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Pointillism

Updated on October 23, 2011

Pointillism is a technique used by Neo-impressionist painters in France during the 1880's and 1890's.

The terms pointillism and neoimpressionism are used interchangeably. The pointillist painters, however, prefer the terms "divisionism" or "luminism" to identify their work. The technique consists of applying to canvas small dots or dashes of pure, unmixed colors. Each dot is placed next to another of a complementary color. The dots are combined into recognizable forms and patterns through the optical processes of the spectator. Because the colors are unmixed on the canvas, they produce a vivid and intense effect.

Pointillism was developed by the painter Georges Seurat, who had studied scientific works on optics. He was dissatisfied with the unsystematic organization of color and loose brushstrokes of the Impressionist painters and worked to evolve a precise and orderly style having a scientific basis for the use of color in painting. Seurat and Paul Signac used Pointillism more effectively than other Neoimpressionists. Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (Art Institute, Chicago) is the most famous Pointillist work. Signac's book From Eugene Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism (1899) discusses the theories underlying the Pointillist or Neoimpressionist movement.

Pointillism had an influence on later artists, including the post-impressionists Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.

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