Neo-Impressionism: A Definition

The term Neo-impressionism describes an art movement, led by Georges Seurat until his tragically early death in 1891 and then by Paul Signac. It was a reaction against the spontaneity of Impressionism and espoused instead theoretical and scientific ideas about colour theory, composition, optics and psychology.

In pursuit of these theoretical objectives, Georges Seurat and Paul Signac developed meticulous methods of paint application whereby juxtaposed strokes or dabs of pure colour, fused and mixed in the viewer’s eye. Its exponents believed that this gave the surface of the picture greater vibrancy – rather than the artist mixing pigments on the palette the eye of the beholder reacted in a similar way to the minute arrangements of pure colour.

As Paul Signac wrote ‘the separated elements will be reconstituted into brilliantly coloured lights’. Depending on how the artist applied the paint, this method came to be described as Pointillism, if the paint was applied as precise dots, or Divisionism if small strokes were used. Seurat preferred Divisionism or the rather clumsy term Chromo-luminarismCamille Pissarro described the new style as ‘Scientific’ Impressionism as opposed to ‘Romantic’ Impressionism.

See Also: Applying Science to Art


Text by Geoffrey Smith