Pink Cloud Antibes (1916) and Setting Sun Sardine Fishing Adagio Opus 221 (1891). While painted more than twenty-five years apart, they show Signac’s dedication to Pointillism painting.
The Pink Cloud Antibes shows the progression of Paul Signac’s art. In this painting, the delicately painted sky swirls and shifts above a beautifully calm sea. Dabs of red, yellow, purple, and pink appear in the cloud. These tones contrast with darker rectangular blue dabs in the summer sky.
For Georges Seurat A Sunday on La Grande Jatte is his most famous painting. Created in 1886, it represented the pinnacle of Seurat’s explorations into leisure and modern life. It was one of Seurat’s most ambitious creations, showing upper-class Parisians relaxing on the banks of the Seine.
Indeed, in terms of scale and complexity, La Grande Jatte represents the high point of Pointillism art. Seurat’s devotion to dots of carefully considered color even extends to the frame. Painted in contrasting rust and orange tones, it enhances the luminosity of the sun-drenched scene.
The Grande Jatte is an enormous oil painting in its original form. We specialize in oversized wall art, and our replica art is available as large canvas paintings.
Other famous Georges Seurat Pointillism paintings include The Bathers at Asnieres (1884) and La Luzerne Saint-Denis (1884-5). This latter artwork is a more subdued landscape. While the colors appear serene at first, a riot of greens, yellows, reds, and blues emerge on closer inspection.
Why is Pointillism Art important?
Pointillism artists are influential as they show the links between science and art. It was a thoroughly modern approach to artistic experimentation.
The scientific theories employed by Pointillism artists revolutionized painting. Even artworks by lesser-known Pointillist artists such as Henri Edmond Cross are instantly identifiable. Just take Henry Cross’s La Plage de Saint Clair, for example. Even for someone who’s never come across the artist or his works, it’s a stunning illustration of Pointillism in practice.
Sadly, Georges Seurat died at the young age of 31. Despite this, he left an influential legacy. Alongside Signac, the two artists spread Pointillist (or Divisionist) art theory throughout Europe.
Indeed, Italian artists particularly embraced Divisionism. Here, this theory formed the basis of “Italian Futurism”. Other famous French artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse also took inspiration from Pointillism paintings.
Inspired by Pointillist approaches to art, a celebration of light and color linked all these artists. In addition, each painter (and their respective artistic movements) moved slightly closer to abstraction in art. This shift to modern abstraction was one of the most important developments in twentieth-century art.
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