Georges Seurat, The Lighthouse at Honfleur, 1886.

Five Top Pointillists’ Paintings of the Beach

It’s summer, and everyone wants to escape to the water, so let’s do a little traveling with the Pointillists. Waterscapes, and beaches were a favorite of the movement’s founder George Seurat, and his pupil/co-founder Paul Signa.

What is Pointillism?

Pointillism, also referred to as Neo-Impressionism, falls under the umbrella of Post-Impressionist art. That’s a lot of terminology, so let’s break it down. You can think of the Post-Impressionists as children of the Impressionists. They have have the base, and knowledge from their parents, but they have grown up and have some things they want to discuss. Georges Seurat didn’t like the loose structure of Impressionist paintings. He wanted to paint in a more rigorous, and precise manner. He looked to the science of color theories to find answers. This led to experimenting with dots of pure color. When he placed varying colors next to each other, he could create interesting textures, and light in his art. Pointillism relies on the viewer’s eyes to blend all these dabs of color together to reveal the bigger picture. This
technique works especially well with beach, and water scenes where light can cause a kaleidoscopic effect.

Bathers at Asnières

Bathers at Asnières by Georges Seurat 1884

“Bathers at Asnières” is Georges Seurat’s first large scale work. He created this in 1884, while he was still working out his style of painting. You can see dot technique clearly on the orange hat, and in some spots on the water. Like the Impressionists, he has created a moment in time, but Seurat also found a way to add permanence, and precision to each figure. Seurat created at least fourteen studies, and ten drawings in preparation for this canvas.

Signac’s Fairy Tale Scenes

Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice 1905 Paul Signac Toledo Museum of Art

Paul Signac was devoted to Pointillism, and teaching the theories behind it to other
artists, including (for a short time) Van Gogh. Signac settled on bright, often jewel-toned colors for his paintings. He favored larger dots than Seurat. This gave his paintings a mythic, almost fairy tale tone. A prime example of this is the 1905 work, “Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice.”

Matisse’s Bridge to Fauvism

Luxe, Calme et Volupté Luxury, Calm, and Pleasure 1904 Henri Matisse

In the summer of 1904, Henri Matisse went to St. Tropez to study color theory with
Paul Signac. Matisse was ultimately not a fan of the meticulous nature of pointillism. He did like the ideas he learned about color theory. In “Luxury, Calm, and Pleasure,” which Matisse painted in 1904, you can almost see his frustration with Neo-impressionism. He combines dashes of color with lines and areas of shading. He would birth the Fauvist movement the next summer.

The Sun Sets on Neo-Impressionism

The Port of Rotterdam, Evening 1908 Maximilien Luce

Pointillism peaked in the 1890s, with just a handful of artists devoting themselves to the movement. Paul Signac paintied in the style for the rest of his life. Other Pointillists slowly phased away from painting with dots. You can see Maximilien Luce shifting away in his 1908 painting, “Port of Rotterdam, Evening.” Many contemporary artists still find inspiration in both the theories, and work of the Pointillists.

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Kristin Johnson

I love art, and writing. One is deeply personal, the other helped me get my BA in journalism from IU. I am passionate about storytelling. My greatest professional compliment came from a business owner who said, “Your profile piece captured everything I believe about my business.”
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