What is Pointillism?


From the word itself, Pointillism refers to a painting technique involving a composition of dotted colors to form a visual. Instead of strides of brush strokes, the art form appears static with a plethora of unblended small circles. Pointillists apply color directly onto the canvas using the square or round touches of the paintbrush instead of mixing them on a palette as traditionally done.

The pictorial technique first notably appeared in the 19th century Paris owing to the works of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac.

This relatively new and unique practice obliged the viewers to step backward and see the art as a whole – the eyes did the work of merging the dotty colors on a wide chromatic range. So, the further the distance from the painting the more complete it appeared to be.

Hence, it was thought to be a very scientific approach to art and depicted an almost mastered sense of illusion.

Pointillism Art

Many pointillist artists depicted outdoor landscapes, seascapes, and portraits to create a soothing effect.

To give the paintings a soft appearance, artists pitted together variations of similar shades to deepen the complexities of color while giving an ample amount of breathing space.

  • Relying heavily on the optics, pointillism art had to have a careful juxtaposition of complementary hues such as blue and orange that heightened each other’s intensity.
  • The movement’s name is credited to a French art critic that went by the name Félix Fénéon who referred to Seurat’s work as “painting by dots” in a review. Though originally, Seurat himself preferred the terms “Divisionism” or “Chromoluminarism”.  
  • Vincent Van Gogh experimented with Pointillism in his brief stay in Paris during the 1880s. He was familiar with Seurat and Signac from that period and his inspiration was obvious in some of his pieces, such as 1887’s “Self Portrait”.
  • Pointillism has been associated with musical metaphors referring to the shaded dots moving in harmony and the artist creating a symphony through a meticulous selection of colors as instruments.
  • A big contributing influence on the Fauvism movement that originated at the turn of the 20th century, Pointillism techniques were seen maneuvering in the works of Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, André Derain, and Maurice de Vlaminck with a display of explosive, vibrant colors applied straight from the tubes.

Pointillism is undoubtedly an innovative art technique that requires observation, patience, and a pre-determined picture in a painter’s mind of what the final picture would look like disintegrated. It was starkly different from other art movements and was hence met with disapproval and much criticism initially.

Seurat and Signac saw to it that the tradition of Pointillism is carried on. Many artists of that and the following era such as Camille and Lucien Pissaro, Albert Dubois-Pillet, Henri Edmond-Cross, Théo Van Rysselberghe, Henri Matisse, and Van Gogh were greatly influenced by the Pointillism movement and played substantially with the optical phenomenon it emphasized.

Also, Check out 25 Most Famous Impressionist Paintings  

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