Neo-Impressionism and the Artists Behind the Movement

Art History Basics on Neo-Impressionism (1884-1935)

Paul Signac - L'Hirondelle Steamer on the Seine
Paul Signac/Wikimedia Commons

Neo-Impressionism has the distinction of being both a movement and a style. Also known as Divisionism or Pointillism, Neo-Impression emerged in the late 1800s in France. It belongs to the subdivision of the larger avant-garde movement called Post-Impressionism.

“Whereas the Impressionist painters spontaneously recorded nature in terms of the fugitive effects of color and light, the Neo-Impressionists applied scientific optical principles of light and color to create strictly formalized compositions,” according to Brittanica.com.

What makes Neo-Impressionism stand out? Artists who employ the style apply separate colors to the canvas so that the eye of the viewer blends the colors together rather than the artists on their palettes. According to the theory of chromatic integration, these independent tiny touches of color can be mixed optically to achieve better color quality. A glow radiates from the minuscule dots, all the same size, that are packed together to create a specific hue on the Neo-Impressionist canvas. The painted surfaces are especially luminescent.

When did Neo-Impressionism Begin?

The French artist Georges Seurat introduced Neo-Impressionism. His 1883 painting Bathers at Asnieres features the style. Seurat studied color theory publications produced by Charles Blanc, Michel Eugène Chevreul and Ogden Rood. He also formulated a precise application of painted dots that would mix optically for maximum brilliance.

He called this system Chromoluminarism.

The Belgium art critic Félix Fénéon described Seurat's systematic application of paint in his review of the Eighth Impressionist Exhibition in La Vogue in June 1886. He expanded the contents of this article in his book Les Impressionistes en 1886, and from that little book his word néo-impressionisme took off as a name for Seurat and his followers.

How Long Was Neo-Impressionism a Movement?

The Neo-Impressionist Movement spanned from 1884 to1935. That year marked the death of Paul Signac, a champion and spokesman of the movement, heavily influenced by Seurat. Seurat died in 1891 at the young age of 31 after likely developing meningitis and a number of other illnesses. Other proponents of Neo-Impressionism include the artists Camille Pissarro, Henry Edmond Cross, George Lemmen, Théo van Rysselberghe, Jan Toorop, Maximilen Luce and Albert Dubois-Pillet. At the beginning of the movement, Neo-Impressionist followers founded the Société des Artistes Indépendants. Although Neo-Impressionism’s popularity waned in the early 20th century, it influenced the techniques of artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Henry Matisse.

What Are the Key Characteristic of Neo-Impressionism?

The key traits of Neo-Impressionism include tiny dots of local color and clean, clear contours around the forms. The style also features luminescent surfaces, a stylized deliberateness that emphasizes a decorative design and an artificial lifelessness in the figures and landscapes. Neo-Impressionists painted in the studio, instead of outdoors as the Impressionists had.

The style focuses on contemporary life and landscapes and is carefully ordered rather than spontaneous in technique and intention

Best Known Artists of the Neo-Impressionism Movement

Well known artists include:

  • Georges Seurat
  • Paul Signac
  • Camille Pissarro
  • Henry Edmond Cross
  • George Lemmen
  • Théo van Rysselberghe
  • Jan Toorop
  • Maximilen Luce
  • Albert Dubois-Pillet