Art Term

Neo-impressionism

Neo-impressionism is the name given to the post-impressionist work of Georges Seurat, Paul Signac and their followers who, inspired by optical theory, painted using tiny adjacent dabs of primary colour to create the effect of light

Georges Seurat, ‘Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp’ 1885
Georges Seurat
Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp 1885
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Camille Pissarro, ‘Self-Portrait’ 1903
Camille Pissarro
Self-Portrait 1903
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Lucien Pissarro, ‘April, Epping’ 1894
Lucien Pissarro
April, Epping 1894
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Neo-impressionism is characterised by the use of the divisionist technique (often popularly but incorrectly called pointillism, a term Paul Signac repudiated). Divisionism attempted to put impressionist painting of light and colour on a scientific basis by using an optical mixture of colours. Instead of mixing colours on the palette, which reduces intensity, the primary-colour components of each colour were placed separately on the canvas in tiny dabs so they would mix in the spectator’s eye. Optically mixed colours move towards white so this method gave greater luminosity.

This technique was based on the colour theories of M-E Chevreul, whose De la loi du contraste simultanée des couleurs (On the law of the simultaneous contrast of colours) was published in Paris in 1839 and had an increasing impact on French painters from then on, particularly the impressionists and post-impressionists generally, as well as the neo-impressionists.