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” 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
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
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
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.