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Pointillism Art - a Summary
By Paul Rance


Pointillism was one of the revolutionary styles of painting that emerged in the second half of the 19th Century. It was invented by Georges Seurat and Paul Signac in the mid-1880s.

The Influence of Impressionism

Certainly influenced by Impressionism, with its strong emphasis on bright colours, Pointillism didn't impress art critics initially. Impressionism had also suffered a similar fate early on, but was a style that was explored by some of the most notable artists of the late 1800s. Pointillism never became a style as widely popular or as enduring as Impressionism, which had emerged over ten years earlier.

Artists in Europe from the 1870s onwards were constantly looking at new and radical ways of painting. This really continued in European art right up to the Surrealists in the first half of the 20th Century. Pointillism art could look similar to Impressionistic art, but the way both styles of art were created were very different. An example of this was Georges Seurat's early masterpiece, 'La Grande Jatte'.

A Painstaking Painting Style

In Pointillism, paintings were built up by dots and this was a dramatic departure from the traditional method of painting. Previously, brushstrokes had been the universal method of applying paint to paper or canvas. Instead of mixing paint on a palette to blend in tones and apply with flowing brushwork, Pointillism was more restrictive. It was a painstaking way of creating a painting, which may have been the reason for its failure to influence many artists.

Impressionism, as with Pointillism, also involved a more controlled way of applying paint. Impressionists would apply paint with small strokes. Pointillism just took this approach a stage further. Similar to Impressionism, Pointillism was not a style of painting designed with classical painting virtues in mind. A likeness was important, but the painting was designed to be vibrant through depictions of light as well as form. Both styles of painting concentrated on how light would play on a human face, for instance, rather than merely the accuracy of the features. The light and color aspects would, in both styles, sometimes be exaggerated.

Championed by Few Artists

Artists had always appreciated the beauty of nature, but Impressionism and Pointillism introduced an appreciation of nature from a different perspective. Though Pointillism was the next step after Impressionism it lacked the backing of enough major artists of the period to push it forward. It was to be Expressionism that seriously challenged Impressionism at the end of the 19th Century.

Ways of Pointillism
Ways of Pointillism available from

Georges Seurat and Paul Signac

As stated earlier, Georges Seurat and Paul Signac are the two artists credited with inventing Pointillism in the late 19th Century. Their styles were, however, markedly different.

Artists Who Influenced Each Other

Signac was influenced by the work of Georges Seurat, but he sought a new style away from Impressionism. Signac introduced a technique that broke the mould regarding the application of paint. The bright colours associated with Impressionist paintings was to still remain, but flowing brush strokes were replaced by dots.

Georges Seurat's Pointillism was not rigid in style. His 1889 work, 'La Parade du Cirque', was a departure from his earlier and most famous painting, 'La Grande Jatte'. There is more of a hazy appearance to 'La Parade du Cirque' and it lacks the vivid colour of his earlier painting. This may be down to the time of day and/or setting of either painting, but there is still a striking difference in style, with the intensity of the dots more noticeable in 'La Parade du Cirque'.

The Pointillism that Signac preferred brought about paintings of rich colour, as with 'Femmes au Puits', which was painted in 1892. In terms of colour it is similar to Seurat's 'La Grande Jatte', but in terms of style it is more similar to 'La Parade du Cirque'. Signac's 'Sunday', created between 1888 and 1890, is of a cosy domestic scene, but two things stand out. It looks more like a conventional painting, but with very bright colors and only the man's face is indicative of a new style of art, with little attention paid to the physical features. This painting reflects Signac's Neo-Impressionism.

Pioneers of Neo-Impressionism

Signac and Seurat were the pioneers of Neo-Impressionism, which was founded by Seurat. Pointillism was a style within Neo-Impressionism, which gained early prominence, before Neo-Impressionism was eclipsed by much more experimental movements in the early 20th Century.

A painting that really kickstarted modern art itself was Signac's painting of Felix Feneon in 1890 - an art critic, who had given Neo-Impressionism its name. Its resemblance to pop art, which became popular around 70 years later, is startling.

Georges Seurat died aged only 31, but, of the two artists, his work is probably the best known. Paul Signac, though, can lay claim to being a more influential figure, influencing the great French painter Henri Matisse, as well as buying work by the young artist.

Pointillism was made famous by Seurat and Signac, but even Vincent van Gogh, who was a friend of Signac's, experimented successfully with the style. Van Gogh's 1887 self-portrait is one of his greatest works.

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