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Pointillism

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General Overview

Pointillism is often considered part of the Post-impressionist movement. It was primarily invented by painters George Seurat and Paul Signac. While Impressionists used small dabs of paint as part of their technique, Pointillism took this to the next level using only small dots of pure color to compose an entire painting.

When was the Pointillism movement?

Pointillism reached its peak in the 1880s and 1890s after the Impressionist movement. Many of the concepts and ideas, however, continued to be used by artists in the future.

What are the characteristics of Pointillism?

Unlike some art movements, Pointillism has nothing to do with the subject matter of the painting. It is a specific way of applying the paint to the canvas. In Pointillism the painting is made up entirely of small dots of pure color. See the example below.


See the dots that make up the man from Seurat's painting The Circus

Pointillism used the science of optics to create colors from many small dots placed so close to each other that they would blur into an image to the eye. This is the same way computer screens work today. The pixels in the computer screen are just like the dots in a Pointillist painting.

Examples of Pointillism

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (Georges Seurat)

This painting is by far the most famous of the Pointillism paintings. It was George Seurat's masterpiece. It is over 6 feet tall and 10 feet wide. Every bit of the painting is done with tiny little dots of pure color. Seurat worked on it for around two years. You can see it today at the Art Institute of Chicago.


Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte
(Click image to see larger version)

Sunday (Paul Signac)

Paul Signac studied Pointillism with George Seurat. In the painting Sunday you can see his technique. The colors are very bright and the lines quite sharp when viewed from a distance. The painting is of a typical Parisian husband and wife spending Sunday afternoon together in their home.


Sunday by Paul Signac
(Click image to see larger version)

Morning, Interior (Maximilien Luce)

Luce used Pointillism when painting scenes of people at work. This painting shows a man getting ready for work in the morning. The colors are vibrant and you can see the early morning sunlight entering the room through the windows.


Morning, Interior by Maximilien Luce
(Click image to see larger version)

Famous Pointillism Artists
  • Charles Angrand - Angrand experimented with Pointillism. In some works he used fine, small dots of paint. In other works he used larger dabs of paint to get a rougher effect.
  • Maximilien Luce - A French Neo-impressionists, Luce used Pointillism in many of his works. Perhaps his most famous Pointillism paintings were a series of paintings of Notre Dame.
  • Theo Van Rysselberghe - Van Rysselberghe painted several paintings using the Pointillism technique. His most famous is probably a portrait of his wife and daughter. Later in his career he would move back to broader brush strokes.
  • Georges Seurat - Seurat was the founder of Pointillism. He studied the science of colors and optics to invent this new technique.
  • Paul Signac - Signac was the other founding father of Pointillism. When Seurat died young, Signac continued to work with Pointillism and left a large legacy of artwork using the style.
Interesting Facts about Pointillism
  • Seurat called the style of painting Divisionism when he invented it, but the name was changed over time.
  • The smaller the dots, the clearer the painting and the sharper the lines, just like with the screen resolution on a computer monitor.
  • In many ways Pointillism was as much a science as an art.
  • Vincent Van Gogh experimented with the Pointillism technique. It is evident in his 1887 self portrait.
  • The style often used dots of complementary colors to make their subjects more vibrant. Complementary colors are colors of the opposite hue, for example red and green or blue and orange.
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