Dot the I: Pointillism 101

Throughout the 19th century, new artistic techniques kept emerging. Pointillism was one of them. Technically speaking, Pointillism is the careful, almost scientifically precise application of dots of color on a canvas. But in reality, it is so much more than that.

where was pointillism born

Pointillists used small strokes of color in such a way that, from a distance, these strokes would blend together visually. In other words, it relied on the viewer’s visual perception.

Impressionists dominated the art scene at the time, so the artists that painted with dots had a considerable challenge to rise to. What they created was the most influential style of Post-Impressionist painting. Pointillism absolutely flourished during the Post-Impressionist era and it helped create numerous styles that followed.

It took some time before Pointillism earned the appreciation it deserved. Pointillism was still regarded as a Neo-Impressionist movement even though it was created as a reaction to and rebellion against the Impressionist movement and its heavy emphasis on the subjective responses of individual artists.

While it did draw inspiration from several Impressionist art style tenets, Pointillism was not only the basis of Neo-Impressionism but would proceed to inspire future art movements and techniques. The May 1886 Paris art show included some notable Pointillism pieces, such as the picture Un Dimanche Apres-Midi L’Ie De La Grande Jatte.

Below are some of the most interesting facts about Pointillism:

When Was the Pointillism Movement Born?

who started pointillism

This technique was a revolutionary response to Impressionism and it started in the mid-1880s. Pointillism as an art technique and its associated movement opposed the Impressionists’ own style and movement as a whole. The prevailing movement of Impressionism was based on the subjective responses of individual artists, while pointillism required a much more scientific approach. 

Where Did Pointillism Originate?

Pointillism was born in Paris in the mid-1880s. French artists were the first to use dots that were carefully placed to avoid mixing colors. Pointillists believed that their style enabled viewers to blend colors when seeing an image, in a much more compelling way than when colors are already blended on a palette by the artist before application.

Is Pointillism Impressionism?

There is a great difference between the two art styles, especially in terms of their technique, vision, and how they perceived and approached various societal and political issues. Pointillism wowed the audiences because it did not object to bringing out a visually beautiful view, but in comparison to impressionism, its focus was much broader: less about the artist, and more about the viewer.

Who Started Pointillism?

Pointillist art

Georges Seurat and Paul Signac formed the art movement in the mid-1880s and remained leading members of the group. Some French artists like Henri-Edmond Cross and Maximilien Luce joined in later on. 

Seurat died at the young age of 31, but he created two of the most famous Pointillist masterpieces: Un Dimanche Après-Midi À L’île De La Grande Jatte, now kept at the Art Institute of Chicago and Une Baignade, Asnières, which can be seen at the National Gallery in London.

What Other Famous Artists Painted With Dots? 

Dutch painters Van Gogh and Mondrian, Spanish painter Picasso, and Russian painter Kandinsky used the Pointillist style at some point in their careers.

The Illusion of Images and Figures Through the Use of Pure Colors

Van Gogh pointillism

The Pointillist art technique is to carefully create an illusion of figures and imagery through collective dots formed into the desired image or figure. The key feature of Pointillism is its use of pure, unmixed colors to create a harmonious work of art.

The dots create visual effects that translate into illusions of colors, shades, and tones. Another key feature of Pointillism was to employ precision to achieve a striking image based on a scientific approach and by relying on the viewer to, quite literally, connect the dots.

Employing Science of the Eye

Pointillists applied the science of optics to their paintings. This artistic theory is based on the eye’s ability to interpret colors, rather than relying on the chemical interaction of combining different colors.

Where Did Pointillism Get Its Name?

Divisionism and Chromoluminarism were Seurat’s preferred terms for the art technique he pioneered. But Pointillism got its name from a French art critic named Flix Fnon before it was even formally recognized as a style. It was he who coined the phrase peinture au point or “painting by dots” after Signac created a portrait of him in 1890 that is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Pointillist artists

Meticulous Strokes

Pointillism is a measured technique. Applying dotted strokes in Pointillism is done in a calculated, delicate manner. Every stroke in the painting is planned and anticipated, and the goal is to create an optical phenomenon. Pointillism was once seen to have a flowing spontaneity, but as the movement progressed, the focus shifted to technical precision, which would prove to be one of its key requirements.

The Icons of Pointillism

Pointillism works

Pointillism’s famous paintings are associated with some of the biggest names in art history. An especially notable figure was Georges Seurat who is, along Paul Signac, considered the father of Pointillism. But other famous Pointillists also made art history, including Henri-Edmond Cross, Maximilien Luce, Charles Angrand, Anna Boch, Alfred William Finch, Albert Dubois-Pillet, and Leon Viorescu.

Pointillism is also associated with Vincent Van Gogh. 

Van Gogh’s paintings are notable for their amazing brushstrokes, which will astound any observer. But given that he was characterized as restless and at times beyond control, the nature of some of his brushstrokes is just as wild. So while influenced by Pointillism, and impressed by Seurat’s use of colors, Van Gogh is not considered a Pointillist: the style requires a technical precision that Van Gogh’s paintings lack.

Another famous painter who utilized the method after he turned his back on Impressionism which he had helped create was Camille Pissarro, who demonstrated his ability to adapt to new theories by switching to Pointillism.

Musical Metaphors

Pointillist works

After Seurat’s death in 1891, Signac took over his position as the leader of movements de facto. He likened Pointillism to music. He felt that the composition of dots created a harmony similar to composing a symphony. 

The Influence of Pointilism on Fauvism

Fauvism, which favored painterly qualities and aggressive use of strong, pure colors over the Impressionists’ proclivity for realistic values, was said to adhere to Pointillism’s concept of using powerful color combinations. The 1904 Henri Matisse painting Luxe Calme et Volupte, which is presently on exhibit at the Musee d’Orsay, is one example of a piece that illustrates the transition between the two styles.